Running a small business can be scary, but for Tegan Dawson, the scarier the better.
In February this year, Dawson launched Haunted Hills Tours -- a tourism startup that allows her to combine her knowledge of the haunted history of Victoria’s Latrobe Valley and her theatrical skills.
Since appropriately launching on Friday the 13th, Dawson has run monthly 90-minute night-time ghost tours in Yallourn North, and is already expanding. From the end of this month, she’ll start tours in nearby Traralgon and in December the business will expand to include a crime tour.
All this is happening as Dawson is still studying to complete her BA in public relations and professional writing -- which she completes next month -- and the process has probably been a little more frightening than the stories she tells on her tours.
Dawson told The Huffington Post that starting a business with limited knowledge of how to do so -- while still studying -- was a massive challenge.
“I knew I would have to get a job eventually and I’ve always been fascinated by ghost stories, so I thought, ‘why not start telling them as a business?’” she said.
“Everything has been a learning experience. But the big thing I did learn was that you can’t study and run a business part-time -- even if your business only runs once a month.”
Dawson said she was not prepared for just how much time she would need to devote to the business.
“If I told you how long I’ve spent, and still spend, working on it, you wouldn’t believe me,” Dawson said.
“I do all my own website and social media posts and keep up with the bookings and promotions and everything myself.”
She said she still gets guidance from the Small Business Mentoring Service, to which she was referred by her local council.
“I knew enough to know that if the council didn’t like my idea, I wouldn’t have a business, so I organised a meeting and they were really into it,” Dawson said.
“They referred me to the Small Business Mentoring Service and I found them really, really helpful.
“They told me about the tourism industry in the Valley and the different levels of associations I could go to for help with marketing and promotion.
“I had a basic business plan and I’d worked out my pricing structure and the numbers I needed to make it viable, but they helped me with a lot of information about how to go forward.”
She said her local community has been really supportive of her business -- and are always giving her eerie stories to work into her tours.
“The Latrobe Valley has this really interesting narrative, and it’s mostly been about the power stations and the coal mines, but there's so much more under the surface,” she said.
“A lot of people here have experiences they can’t explain -- there are so many hidden stories, so I talk to people and find them.
“There are so many ghost stories that come out when I start talking to people and tell them that I’m doing the tours -- locals who live around Haunted Hill Road still hear weird sounds, like horses running or cows stampeding but then nothing’s there.”
With plans to expand her business once she finishes studying, Dawson said she’s excited to be a part of the area’s growing tourism industry.
“Most of our tourism comes through family and friends in the Valley, so I’m marketing locally to build the brand and then I’ll start promoting it to other places,” she said.
The next phase will be to include accommodation and dining options so Haunted Hill Tours can offer tourists a complete package.