Patricia Beckman, who was featured in FOXBusiness.com’s Small Office Home Office profile series, first started her virtual assistant business after she found she was so busy in her current career track that she couldn’t remember which of her daughters liked ketchup and which liked tartar sauce on her fish sticks. At that moment, she says she knew she had to quit her corporate job and find a career that helped her find better balance between work and life. Six years later, Beckman’s business is a franchise, with 25 franchisees in 16 states.
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But the road to success hasn’t been free of mistakes, which Beckman says have provided learning opportunities. For example, Beckman first started with a “low bid” version of the Cybertary Web site, which required an external consultant for site maintenance, who, she said, “had an excruciatingly slow response time.” The second version wouldn’t integrate with her internal database, and Cybertary is now on its third complete overhaul of Cybertary.com.
“This was a very expensive and time-consuming lesson,” she said. “However, we have learned quite a bit about Web site options and structures beyond the HTML basics, which have opened doors for other billable Cybertary services. Even if a mistake seems devastating when it happens, odds are it can serve as a wonderful and maybe even prosperous opportunity down the line. Live and learn. It's the only way to get wiser.”
Here are some other tips Beckman has for those looking to start their own business, and how you can keep your “work” life professional, even while working in "pink slippers":
No. 1: Be Prepared for the Wild Magic of Growing a Successful Business. “I get a lot of questions from new entrepreneurs like, ‘how did you do it?’ or ‘what's your secret to success?’” Beckman said. “At first, I found myself stammering a little for an answer that felt authentic. It's not that I had any doubt about the hard work I had put into the business, it's just that there was this critical bit of ‘magic’ that happened along the way as well - and both have been instrumental in Cybertary's success.”
Being prepared can be the best groundwork for growth. She believes hard work, preparation, and even a little "doing nothing," when necessary, prepared her for the fairly rapid growth of her business.
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“Good business sense means knowing when to be hands on and when it pays to just sit back and let the magic of good business preparation take its course,” she said.
No. 2: Have an open mind. It's smart to keep an open mind, Beckman said, and even to veer off track when a good opportunity presents itself.
“I started Cybertary as a solution to my own work/life imbalance crisis, with no intention of becoming a nationwide Virtual Assistant franchise,” Beckman said. “However, people presumed Cybertary was a franchise based on its appearance, which opened my eyes to possibilities and ultimately led me to launch the business model as a franchise opportunity for other working mothers and professionals seeking to leave the inflexibility of the corporate world.”
No. 3: Think big. Even if you're a small business, Beckman said set every goal, make every plan and solve every problem as if you are a larger business. Build the infrastructure for growth so that your systems are ready when the big opportunities for growth come.
No. 4: Spending up front can truly convert to earning well in the long run. “The old adage is true ... you have to spend money to make money. In order to grow your business, you may have to invest in it,” Beckman said. “Cutting corners on your business is like cutting corners on your opportunities for success.”
No. 5: Keeping your vision in front of you can keep you on track. Your business plan will probably change and evolve - and often. Keep your plan up-to-date and in writing. Keep it in front of you so that you can keep your end vision and the logical steps to that vision in focus.
"The extra hours I get to spend with my family serve as an everyday reminder that keeps me trudging forward even on those days when I feel a little lost,” Beckman said. “Having that extra time and flexibility for my two daughters is great incentive for reprioritizing to make this dream job work for me. This was my vision when I started Cybertary, and that vision and its rewards always keep me on track.”
No. 6: Be available and time flexible when working from home: Even though you have the benefit of creating your own work schedule, it's important to try to maintain some regular availability for your clients.
No. 7: Put your best "professional" foot forward: When you're working at home, go all out with the casual attire. Wear your holey sweats or your lucky Led Zeppelin T-shirt if you want. However, the minute you take your business in front of a client or potential client, all the rules of the work world are in effect again.
This applies not only to your attire and appearance, but it applies to your business collateral like business cards, brochures, forms, contracts or anything that will land in your clients' hands and represent your business. This also means when you take your business "on the road" or to a client meeting, you should be organized and have all the information and paperwork you need to execute your business without a hitch.
No. 8: Stay financially fit and get financially organized: Not only do you need to pay every bill, invoice and tax bill on time, but you also need to be able to retrieve important financial records on demand. If you can't hand over an invoice number or total on request, your client might start to lose faith in your financial competence. Invest in good financial software and work closely with a respected accountant.
No. 9: Keep your business cutting edge: Keep your tech equipment and software current and stay savvy with the latest tools. Invest in a Web site and a reliable back-up system and subscribe to industry and applicable techie newsletters to stay in sync with the latest and greatest. Don’t hesitate to invest in computer support.
No. 10: Stay connected: Aside from the computer realm, plan to stay connected in your business community and industry -- locally and online. Network with and read about other successful professionals, join your local Chamber or other business association and attend applicable conferences and seminars. There's no better way to stay informed about the goings-on in the business world. This is a great place to get referrals, too.