Take a moment and imagine your perfect setting for a home-based
agency. Chances are you’re picturing a charming room, a laptop, some
freshly-brewed coffee and soft light pouring in through a window that
looks out upon a calm and pleasant view.
As we all know, there is almost always a yawning gap between reality
and fantasy. In the case of Argyle Travel and Cruise’s Naome Burdon,
however, something went wonderfully wrong – this is a consultant
literally living the dream.
Based just outside of Naracoorte, around 340km south-east of
Adelaide, Naome works mostly from a small office nestled on a hill
within a picturesque vineyard. Lunch is often taken on the outside
‘boardroom table’, from where she looks down over a terraced garden to
grapes and gumtrees.
It gets better. The evocatively-named Limestone Coast is a
particularly prosperous part of South Australia. Adjoining the state’s
coastline and the Victorian border, the region boasts significant sheep
and cattle farming, fishing fleets, forestry, tourism and viticulture
(think Coonawarra, Padthaway and Naome’s home, Wrattonbully).
As a result there are good employment opportunities, rising land
values and a far broader and more affluent demographic than many other
rural areas. In addition, Naome says people follow a “shop local”
All of which contributes to a picture of bucolic business bliss. But
Naome – who grew up on a farm just outside Millicent, about 100km south
of Naracoorte – says that serving a rural community still has its
challenges, particularly for a home-based agency.
For a start, customers can be spread over large distances and many live
well out of the small towns scattered across the region. All of which
can make it difficult for a service provider to connect face-to-face
with customers. It’s a problem Naome tackles by operating every couple
of weeks from street-front offices in Millicent and Kingston, a coastal
resort 90km due west on the shores of Lacepede Bay.
“My clients around Millicent and Kingston will travel in to see me,
which is something people in rural communities are comfortable doing,”
she says. “When I need to I will work in another trip, and I will also
go to people’s houses.
“The offices offer a professional and private place to meet. But another
big benefit comes from the fact that I negotiated full window signage,
so even if I’m not in town, seven days a week they can see my brand. It
is cheap advertising and the rent is negligible.”
Spreading yourself thin does, however, present its own technical and logistical challenges.
“One of the biggest issues is the travel time to and from the offices.
If I’m in the car for two hours I can’t process work, and I’ll often
lose phone service. So last October I employed a consultant to help me
out for two days a week. We’ve grown so much though that in late January
she moved to full time.”
When the agency started as a home based business in 2010, Naome was able
to draw on a healthy client database gathered during a 10-year period
in which she operated her own agency in Millicent. Since then she says
the company’s growth has been almost exclusively organic, with customers
based right across the country.
“In some ways I feel I’ve created a monster and managing growth is now a real issue for us,” she says.
“I don’t want to go back into a shopfront. We can work distraction free
here, and our conversion rates are high because we don’t get tire
kickers. However, my office can only accommodate two people, so we’re
considering in the future to have a third consultant based somewhere
else in the region.”
The only other challenge is managing the family, with her two kids,
partner (and his three kids every second week) all bouncing around the
“Sometimes I’ll get up at 5:30am, take a break to get the kids off, and
then I’ll be back in the office by 8am. But I’m lucky now that they are
old enough to be pretty self-sufficient, and working in a separate space
means I can’t hear them fighting with each other.
“And if it gets too much, there’s never any shortage of wine.”