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A Fare with Nature
Business with a view
Rhonda Bland went from being a computer novice to successfully blogging about her unique Wilsons Promontory B&B thanks largely to the Small Business Mentoring Service.
Rhonda worked as a Forests Commission secretary and bursar at Hastings High School before marrying and expanding a dairy farm enterprise over a 25 year period. Her four children now run a dairy farm each with their father.
“Too young to retire”, Rhonda incorporated a B&B into a house she had built on a 162 hectare (400 acre) slice of the 514 hectare (1270 acre) dairy farm she now lives on.
A Fare With Nature @ Prom Road Farm opened in Easter 2012. The business is situated 1.6km from main road to take advantage of brilliant 300 degree views over Corner Inlet, Wilsons Promontory, Waratah Bay and the hills of South Gippsland.
While Rhonda loved the idea of entertaining guests while gardening and growing fresh fruit and vegetables for them, she had only a slight idea how to build a website. This led to mild panic about how she was to create the online presence crucial for any modern business.
A Fare With Nature is uniquely placed in a delightfully private location. It has two levels of accommodation that can be self contained or B&B. Almost a hectare of gardens offer guests seasonal fresh vegetables, berries and fruit from a huge orchard in a farm-like setting.
Rhonda makes preserves for guests and fills their rooms with fresh flowers and seasonal fresh fruit. Visitors also have the opportunity to watch a dairy farm in action as the property is part of Rhonda’s eldest daughter’s farm.
The business had a lot going for it but Rhonda did not have the skills to promote it online. “I had a fair idea of what was involved with building websites, but was not confident in going it alone as I don’t understand the ‘lingo’ associated with IT work,” she says.
After deciding she needed help, Rhonda discovered SBMS at a Leongatha work shop run by South Gippsland Shire and was matched with mentor Madalen Ross.
“Because of information gleaned from workshops attended, it seemed a good idea to go with WordPress which my mentor was familiar with,” Rhonda said.
SBMS is a non-government non-profit organisation of volunteer expert mentors who give their time and experience to help small business. It is supported by Small Business Victoria, which refers clients to it.
Madalen has run several businesses, Image Identity, Your Executive Secretarial Services and more recently Indulgence Afloat. She has extensive experience in small business, marketing and office administration.
Rhonda met Madalen six times over two months and they have maintained phone and email contact. Madalen also travelled to Rhonda and stayed overnight. “The hospitality was sensational,” she says. “We basically worked all Saturday afternoon and evening and then Sunday morning.”
Rhonda wanted to set up a website for her new business but had no idea what to do. “She knew very little about getting around the computer and no idea about what was involved with getting a website up and running,” Madalen says.
“I supported her with basic training in getting around the laptop and emails, set up her hosting, domain registration, setting up her website, and teaching her how to use WordPress.
“We also had sessions on how best to use social media for her business, online and offline marketing strategies, and On-Page/Off-Page Search Engine Optimisation”
Madalen also helped Rhonda work out how much she could take on as a sole operator and how to manage her work load.
As it is still early days, it is too soon to say if profitability has improved. But Madalen says Rhonda’s computer skills have greatly improved and positioned her well to make the most of the internet.
“There is most definitely an improved understanding of the internet, improved computer skills and a greater awareness of skills required to maintain a website, social media and SEO techniques to help her business grow the business in the future,” Madalen says.
A Fare With Nature @ Prom Road Farm is now well placed to make the most of its position and special features.
The property’s ground floor is wheelchair accessible with a guest living room/kitchenette and two adjoining bedrooms, both with ensuites. The first floor also has a guest living room/kitchenette and three bedrooms.
“I am catering for the tourist trade, be they families, couples with pets, the disabled, or individuals,” Rhonda says. If rules limiting B&B guests to six are changed she may also explore the corporate market.
Rhonda says the new site has opened her business to local, interstate and overseas trade. “The website is designed for your PC, mobile phone and iPad, so again, business is accessible both locally and overseas,” she says.
Rhonda says Madalen “most definitely” helped to improve her management skills. She is also “much more conversant” with IT language and learning to understand WordPress and her website, “which has to be a bonus for the business”.
This has left Rhonda confident that she has the tools to succeed in a competitive market. “I am extremely satisfied with the advice my mentor … has given me,” she says.
Madalen says Rhonda has come a long way. “Whereas at first she was very stressed and knew very little about web development, I think she is more comfortable adding content to her blog when she’s not working in her fabulous gardens,” she says.
“When you consider her day starts at about 4.30am, I think she’s marvellous to fit in the time!”
Without Madalen’s help, Rhonda says she would be “in big trouble and perhaps a little overwrought at going it alone”.
“I would have gone elsewhere for advice, which probably would not have been as helpful and I really need to operate my own website and understand it,” she says. “It would probably have cost more money which I could ill afford.
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