Starting a business in a regional area

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State governments around the country incentivise business owners to set up shop in regional areas, but what do you need to know before making a tree-change?

While a regional area can offer a change of scenery and reduced traffic noise, there are some things to take into account before making the big move.

For Jane Cay, Director and Founder of Birdsnest, creating the women’s fashion startup in the regional NSW town of Cooma was a natural progression – she already lived there.

“Being located in the Snowy Mountains means we’ve benefitted from around one million visitors passing through the area each year as they make their way to the mountains or to the south coast,” explained Cay.

“We’re also just an hour south of Canberra and so we can take advantage of Australia Post’s express post network.”

While it may not get the same foot traffic as a boutique on Chapel Street in Melbourne or Oxford Street in Sydney – being online means it has the same chance of attracting digital business than they do.

The concept of e-retailing offers enterprising businesses, especially those which are consumer-facing, an opportunity to sell directly – meaning regional businesses can overcome something which has traditionally been seen as a drawback to the tree-change.

READ: How to open your retail business to the world

However, there are still a few unique challenges you need to overcome to make sure your move from the big smoke to the big quiet has the best possible chance of success.

Networking remains critical to success

Regardless of where you intend to start your business, your ability to network to help develop awareness and partnerships can have a significant impact on the business’s success.

In regional areas, networking may not be as easy or straightforward as it is in the city.

Trevor Taylor, Business Solutions and Growth Strategic Executive for Regional Development Australia (RDA) Barossa, said  knowing where to go for advice and support is vital.

“Regional Development Australia runs the largest B2B program in the Barossa region, with business breakfasts occurring every month, each focused on a different area a new business may be need assistance with,” said Taylor.

“For example, we have one breakfast coming up that’s themed around branding and visual signage, and we’ll take the opportunity to connected the business owners who need assistance with operators that can provide it.”

Chances are there’s an RDA board operating in your region with a ready-made network for you to access, and they’re also pretty handy at providing financial support too.

“We have an initiative that’s specific to our region that provides business owners a three-hour consultancy under a co-payment system,” explained Taylor.

“That means an entrepreneur can gain the advice of, say, a trademark attorney for the price of just 55 dollars, where usually that session might cost them hundreds.”

The RDA also collates available grants available in the region and works to assist business owners to apply for them, making these organisations the first port of call for many entrepreneurs.

Regional growth: ensuring mutual benefit

Businesses like Birdsnest are part of the fabric of regional communities, but can often struggle to attract the funding needed to thrive.

“Research shows that smaller, high-growth potential businesses have been responsible for the greatest job gains across the state in recent years,” explained Cay, who also sits on the board of Jobs for NSW.

“But these types of businesses often struggle to access the funds they need to expand.”

SME owners can struggle to finance for all sorts of reasons, one of them being that they simply don’t know what’s available outside a traditional bank loan.

Luckily there are a raft of small business grants available from state and federal governments to help bridge the funding gap.

“These grants are crucial for fostering entrepreneurship and innovation in the regions, which in turn is vital to the sustainability of our communities,” Cay said.

“We know that the jobs of the future in our country towns and surrounds will be generated by the organisations that are ambitious to evolve and grow.”

For example, NSW has a Regional Growth Loan available to emerging and fast-growth business owners offering an up-front interest-free loan of between $200,000 to $1.2 million.

Making a tree-change isn’t for the faint-of-heart, but it can be done.

There are avenues of support available to get funding, contacts, and new technology options are decreasing the divide between city and country every day.

All that matters now is the will to get out there and give it a go.

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