“We began business with half a tractor!”

- April 26, 2017 5 MIN READ

Scott Stewart Earthmoving Pty Ltd started with Scott and Jillian Stewart in partnership back in 1997 – 19 years and four children later, this is a true family owned and run business based in Moree, NSW.

Q. Who works in your small business?
We currently employ five people, are looking for another two employees, and have two contractors working for us at the moment. They have their own machinery that we helped them get into and they work (pretty much) solely for us.

Q. What do you do?
We are an earthmoving company and our main work consists of levelling dirt on cotton farms to direct water – either through the cotton fields (irrigation), building channels to move the water, dams to hold the water or pads to get away from the water! Cotton farmers value their water and we help them to conserve and use as much of it as possible.

Q. How did you start your small business?
We started the business with nothing basically. We owned a small house (well, us and the bank) and a work ute. Then when we went halves into the tractor and laser bucket, the company that we worked for guaranteed our half of the loan. We continued to make wages and then all profit went back into the joint account. Then, when we bought the whole machine.

We couldn’t get finance even though by then we had bought another house and were renting the first one out. Our first house was less than $100,000 and our second house was $125,000 – so we have not been big spenders. We ended up taking the only finance that we could get with AGC at a huge interest rate and after 18 months, when we traded the tractor in and bought a new one, and after paying $2000 per month on about $150,000 loan, we had only paid $1500 off the principal.

It was a hard lesson to learn. So we started on the 1st January 2000 with no money and a huge debt with a huge interest rate. The farmer that we did the first ever job for as Scott Stewart Earthmoving (who is now one of our best friends) advanced us $25,000 to put into our business account and we then worked it off. We then worked our butts off to put more money into the account.

Joe Stewart, 19, works full time with the business and loves moving dirt. Whilst the three other children are still at boarding school, when they are home on holidays, it is all hands on deck. Between escorting machinery, picking up parts, cleaning machinery and the workshop, the whole family is involved.

Q. We hear you started your small business with half a tractor!
Yes, we started out contracting labour (my husband) as an operator and then the company that he was working for (Stein Earthmoving) sold us half of a tractor and laser bucket. This was February 1998, it started to rain in April that year and the tractor did not move again until September. Scott went away driving for another contractor in Brisbane and I had our second baby. My husband was  was gone for four months and I only saw him twice during that time. We had two children under 14 months and we were home alone. Thanks goodness for for my mother who was a lifesaver for our family.

We bought the rest of the tractor and laser bucket at the end of 1999 and our Pty Ltd company came into effect on the 1st January 2000 (just in time to start learning about GST).

Q. What have been the highlights of working in your small business?
A highlight for me was when we did a Feedlot job in Inverell about 10 years ago. When we started, there was a paddock on a hillside with mounds and dirt and it was just rough. Two weeks later, there was a perfectly formed pad on which to build the feedlot (where the cattle live) with drains away and roads into.

The difference between the start and the end was amazing and I only wish that I had taken photos of before and after. There are many memories. Most of our clients are now very good friends and hearing their stories of amazing cotton crops, change for the better, and ways to save water makes us happy.

Images by Tristan Petty, one of Scott Stewart Earthmoving operators who wants to start his own small business. Visit him on Instagram “dust_n_diesel” & #dustndiesel on Facebook

Q. What have been some of your biggest challenges?
Every job well done, every happy farmer and every cheque that doesn’t bounce is a highlight!

The biggest challenges are dealing with the weather and finding staff. We can only work when its dry and so long periods of wet weather mean that we have staff that we have to find work for. Or they go and work for someone else (sometimes they don’t come back). And we can also go three to four months without an income, so we have to plan and budget ahead.

Images by Tristan Petty, visit him on Instagram “dust_n_diesel” & #dustndiesel on Facebook

Last year we did a quoted job for nearly $1,000,000 and it was forecast to be wet. If it rained a lot, that would mean that it would take longer and be harder to get the work done, meaning that we would lose money on the job. We watched the weather on a daily basis, planned which parts of the job we would do first and worried, stressed and planned on many many late nights.

As it turned out, it didn’t rain at all and the job actually needed some rain on it at the end to finish it off! You can never win with the weather. We also have trouble finding employees who want to work want to learn and are keen. Sometimes we travel up to four hours away from home. Many men don’t like being away from home and stuck on a farm/paddock away from people, pubs and friends.

Images by Tristan Petty, visit him on Instagram “dust_n_diesel” & #dustndiesel on Facebook

What’s the secret to your small business success?
1. We have never embraced debt and try to pay it off as soon as possible.
2. We live very modestly and are not flashy people. Our kids have been brought up the same way. They pay for their own iPhones and get our old ones. They have the worst phones out of all of their friends!
3. My husband Scott and I are a team. We discuss the business, live the business and love the business together.
4. Scott loves what he does, takes pride in his work and is a perfectionist with it.
5. As a small business we always do the best thing for both ourselves and the client, making money work for both of us.

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