Country businesses for living built on passion

What do I love? = What’s my business?

One of the fascinations of our recent outback road journey was some of the unique businesses we came across:

  • the coffee farm near Mareeba where the coffee is (almost) organically grown by
    Bruno, Maria and Mama;
  • the fossicking tour on the road to Karumba that taught us how to find topaz;
  • the woodwork workshop and gallery in the Atherton tablelands.

These were businesses where people with commitment had taken their own approach to building an integrated business that enabled them to do things they loved.

Coffee and cats

Not everyone retires at sixty-five. At seventy-something, Bruno and Mama are growing coffee outside Mareeba, with the assistance of daughter Maria (and a large family of cats). They do this with a minimum of chemicals, as Australia does not have many of the diseases of other coffee-producing countries.

They dry their beans in the husk in the sun, storing them in the protection provided by nature until they are ready. Their product is produced in small quantities and sold to tourists and by mail order.

When we drove into their car park, Bruno was there to wave us into their café/showroom and offered us a coffee while we waited for a few more people to arrive. Not surprisingly, his cup of coffee was one of the best we had on our whole holiday, produced with love and much experience.

Fossicking for love and money

Further west, we met a keen gemstone fossicker who takes tours to his claim to dig for topaz. Tours start from his gallery and souvenir shop. He will also cut the stones you find to make jewellery. The result is that he gets to spend time sharing the country and the activities he loves with groups of people who are interested in them – and to make a living doing what he loves.

This was a really effective lesson in an individual couple designing a business AROUND the place and the activities they love. Not waiting for the weekend to scrape time for a hobby, but a purposeful design, complete with business plan.

Effective integration

Another fascinating business was a woodwork gallery in the Atherton tablelands. The gallery and workshop are set up in the one building structure, integrated with a coffee shop. The gallery sells a range of top quality craft and art in wood, pottery and other media. In some ways it’s like galleries I have seen around my home in the Dandenong Ranges. The things that make it special are:

  • The workshop set up so you can watch the craftsman. This can be set up either to watch from a distance, or close up.
  • The shop also sells woodworking blanks of timbers available in the area.
  • The whole premises have been built in timber to a high standard, with the coffee shop counter and tables (and even the window frames) works of art in their own right.
  • The baking in the coffee shop is done in a wood-fired oven, turning a potential waste into an energy resource.

So play “what if” for a moment

How could you design a business that would enable you to do more of the things that you enjoy? What activities would it include? What vertical integrations could you design into the business? How could you design it to minimise its impact on the surrounding environment and community?

(Originally publishes in BCS Update, August 2004)

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About Leigh

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Leigh is the principal of the business innovation practice Balance3 and her clients have included corporations such as Amcor, National Foods, Dair, SPC Ardmona, Kobelco, Corporate Express and New Balance as well as a range of smaller businesses and individual clients.