Business Community News Small Business — 20 December 2010
Filling voids with virtual assistants

Note: This is the first in a regular series spotlighting local businesses in Alexandria. Have a unique business model or success story? Let us know at dperkins@alextimes.com

Thomas Taylor’s been in the local paper recycling business for three decades. But staying on top of paperwork let alone embracing the digital age has been tough, so he’s turned to a virtual assistant for help. 
    
Taylor, owner of Local Motion Enterprises, heard about Fleur Gessner and Cybertary through a friend’s business networking group. Though initially wary of turning over any aspect of the business he built from the ground up an outsider, he’s been nothing but pleased in the year since.
    
I’m still doing a lot of stuff old-school, but she’s teaching me how to be more efficient and get things done, Taylor said. She’s done a lot of spreadsheets to help me kind of get away from the old paperwork and get things on the computer and keep me on top of things.
    
Gessner opened a D.C. branch of the growing Cybertary franchise in Alexandria about a year ago. Business owners looking for expertise they can’t afford in-house from bookkeeping to marketing can turn to her, she said. 
    
Its really like an alternative to traditional employment, Gessner said. As an employer, you could hire somebody part-time or work with an onsite computer, but we provide most of our services remotely. 


Cybertary uses a team of virtual assistants with expertise in marketing, social media, creative writers and bookkeepers, depending on the needs of the business. Its about organizing by committee. 
    
Its really having that mix of a team so I can create a project plan using the different talents and [clients] only pay for the service, Gessner said.
    
For Gessner, who hails from Germany, it’s been a long road from her Hamburg home to Alexandria. As a student, she studied abroad in England and eventually landed a job with Siemens, which sent her to California as part of the multinational firms consulting arm. After five years of managing a train project for the engineering giant in Sacramento, Gessner caught the entrepreneurial bug and tried striking out on her own. 
    
That’s when she ran into Patricia Beckman, Cybertary’s founder, and decided to move to the East Coast to open her own franchise. 
    
I really wanted to do the next step. Since I finished my MBA in 2002 and had friends that started their own businesses, that was already in the back of my mind, Gessner said. What I really like about this business model is that it allows small businesses and medium-sized businesses to get very professional backup support by the hour, as needed. They dont have to bid a lot of resources or commit to a minimum number of hours and they have a partner that has the ability to help them grow their business.
    
Each client is a project, she said. Many of them struggle with delegating handing off any aspect of the business puts them out of their comfort zone. But sharing the workload frees up more time for business growth, Gessner said. When she stumbles across a client need she doesn’t have the expertise for, Gessner can lean on Cybertary’s national infrastructure to provide support. 
    
Count Taylor among the small business owners hesitant to outsource any part of his company. There’s concern anytime you hand over your bookkeeping to someone else, he said, but they’ve earned his trust.
    
You’re a little worried about giving out a whole lot of information, not just to [Gessner] and Cybertary, but to anyone in the world we live in here, Taylor said. I like what I’m doing. She’s helping me and the business is growing.

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