Ivana Katz

Website Designer
Owner of Websites 4 Small Business

Ivana overcame a life-threatening illness and faced her fear of public speaking while building a successful business.

What work do you do?

I’m a website designer, specialising in websites for small and medium businesses.

When you were at school did you know what you wanted to do?

I had no idea what I wanted to do when I finished school. I applied to go to a private technology academy, but I didn’t pass the exam, so I didn’t get in. My HSC marks weren’t high enough to go to uni, so I found myself with a Higher School Certificate but unsure what to do or what my options were.

I was quite self-conscious as my English wasn’t perfect. We had moved to Australia after escaping from the Czech Republic when I was just 14.

How did you get started?

I came across a private secretarial college. The course was done through open learning, so you could start at any time of the year and just work through different modules in the classroom. A teacher would help you as you moved through the course. When I finished the one-year course, I got a job as a secretary.

After four years, I left and applied for a position with Johnson & Johnson. This gave me many opportunities to learn different skills as I worked in marketing and later customer service.

It was while I was working at Johnson & Johnson that my entrepreneurial drive kicked in. They used to outsource sending out product samples to fulfillment houses (packing warehouses). I saw this as an opportunity to earn extra money, so I approached my manager and made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. I promised to send out the product samples for half the price the agency was charging. I worked after my regular hours and on the weekends to fulfil customer requests for product samples. I used to call it ‘Ivana’s House of Fulfillment.’

The word quickly spread amongst other marketing managers and I was approached to help with product launches and collating various merchandising and marketing materials. I ended up with so much extra work that I couldn’t do it on my own, so I recruited other secretaries.

Eventually Johnson & Johnson moved offices and so I found a job working for a software company.  This was around the time that the internet was starting. I was fascinated, so I asked my manager if I could attend a website design course. He agreed and when I finished the course, I built our company’s first website.

Around the same time, I also got to travel to the US and noticed what a great selection of clothes they had for plus size women. Being a little on the heavy side, I came back to Australia and contacted my best friend. Together we started a plus size online business. I built the website, she handled the marketing.

We had lots of fun and learnt a lot about business, but after three years, we realised we were really clueless about how the fashion industry works and so we sold the company.

I was 36 and I suddenly found myself a single parent to an energetic 2-year-old boy named Jordan. I didn’t want to miss out on watching him grow up, so I made the decision to start my own website design business.

What do you love most about your work?

I love the creative side of website design and I love the flexibility my business it gives me – I can work anywhere in the world – as long as I have my laptop and internet connection.

The things that give me the biggest buzz:

  • When I learn something new.
  • When I solve a problem.
  • When a client tells me how much impact their new website has had on their business.

What are you afraid of?

The only real thing I fear is having regrets. Coming to the end of my life and regretting I haven’t done something that I wanted to do.

What was your biggest ‘fail’ so far?

I heard a quote several years ago, which said “Sometimes you win and sometimes you learn.” I don’t look at anything I’ve done in my life as a failure, but as a valuable lesson in life.

I could have considered the ending of 2Roads Design, as a failure, but instead I saw it as a learning experience, which gave me an opportunity to start my own business. All my “failures” gave me more courage and taught me resilience. And when something didn’t work, I would find another way.

What was your greatest business accomplishment?

I would say the day I pushed through my paralysing fear of public speaking and I presented at a business conference – at a time when I was at my weakest and recovering from cancer treatments.

It was Friday the 13th, 2017, when I sat in my doctor’s office and was given the news that I had breast cancer. I was shocked! I had no symptoms, no lumps and I felt perfectly fine. The only reason it was discovered was because I had a routine mammogram.

After the initial diagnosis, life got busy with a whirlwind of visits to doctors, specialists, blood tests, scans, biopsies, surgery, chemotherapy, genetic testing, heart scans and finally radiation therapy.

For weeks at a time I couldn’t move, I was in pain and exhausted, but I couldn’t sleep. I lost 70% of my hair – I looked like a plucked chicken or as my oncologist used to joke a “hairless eagle”.

Then one sunny day in July, my oncologist told me as far as she was concerned I was cured. I came home on a real high. Just as I walked in the door, I got a phone call that changed everything.

I was asked to present at a women’s business conference. I was terrified of public speaking and I stressed for several weeks leading up to the event.

I knew I had many valid reasons why I couldn’t do the presentation, but I realised it was a big opportunity which would not only help me overcome my fear of public speaking, but that could potentially open many doors for my business.

And I figured if cancer didn’t kill me, public speaking probably wouldn’t either. Getting through cancer treatment gave me courage to do things I hadn’t tried before.  It took away the fear and the feeling of not being good enough.

So, I started preparing for the presentation … first I sat down and wrote all the challenges I was facing

  • I was suffering from chemo brain, which meant I couldn’t remember things.
  • I still had fatigue from chemo and radiation therapy and I didn’t think I would be able to stand for the whole 45 minutes of the presentation.
  • I had lost 70% of my hair and I was sure everyone would be able to tell I was wearing a hairpiece.
  • I had put on weight during chemo and as a result I had very little to wear.

But I didn’t want to miss out on this incredible opportunity, so I decided I needed to work through each challenge to make sure I was as prepared as I could be.

  • For chemo brain, I practised and practiced, so the presentation was engraved in my brain.
  • I asked the organisers if I could have a stool on stage in case I needed to lean on it.
  • I met a friend whom I hadn’t seen for a while and who didn’t know I had lost my hair – and she commented how great my hair looked … I was relieved to know she didn’t pick up on the fact that it wasn’t my hair.
  • I managed to dig up an old dressI felt comfortable in and that I felt would be ok for the presentation.
  • To overcome my fear of public speaking, I watched YouTube videos about public speaking and I also saw a kinesiologist who worked with me to overcome several of my fears.

Finally, the presentation day came … and I got through it without too many problems. I was so relieved at the end, but also very happy that I faced my fear and pushed through it when I was at my weakest.

Who helped you get to where you are today?

For the most part I relied on myself. I didn’t really get any breaks – other than from my customers who believed in me even when I was doubting my ability.

What is one of the biggest advances in your industry over the past 5 years?

Advances in mobile technology. What used to take 10 different tools/gadgets is now handled by my phone.

Maps – Street directories
Camera – Digital camera
Calendar – Diary
Banking – Paying bills by mail
Music – CD player
Books – Google
TV – YouTube.

What’s your advice for young girls thinking about pursuing a career in your industry?

The one piece of advice I would give anyone is to give things a go. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work out the first time, but you will learn from the experience.

If you do just one extra thing today that other people are not doing, you will go a long way – that one thing may be helping a friend design a logo, reading a book about starting a business, watching a video about marketing, attending a seminar or enrolling in a course.

When I started my business, I had just become a single parent – I had very little time, money and certainly not enough knowledge to embrace the fast-moving online world of technology. None of my friends had their own business and I didn’t know where to get help.

But I also had two HUGE fears:

  • Fear of regret that one day I would look back and regret not starting my own business.
  • Fear of missing out on seeing my young son grow up.

I decided I would give it all I had. I had to learn fast. I read all I could find, attended seminars and courses and consumed way too much coffee and chocolate, but I was determined … I had to make it work.

I had many sleepless nights, worrying whether I could pull it off. I had doubts and I was terrified. But that made me work even harder. I pushed through all the challenges and after getting a taste of being my own boss, I knew I could never go and work for someone else.

The years went by and I learned many lessons … I laughed at my blonde moments while I navigated the geek world and drove my family crazy with my “brilliant” marketing ideas.

Most importantly though, running my own business gave me the freedom to do what I wanted when I wanted. I organised appointments with clients around junior’s schedule, so I got to cheer at all his football games, I was there for the award days and I got to drop him off and pick him up from school each day. And on a few occasions, I took him out of school and we travelled …

Over the years I’ve learnt an awful lot about technology, running a small business and about myself.

What kind of work do women do in your industry?

Graphic design
Website design
Website development and coding
Search engine optimization
Digital marketing
Computer engineering

When you had your first job, did you ever imagine you’d be doing what you do today?

No way – I learnt how to type on a manual typewriter!  Even when computers were invented I didn’t know how far technology would go.

In your wildest dreams, what would you love to do every single day and get paid for it?

I love what I do because it challenges me, it gives me an opportunity to work with many different people. My business is mobile, so I can travel and still work. Much of my business is automated and outsourced so even if I’m ill or just need a break, I can escape without the business stopping.

In my wildest dreams I would probably travel the world and speak at conferences and present all that I have learnt over the past 30 years in business.

Industry: IT
Job: Website Designer and Entrepreneur