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Profiting from adversity: Maria Xynias’s brilliant start-up idea Ladies Running Errands, the “extra helping hand for people who need an extra pair of hands”

Profiting from adversity: Maria Xynias’s brilliant start-up idea

PUBLISHED: 1 HOUR 9 MINUTES AGO | UPDATE: 1 HOUR 9 MINUTES AGO

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Entrepreneur Maria Xynias’s clients range from the elderly and people living alone to young parents: “I get a lot of baby-boomer clients who are working or time-poor and need someone to take their elderly parent to the doctor”.

ANNE FULWOOD

When Maria Xynias suffered a serious illness which left her unable to work for two years, she relied on her network of family for support, transport and sustenance. Time in convalescence gave her pause for thought: “I have a big Greek family network and lots of support but I wonder what happens to ­people who aren’t as lucky as me.” Therein lies the genesis of her start-up business, Ladies Running Errands , which is what Xynias calls the “extra helping hand for people who need an extra pair of hands”. – rather like a trusted family member without being a member of the family. She is one of the growing number of Australian women who take a break from long-term employment for a range of reasons, then work for themselves as sole traders. Xynias had worked her way up through store manager ranks at Target for 15 years, followed by a stint in a duty-free store at ­Sydney Airport. She launched Ladies Running Errands in January 2011. “It’s a very personal service and covers anything to make people’s daily lives easier. I take my responsibility very seriously.”Based in Xynias’s home office in Sydney’s Balmain, Ladies Running Errands covers anything from children’s school runs, dry cleaning, watering gardens and clearing mailboxes, to sourcing paint colours for home renovation and driving clients to and from the theatre. “I am not a concierge or valet or a taxi,” says Xynias. “I just provide a personalised service – whatever you want.”

Work is priced per job rather than by the hour, and all jobs must be booked in advance. Xynias runs a tight timetable to accommodate all jobs and calls on her extended family to cover those she cannot do. “I would rather pay them 10 per cent of the cost of the job than miss out on it.”

A MULTITUDE OF TASKS

Examples of some service costs: $30 to $40 for school transfers, $30 to take a pet to the vet, and from $55 to $70 for an airport or theatre transfer. Xynias has even delivered a coffee to a home-bound client “who needed it now” for $20!

Her clients range from the elderly and people living alone to young parents: “I get a lot of baby-boomer clients who are working or time-poor and need someone to take their elderly parent to the doctor.” On the morning of our interview, she had just been to St Vincent’s Hospital on one such errand.

She pays up to $2000 for professional indemnity insurance, and holds the requisite police checks to work with children. All payments are by credit card, through her portable terminal from Suncorp Bank.

As well as her family, Xynias also uses her suburban networks to spread the word.

Every week she distributes her pink A4 fliers to the chemist and supermarket, sticks them on telegraph poles, and does a letter box drop: “I’m the lady walking the streets alone in the middle of the night,” she laughs.

Xynias, 49, used her savings to pay for the website development and printing of her rudimentary marketing collateral, and leased a Ford Falcon sedan. Blessed with a jolly disposition and self-deprecating humour, Xynias candidly recounts how she used every avenue to keep start-up costs to a minimum. Printing is done through online supplier Vistaprint, where Xynias’s first order for 3000 fliers, for $159, yielded a bonus stash of free fridge magnets. Balmain printer PC Productions designed her logo and Xynias wrote the content. She used ­Sensis SiteSmart to develop her website, paying a management fee of about $400 a month, and Sensis ClickManager for search engine marketing, paying from $10 a day to retain a search ranking. “I sometimes up the ante and pay a bit more to keep my business on the front page of the Google search.”

MONEY COMING IN

Xynias waited three months for her first client. By six months, revenues reached $300 a week: “Then I realised I was on to something, so I printed another 3500 fliers!” She cites revenues of $3000 a month by the end of 2011, about $5000 a month to the end of 2012, and is projecting up to $7000 by the end of 2013. She has a list of 120 regular clients. Word of mouth drives 70 per cent of her business; 30 per cent from fliers.

Up to 40 per cent of revenue is from providing transport to theatre and dinners “for women who don’t want a cab at night”.

A growing corporate clientele delivers about 20 per cent of income: “I am the confidential link for people who do not want their executive or personal assistant to do certain jobs outside the workplace.”

This year she launched two services: project management for kitchen renovations, where she liaises with tradespeople and updates the client on progress, and which earns her around $600 over two weeks; and “candy buffets”, where Xynias arranges the supply of candy and cakes to a theme for between $500 and $2000: “All you need is the table and we do everything else.”

In rare moments between jobs, Xynias can be found in a local cafe, consulting her iPad, mobile phone and spreadsheets. ­Brisbane-born and raised to parents who had a corner store before they moved to be near family in Sydney, Xynias is planning to expand to Brisbane and the Gold Coast, where she again will tap into “my big Greek family network”.

“My dream is for this to be a big family business and for everyone to have the same amount of care shown to their families as we have in our own.”

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About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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