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A SOHOer's Savior

One homebased writer waxes poetic about the virtues of hiring a personal assistant, and lets you in on his hiring, training and management secrets.

Fifteen years ago, I did something that has improved my quality of life more than anything-I hired a personal assistant. She does my routine tasks as well or better than I could have done them. (The vast majority of respondents to my personal assistant ads are female so I use the feminine article here-no sexism intended.) That wrings 16 hours out of a 10-hour workday because it frees me up to do things I'd rather do. And she doesn't cost me a dime. In fact, she makes me money because with the extra time I gain as a result of her work, I earn money in excess of her salary. Besides, it's simply fun to have a nice person around-working at home can get lonely.

My assistant runs my errands, does light housekeeping, makes meals, tends plants, maintains my aquarium and is a sounding board. (She, for example, reviewed a draft of this article.) My previous assistant was handy, so he used to fix things around the house.

You may be surprised to know I don't have my assistant answer my phone. I screen my calls using my answering machine, pick up those I want, and let the machine record the others. That way I know every call is handled precisely how I like it, and with my complex business, that's best.

Why You Might Worry and Why You Needn't

There are a host of concerns you might have if you've never hired an employee to work in your home, much less a personal assistant. Here's why you don't need to worry:

  • I'm afraid to have a stranger in my house.
    If you use the approaches to hiring, training and managing that I'll outline, you'll have reduced your risk to a level that even most worrywarts can accept. I have had assistants in my home for 15 years, and my most significant loss was some rose seeds I had bred.
  • I worry that my personal life will be an open book.
    This hasn't been a problem for me, mainly because my life is embarrassingly choirboy-like. But even if my predilections were more bacchanalian, if I hired someone I liked, I probably wouldn't mind her knowing my peccadilloes.

If you want some things private, a small safe may hide them: the antidepressants, the documents related to your felony conviction, and the financial statements that say your net worth is 17 cents.

  • Will the city allow me to have employees in my residence?
    In many but not all areas, zoning rules allow you to have a personal assistant in your home. Check with your local zoning department to be sure.
  • I can't afford an assistant.
    You probably can't afford to forego an assistant. Even if your business is making no money, having someone to free you to build your business will probably pay off.

Of course, your personal assistant could be your personal nightmare. For example, she rifles through your papers and figures out how to rob you blind. Angry with you, she pickets your street with a sign saying you're an unfair employer. Or more likely, after all the time you took to train her, she turns out to be more hassle than she's worth or she simply quits.

The good news is that by hiring, training and managing wisely, you'll probably be thrilled you have an assistant.

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