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We think it’s not just big businesses that should get recognised for being great businesses. Sometimes it’s the little things small business owners do over a 12-month period that make a big difference.

We spoke to 12 impressive SMEs making waves this year.

Recruitment company offers massive cash and time savings

Meet Michael Overell, founder of RecruitLoop

Achieving a client saving of more than $20,000 on a single role, as well as other employers tens of thousands of dollars every week, was just the first eight months of business for online recruitment agency RecruitLoop.

“We set out to completely transform the way companies hire new staff, which is currently an outrageously expensive and time-consuming process,” CEO and cofounder Michael Overell explains.

Through online marketplace RecruitLoop, he helps employers reach freelance recruiters and set up automated video interviews for hiring. This approach to the recruitment process results in drastically reduced recruitment hours at 90 percent lower cost. Unfortunately, these savings doesn’t please everyone in the industry.

“R u [sic] lot serious with your pricing? Absolutely ludicrous! You will ruin the industry…horrible model you should be ashamed as a professional,” rants one of RecruitLoop’s website visitors.

The company’s accomplishments since its launch easily overshadow comments like these. In one year, RecruitLoop built an online network of 45 independent recruiters with an average of 10 years’ experience each and has helped Australia’s biggest retailer screen 300 graduate candidates by video. They have also developed a partnership with Workforce Guardian, Australia’s leading employment relations service.

$3 million funding helps keep customers well shod

Meet Jodie Fox, Michael Fox and Mike Knapp, founders of Shoes of Prey

Global recognition and $3 million capital raising have been the highlights of the year for Shoes of Prey. As the first to market the “design your own shoe” concept about two-and-a-half years ago, co-founders Jodie and Michael Fox and Mike Knapp had a full year.

“The last 12 months have been the most extraordinary of life for all three of us,” Jodie Fox says. “I feel like I have lived at least four years in that time.”

Shoes of Prey invites women to create their own footwear and ensures customers receive the perfect shoe for any occasion with a no-questions-asked returns policy. Beginning with a style then moving on to fabrics and colour, and even offering recommendations, Shoes of Prey covers all the bases with its innovative online design hub and store.

The $3 million funding from a global syndicate of investors, including internet legend Mike Arrington, Bill Tai and Mike Cannon-Brookes, was among the many accomplishments this year. Shoes of Prey also established a London office, created another successful online fashion retailer (Sneaking Duck), and received international media coverage.

“I have felt what it means to be truly passionate about something – through both exhilarating highs and excruciating lows,” says Fox. 

Flick the bureaucratic red tape to CertificatesOnline

Meet Julie Sweet, founder of CertificatesOnline

Court action, legislative changes brought in by the Government, and handling sensitive legal documents are challenges Julie Sweet faces each day at CertificatesOnline.

In business for eight years now, CertificatesOnline handles all the paperwork for clients wishing to legally change their name or acquire their original birth, marriage or death certificates. Considering herself “an enhancer to the process,” Sweet takes on the paperwork, visits the Government department on their behalf and securely delivers the official paperwork within 24 hours. Sweet’s clients no longer waste precious time waiting in long queues for urgent paperwork.

“There is a saying that resonates with me and something I focus on continually. It reads: ‘Trust that still, small voice that says, “This might work and I’ll try it.”’

CertificatesOnline has seen some wonderful growth in the past year. The recent global expansion now gives expats living overseas an easier option to access their Australian records. CertificatesOnline has also eliminated the time delay associated with the name change process by ending face-to-face appointments.

HEADER: Less competition as Lust Have It buys out international company

Meet Nicci Herrera, founder of Lust Have It

It only took one year of business before Australia’s first beauty subscription service dominated the market. Founded in 2011 by Nicci Herrera, Lust Have It purchased the assets of its international competitor, Glossybox, in April this year.

Transforming her love for everything beauty into a business is her highlight this year. “Believe in your vision and create the team to get you there,” says Herrera.

Lust Have It gives beauty fanatics all over Australia the opportunity to sample products for a small monthly membership. The eCommerce website provides only the best to its thousands of members and delivers straight to the door.

Members receive a beauty box of skincare, haircare and makeup samples with brands like Lancome and Dermalogica. Each box includes product reviews, helpful hints and links to an e-store with the full size products to complement the samples sent that month.

In the past year, Lust Have It expanded from Hobart to Sydney, attracted investors from all over Australia and is regularly contacted by brands interested in joining the community.

Media intelligence firm pioneers social media risk management

Meet James Griffin, founder of SR7 Social Media

As social media gains momentum in corporate culture so does SR7 Social Media. Cofounder and NSW Young Business Person of the Year 2011 James Griffin, founded the social media intelligence and advisory firm recognising the changing social media culture.

“SR7 has pioneered the risk management of social media,” Griffin states. “Far beyond reputational damage, social media now impacts everything from supply chain risk management to political risk.”

The company offers solutions for all social media risks. Through social media monitoring, data analysis and strategic response, it ensures its clients have a social media presence that is protected and monitored. Staff also help clients identify and use the opportunities that arise from social media.

“In this ‘two speed’ economy, we’ve just hit sixth gear,” Griffin explains. A major milestone for SR7 Social Media occurred this year with a strategic alliance formed with accounting and professional services client KPMG. Along with signing another alliance with the world’s largest risk consulting company Aon, Griffin and SR7 Social Media is looking forward to the future.

“If Australia is to embrace the next century then we need to start focusing on and helping smart, driven entrepreneurs who are tackling new industries and creating new jobs.”

“Passion and profitability – it doesn’t get much better”

Meet Kylie Donnar, founder of Styled to Sell

What most people imagine doing once or twice in a lifetime, Kylie Donnar does eight to 15 times a month: making a property look its very best to sell. Styled to Sell has tripled revenue in just a year while managing a large number of properties and handling more business.

By knowing what appeals to the area’s buying demographic, Styled to Sell offers professional and personalised property styling advice for homeowners or landlords looking to sell their property. They offer anything from one-off styling consultations to project managing an entire property makeover. Their goal is to handle all the details, paperwork, and headaches that occur when selling a property.

Donnar’s experience in media production and passion for property resulted in a career change when she started the business in 2008. With a coordinator background, an array of sub-contractors to call to action and a high level of customer service skills, no job is too big. When asked to complete an entire property, from plastering to furniture to the garden, they rose to the challenge and completed what the real estate agent called a miracle.

“Never be afraid to try something new,” Donnar says. “Remember that amateurs built the Ark, professionals built the Titanic.”

Parking crusaders’ free app provides savings

Meet David Lu and Gerard McLennan, founders of CarParking.info

The free mobile app Cheap Parking is consistently making the top 10 free navigation apps, reaching number one multiple times and garnering lots of public attention. Cheap Parking is such a success that developers David Lu and Gerard McLennan are often told by others who don’t know the created it, to download their own application.

The parking crusaders launched in 2009 after walking around the city collecting a handful of carparks. “We built our app to scratch our own itch, not because it was just the cool thing to do,” Lu and McLennan explain.

Carparking.info and the Cheap Parking app are free solutions for people to search and compare parking options across the city. The website and app answer up to 500,000 searches per month and offer the most convenient parking for each query.

“It can often be cheaper to drive and park than catch public transport. We are helping grow the industry by educating the public on making the best decision,” Lu says.

Over 500 reviews of the app with an average 4.5-star rating have led to an average saving of $14.38 per search. At the beginning of this year, Lu and McLennan were able to quit their jobs and work on their business full-time, a fantastic achievement for developers of a free app.

Clothes swap startup receives praise from industry pundits

Meet Nikki Durkin, of 99Dresses

Nikki Durkin has created an international presence for herself after her demo pitch in Silicon Valley for 99Dresses was regarded as one the of the best startups in the program.

In 2011, Durkin was accepted into the YCombinator program to kickstart the growth of her business and market her online retail community. This highly regarded startup incubator concluded with a pitch where the industry called it one of the strongest in the start-up field.

“We’ve been able to hone in on our offering to women all around the world, perfect our business model, and start marketing 99dresses.com,” Durkin says.

The online platform brings guilt-free shopping to women everywhere. Women invited to the site can upload their unwanted clothes, shoes and accessories and sell them to other women on the site. Each sale results in virtual currency that can be used to buy other items in the Infinite Closet.

99Dresses ensures women are no longer limited to just the clothes in their closet. “We’ve created crack for women,” Durkin laughs. Her influence in the online marketing community has been growing with headlines in TechCrunch, Sydney Morning Herald, Forbes, and much more. Durkin has also been listed as one of Sydney’s Top 100 Most Influential People. 

National demand for skincare products breaks records

Meet Caroline Monet, founder of Caroline’s Skincare

Many business owners hope for considerable growth when expanding nationally but Caroline Monet experienced the largest product demand on record for a majority of national pharmacies.

Caroline’s Skincare expanded from 900 to 3,000 outlets in just one year, taking on a 75 percent share of the market. Its distributor Doward International, experienced its highest demand for a product in 84 years of business due to Caroline’s Skincare.

“Becoming Doward International’s number one seller in such a short period has been immensely gratifying and has further justified the depth of belief I have in my products,” Monet says.

Caroline’s Skincare offers Caroline’s Cream and Caroline’s Wash as natural alternatives to skincare treatments. Sufferers of eczema, dermatitis and psoriasis have experienced considerable results with Monet’s range. The products are now available Australia wide can be found on the shelves at David Jones along with other prestigious skincare brands.

The demand generated through an appearance on Today Tonight and national expansion resulted in a 2,000 percent sales increase for Caroline’s Skincare this year. All of this demand even broke PayPal records and threw it into high security alert as interest flooded the site. “We were run off our feet and it took considerable effort from all those involved to manage such an enormous leap in the demand.”

Handbag boutique moves forward in uncertain environment

Meet Amy Richards, founder of Sterling and Hyde

Even in a tough retail environment, Sterling and Hyde experienced rapid growth over the past 12 months as it launched an online store, created a wholesale division, and introduced Sterling and Hyde Custom.

“The one thing I have learnt over and over again this past year and which I now live by is ‘forget perfect and instead be authentic,’” founder Amy Richards explains. “If we chose not to open the doors to my first boutique unless it was perfect, I would never have started.”

The feedback Richards received from women about their difficulty in finding the perfect handbag led to the creation of Sterling and Hyde Custom. She understands how personal a handbag can be and wanted to put women in the driver seat.

This Australian first allows women to design their own Italian leather handbags in store or online. Shoppers can choose style, leather, and colour. Both their custom and ready to carry collections put a strong focus on customer service which Richards believe is the reason for their growth.

“We have made several mistakes over the past year but we have worked hard to build an authentic relationship with our customers, we are transparent, and we show them we are not just a faceless brand, we are human.”

Online retail giant experiences 100 percent year-on-year growth

Meet John Winning, founder of Appliances Online 

The past year was all about expansion for Appliances Online as it experienced its largest growth spurt, created a national delivery network to improve next-day delivery, and took on the audiovisual market. As retail experiences tough times, Appliances Online keeps growing.

John Winning refused to believe that people wouldn’t buy large goods online and in 2005 launched Appliances Online, which is now recognised as one of Australia’s largest online retailers. It provides customers with large appliances and white goods via its online store and delivers Australia wide.

The launch of Handy Crew, an installation business that provides end-to-end service, and his investment in a national next-day delivery service this year, was all due to customer demand.

Winning attributes the success of Appliances Online to its strong focus on customer satisfaction. “Listen to, respect and change your business to service the need of your customers. This recipe has been applied to every business decision, transaction, and development within the Winning Group of companies and each company within the group has continued to succeed and grow as a result.”

In November, Winning was truly recognised as a business leader when the board of Winning Appliances appointed him CEO.

One million dollar loss inspires media agency to move forward

Meet Gill Walker, of Evergreen

The loss of her largest client inspired Gill Walker of Evergreen to change her business strategy and build. Rather than cuttings costs, Walker kept all her staff and re-wrote the business plan in one month. “If you make no decisions, you’ll go nowhere,” Walker says.

Evergreen offers clients media strategies for the baby boomer and senior markets. They aim to develop communicative strategies, media and creative that reach the hearts and minds of the audience which will provide more effective campaigns. All their services, such as brand development, media planning and buying, project management and public relations, provide clients with campaigns that cross all types of media.

Under the new business, each employee became a specialist in a given category to improve the service Evergreen provided to clients. “Rather than me being the ‘guardian of 50-plus knowledge’, I now have a team that are all experts,” Walker raves.

Walker believes Evergreen is different because of its faithfulness to the 50-plus market and staying focused on that core offering. This loyalty has resulted in a high scoring in the Government Marketing Services assessment and the ability to turn the business around quickly.


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Melissa Perreault

Melissa Perreault

Melissa is Loyalty Media's Production Co-ordinator, who also has a degree in Journalism and moonlights as an occasional writer for Dynamic Business. She hails from Canada, but now calls Sydney home.

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