While her friends played with their Barbie dolls, young Theresa Horak was perfecting her entrepreneurial talent. Growing up in South Africa, she recalls always thinking about things she could sell.
She baked muffins and sold them to her cousins and grandmother. As a teenager – and before Facebook was born – she bought herself a camera, took photos of all the good-looking boys at her school, and sold the pictures to the girls. While in university, Horak started a couture fashion house with her neighbour, and their evening gowns quickly adorned TV personalities and the catwalks at the Miss South Africa and Miss Universe pageants.
Fast forward to ten years ago, and Horak leaves Johannesburg with her husband Roman to join his family in Hamilton. Although she had a strong business background and managed a successful IT business that she grew from the ground up, Theresa initially faced enormous challenges finding work.
“This is unfortunately an all-too-common story for many new immigrants looking for jobs, but who lack Canadian experience,” she said. She sees this similar to the struggles entrepreneurs face as they break into new markets in an often unforgiving arena.
Horak eventually transitioned into the corporate world as a bookkeeper, office administrator and business development specialist, but seeing the ever-growing need for small business support, she decided to launch LoAllay in 2017. Today she runs a fast-growing company that helps eager start-ups and entrepreneurs succeed.
Passion and drive may be in abundance, but small business owners can be short on time as they find themselves lacking key skills and juggling overwhelming admin tasks.
A businesswoman with a heart, Horak’s philosophy is to offer reasonable rates — and in her words, the goal isn’t to get rich, but to help others, freeing up their time so that they can pursue their passion.
LoAllay’s staff step in to the rescue, providing just about every service possible. They offer mainstream help, such as strategic planning, bookkeeping, administrative support, website development, social media, advertising, and the other millions of things needed to grow a new venture. When it comes to finding solutions, Theresa admits she just can’t say no when asked for something not currently on her menu of services, and she finds ways to accommodate less usual requests, such as 3D design and printing or getting material translated.
A contender for the most networked person in Hamilton, her vast range of contacts means she can source just about anyone and anything.
As a result, LoAllay continually outgrows its office space at McMaster’s Innovation Park. Although she hires the best person based on their skills and not on their gender, her team of 16 are mostly female, perhaps, she suggests, because the admin and creative fields tend to attract women. About half of her clients are businesswomen in a range of fields: health and wellness, business coaching, software, charities, education, retail, trades, chefs and restaurateurs, researchers, artists, and authors.
So what’s the secret to her success? Theresa says it’s all about people, and building a strong network – something she loves to do. She regularly works six and seven days a week, booked to the brim to meet with as many people as she can — at breakfast, over lunch, and during evening events. “Find your tribe, those with a similar vision to yours and nurture those relationships,” she advises.
Are women better at networking? Possibly. She suggests that while men are less likely to react sensitively and take business setbacks personally, she thinks women are better at cultivating relationships and caring about the wellbeing of their clients.
And what about the company name, LoAllay? Is this some South African expression? Originally, the plan was to call the business Lighten the Load – but then Theresa’s brother-in-law pointed out this was youth slang for a visit to the toilet (who knew?) With some additional brainstorming, Roman suggested synthesizing ‘allaying your load’ and with some rearranging, the company name was born.
And LoAllay is about to become a family business: Roman just got promoted (and not only because of his genius at name generating). This month he’ll become head of the company’s IT and digital marketing division, which can only mean Hamilton’s businesses will benefit from one of the most talented IT and digital marketing minds in the city.