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Haunted Hills Tours
A scary business proposition
Tegan Dawson’s business idea was literally scary … but that’s a good thing. And her dream of running Haunted Hills Tours is now a reality thanks partly to the Small Business Mentoring Service.
A keen story teller, Tegan continued her interest in amateur theatre and youth groups while working for eight years in community services with homeless people, the unemployed and those in trouble with the law.
After starting a Bachelor of Professional Writing and Public Relations, she decided she wanted to run a business combining her theatrical skills and fascination with the paranormal.
The result is Haunted Hills Tours, a walking ghost tour of Yallourn North, which was formerly known as the Old Brown Coal Mine, named after the historic mine. Tegan takes the 90-minute night tour of up to 30 people to a number of locations and uses her theatrical skills to reveal the town’s forgotten secrets, paranormal and macabre events.
“I think I’m offering the history we don’t tell,” she says. “I love ghost tours and we don’t have that many around here. I think it’s good for tourism and offers another form of entertainment for the locals.”
After writing a business plan, Tegan registered her business and investigated insurance. She also spoke to a number of people and looked at establishing general links within Yallourn North.
Tegan knew she had a fascinating idea, but wanted to ensure she covered all bases. So she spoke to Latrobe City Council, which was really helpful and gave her a free session with SBMS.
“I felt I needed a mentor as I’ve never run a business like this,” she says. “I’ve sold Tupperware and Lorraine Lea, however those businesses are completely different.”
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. Tegan was matched with mentor Michelle Anderson.
Michelle has worked in tourism, business management, marketing and sales and specialises in business account management, marketing and promotions, sales, staff training and development. She has a consistent record of exceeding personal and corporate objectives as well as excellent interpersonal, customer service and organisational skills.
Tegan saw Michelle over two months and had two phone and face to face sessions. Mentoring is continuing.
Michelle provided Tegan with an overview of the Victorian Tourism Industry, regional tourism associations and local tourism associations and the associated links, such as visitor information centre roles, local tourism association key roles and functions.
As well, Michelle helped Tegan with:
- Advice about print media versus radio advertising
- Marketing materials and what works, for example postcards versus flyers
- Local networks, providing her with a number of local people to speak to about her new venture
- Linking with other businesses, tour providers, accommodation providers, restaurants and retail stores.
- Advice on the use of social media for business, website content and online bookings.
Michelle also suggested that Tegan put together a five-year plan that captured business growth in each year. The Action Plan would involve finalising business registration and a business plan, speaking with local tourism associations and preparing a marketing plan for the first 12 months.
Since Tegan saw Michelle, profitability has improved and she has a better knowledge of the tourism sector and how each level of the industry fits. “She is more aware of the importance of local contacts, networking and what she needs to achieve in her first year,” Michelle says.
“Tegan now has the knowledge to ensure she gets the best from her new business venture. She will save valuable time and money in regards to how to spend her marketing dollars.
“She has already achieved a story in the local paper which has given her valuable exposure to the local community and generated interest in her business.”
Tegan said Michelle knew exactly what she needed. “She discussed how I progress with my business and which kinds of registrations I should look at,” Tegan says.
“I’m starting very locally although I haven’t restricted my website and I’ve had four hits from Canada. If people are planning a trip, I’d like them to think of Haunted Hills Tours as something they can do while in the Latrobe Valley.”
The business doesn’t have direct competition, but there is a ghost tour in nearby Walhalla and a Rosedale Haunted House. Haunted Hills Tours is unique as it uses location-based stories.
“There aren’t any tours covering the Yallourn North area, except for the Old Brown Coal Mine Museum and they focus more on the mainstream narrative for the area,” Tegan says.
Tegan says the mentoring helped her to forward plan better and make achievable goals. “I can also see when I’m achieving them,” he says.
As Haunted Hills Tours is a new business it is hard to quantify improvements, but Tegan says the mentoring has prepared her well for the challenges ahead. It also helped encourage her to “get out and talk to people” and secure the story in the local paper.
“Getting out and talking to people as well as the newspaper article by the Latrobe Valley Express has helped boost enquiries,” she says.
If she hadn’t found SBMS, Tegan says she would be “still without a clue about the tourism sector in Latrobe Valley, Gippsland, Victoria and Australia”. “I’d be making a lot more mistakes and working a lot harder to discover the information without this assistance,” she says.
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