Fish Sticks Pushed Mom to Become an Entrepreneur regularly features profiles of people doing business from home, and making it work.

Who: Patricia Beckman, CEO and founder of Cybertary

What: Cybertary is a national network of virtual assistants (VA) who provide administrative support and specialized services to businesses, entrepreneurs, executives and busy people. The company has more than 25 franchisees operating in 16 states. A Cybertary account manager evaluates clients’ needs and assigns projects to the most qualified Cybertary for the job.Cybertary boasts of saving clients money, since they work only if and when clients need assistance, and time by alleviating the workload burden of non-revenue-producing administrative tasks. Beckman’s primary roles in overseeing franchisees are to give them the support, training and infrastructure they need to successfully support their clients.

Where: Beckman has two offices in Roseville, CA - a traditional office with a receptionist, conference room and shared facilities used for meetings and training facilities; and a home office out of which Beckman works about 80% of the time. For the most part, Cybertary franchisees also work out of their home offices, but a few have rented office space.

When: While Beckman tends to work 50-plus hours per week, she says she fits her work into her life. That occasionally means she exchanges an evening of work for the opportunity to attend a personal engagement.

According to Beckman, what also helps her stay on track is to keep a fairly rigid schedule, including calendaring things like laundry, breaks, exercise time and when she will respond to e-mails and voice messages. She schedules time to work on projects so that she is continuously evolving and building her business model. Beckman says keeping a regimented schedule prevents her from getting stuck on auto-pilot or neglecting her first priority – her family.

When did you start your company? Nov. 1, 2005

How: Beckman’s original business plan was based on a client base of five to seven active, recurring clients to manage herself; she gained five clients in her first week. She then started to gain five to seven new client leads per week and found she needed to add at least one team member per month to keep up with demand.

“I discovered that due to the branding, Web site and marketing materials I had created, people presumed Cybertary was a franchise and that we were an enormous national company,” Beckman said. “They started to ask me where I heard about the company and how they could launch their own Cybertary business. We began receiving huge volumes of resumes every week from Moms who wanted to join the team, and from clients who wanted our services.”

So, Beckman turned the Cybertary business model into a franchise opportunity in April 2007, not only to meet client demand, she says, but also to provide more opportunities for stay-at-home moms and dads, the disabled, and caregivers to work from home at a professional wage.

Why: “Everyone has their ‘a-ha’ moment. Sadly mine was over fish sticks,” Beckman said. The “fish sticks” moment occurred when Beckman was preparing dinner for her girls and didn’t know which one wanted ketchup and which one wanted tartar sauce.

“It hit me that a mother should know these things,” she said. “Since I worked such long hours and traveled often on business, I had lost touch with my family. I didn’t know my daughters’ friends, missed school events and recitals, and the girls had even stopped coming to my side of the bed in the middle of the night, since Dad was the one who was always there for them. I thought – ‘I’m the Mommy!’” So, Beckman resigned from her corporate job and set out to create her own perfect “dream job” that would allow her to be more available for her family while meeting her professional objectives and financial goals.

Day in the Life: As a franchisor, Beckman no longer does client work. She says today her primary function is to make sure that the Cybertary franchisees have everything that they need to be successful. This includes the initial franchisee training, ongoing one-on-one coaching, and marketing assistance.

Of course, keeping the right work-life balance isn’t easy, but Beckman said the situation offers the best of both worlds.

“Truthfully, some days feel a bit more ‘balanced’ than others. To a certain extent, work/life balance is more about strategic integration and conscious choices,” Beckman said. “The key is to integrate work into your life, as opposed to the other way around, by aligning your behaviors with your priorities. This is a lesson that my girls taught me with the ‘fish sticks incident.’

“Most successful home-based business owners believe they are living the work/life dream. Of course, to stay successful on the work side, it's essential to keep all aspects of professionalism at the forefront. That way, no one will ever have to know you -- and your pink-slippered feet -- are having so much fun living your well-balanced work/life dream!”