Growing a small business with country values

Lawn mower cutting grassThe Business Connect program helped the Carneys turn their kids’ pocket money jobs into a thriving lawn mowing and yard services business that will support them in retirement.

When Bobby Carney was made redundant after 21 years of service, it was a shock to him and his wife Dee. “We had the rest of our lives all mapped out,” Dee Carney said. “So when Bobby lost his job, it really threw us a curve ball. We had to sit down and think about which direction we wanted our lives to take.”

The small community of Trangie in Western NSW is home to around 1000 people, most of whom know the Carney family well. Over the years, Bobby and Dee’s children had mowed their neighbours’ lawns for pocket money, to pay for the sporting events they loved. But when the children grew up and left home, the Carneys found that people still asked Bobby to come around and mow their lawns or help them with other yard chores.

“It was just a side business and we didn’t earn a lot of money from it,” Dee said. “We did it more to continue helping the people in our town.”

In the wake of Bobby’s redundancy, the Carneys reached out to the Business Connect program to see if they could turn the occasional lawn mowing job into a small business that would support them into their retirement.

“We realised that lawn mowing and yard services would give us the flexibility to work the days and times we wanted, so we could spend more time with our grandchildren,” Dee said. “We already had the lawn mowing equipment and Bobby had 21 years’ experience as a gardener, so it was just a matter of commercialising what we were already doing.”

Business Connect advisor Peter Croft met with the Carneys in their home to answer all their questions about starting a small business. They worked together over a number of sessions, to undertake market research and develop a business plan.

“We didn’t really know how to set up and run a business,” Dee said. “We’d always worked for someone else, so it was a huge change. But Peter sat down with us and explained everything. He gave us advice on business planning, cashflow, insurance, legal implications, everything. It was such a relief to know that someone was there to help.”

Six months after launching the business, Peter helped the Carneys adjust their business plan and implement a number of small changes that made a big impact on their bottom line. They installed an online accounting program with a card service, so customers could pay by EFTPOS and they would receive the money straight away. The Carneys also asked Peter to help them submit a proposal for a major contract that would give them a more certain financial future. Peter supported the Carneys at every stage of the tender process, from assessing the requirements to drafting and editing the response.

“We now have a major contract with a government department for the next two years,” Dee said. “We also do all the major lawns in the area, as well as schools, churches, retirement villages and bowling clubs. Peter has really helped us grow the business, so we can earn an income and still have the flexibility to enjoy time with the family.”

The Carneys credit Peter’s calm, friendly approach to their successful business relationship. “Peter is very understanding and down to earth,” Dee said. “He’s also from the country, so he knows our lifestyle and what we want from the business.”

“Before we started, we had no idea what we were doing,” Dee said. “Talking with Peter gave us the confidence to pursue our business idea. Without his advice, I don’t think we would have been as successful as quickly, or even felt confident enough to take the first step.”

“Of course, being a small business owner can still be challenging,” Dee said. “But when we’re stuck, we know we can get through it with the support of Peter and the Business Connect program.”