Step Inside a Country Business

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View over the Pyrenees Goldfields Region, Central Victoria

Deb and Mark share what it’s really like to run a lifestyle country business

Avoca Cottages Hosts Deb and Mark BarravecchiaRecently invited to come and see what running a lifestyle business in country Victoria involves, I jumped at the chance. I learnt that an established local business in the right community can be the key to a successful sea or tree change.

I also discovered that it’s not as hard as you might think to run a viable business and enjoy a relaxed lifestyle. Let’s go behind the scenes with Mark and Deborah Barravecchia and see what it’s really like…

Tiring of Melbourne’s hustle and bustle, Mark and Deb set out to find a peaceful, friendly, country community and a business that would pay the bills without running them into the ground. Mark was a practicing myotherapist and Deb had over 30 years experience in social, community and youth work. Neither had ever run a lifestyle business before but knew they could learn.

Moving to the perfect tree change location – Pyrenees Shire in central Victoria was an easy decision. Diversity, friendly people, an easy drive to Ballarat and Melbourne (close enough but not too close!), beautiful rolling hills and most essential services within easy reach across the region.

The Barravecchia’s Dream

Avoca CottagesTheir original dream was to build a straw bale house on a steep piece of land out of town but when this proved too difficult, Mark and Deb bought a few acres at Lexton on which they now have a home and grow a variety of organic vegetables. 6 years of commuting to Ballarat and Melbourne provided work but didn’t create the slower yet still interesting life they wanted.

When the Avoca Cottages came up for sale, it ticked all their boxes. 5 fully self-contained cottages set back from the Avoca main street amongst majestic river gums, overlooking the golf course would provide the lifestyle they were looking for and the income they needed.

Mark and Deb spent the next 6 years adding their own touches, improving the cottages and learning how to run a business.

Choosing a Great Location Ensures a Steady Flow of Customers

Sunset over the deck - Avoca CottagesBeing in a popular tourist area (27 wineries and 5 – 7 major events a year), easily accessible from Melbourne means there’s always someone wanting to stay. Listed on 8 online accommodation sites brings a steady flow of new guests, while over 30% of visitors are referrals, returns or guests of local families. Positive Trip Advisor reviews highlight why people love to stay here.

The beautiful, relaxed surroundings lend themselves to special experiences and over the years Mark and Deb have enjoyed hosting small weddings, milestone birthdays and local community get-togethers.

Being a Local Business Owner Opens Doors

Buying a local business opens the way to being easily accepted and welcomed into a small community. It shows a level of commitment beyond merely living there and working somewhere else, making it easier to become involved and feel like you belong.

If you’re a couple without young children (who provide an easy entree into a community), buying a local small business creates an immediate connection and in a place like Avoca, people will help you succeed.

A lifestyle business that offers freedom and choice Avoca Cottages has given Mark and Deb the best of both worlds. There’s a separate, onsite manager’s cottage where you’ll usually find one or both of them, while their nearby farm provides the perfect get-away for time out.

You Don’t Need To Be Available 24/7

One of the myths about owning a hospitality based business is that it needs to be open 24/7, 365 days a year and is a tie when you want to travel. But Mark and Deb have worked around this whilst still pursing what’s important to them. As Seventh-day Adventists, they close the office from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday but there’s always someone to greet guests who have pre-booked.

Be Open to Learning – Give New Things a GO!

Feeding the birds at Avoca CottagesWhilst not overly stressful, running Avoca Cottages is never boring! Along with a steady stream of new people to meet, beautiful grounds to maintain and the cottages to service, the Barravecchias have added their own touches over the years including massage chairs, new air conditioning and interior design improvements.

Every business has its challenges and for the Barravecchia these have included putting the cottages online and understanding the financials. When their bookkeeper left suddenly, Mark had to get his head around the books pretty quickly!

Although not something you’d wish for, this was probably a blessing in disguise – every business owner needs to understand the numbers.

While it took a while to set up MYOB and Front Desk supporting software, Mark now has plenty of time for other things. As well as enjoying meeting new people, to run a business like this you need basic computer skills, flexibility and a willingness to learn.

There’s Always Something To Do But Very Little Is Urgent

A typical day includes caring for the beautiful but not too big grounds, taking bookings, cleaning and preparing the cottages as guests arrive and depart. Because they’ve maintained it so well, there are no major renovations to be done at Avoca Cottages and a little time spent regularly keeps it all in tip top shape.

Fitting In Is Easy When You Bring Your Skills and Get Involved

Leaving your existing home and friends to start somewhere new can be daunting. But Mark and Deb have found Avoca to be a friendly town that welcomes those who are prepared to share and pitch in. Mark has taught Italian at the local University of the Third Age (U3A) and Deb is involved in the Avoca Business & Tourism association.

Other new arrivals have been warmly welcomed for running Photoshop classes, driving the community bus, becoming involved in local services, clubs and the school.

What Goes Around Comes Around – Support Each Other

While there are other accommodation options in the region, the Barravecchias have found that rather than being competitors, the other hospitality business owners are very supportive. Each has carved out their own niche at different price points and willingly refer visitors to the type of accommodation that will best meet their needs.

A local laundry takes care of the linen and Avoca Cottages runs smoothly thanks to the wonderful support of Vicki who cleans (she’s a stickler and the cottages are all immaculate!), receives visitors and handles the daily running of the business when the Barravecchias are away.

Avoca Cottages Could Be Yours!

After 6 years, Mark and Deb are ready to move on and the cottages are now up for sale. The next chapter of their lives will include medical missionary work in Nepal and spending more time on their farm at Lexton.

Avoca Cottages

Avoca Cottages has a solid turnover and brings in a regular income, minus the challenges of a new start up. Yet there’s still plenty of scope for growth without a lot of extra effort and the opportunity to add your own touches.

If you’re ready to quit the stresses of city living and like the idea of running an established business in a small, friendly town in one of Victoria’s most beautiful regions, you’d go a long way to find a better opportunity.

As the sun sets, the sound of sulphur crested cockatoos coming into roost gives way to a gentle breeze rustling through the river gums. Peace and serenity settle over the cottages – the perfect place for a tree changed lifestyle.

If you’d like to find out more, Mark and Deb would love to talk to you. Send them an email at or give them a call on (03) 5465-3677

And if you’d like help to take over this wonderful lifestyle business and make it your own…

Kickstart YOUR Lifestyle Business

Carpe diem

Caroline Cameron


Caroline Cameron, Sea Change CoachCaroline Cameron is a master certified executive career and lifestyle coach, sea change coach, speaker and author.

Having successfully reinvented herself through 10 career and 4 major lifestyle changes, Caroline helps mid-career professionals harness the power of change to achieve success in business, work and life.

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