From calculators to containers
12 March 2009
Driving forklifts and picking up shipping containers on a flat bed truck would have been the furthest things from Kim Irvine's mind when she was studying to become an accountant.
In just five fairly hectic years, Kim's career aspirations have taken her from a junior accountant's role in the city, time spent behind a bar in London and tedious data entry jobs to finally finding her calling as a small business owner in Melbourne.
At the age of 28, Kim heads up Irvine Imports, a business which provides a shore-to-home importing service for people and families relocating to Australia.
Her small business journey began when she returned from a 12-month backpacking trip around Europe.
"When I finished uni and started as a junior accountant, I knew instantly it wasn't for me," she says.
"Leaving that job gave me the opportunity to travel, and when I came back to Australia, I initially looked into an exporting business venture before realising that, in reality, it wasn't going to work well."
Kim's father owns and operates a removalist company and, recognising a demand for such services, suggested she consider starting an import business.
Enter the government's NEIS program for small business owners, Kangan Batman TAFE and a dedicated business teacher, and Kim found herself running Irvine Imports - specialising in container unpacks, quarantine inspections, fumigations and export services - a year later.
"At the start, I thought it all sounded a bit boring, but quickly realised that there was a lot to learn, and even now - a few years down the track - there's still plenty to keep me interested," Kim says.
"The NEIS program was really valuable in filling in the gaps of my business knowledge. With my accounting background, I was up to speed with the financial side of things, but I wasn't so great with marketing. I could run the business and do a good job, but there's no use in that when I'm not able to market myself properly.
"Marian, my teacher for the NEIS classes, was fantastic. She owned a bakery and was able to relate everything she was teaching us back to an example in her own business. We could see these theories in practice, and see what worked well and what didn't."
Two years on from completing her NEIS course, Kim's import business continues to grow, prompting her to diversify and explore other areas for development.
As her industry knowledge has expanded, she has been able to identify further areas for professional development to aid the business.
"As I learnt more about importing, I discovered I could do further study and get accreditation to become a customs broker," Kim says.
"So I went back to Kangan Batman TAFE and started a three-year customs brokerage course. When I graduate, I'll be able to sit for the Customs Brokers National Examination to obtain a license. Currently I have to outsource this service which is quite costly, but once I'm certified, I can do all that work in-house and potentially contract out my services to other importing companies."
Kim's office space is busy with activity each day. While much of her work is conducted in the office and secure container inspection area, she also sometimes gets mobile, whether that's shifting containers about with a large forklift, or making the trip to the wharf to pick up the latest shipment.
Now that the importing side of the business is running smoothly, Kim has dabbled in a few exporting projects and sees potential to expand in this area.
"Eventually I want to have the business running to a point where I can leave the day-to-day operations to staff members, have a family, then gradually return a few days a week. However it pans out, I really can't imagine doing anything else now," she says.