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Interview with Tonia Todman

Get business tips from Australia's answer to Martha Stewart

Top tips

  • Ask yourself WHY you are doing this - if the reason is financial necessity, you have a much greater chance of success
  • Use a business plan each step of the way - review from time to time and make adjustments
  • Remember that life MUST go on - if you are thinking of starting a business, consider the financial, physical and emotion strain on you, your family and relationships

About ToniaTonia Todman who is presenting at an event as part of Small Business Festival Victoria

Tonia Todman is Australia's answer to Martha Stewart.  The TV personality has appeared on Healthy Wealthy and Wise, Good Morning Australia and Rove Live as a recognised authority on cooking, craft, home decorating and DIY. Tonia also spent ten years with Australian Vogue, where she was involved with designing, marketing, product development, teaching, plus photographic styling for fashion, craft and home interiors. These days you'll find Tonia at her school for cooking, interior design, gardening and craft at 'Highbank Hill Farm' – her home in Kyneton.
In this interview Tonia Todman shares her tips for success:

What are 3 pieces of advice you would give to people thinking of starting up a business?

  • Ask yourself WHY you are doing this - financial necessity, or as an indulgence? If the reason is financial necessity, you have a much greater chance of success.   
  • Do you have a business plan?  If not, make one and use this as a guide for every step of the way.  From time to time, review this plan and make any sensible adjustments.    
  • What financial, physical and emotional strain will this business put on you, your family and relationships?  Remember that life MUST go on, especially if you have young children, and that you are the one probably making the sacrifices.    
  • In my experience, if a small business can exist for three years, it's probably going to be around for as long as the owner wishes.

What was the highlight of your media career?

It's longevity - I had twenty years on prime time television appearing in successful programs.  I was very fortunate! This long exposure meant that books I wrote became popular and other related work was well received and my name has endured in these and related areas.

Tell us about Highbank?

Highbank was almost derelict when we purchased it ten years ago.  It was to be our home, but importantly it had potential to become my cooking school, the land was fertile enough to grow roses, and my lovely husband Michael was a qualified builder and restoration expert!  The Stables and The Tack Room became B&Bs, and the historic gardens were gradually hauled back into some semblance of order and beauty.  It now functions as a whole - a place for parties and weddings, a cooking school, an elegant and comfortable place to stay and a garden where the most beautiful roses grow.

You have also established the largest fragrant rose garden in Central Victoria – how did this come about?

I had always wanted to 'grow something'.  Our arrival at Highbank meant that this was now a real possibility.  The agricultural department originally recommended that I grow lentils!!  Upon hearing their advice, I said to myself - 'Tonia Todman, lentil grower'  - no, I don't think so!  I know that to grow something successfully you must be passionate about it (or to do anything well, for that matter), so in a moment of pure clarity, I decided upon roses. I spent a year researching into all aspects of growing roses - climate, soils, fertilizer, organics, history, species, varieties, possible and real business competitors, colours, habits - you name it!  We then ploughed the soil, created the beds, ordered and planted the bare-rooted roses, and went about the process of letting our future customers know what we were doing.  I now also happily work as a florist and floral stylist as an adjunct to my rose growing - but I work with all flowers, not just roses!!

How do you overcome failure and any knowledge you can impart to small business owners?

If you are going to dust yourself off and start again, you MUST know how and where you went wrong, and have a good understanding of this. The problem is often not  insurmountable - and can be relatively easy to fix.  Self belief is important, as is an understanding family. If your business is based on personal talent, remember that you STILL have that talent, and it can probably see you through the problem if it is re-directed, and allow you to re-start. You are still the same person!  You may discover that you are the 'ideas' person, but not a marketer - be sure you are all doing what you are best at. You may need to become very good friends with your banker - and at all times, if you are operating on bank finance, total honesty with your banker is vital.  They don't like surprises.

Now for some non-business related questions…

How do you 'switch off' from work mode?

My favourite sneaky get-away is up to Piper Street, Kyneton, to have coffee and read a newspaper or magazine.  I don't meet friends deliberately, but inevitably see people with whom I chat and exchange news.  I also love going to the cinema for a good movie - in the dark, an ice-cream and a good story - wonderful! Otherwise, it's up into the attic for a snooze!!

What's Kyneton's best-kept secret?

Its people, its natural beauty and its proximity to Melbourne.  It's all here if you want a balanced life, and you can have a Melbourne 'fix' any time you want.  There's a vibrant cultural scene - plays, music, festivals and art - enough to swamp you if you let it.  And house prices are attracting young families who value these community attributes.