Mary Pokluda founded Bumblebee Personal Assistants because it was a service she needed. "I was in retail for 16 years, eight years in management. I worked 40, 60, 80 hours a week," she said. "My girls would call and say 'Do you need me to pick up your dry cleaning?' because they knew I didn't have time."
Five years ago, she decided she'd rather be the person doing the tasks than the person who didn't have time. Her experience in retail had given her "the ability to multi-task, work with different demographics and problem-solve" -- all key in her new role.
To start the business, she said, "I pulled jobs off Craigslist that fit what I wanted to do." She also joined a networking group. Today, she has standing clients for whom she runs to the bank, post office or office supply store. For other clients, she does data entry, helps with social media and does office organizing. The goal is always to do things the client's way. "We step into the role as you," she said. "That's why we're personal assistants."
Small business owners and busy professionals "sustain us," Pokluda said. "Our clients aren't rock stars or million-dollar athletes. We serve people who want more time for family and friends. We all short-change ourselves the most."
Highlights of her job have included travelling to Italy, Hawaii, and various locations in the U.S. at client expense. At the other end of the spectrum, she said, "I was once hired to fire somebody."
Pokluda's job is solving problems, and if she's successful, the client may not ever be aware the problem existed. "People don't need to know, and I don't tell them," she said. As the coordinator for a wedding in Stillwater, for example, Pokluda was the only one who knew that a tornado was bearing down on the venue. "We were on the top floor, with narrow stairs to the basement," Pokluda recalled. "If we'd made an announcement, there would have been chaos." Instead, Pokluda arranged for the sheriff to give her the sign if needed, at which point she'd cue the DJ and "we'd bunny hop to the basement."
In the end, the tornado went elsewhere and the couple only found out about the near miss when they ran into the sheriff two weeks after the wedding. "I was on it," Pokluda assured them.
Is there anything you won't do for a client?
I won't do anything that's illegal or unethical. If something just doesn't feel right, I'll refer the client to someone who can help. I can replace a shower head, but I can't plumb.
What's your least favorite part of the business?
The stressful part is the business part. I delegate bookkeeping and accounting. That's outside my knowledge base.
What characteristics does a personal assistant need?
You have to be detail-oriented, honest, ethical. You have to be flexible. You have to give without expecting to receive. It isn't a job -- it's a lifestyle. I don't have a job. I never wake up not wanting to work.
After six years in business, what's next?
I'm in the process of stepping away from clients. I will be the person managing, making connections to the vendors. Finding more people to do the client work will spread my reach and let me cover more. It's going to be hard, but to be able to grow, I have to step into management, no matter how reluctant I am.