Monthly Archives: June 2012

Case study: Watson’s Mountain Country Trail Rides

For our latest case study, we spoke to Michael Watson about how Mansfield’s Watson’s Mountain Country Trail Rides have developed an online presence for their business.

Business overview

Watson’s Trail Rides is a family business, and has operated from our property in Mansfield for the past 30 years. Most of our customers come from two sectors: domestic “free independent travellers” and school groups. We also have regular bookings from international and corporate groups. As a small business, it’s been important for us to be in control of our web presence. If our events, availability or other details change, we need to be able to change the content of our site quickly.

Which web or social media technologies are you using for your business?

  • We manage our own website. This is a central place for people to find out about our business, and we update it several times a week.
  • I also keep an eye on our website analytics roughly once a month. That lets us see how many people look at the site, and where they come from.
  • We have been using an online booking system on our website for about four years now. Around half of our bookings are made online.
  • Over time, we’ve added other tools. YouTube was one of the earliest, allowing us to show people what it’s like on our rides.
  • A more recent addition is our Facebook page – helping us to promote the business on social networks, in addition to our website. We use the page to keep people updated on what the business has been doing, and have photo galleries from some of our major events.
  • TripAdvisor had been very handy for us. It’s more commonly used for accommodation, but has a growing number of event and experience listings. I was wary about putting customer testimonials on our website, as they rarely feel authentic. TripAdvisor acts as an impartial third party – by linking to their reviews, we can show people directly what customers have said about the business.

What have been the benefits of using these?

Our online presence helps people to discover our business, provides them with a personal experience of who we are and what we do, and also takes care of around half of our bookings. It can sometimes be hard finding time to manage it all, but it’s extremely valuable for us.

Operating in an industry that traditionally doesn’t have a strong online presence has its advantages. There aren’t a lot of trail riding companies out there, compared with much more active sectors like tourist accommodation. That helps us to remain visible in search engines, without being drowned out by hundreds of other sites.

Do you have any tips for other business managers wanting to get online?

If you don’t think that your business needs a web presence, think about things from the perspective of your customers: when and where are they likely to want information about your business? For a tourism operator, much of the planning that goes into a family holiday will take place at home, after working hours – when your business won’t be able to answer enquiries directly. Your website can help people discover your business, and also helps answer a lot of questions the customers will have.

You can find out more about Watson’s Trail Rides via their website or Facebook page.

NBN and Digital Economy Readiness at City of Wodonga

Following on from yesterday’s interview with Sue Beatty, we also spoke with Matt Taylor – acting Economic Development officer at City of Wodonga.

 

Wodonga is due to have NBN access in September 2014, and the council has been preparing for the digital economy over the past year. To date, they have already have conducted information sessions for local businesses, including visits to the Melbourne NBN Discovery Centre and the RMIT Advanced Manufacturing Precinct.

The council is currently planning a series of digital seminars with their local chamber of commerce, covering a range of topics including marketing skills and more effective use of business management functions.

Local businesses mostly fall into two categories: those on the “front foot” where new technologies are concerned, and those that worry about being overwhelmed. Matt’s advice for business managers is to embrace the change: look closely at what the digital economy can do for their business, and what they can do to utilise the digital economy to open up new markets – interacting not only with the local economy, but with markets across the country and overseas.

Some of Wodonga’s manufacturers, retailers and education bodies are already well positioned to take advantage of the digital economy. The council is looking at how they can most effectively facilitate introductions between these groups, helping to link businesses to the services and tools available to them.

Social Media at the City of Wodonga

We recently spoke to Sue Beatty, Community Relations Manager at Wodonga City Council. She explained how social media has become an important part of her council’s communication strategy.

 

Wodonga Council’s social media campaigns have allowed them to reach and engage with an audience that previously had little involvement with council services and affairs. They adopted a measured approach to building their social media presence – making sure that each development had been properly considered, and putting policies in place before acting.

Like many councils, one of Wodonga’s earliest social media forays involved a Facebook council page. In order to overcome initial difficulties in getting enough Likes for their content, they ran Facebook competitions that helped them attract more followers.

Wodonga Council was also the joint winner of the 2012 Government Communications Australia award for Best New or Digital Media. This award was received for their YouTube channel, featuring “Mrs Mac’s story time.” Every fortnight, new story book readings are added to the channel – watched by local primary school students, and a growing audience of fans around the world.

Sue’s advice to other councils that are considering their move into social media is to take your time making sure that you have appropriate processes in place. Resourcing is particularly important to consider – make sure you have the staff to react and respond as needed.

Manufacturing grants of $250,000 available to Victorian businesses

IMT is a major initiative under the Victorian Government’s manufacturing strategy: A More Competitive Manufacturing Industry: New Directions for Industry Policy and Manufacturing. It promotes the growth, productivity and international competitiveness of manufacturing businesses by stimulating investment in new technologies.
Grants of up to $250,000 are available on a competitive basis to assist manufacturers to purchase and integrate new technologies that will:

  • improve productivity and competitiveness;
  • strengthen capability; and
  • encourage wider and ongoing innovation.

To be eligible companies must:

  • Possess an Australian Company Number (ACN)
  • Have a manufacturing presence in Victoria
  • Have at least three years trading history
  • Meet the co-contribution requirement with eligible project expenditure
  • Be willing to provide financial reports for the last three financial years to enable the Department of Business and Innovation (DBI) to conduct a risk assessment

Funding Rounds

IMT is delivered in competitive funding rounds. There will be three funding rounds per year.  Applications will only be accepted when a funding round is open for applications.

Applications for Round One open 9am, Monday 18 June 2012 and must be submitted online by 5pm, Friday 20 July 2012.

It is anticipated that Round Two of IMT will open for applications in the fourth quarter of 2012.

Businesses should carefully consider the proposed project’s ability to meet the program requirements and perform well against the assessment criteria before committing significant resources to developing an application.

Businesses interested in applying for a grant are encouraged to discuss their proposed project with a Victorian Government Business Development Manager. For contact details call Business Victoria on 13 22 15.

For more information visit the Business Victoria website.

Connecting local producers with customers at Walker Events

Mansfield’s Walker Events is an events management business with an environmentally friendly ethos at its core. We spoke with business owner Alli Walker about how she uses social media and the web to promote her business. 

Business overview

We started in 2009,  and run a suite of three core events, aimed at promoting the many facets of sustainability. These are the monthly Mansfield Farmers’ Market, the twice yearly Sustainable House Tours and the newly introduced Regional Farm Gate Tours. Our customers are mostly Victorian, with a mix of locals, regional and Melbourne-based.

Which web or social media technologies are you using in your business?

  • We started off with a farmer’s market web page – this was used as the portal for all information pertaining to the market. Stallholder enquiries and applications are all handled online through the web page.
  • As the other events grew in their following and strengths, we created a second web page for Walker Events. This allowed us to introduce devotees of the farmers’ market to the other facets of our business. Both web pages are updated on average once per week and cross-promote each other.
  • Both web pages are attached to a MailChimp database, allowing people to sign up to our email newsletter. This is used for promoting all facets of the business. Using MailChimp takes away a lot of the work (subscribers/unsusbcribers, etc) involved with keeping the database up to date.
  • Twitter and Facebook also play a large part in the marketing of the business. The farmers’ market has its own Facebook business page which is used to communicate general foodie news and promotions as well as market information.  Twitter is used as a means to create relationships with producers, other markets, people interested in food as well as media contacts.
  • We are just starting to use YouTube to record different experiences – we have a business YouTube channel which is another way to showcase our experiences.
  • As a business that prides itself on being environmentally sustainable, being a part of the digital space in such a big way helps us to reduce the amount of paper and other resources that we use.

What have been the benefits of using these?

We embraced digital marketing from the very beginning, simply because it was something that could be managed in-house. The media contacts that we have made online have been of enormous assistance with PR and marketing.

Contacts made through Twitter have created some huge benefits for the business, as well as for individual producers who attend the market. In particular, one of our producers was “introduced” over Twitter. This was noticed by some high-level chefs, and as a consequence is now supplying product to several hatted restaurants.  Word of mouth recommendations are vitally important when it comes to local produce and the use of Twitter in this instance was hugely successful.

What benefits do you think the NBN will have for your business?

At the moment, slow internet and frequent drop outs that can occur through our wireless internet connection mean that something that should take half an hour ends up taking half a day. Constant and controlled broadband access will make many of our tasks much easier.

Do you have any tips for other business managers who may be looking at getting online?

Don’t be scared! There is no need to jump into everything all at once – start slowly. Ask questions. Read books and blogs. Attend workshops and professional development. Keep learning and make the most of the opportunities that are available.

You can connect with Walker Events on Twitter at @MansfieldFM, and on the Mansfield Farmer’s Market Facebook page.

SMBs are the NBN’s sweet spot: ZDnet article

There was an excellent article y , on June 12th 2012, entitled “SMBs are the NBN’s sweet spot.”

The article’s key points include:

  • NBN take-up rates among small and medium businesses approaching 90 per cent in some regional first-release sites
  • Dr Jane Burns, CEO of Melbourne-based adolescent support initiative the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, sees pervasive NBN broadband as a way of extending traditional support mechanisms all the way into homes
  • For the GPs, new forms of patient interaction offer opportunities to improve the service for existing customers and develop service offerings to attract new ones
  • Some critics and detractors are still very vocal. However according to Trent Williams, General Manager External Affairs at the NBN, the network itself tended to silence critics once they understood its benefits.

Read the article here.

Digital Readiness: Skills, Participation and Access

Digital Readiness Pyramid

The three preparation areas: skills, participation and access

Research and consultation undertaken by ARUP in the Hume region in March, April and May 2012, indicates that there are three broad areas that the region must focus on to prepare for the NBN and the Digital Economy*. They are:

  • Skills
  • Participation
  • Access

Access can be viewed as the platform on which participation and skills are built. Access requires initiatives to ensure that the whole community gets access to high speed broadband. This may include partnerships between organisations (eg a collective of businesses, or businesses and local government) to supply interim broadband services to sectors of the community that won’t get NBN services in the short term.

Participation looks at initiatives that will ensure effective use of digital services. This includes leadership initiatives that drive the required change in the community to adopt digital tools . This may include initiatives at a regional level similar to the national Digital Champions initiative.

Skills focuses on developing training and services that improve digital skills and understanding in the community and promote the importance of the digital economy to the future well-being of the region.

*The Digital Economy Strategy for the Hume Region will be published in July 2012.

Do you have any ideas or comments as to how we can build digital readiness in the areas of skills, participation or access? We’d welcome your input via our comments form below.

Improving client communications at Lindsay Park Racing

Lindsay Park Racing operates a state of the art racehorse training facility in Euroa. The Hayes family have been training champion racehorses since 1947, but are also drawing on the latest web technologies to help staff and horse owners to communicate more efficiently. We spoke with Jason Timperley, Racing Manager at Lindsay Park.

Business overview

We provide a ‘one stop shop’ for racehorse training needs at our Euroa property, covering all breaking in, pre-training, training, veterinary and transport needs for our owners. Our staff also assist with all aspects of racehorse sales. Although the majority of Lindsay Park’s racehorse owners are based in Australia, we have a large number of owners all around the world – particularly in Asia and Europe.

Which web technologies are you using at the moment?

  • Our website acts as a central hub for current owners and prospective customers to find out about our facilities, trainers, horses and race highlights.
  • Client communication is a big focus for us. Owners all have a secure login that gives them access to up to date information on their horses through our website, allowing them to see notes from the trainer of each horse.
  • We’re also using social media services like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to help spread the word about what we do.
  • Our staff now use a mobile app to record voice messages about the condition and performance of each horse, sending these directly from the stable to the owners. This greatly reduces the time required to update multiple owners about each animal.
  • We’ve started shooting video footage around the stables, giving the owners weekly updates from David Hayes, and showing some details from our training sessions.
  • Trainers are shifting away from paper-based systems to web-based software, using iPads to enter daily work schedules directly into the company database.

What benefits have been gained from using these tools?

By making the online experience as interactive as possible, we have been able to provide a better experience for owners who can’t come in personally to see the horses that we’re training for them. That gives us a stronger connection with the owners, and also lets us show them new horses for sale.

By providing the best possible experience for our owners, we hope that they will also spread the word about our services – bringing in new buyers from around the world.

How do you plan to use high speed broadband in your business when the NBN arrives?

We’d like to expand our capability to work with video content, as it has an important role in helping to share what happens at our properties. Live streaming of training sessions would help to showcase the work and expertise that goes into preparing horses for their races. There are also regular events, like our Yearling Parade, which we’d love to stream live footage of.

What advice do you have for other businesses who want to maximise their use of web technologies?

Embrace the social media environment – get out there and start learning how it can help your business. We’ve gradually added new tools to our business, starting with Twitter late last year, and building up our Facebook content a few months ago. They have helped us to make contacts, and generated a lot of extra publicity for us.

You can find out more about Lindsay Park Racing via their website, Facebook page or Twitter account. If you know of an innovative business in the Hume region, please get them to contact us via our contact form

Barriers to developing a digital economy strategy

ARUP, the worldwide consulting, design and engineering firm, are currently developing a digital economy strategy for RDA – Hume region.

Having conducted the research and analysis stage of the engagement,  the barriers and challenges to be overcome have been identified for the region. The two key barriers to have been identified are infrastructure and culture; these were closely followed by skills, technology and cost. Importantly these challenges have been identified through engagement and consultation with the local community with workshops having been conducted with local businesses, utility, health and education providers, residents and local government.

A selection of comments from the workshops participants (across local government, service providers and local businesses) represent the barriers identified by the community:

“Our systems are stuck in the dark ages”

“We just don’t have the skills or the training”

“2 barriers to tele-health – patients don’t have access in their home and we don’t have the skills to co-ordinate services”

“We don’t want to be left behind. Roll out coming late and  we haven’t got access to shared services. Doesn’t matter what technology you get if you don’t have the infrastructure”

“To be an efficient and capable organisation suitable connectivity to transfer large data sets is required in all areas of our catchment….”

“We are fearful of using social media in case we get sued”

“There is no social media policy because Councillors are scared by it”

“We’ve only got Telstra really and service providers cost”

Do you live and work in the Hume region? Do you agree with the comments above? Please provide your thoughts and comments on the barriers to developing a digital economy strategy?

Local Government thoughts on the digital economy

Local Government has an important leadership role to play in ensuring the digital economy becomes a reality  in the region. We recently met with Murrindindi Shire Council (Economic Development Officer, Bob Elkington) and Strathbogie Shire Council (Economic Development Officer Phil Howard, and IT Manager Richard Bianco) to get their thoughts on the digital economy and the opportunities and challenges it presents.

Listen to the videos below to hear their thoughts.

Some recurring themes include:

  • Fear among the local community and local businesses about the digital economy
  • The lack of skills among many small organisations
  • The need for local governments to upskill, and to change their cultures to better embrace the digital economy
  • The need for champions, advocates and case studies highlighting those businesses and organisations that are maximising their use of the internet
  • The need to share skills, expertise and resources across organisations and to collaborate where possible; and to provide a framework to do that
  • The need to bring in outside expertise where skills don’t exist
  • The importance of getting the discussion started – what does the NBN and digital economy really mean for the region?
  • The need for innovation and creative thinking needed to take advantage of new ways of doing business

Examples were given of organisations effectively using the internet  in the farming, tourism, equine, health, and leisure industries.

Strathbogie Shire Council

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5dOFEg4xEo]

Murrindindi Shire Council

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsEDfVncylw]