Business Advice

Why the Outback School of Business wants you to herd cattle and formulate business plans

Dominic Powell /

Could a weekend wrangling cattle and making fences help refresh your business plan?

Andrew Poots thinks it can, and he wants to prove it at the Outback School of Business near Longreach in Queensland.

At a 33,000-acre cattle station in remote western Queensland, management from city-based small businesses are invited to come solve their business woes through a four-day weekend of strategising and herding sheep.

Poots, who has spent 25 years running his own accountancy businesses and advising others, told SmartCompany he came up with the idea after he spent a weekend at his cattle farm and noticed the advantages for his way of thinking.

“When I was working out there I found I had more time to think. It’s just clean living out there, nothing to distract you that much,” Poots says.

“I found it helped me make better-structured decisions about running my business.”

The rural retreat is designed to be distraction-free, with no phone calls from clients, emails, or meetings. Poots says he rarely even gives out the lodge’s Wi-Fi password.

The Outback School of Business has already run a few sessions, and Poots says the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

“We ran some weekends right after Christmas, and the team we took up there said it was exactly what they needed at exactly the right time,” he says.

“It fired them up for the year again. They have a business plan now, so all they need to do is execute it.”

Strong plans, but crooked fences

Teams typically meet Poots at the Brisbane airport on Friday morning, arriving at the farm in the late afternoon. After three nights at the School, they fly back to their homes on Monday morning.

Poots says each day is broken up into two halves, with the first focused on nutting out issues in their business and formulating a strong business plan.

“We do all the businessy stuff in the morning. All talking, planning, debating around how the business should run,” he says.

“Small businesses don’t have the luxury of a BHP style five-year plan, it’s all about the next 18 months. We set a clear goal, and then define all the base level operations and tasks required.”

But after lunch, the team heads out to get their hands dirty. Poots says most activities revolve around cattle and sheep herding and fencing.

“It’s all about getting people out of their comfort zone, plus it’s great for team building. No one knows what they’re doing so they have to work together to solve problems,” Poots says.

“I must admit, though, I’ve seen some pretty crooked fences.”

Poots and his team at the Outback School of Business
Source: Supplied

For businesses in every industry

Poots says Outback School of Business’ program is appropriate for SMEs across all industries, but says a team must to be ready to be challenged.

“Some people don’t do business plans, they laugh at them, so obviously this program is not for them,” he says.

“It’s for businesses who are ready to have a go at it and be challenged a bit.”

There’s also the cost to consider. The price of the program ranges between $8,000 to $15,000, with prices increasing depending on if businesses require consulting from Poots and his team.

However, micro businesses might not find Poots’ program appropriate, as he warns it’s probably not for “mum and dad” businesses with no staff.

“It’s really for small businesses with a small management team, and it’s definitely not for big corporates,” he says.

“There’s a lot of things city-based business people can learn from people in the bush, and one of those things is resilience.

“People have to be multi-skilled and resourceful in the bush, and rural areas tend to undersell those attributes.”

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Dominic Powell

Dominic Powell is the lead reporter at StartupSmart.

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