a Leap of Faith to Fly Solo
sister believed enough in herself to take a risk and start a full-time
business out of her home
Carolyn M. Brown
Booker-Brown of Bridgeport, Connecticut, has always wanted to
do her own thing by working for herself. But because of her various
interests, she was never quite sure how her business would manifest
years ago, while doing online research, she came across a fairly
new concept, the virtual assistant (VA)--a home-based professional
who performs a wide range of office functions for one client or
several, from answering phones and transcribing tapes to making
travel arrangements and handling billing. The twist is that unlike
traditional office assistants, VAs aren't in the same location
as their employers.
sounded like the perfect fit," says the 29-year-old former
administrative assistant, freelance journalist, Web designer,
and public relations representative. The Southern Connecticut
State University graduate had held several temp jobs and full-time
gigs with companies that included an investment bank and Essence.com.
"I wanted to find a way to combine all of my skills,"
says Booker-Brown of her search for the ideal business start-up.
The timing, however, wasn't perfect. "I was in the process
of planning for a wedding," she explains. But the bride-to-be
didn't give up on her goal; she merely set it aside--temporarily.
than a year into their marriage, Booker-Brown sat down with her
husband to discuss her life aspiration of becoming an entrepreneur.
"I basically broke everything down to him: This is what the
industry is about. This is what my business is going to be called.
We are partners, so I wanted him to be comfortable with what I
she held on to her nine-to-five job at a marketing firm and ran
Right Hand Concepts part-time out of her home. But recently, after
a lot of soul-searching, Booker-Brown went to her husband again
to tell him, "Baby, I think it's time for me to do this thing
full-time job was cool because it paid the bills. But I wasn't
fulfilled," explains Booker-Brown. "I am a creative
person by nature. I wanted to find a way to express my creativity
all the time. I quit my job last month. I decided to take a leap
of faith and concentrate on this business because it is something
that I wholly believe in."
fledgling entrepreneur shares with members of NiaOnline what it
took for her to fly solo, and offers lessons and tips that you
can apply to your own life.
prepared" best sums up Booker-Brown's daily mantra when it
comes to starting a business. She made it a point to save up money
before she quit her job. Not only did she set aside funds for
start-up costs, but she also socked cash into a rainy-day fund.
This way, Booker-Brown's husband wouldn't be shouldering all of
the couple's financial burdens, now that she no longer gets a
regular paycheck and benefits.
has also become more disciplined about sticking to a budget. "My
start-up costs were about $2,000. Since it is a home-based business,
there was no significant overhead, as I would have had if I'd
been opening a coffee shop," says Booker-Brown. "I needed
a fax, printer, scanner, and powerful computer system with the
latest software, especially an antivirus program [so as not to
corrupt clients' files]. I didn't have to outsource tasks [such
as creating marketing materials]; I did them myself."
Life of the Virtual Assistant
VA setups are one-person operations. A large number of VAs are
stay-at-home moms, laid-off workers, and people looking to be
their own boss and enjoy the comfort of working from home.
profession emerged about six to seven years ago and now includes
about 1,500 people, according to the International Association
of Virtual Office Assistants, an industry certifying organization.
(Certification isn't necessarily required.) Most VAs have human
resources, administrative, public relations, marketing, or accounting
clients are small-business owners or consultants," Booker-Brown
says. "Many of them also work from home. Their businesses
are growing, and they have all these administrative or general
tasks that need to get done, but they don't have the time to do
it themselves. At the same time, they can't really bring someone
into their home office, an assistant working right there. So they
Hand Concepts has three steady clients, including Chicago-based
television producer and promoter Paula Harris. Booker-Brown puts
in 40 to 60 hours a week. "I design flyers, make follow-up
phone calls, manage an email list, create Web sites and PowerPoint
presentations, do word processing, make travel arrangements, and
schedule appointments," says Booker-Brown.
As with most VAs, Booker-Brown can tailor her services, working
on individual or ongoing projects. The market rate for a VA is
anywhere from $20 to $75 an hour. Booker-Brown charges an hourly
rate of $35. She also works on a monthly retainer for long-term
great thing about being a VA, says Booker-Brown, is that "you
don't have the hours commuting back and forth to work each day,
and you don't have to deal with office politics. I get to work
with people I like to work with and with whom I have a good rapport.
I get to call my own shots. It's so spiritually freeing."
You Have What It Takes to Be a VA?
is quick to point out that being a virtual assistant is not for
everyone. Among the qualities you need are these:
A wide skill set;
openness to learning new things;
and a proactive personality;
willingness to go after business and to network to get new
ability to troubleshoot;
ability to work on your own and not feel isolated;
talent for wearing different hats (ranging from secretary
to bookkeeper or marketer).
As with any new venture, "you have to do your research on
the industry before you can start a business," Booker-Brown
advises. "Talk to other people in the field that you want
to go into. Also, make sure you are lined up and ready to go before
you quit your job." At the same time, she adds, "you
don't want to prepare so much that you don't actually start your
business. . . . Have faith."
M. Brown is a New Jersey-based writer.