Entrepreneurs making a tree change

26th May 2014

The city's not the only place where you can make your fortune.

Hamish Holley and Virginia Wong See wanted a new lifestyle for their family. You don't have to do business in the city to make the big bucks. Entrepreneurs ready for a tree change are bringing their businesses with them.

Two years ago architect Virginia Wong See shifted her successful Sydney studio architecture@altitude to the quieter surrounds of Armidale, in northern New South Wales. "We've had a few jobs in Sydney, so we kept some clients and some we shed."

With her husband and business partner Hamish Holley, Wong See set up shop in the regional hub, hoping to create a new lifestyle for her family. It may have been seen by some as a step backwards, but Wong See says her business is now performing better than ever.

“We're doing better than we were in Sydney - the cost of living and commuting is less and we now work four days a week and spend the fifth mustering at a friend's property,” Wong See says.

The move was largely inspired by the couple's 13-year-old daughter Dominique, who loves horse riding. Dominique and her parents had grown tired of long Sunday night drives home to Sydney after weekends spent horse riding, so they decided to find their own horse-riding paradise.

But after 15 years spent trading in Sydney, there were the obvious pitfalls for the husband and wife team to consider. How would they keep clientele? What if regional consumers weren't prepared to pay as much as Sydneysiders?

Wong See and Holley decided to ease their way into their new community by cutting their rates, which they also hoped would entice city-based clients to stick with them.

“We reduced our fees when we moved up here because we knew the cost of living would be less and we wanted to introduce ourselves to the community,” Wong See says.

Despite the obvious differences - Armidale's population is 25,000 compared to Sydney's 4.5 million – the studio's tree change brought unexpected business advantages.

“In Sydney we had a name for terrace house renovations,” Wong See says.

“But here there's a wider variety of work with a lot more new houses on rural sites and we've never been short of work.

“It's a lot easier here because we know all the people at council, the planners, quite well and the compliance issues are easier.”

To counteract any disadvantages of relocating, the NSW government offers $10,000 grants to city-slickers who land a job or are self-employed by a small business as part of the Skilled Regional Relocation Incentive.

The grant offer, which started on January 1 this year and ends on July 1 next year, is a further incentive to boost regional populations and economies.

Story by Kate Jones, SMH/Age, 26/5/2014

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