Working Virtually Works For Her

Online assistance is slowly catching on

For Victoria Parham’s company to run at an optimal level, she needs high-speed Internet access. But, as president of Virtual Support Services L.L.C. (www.vsscyberoffice.com), she was forced to live without this must-have technology for several years while her husband was stationed in the military in Aberdeen, Maryland.

Parham’s firm provides much-needed administrative support, such as e-mail and database management, travel arrangements, scheduling, and customer-relationship management and support to a nationwide client base–virtually; she never sets foot in a client’s office.

So how does she do it? With technology. “For us, the Internet is a business medium–a real place, where real work gets done, in real time; therefore, dedicated access is vitally important,” says Parham.

A typical day at VSS begins with a teleconference or videoconference with members of her virtual team. Then Parham sifts through the more than 500 e-mail messages she receives daily. Through e-mail, she maintains working relationships with about 500 geographically dispersed clients that range from one-person start-up operations to senior executives at large companies.

And she does it all from her home office in Anchorage, Alaska, where high-speed access is plentiful. Located in the remote state since 2000, Parham, 33, says she originally founded VSS out of frustration with her status as a trailing military spouse. Moving every three to four years meant starting over in new jobs and never being able to establish a career. So, in 1994, the Army veteran took $500 from her personal savings to buy a basic computer and office supplies. She originally set up a brick-and-mortar support service, but sold it when, once again, she had to relocate.

Launched online in 1997, VSS is one of the forerunners in the virtual support services arena. Parham, VSS’ president and chief technology officer, was recently selected by the Alaska Journal of Commerce and the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce as one of the top 40 business leaders under 40 in the state.

Parham’s company also handles language interpretation services for government agencies and provides ongoing administrative support and Internet research for a large scientific research firm. Parham uses 350 virtual assistants and professionals to complete projects. She has invested about $10,000 of personal savings in technology tools.

Early on, finding clients was a challenge; but Parham has built a network through her association with groups, such as the National Association of Female Executives (NAFE; www.nafe .com), her local Women’s Commission (www.womenscommission.org), and the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE; www.score.org). Parham uses the Internet extensively to network and market her services to potential clients.

“The industry as a whole is still in its infancy but growing fast and attracting the attention of Department of Defense officials, top military decision makers, [and] corporate contractors,” says Parham. About 3,500 people nationwide work as subcontractors in the field, she adds. Certification is even offered via organizations such as AssistU (www.assistu.com) and International Virtual Assistants Association. (www.ivaa.org).

Despite the growth, there are drawbacks to operating in this field, Parham cautions. For one, there is a lack of personal interaction between colleagues and clients; and there

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