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Newcomers Network

In a nutshell, how the challenges of relocating to a new place can lead to new opportunities as seen by Sue Vitnell, Founders of Newcomers Network in Melbourne.

A Melbourne based business takes pride in the fact that it spends all day 'telling people where to go.'

Sue Vitnell, 38 is the Founder of Newcomers Network, an online guide for people who have moved to a new location.

Sue moved to Melbourne from Adelaide in 1994 as a result of her husband's new work role.  She left behind an impressive career at Westpac Banking Corporation that began in 1982 and included roles in retail banking, project management, training and recruitment.

In the following 12 months, Sue found a new career, became pregnant, stopped working, became a mother, was offered several new jobs, declined these and began part time consulting work.  She also joined a Mother's Group.

'Unfortunately I had nothing in common with the other mothers - I then started to feel as if there must be something wrong with me because I am a fairly friendly person and if I could not connect with these people, how did other people find new friends or information?'

After a year of weekly meetings, Sue finally stopped going to the Mother's Group.  It took her another three years before she decided to reduce her recruitment, media and project consulting work and begin research on the best ways to help other newcomers.

In 2000, as the final subject in her Bachelor of Business in Administrative Management from the University of South Australia (completed by correspondence), Sue surveyed 96 people who had moved to Melbourne within the last five years and interviewed hundreds of other newcomers and industry professionals to work out how she could complement the existing resources in an effective way. 

The research report ‘Moving to Melbourne:expectations, issues and realities’ revealed that most people wanted a 24 hour telephone advice service, but this had been tried and had failed.  The second option, a tailor made website, was officially launched in May 2001 despite the fact that Sue did not have any internet development skills.

Since then, the number of pages on the website has grown substantially and the hits are currently increasing at over 10% a month (over 180 unique visitors per day at present)  Subscribers to the free monthly enewsletter (from all over the world) are increasing at 14% per month and it is estimated that each month, the enewsletter is read by over 5,000 people.  Every day, Newcomers Network posts messages on email groups worldwide and answers individually emailed questions. 

Newcomers Network hosted two major breakfast events in 2001, the 'Marvellous Morsels of Manningham' evening event in conjunction with the local council in March 2003 and a monthly 'Meet the Author Networking Lunch' since October 2002 in conjunction with Dymocks Melbourne and the De Bono Institute in the city.  As the De Bono Institute is undergoing renovations, the events are now held in various cultural venues around Melbourne on the second Wednesday of every month

In October, November and December 2003, Newcomers Network hosted the International Women’s Forum at the Melbourne Town Hall and later this year, plans to launch a worldwide online survey on the topic of ‘improving settlement.’  It will be a Victorian pilot for a national expansion in 2005 and an international expansion in 2006.  Three big events will launch the survey (July), report on the findings (September to coincide with Australian Citizenship Day) and then report on and celebrate the achievements (November).

Sue won a Highly Commended Award in the Emerging Business Category of the Micro Business Awards in 2001, was an entrant in the Inaugural Victorian Premier's Business Sustainability Awards in 2002 and was nominated in the 2003 Telstra Business Women's Awards.

But the question Sue is most often asked is 'how do you make money?'  'All of the information on the website is available free of charge or registration.  Our resources and revenue comes from our dedicated team of people from around the world (including an Uncle on Kangaroo Island South Australia who helps with web design), event sponsors and event ticket sales, corporate members (who sponsor our free email query service), brochure advertisers and consulting services.'

'This socially responsible 'business structure' was selected so that we could publish 'whatever was of benefit to newcomers - from any source.  Our main message is our five best tips - and these are great strategies for connecting newcomers into their own local community in ways that suit them personally.  They were designed as a result of all of the primary and secondary research collected.  We are also very proud of the fact that nearly 50% of our subscribers are men – in the past, they have often left the ‘social secretary’ role to women.'

But surprisingly Sue's toughest challenge has been gaining the support of people who can recommend the free service to newcomers.  'For some reason, many people who are in contact with newcomers including real estate agents, universities, local councils, human resource managers, migration agents, removalists and recruitment consultants will not pass on the details of our website to newcomers.'

'My suspicion is that because Newcomers Network is not labelled 'not for profit' people assume that we are not an ethical enterprise.  We do not rely on government program funding, donations or grants….we just get on with it.  We want to prove it really helps newcomers before we put our hand out for further assistance to take it to the next level.'

'Our future plans include creating an online shop of newcomer related products, improving our website design so that it is easier to update and modify whilst remaining accessible to people of all abilities and continuing to develop our relationships with all levels of government so we can continue to help more newcomers in the future. 

‘We are also looking at models of ‘personal support’ that can be developed…so in conjunction with the national community organization ‘Good Beginnings,’ we are developing a local program to be trialled over three years called ‘Newcomers Connect.’  Later this year, a formal submission on ‘Improving Settlement’ will be handed to the Federal Government.’

This month, Sue will be celebrating 10 years in Melbourne.  ‘Last year I celebrated 18 years of marriage to Wayne and our children Carmen and Peter are now nine and six.  We have no plans to return to Adelaide, but I do sometimes wonder, where will we move to next?  If I hadn’t moved in the first place, I would not be doing what I am now.  But then I think, Melbourne has been marvellous to me, so why would I want to leave?’

Sue Vitnell BBus AIMM
Newcomers Network

telephone 61 3 9852 3739
facsimile 61 3 9852 3219
mobile/cell 61 0 402 243 271
post 1 Bryson Grove Lower Templestowe Victoria Australia 3107
email [email protected] or [email protected]
ICQ# 225801506 yahoo ID suevitnell msn ID suevitnell

Newcomers Network abn 12 359 363 075
new location, new life, make the most of it!
a free online guide for people who have moved to a new location
ask us a question – we answer them
started 1999 established 2001