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Virtual Assistance

Local Author Promotes Working from Home

Michael Haaren, a former Wall Street attorney and world traveler, chooses to work from his home office in Annandale, to avoid traffic and spend more time with his 6-year-old daughter, Jazz.

Haaren, born in Leesburg and raised in Loudoun County, was familiar with traffic jams and long commutes.

"Now that I work from home, I don't have a commute. I can spend more time with my daughter," Haaren said.

IN 1998, Haaren met Christine Durst, who according to the book's Web site is credited with having founded the virtual assistant industry in 1995. A virtual assistant is an independent contractor, usually home-based, who provides business support and other professional services to businesses via phone, fax, Internet, courier, file transfer and other methods, Durst said.

Haaren was a corporate growth advisor and in need of business support.

Durst helped Haaren manage his work from her home in Connecticut. At the same time, she was receiving dozens of e-mails a day from men and women who wanted to learn how to start their own virtual businesses.

"Given that business growth was Mike's area of expertise, I turned to him for advice and in a short time we decided to partner in a business that would teach people to launch these types of businesses themselves," Durst said. "I retired my virtual assistance practice in 1999 … and we launched Staffcentrix."

Staffcentrix trains people who want to start home-based careers.

"To date, we have trained or mentored over 4,000 people," she said.

Mary Hern is a virtual assistant in Hampton Roads, Va., whose husband is in the Air Force.

"Being in the military, you might have a great job, but you might have to leave it in two years," Hern said. "We have moved twice since I became a virtual assistant and I have been able to take my job with me."

Hern, a data manager for technological companies, said the job offers continuity and stability.

"I wanted to be able to raise my kids, but needed another outlet," Hern said. "Working from home gives me the best of both worlds."

HAAREN AND DURST co-authored "The 2-Second Commute," a guide on how to develop a home-based career.

"Virtual assistance is for people who are tired of the rat race, whose commute is getting to be a drawback," Haaren said. "We are regaining farm-family values in a high-tech world."

The co-authors will hold a seminar and book signing at Eastern Loudoun Regional Library in Cascades Sunday, Jan. 15, at 2 p.m.

"We will give attendees a little background on the industry, discuss trends in the marketplace, types of services being offered by virtual assistants, fees being charged for those services and other general information," Durst said. "We'll also share tips on how to avoid work-at-home scams and find legitimate home-based work."

Haaren and Durst will answer questions at the end of the seminar.