How this micro firm diva turned $5000 into millions
FIONA Jefferies can't stop smiling.
The micro business she started with just $5000 is now turning over more than $3 million a year - after achieving a 1000 per cent increase in revenue over the past three years.
It's a phenomenal amount of growth, and it came after Ms Jefferies overcame her aversion to being the boss after years of working on her own.
Diva Works is a consultancy that provides custom-made 3D models and sales suites to property developers, capitalising on the nation's housing boom and helping house hunters to envision what their yet-to-be-built potential homes will look like.
Ms Jefferies runs the business from her home and nearby co-working desk at Carlington, in Sydney's northwest, managing a team of designers, sales and admin staff based at her office in Jannali in the Sutherland Shire.
She rarely makes the 38km trip, instead embracing online conferencing to manage her all-female team of 13 employees.
"I've only been to the office five times in 14 months," she confessed, embodying the kind of flexibility she believes is lacking in most workplaces.
If a staff member needs to leave early one day a week to attend to family responsibilities, they are free to do so, although "it isn't always easy for me", she said. "Businesses are often too rigid."
Being the boss did not come naturally to Ms Jefferies, who started her business not long after graduating with an industrial design degree - but then again, neither did being a nine-to-five worker.
"I was a pretty annoying employee," she told news.com.au, describing her younger self as "mouthy".
After starting Diva Works in 2001, unforeseen circumstances thrust her suddenly into the deep end when her relationship broke down.
"I split up with my fiance and my beautifully crafted plan of working from our home was in tatters," she recalled.
"It was really scary at the time, but it probably propelled me forward. I had no choice but to make it work."
She gave herself a $5000 loan and bought a computer, printer and stack of business cards, then threw herself into the male-dominated world of property development.
Having spotted a gap in the market for high-quality models and sales suites, she set out to convince developers that she could do better than what they were producing in-house.
"I relieve my clients' stress so they don't have to worry about that stage of the project and create space so they can focus on the overall strategy," Ms Jefferies said.
As she started to pick up work, she bootstrapped the operation by ploughing every dollar back into the business.
Eventually she began to nab big-name clients like ASX-listed property giant Mirvac, and her one-woman show grew into a six-figure business.
But she wanted to do more.
'WHEN IN DOUBT, TAKE ACTION'
In 2013, Ms Jefferies cast aside her fear of "going big" and finally hired a team.
She was in for a major learning curve; having worked solo for more than a decade, things like regular staff meetings were a foreign concept.
"I've been on a growth track myself, trying to work out how to be a leader when I've been on my own for so long," she said.
"I always thought having staff and an office would just complicate things ... I had to push myself out of my comfort zone and smash through the stories I told myself."
It's meant that she has developed a willingness to try different approaches and see what works. Whatever the dilemma, her motto has become: "When in doubt, take action."
The approach has paid off, with several blue chip clients like Stockland and Lend Lease signing up, and revenue increasing tenfold.
"It is exciting, but I am aware of the responsibility to my staff," Ms Jefferies said.
"I have to think about forward projections and make sure the money will keep coming in, as it's not just me I have to worry about. I've made a commitment to 13 women that there's going to be an ongoing payment for their services."
Now her focus is on tweaking her business processes to eke out a better profit; scaling up brings with it higher overheads, she said, and keeping the venture sustainable while maintaining its "boutique" feel was the top priority.
"I've seen a lot of other businesses go through growth and blow themselves up," Ms Jefferies said.
"They get acquired and their dedication to clients is watered down ... Growth is not my driver, it's about doing things on a bigger scale."