No Strings Virtual Solutions

Ta Da!

I would like to officially announce the launch of my business, No Strings Virtual Solutions. For the record, I would like to say that I considered No Strings BUSINESS Solutions for a name, but NoStringsBS wasn't quite as flattering a nickname as what I chose. But I digress. Time to talk business!

I was so intimidated by the idea of venturing out on my own- I mean,
me? A business owner? Hmm… not so much. But after researching what
was necessary to start a business and learning just how simple it
actually is, I decided to go for it. I am also incredibly fortunate to
have people in my life who are inspirational to me because they went
out on their own- like these two– and are enjoying tremendous success and self-worth in
the process.

For those of you who are wondering what the heck it is that I do as a Virtual Assistant (a.k.a. VA), don't feel bad. The term "Virtual Assistant" is relatively new, but it is a profession that is gaining recognition and momentum, most notably during this economic downturn. Because my ultimate goal is to work from home, whatever is within my capabilities that a client needs- that can also be done from my home office- is available to save businesses both time and money in comparison to hiring an in-house part-timer to work for them. With so many people being laid off, and no less volume of work to be done, being a VA and hiring one is a win-win scenario for all parties involved.

So where am I at now? Currently, I am working on spreading the word and generating interest in my services, among a myriad of other things. I am happy to report that I have a couple of potential clients in the mix, and I am very much looking forward to seeing where those lead. For now, dear reader, anything you can do to send business my way would be appreciated! There is no minimum time requirement, so no job is too small- or too big. Maybe you know someone who needs assistance just a couple of hours a week to handle e-mail correspondence, or perhaps you know someone else who has a project they need to complete and an extra set of hands to get the job done. Either way, I want to hear from them!

All the details about my business are located at my Web page, http://www.nostringsvs.com, including an extensive (but not necessarily exhaustive) list of my services, my ethical commitment to clients, a contact form, and an "about me" page that briefly outlines my professional experience, among other things.

Baby Girl (nickname to be revealed tomorrow) is pretty darn excited about this as well. I can tell- every time I'm at the computer working, she's doing somersaults in my belly! Between my wonderful hubby and our little girl, I have the best cheerleading squad a mom could ever ask for.

p.s. HAPPY OCTOBER! We were greeted this morning by 68-degree weather- an absolute dream in comparison to the 106 degrees we had at the beginning of the week! I opened every window in the house, lit a fall candle, put on a long sleeve shirt, drank hot hazelnut decaf coffee, and plugged away at the biz 'til I had to leave for work. It was GLORIOUS.

My business venture.

I have been working tirelessly since last night to get a virtual assistant business up and running. Being less than four months away from the arrival of Baby Girl, I have determined that I absolutely MUST make this thing happen so I can get used to working from home as opposed to babying a business AND a newborn.

So far, I have loosely built a Web site (using Typepad– I love this blogging host with an everlasting love), set up an account with an awesome invoicing/time tracking/expense tracking company called Freshbooks (they offer their most basic service- which is still very extensive- for free!), written copy, established a Gmail e-mail and Twitter account, ensured the domain name availability, compiled a profile on 48days.net, and researched monthly expenses such as Internet access, a landline, and a P.O. Box.

Whew.

There is still so much to get done, but I have never been more determined in my life. I HAVE to make this work. I HAVE to market my services. I HAVE to supplement our income using the gifts I have been given and capitalizing on the experience I have built over the years. Right now, it's nearly 11:00 p.m., and both Cody and I are working furiously on our computers to get things up and running. I feel like I could keep going all night- I am THAT motivated- but I need some rest if I'm going to be productive tomorrow.

My first order of business is obtaining a copy of The 2-Second Commute: Join the Exploding Ranks of Freelance Virtual Assistants
and using that as my guide from start to finish. I read nearly the whole thing when I visited the bookstore on Tuesday and it covers everything from filing for a business name, to taxes, to legal forms, to agreements, and everything else in between. I am so glad there is a resource out there that walks newbies like me through the process without skipping the vitals.

So wish me luck! My baby girl deserves the best example we can provide for her. This is just a small step in that direction, but one I am excited to take.

p.s. If you want to critique the rough draft of my Web page, shoot me an e-mail at NoStringsVS@gmail.com and I'll send you the link. It needs some work (key word: ROUGH), but I'm happy to share with a willing set of eyes!

Much-needed creative inspiration.

I spent a lot of time researching ideas, recipes, and work opportunities over the past few days, and part of me gets a little overwhelmed by all the goals and projects I want to tackle with Baby Girl on the way. I spent all of last week getting distracted by various things instead of baking the zucchini bread I kept saying I would make, and finally I got around to it last night. We're talking like a week of procrastinating here, people. I'm kind of tired of living life that way- flying by the seat of my pants, somewhat organized but mostly not, with a hodgepodge of ideas and no concrete plan to implement them into anything tangible. What I am lacking is a plan. So here are a few of my findings to jump-start things:

Other than my desire for very pale pink walls, I haven't gotten very far with a nursery design. I'm the type of person who needs to see something concrete in order for the random ideas that are floating around in my head to take any sort of shape. On my blogging jaunts today, I stumbled across Project Nursery, a site FULL of design ideas, inspiration boards, real nursery designs, and DIY projects. LOVE IT. It's just what I needed to start really planning Baby Girl's nursery!

While on that site, I saw a button for a business that sounded vaguely familiar: TomKat Studio. When I clicked on the page, I remembered seeing this local mom's business featured in our town's magazine, Go Gilbert. Her blog is simply adorable- chock full of her designs, finds, and Cupcake Monday. I mean, who can beat that? Yes, please! I'll take Cupcake Monday!

A few other favorite blogs: luvinthemommyhood, Happy Together (especially the tutorials like this one), and My Mama Made It. Blogs are a dime a dozen these days, but well-designed, well-written blogs that are actually useful and teach you how to do something are priceless.

While at B+N the other day, I found this book
and knew that it was a must-have on my reading list. I discovered her site today, Work at Home Success, and it is a great resource for lost souls like me who have no idea where to begin or look for legitimate at-home work. Ideally, I would like to freelance as a virtual assistant or copy editor but I need some sort of direction in order to learn how to secure clients, file taxes, etc. so that I don't get overwhelmed by trying to figure out the ins and outs of running a business AND caring for a newborn. I only have about four months to figure this out, so if you know any other great resources out there, crafty or business-related, send them my way!

Princess or Pioneer Woman?

When I was at the library the other day, I picked up a great book for Cody called Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know
by Meg Meeker. The other night, I started reading it and simply couldn't put it down- in the span of three hours, I had nearly finished the whole thing! Good stuff in there. There were several things that impacted my view of fatherhood and made me reflect on my own upbringing by my dad. It certainly made me thankful for the father I have and the things he has taught me along the way, as well as the things he tried to teach me that I was too stubborn to listen to- but do my best to take heed of now.

The thing that caught my eye the most was when the author discussed the type of woman you want your daughter to become, and she described two types of women: princesses and pioneer women. One thing we do NOT want our daughter to become is a princess- a girl who expects everything to be handed to her and everything to be done for her, and who gives nothing in return. We have seen too much of this going on in society as a whole- especially since my hubby works at a university and observes the spoiled antics of the New MTV Generation (have you SEEN "My Super Sweet Sixteen" or "16 and Pregnant"? This is the garbage they are feeding to our kids?!) on a daily basis, much to his disgust. He says that our kids are coming out of high school and into college with absolutely no idea how to do ANYTHING, and are so helpless and self-absorbed that they can barely function without someone holding their hand. And if they can't do something or if they fail, it is ALWAYS someone else's fault. This is just a general observation- we know there are some kids out there who do not epitomize this stereotype. Thank goodness. But the sense of entitlement really is quite prevalent these days.

The discussion of princess vs. pioneer woman has definitely helped me evaluate my own princess tendencies and redirect my energy toward becoming a truly proficient and productive member of our growing little family and of society in general. I'm not going to lie and say that as an only child who grew up in Scottsdale, I never displayed any princess-ish behavior and I was always a hard worker who had no expectations that my needs would always be met. Anyone who knew me would be quick to correct me and all the smoke I'd be blowing up your… well, you know.

Looking back, in a lot of ways, I was TERRIBLE. Irresponsible, reckless, entitled; and I can say with confidence that I'm still paying for past mistakes. When I look at life now, and I absolutely understand the sacrifices my parents made in the name of stability and provision, my behavior was just laughable. I didn't have parents who just gave me whatever I wanted when I wanted it- I went without my wants many times. But I never understood the value of the things I had because I didn't take the time to appreciate what it took to get them. God knows I do now. And if I can't lead my daughter by example, she would be quick to recognize the hypocrisy of what I would be expecting from her. And I would rather start now than wait until after her arrival when the demands of motherhood overwhelm me from taking on any other new responsibilities. And I am happy to say that I have an amazing dad-to-be on my hands who fully supports this philosophy as well.

So, here are a list of my goals. I'm terrible at goal-setting, but today is all I have for now, so why not jump in head-first and get this show on the road?

  1. Become more proficient at sewing and other crafts
  2. Open up an Etsy store
  3. Become a Virtual Assistant of some kind to generate income from home
  4. Keep on blogging!
  5. Keep a creative journal
  6. Take more pictures
  7. Start a habit of family dinners every night
  8. Support my dear husband in all his endeavors, and lighten his load whenever possible
  9. Use coupons for EVERYTHING
  10. When I need to buy, only buy used or on sale items
  11. Serve the community through our church
  12. Avoid being wasteful
  13. Making "Be resourceful!" my way of life!
  14. Run in the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon next January in order to get back into shape post-baby (I'll probably do the half)
  15. Spend quality time with family and friends
  16. Love God more so that I can teach my little girl who He is and pray that she loves Him too

My goals tend to morph and shift as life unfolds, but these are what they are for now. In light of this, I always enjoy reading "The Wife of Noble Character" from Proverbs 31 for inspiration:

10  A wife of noble character who can find?
       She is worth far more than rubies.

 11 Her husband has full confidence in her
       and lacks nothing of value.

 12 She brings him good, not harm,
       all the days of her life.

 13 She selects wool and flax
       and works with eager hands.

 14 She is like the merchant ships,
       bringing her food from afar.

 15 She gets up while it is still dark;
       she provides food for her family
       and portions for her servant girls.

 16 She considers a field and buys it;
       out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.

 17 She sets about her work vigorously;
       her arms are strong for her tasks.

 18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
       and her lamp does not go out at night.

 19 In her hand she holds the distaff
       and grasps the spindle with her fingers.

 20 She opens her arms to the poor
       and extends her hands to the needy.

 21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
       for all of them are clothed in scarlet.

 22 She makes coverings for her bed;
       she is clothed in fine linen and purple.

 23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
       where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.

 24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
       and supplies the merchants with sashes.

 25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
       she can laugh at the days to come.

 26 She speaks with wisdom,
       and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

 27 She watches over the affairs of her household
       and does not eat the bread of idleness.

 28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
       her husband also, and he praises her:

 29 "Many women do noble things,
       but you surpass them all."

 30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
       but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

 31 Give her the reward she has earned,
       and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

p.s. If Baby Girl gets anything with the word "Princess" on it, it will quickly be burned or returned. Just sayin'. If it says "Pioneer Woman," on the other hand… well, that's a whole other story. She'll wear it loud and proud. Hats off to Pioneer Women everywhere!

To sell or not to sell…

…That is today's question. As I search for ways to generate an income from home, one of the most prevalent things that comes up is direct sales, a.k.a. network marketing. If you are not familiar with the title, think Mary Kay and Pampered Chef. Whether these bring up good or bad connotations in your mind, I'd like to know your opinion on this type of income source, especially for a stay-at-home mom. I dabbled briefly in a direct sales company called Petlane last year, and found it hard to branch out. It's a great company, and they sell fantastic pet products, but for me it honestly was hard to get past the cost of shipping when pet owners can go to their favorite pet supply store or boutique and get similar products for less AND not have to pay shipping. In this economy, how can you convince people that it's worth it? 

I will be the first to admit that I skimped on the effort required to make it lucrative because I let myself get discouraged too easily by things like this. One thing about direct sales is that if you believe in your products enough, you can convince anyone that it is worth it. Sales is nothing more than shared enthusiasm, no? But how do you keep up that enthusiasm past the initial contact with a client or potential team member?

In one of my random searches I came across a relatively new network marketing company that sells some of the cutest jewelry I've seen in a long time. They have a celebrity following and founders who are stay-at-home moms. I'm not necessarily planning on jumping on that bandwagon, but in my mind, in this economy, items like this may be easier to sell than something that fulfills an everyday need; the buyer isn't diverted because of extra costs like shipping, she is interested because it's unique and stylish and makes her feel beautiful. The ones who are even looking at the products are ready to splurge; those who cannot afford it simply won't look. I think most people these days are familiar enough with the home sales party concept to know what they're in for should they decide to partake in the festivities.

So, thoughts? Opinions? Advice? I would love to know how to sustain an income on this type of model. Most people I know, including myself, were part of the huge percentage of direct sellers who never got anywhere with it. I would never bash the concept. I have just learned that it is harder than most of the companies make it look to earn an income that outweighs the cost of maintaining the business over time.

WAHM.

Work at Home Mom. I hope to achieve this title in the near future. I just can't seem to figure out a legitimate way to do so. 

Lately I have been overwhelmed by all I have laying ahead of me, and all I have to get done, everything I have to learn, not knowing what I don't know but need to know, and wondering how we are going to stretch our dollars without my income anymore. Because insurance companies are evil and view pregnancy as a "pre-existing condition," Cody is stuck at his job at least until our little one arrives. And because ASU is run by a communist- I mean, Michael Crow, they have things like forced mandatory retirement funds that don't let you choose how much or how often you put in money, and they require employees to pay for parking (and Lot 59, which was a mere $50 when we were in school, is now $270 per year for EVERYONE and is the cheapest parking on campus!), plus unpaid furlough days to cut everyone's salary by 10%, on top of taxes, and you have a paycheck that is whittled down to less than 70% of what you would normally take home from that same salary anywhere else. Cody is very good at his job and has gained great experience since he started there three years ago, but he doesn't necessarily want to stay there long-term, and without his Master's degree, there really isn't a way to move up, at least not in the next six months or so. And even if he did, his income couldn't be impacted all that much with all the FEES that are FORCED on ASU employees. Grrr… 

I have a love-hate relationship with the whole scenario. In spite of everything I don't like about it, I am SO thankful that Cody was able to keep his job through all the budget cuts that happened there last winter, and I am so thankful to have great health insurance. Things could be a lot worse so I know I need to keep that in perspective. I am frustrated with employment in general on many levels these days and all I can say is that I know both he and I are worth WAY more than either of us take home every two weeks. 

Cody is a scholar at heart and wants nothing more than to go to seminary for his Master's degree, and even talked about getting his Ph.D so he can teach at the college level someday. He would be SO good at this, but an education like that costs a pretty penny- a pretty penny we thought maybe we could swing BEFORE we found out that we had a baby on the way, and now we're like, "THE MORTGAGE! THE A/C! DIAPERS! THANK GOD WE DON'T HAVE A CAR PAYMENT! HOLD ON A SECOND! DO WE NEED A NEW CAR!" 

I'm happy to report that the panic phase has passed, but we still don't have any answers. That's the thing about trusting God- you don't know what He's up to, but you have to trust the fact that He is always up to something, and it is always for our good. It's our humanity that makes us freak out, and I still do from time to time. My hours at work have been cut in half (which was NOT part of the deal) and my pay was cut too, so I've been trying to figure out what exactly I'm supposed to go out and do. Go get a new job, tell them I'm prego and not even stand a chance at the job (no matter how illegal that is), or don't tell them and let them figure it out when they see The Bump, and then say something like, "Oh, that? I didn't mention it before? My apologies. I won't be here much past January." I mean, really. Who does that.

So I'm researching like crazy trying to find something I can do from home that brings in a steady income but gives me the flexibility to care for our baby. I've found like, two legit sites, but one of them is already ruled out because it requires a PC, and we are a Mac family. I've gone through all the steps that are required of applicants to be considered for an opening on the other site, but the follow-up I received totally goes against everything I already did. I of course am beginning to question its legitimacy. 

For right now, I just want a paycheck. I have dreams of doing other things but those things will have to wait for a time. For instance, I LOVE to sew. I am a total novice at it, but it was a childhood hobby of mine that I'm starting to pick up again, and I'd love to make something of it. My Icelandic grandma was a professional seamstress and used to make all sorts of goodies for us when I was growing up. I would love to do what she did and learn her tricks (she had SO many cool tricks) and sell my items on Etsy… I know, I know, this is SO TRENDY, it almost makes me not want to do it. It seems as if talented, well-practiced, formally trained artists of the handmade variety are a dime a dozen anymore- it's overwhelming- and why would anybody want the work of a mere hobbyist like me? I have so much inspiration and a lot of ideas but when it comes to executing them, it's almost like I get paralyzed. By what, I don't know, but I am surrounded by people who are just going for whatever it is that they have always wanted to do and I want to do it too. I am so inspired by them. It'll take time to achieve these things, but I'm sure it'll be worth waiting for. 

But on that note: if anyone has any ideas for income in the meantime, please, enlighten me.