Getting to know Wheatbelt businesses

Getting to know Wheatbelt businesses

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In honour of International Day of Rural Women on October 15, Farm Weekly celebrates the women who are making agriculture a better industry to work in for future generations - for women and men alike.

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Few people champion other people's business achievements more than Wheatbelt Business Network chief executive officer Caroline Robinson.

Few people champion other people's business achievements more than Wheatbelt Business Network chief executive officer Caroline Robinson.

CAROLINE Robinson knows business, particularly regional business.

Rather than having a business empire, Ms Robinson is more the entrepreneurial type as she prefers to start businesses, set them up for growth and hand them over for someone else to have success.

And she especially enjoys helping other business owners, which led her to establish the Wheatbelt Business Network (WBN), of which she is the chief executive officer.

Growing up in the Perth Hills, Ms Robinson had a connection with regional WA from a young age as her dad worked for Wesfarmers and later Case IH.

Prior to moving to WA, her parents, who migrated from Kenya, spent some time farming in South America.

"My parents are very resourceful and their experiences raised my brothers and I to see change as an opportunity for growth," Ms Robinson said.

"There is a sense of authenticity in the country and the values that we share as rural communities are an important part of how I was brought up and how I would like my children to be raised."

Ms Robinson, husband Ian 'Robbo' and two children, Charles, 7, and Annie, 5, live on a farm, 75 kilometres east of Narembeen and farm with Robbo's parents John and Shannon Robinson, who are based at York.

When she moved to the farm, Ms Robinson started a contract business and worked with local government and community groups, mostly undertaking business cases, feasibility studies and community engagement work.

"Because I worked from home, I was seeking to connect and learn from other business owners and I also saw a need for a regional business association that could amplify and provide a united voice for businesses on key issues," she said.

"The business community of Merredin was very generous in their time and support for this concept and together, with some local business leaders, we established the Wheatbelt Business Network in 2010."

WBN has grown to be one of the largest, if not the largest business network specifically dedicated to supporting regional businesses.

It represents more than 300 businesses across 44 Wheatbelt shires.

Ms Robinson said the growth had been organic, with its initial footprint of members around Merredin and Narembeen.

"Each of our members are so very important," she said.

"I hope that over the past 11 years, we have grown a support team around our members to help them succeed, created business connections across the Wheatbelt, influenced government policy and helped profile the Wheatbelt as a great place to work and live."

She said some highlights for WBN have been employing locals and growing the staff and, of course, initiating the first Wheatbelt-wide business awards, which occur bi-annually.

So why put in all the effort to start several businesses, only to pass them on?

Ms Robsinson said starting a business from scratch gave her a thrill.

"Often the start-up phase is very intense, a lot of hours and effort, but it's the most exciting," she said.

"I enjoy thinking about the business concept and seeing it come to life."

She said by far her best business experience has been the Co-Op Cafe, Narembeen.

"With three local ladies - Sheree Thomas, Amy Hardham and Bianca Currie - we began a start-up cafe from scratch with funds from the Go Narembeen Progress Association," Ms Robinson said.

"I stepped down 12 months ago and it was rewarding to see Lynda Cornish offer her skills to the volunteer management team."

Key learnings throughout her business career have been taking the time to plan from the start, "which can save you a lot of heartache" and communication, such as learning to articulate your proposition, communicating with your team so everyone is on the same page and being succinct to get your point across.

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