“I had 25 phone calls in the first week of COVID with people asking ‘how do I take my business online?’ It was the biggest influx I had ever seen in my business.” That’s a quote from Tori Kopke, the founder of 20 20 Marketing Solutions, a business she runs from Cunderdin, a remote corner of the West Australian wheatbelt. She’s an expert when it comes to working remotely and juggling lots of balls.
In addition to running her business, Tori runs Big Ideas Rural, a virtual community designed to support women running businesses in rural Australia.
Tori recently told Flying Solo that while COVID had brought unwelcome changes to many in her network, she’s certain opportunities abound for rural and remote business owners in the post COVID world.
“I am so excited!. As a person who lives rurally who can’t normally access a lot of services because of my location, there’s now a huge marketplace for people who really want to use and access services. People are going to have virtual access to all events, you can access such a bigger market, there is staying power in the move to virtual and I am really excited about it,” says Tori.
“For rural businesses when lockdown hit us suddenly the rest of the world was on the same page; we suddenly became the thought leaders. Suddenly people started to understand the challenges to our businesses, like when we experience having no internet for the day! The opportunity we have as rural businesses is just going to keep growing. Australians love supporting the underdog and people identify us as the underdog. And thanks to the wonderful #buyfromthebush campaign, owning that you are a rural business is a huge advantage and distinction as well.”
Georgie Robertson agrees. She’s the founder of The Regional PR company, an agency she runs from her family farm near Wagga Wagga in the Riverina region of New South Wales.
“I would definitely agree that we have an advantage over businesses that have never had to work remotely in the past. To be honest, it hasn’t been a huge transition for the Regional PR team to adapt to COVID-19 working restrictions as we have honed our abilities to build relationships with our clients and the media as a necessary response to where we live,” says Georgie.
“I have clients who I communicate every day but may never actually meet them because they are based in far-flung areas and I met one of my team members in person only last week despite the fact that she and I have been working together for the past three years. It’s uncanny how you can very quickly establish connections despite living in rural and regional areas.”
Sophie Walsh is one of Georgie’s clients. She runs two businesses, White Top Events and St Edwards, a boutique lodge in the Riverina region of New South Wales. While business slowed with the onset of COVID, Sophie told Flying Solo already they’ve experienced a bit of a boom in bookings.
“The biggest advantage for us is that with the international borders being shut, the push for local tourism is going to be incredible. We are already feeling it. As an events business we’re also excited by the prospect of having access to event planners that work all over the world, collaborating or even working for us. We’ve already been chatting to city girls who have lost their jobs about working with us, remotely.”
“And technology has really helped. Everyone now knows that Zoom meetings are safe which is great for us. My husband was spending 4-5 times a week on the road seeing clients but can now do many of those meetings remotely. We get a lot more work done and a lot more time for family. I think we’ve all realised that time with family was something we had let slip and now we’re making the most of it.”
Jo Palmer is another rural soloist who has enjoyed a boost to business since COVID hit. The founder of Pointer Remote Roles, Jo connects big businesses in city areas to rural and remote workers, and is an expert in making the remote work transition efficient and effective.
She told Flying Solo: “Rural and remote businesses have had to think outside the box for a long time in regards to accessing skills and accessing work. With physical isolation, comes creativity!”
As Tori Kopke shared with us, most of her clients have been looking for support to pivot their small businesses in response to COVID – usually to an online business model. While she agrees with Jo Palmer that creativity is important, she says the most successful pivots are more a result of the business owners personality.
“It’s definitely about the person. There are many businesses out there who have decided to ride it out (COVID) and not make any changes to how they do business. It’s about having a growth mindset, instead of sitting back, you have a framework that says, “This has happened, let’s turn it into an opportunity.”
Do you run a rural/remote/regional small business? How do you feel about the post COVID world?