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Wish you were here?

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Wish you were here?

28 Mar 2019 Swati Vaghjiani Agent News

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” philosophy.

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 office.

“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.”   

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