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Greene: Starting Over

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Nona Monis was Dover’s Town Administrator for 17 years. When she took an early retirement this year, she wanted to do something to bring in some income. She happened to Google “virtual assistants” and was intrigued. Not only could she set her own schedule, she could work from home, select her own clientele, and do a surprising variety of tasks.

When one of her friends wanted to start a weekend business in appliance repair, he needed someone to help with administrative tasks. In a town where second homes make up 80% of the housing, being available on the weekend makes sense. But being here only on weekends didn’t give her friend enough time to put together a marketing campaign. So he became her first client. She designed a marketing campaign and mailing to help with his launch.

That first happy client recommended Monis to an acquaintance who had a small web design company and needed someone to keep the books. She has a third client for whom she answers the phone remotely and schedules appointments, both through the Internet. She also is picking up work tracking warranty information for small repair operations, and doing workman’s comp claims for a group of nurses who do home visits.

Monis concedes that high speed Internet access is key. She points out that Vermont, whose economy is dependent on tourism, can encourage visitors to extend their vacation stays only if it can offer the internet speed they need to conduct business. And extended stays are good news for local businesses as well.

Meanwhile, Monis is studying which skills she needs to beef up, and deciding what she will offer. She’s going for certification in Quickbooks, she’s working on her website and taking an advanced course in Excel.

As Monis reinvents herself, she’s getting lots of good advice. She’s discovered a national organization of virtual assistants. Colleagues across the country provide each other with both information and support, as Monis figures out how to handle billing and keep pace with client needs.

She’s getting a faster computer, but hasn’t yet gotten a generator in case of power outages. Since most of her clients are from out of state, Monis wants to offer them the same level of service they get at home. The bottom line is that she has to be reliable, ice storms or no.

There are plenty of other decisions to make as well. So far Monis has decided to be available 24/7, at least until she can get a good schedule set up for herself that still serves her clients.

It’s a learning curve. Since she’s spent most of her working life in offices, Monis admits it feels a little odd not to go out to one anymore. But she enjoys challenging herself and amping up her skills.

Even better, she can still take the occasional morning off to hit the slopes.