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Sharon Williams and members of The 24 Hour Secretary completing administrative, transcription, secretarial, marketing, and other tasks for clients.Lochern entrepreneur taps into market with business support firm

(Special report-Baltimore Business Journal Minority Business Report by Joseph E. Green-Bishop)

Sharon Williams does most of her best work in the middle of the night, when others are sleeping. Actually, it’s not her work. It is the work of small companies with tight budgets. In fact, their budgets are so tight that the companies are unable to hire secretarial and administrative support. That’s where Williams comes in. She is the founder, owner and one of two full-time employees of The 24 Hour Secretary, a business support firm that she started in her house more than four years ago.

Today, she has three locations, including one she opened last month in the Business and Success Development Center, a business incubator in the Rutherford Business Center near Lochern. She grossed $50,000 last year. And she’s not content to stop there. Williams wants to improve her gross revenue by 20 percent this year, and plans to expand again, although she won’t give details.

Starting out

Williams established her business in November 1990 after being laid off. After being told her services as an administrator for a municipal agency were no longer needed, she began delivering pizzas for Domino’s, Williams said. “I used the money that I made from tips to buy a computer and the other equipment that I needed to launch my company. Running my own business was something that I wanted to do,” she said.

After spending $800 and enlisting the help of her daughter, Chantal, Williams turned her Lochern house into an office. As clients, she sought businesses that needed a secretary and someone to answer phones but did not have the resources to have their own offices or paid employees.

“I started networking immediately,” Williams said. “I would go to a meeting where nobody knew me and hand out fliers. It was a great way of meeting people, and some of them started to call.”

After more than a year in business, Williams opened her second office in Pikesville in January 1992. “After looking around I discovered that there were many small business owners who worked out of their homes in the Pikesville area who needed my services,” said Williams. And just as she did when she first went into business, she started networking.

It was not long before Williams found her way to the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce and the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce. Not only did she hand out fliers, but she also joined the “executive dialogue” program, an executive management program the county Chamber offered that allowed her to meet numerous business owners. “As a result of my involvement with the county chamber, my business picked up,” she said.

Richard Aarons, the manager of the county chamber’s Small Business Council, said Williams has made the most of her involvement with the chamber. “I think that Sharon is very well organized. She is a great marketing person,” he said. “She knows how to sell her product. She is innovative. I understand why she is succeeding.”

How it works

The company acts as an answering service; one phone, for example, can handle messages for as many as eight clients. The 24 Hour Secretary also prepares legal documents and resumes, does transcriptions and billing, and prepares computer data bases. “Our clients receive full-service secretarial support without the overhead they would have to pay if they had someone in an office,” Williams said. “We handle the mundane, administrative type of paperwork-related tasks. We will work through the night for a client, and we specialize in rush jobs.

Actually, Williams who admits she doesn’t get much sleep works through the night, while Pat Woolford, the other full-time employee, works the day shift. The company also has 10 part-time employees who act as contractors on an as-needed basis. The firm’s 50 monthly clients spend an average of $300 each month. About 100 businesses hire 24 Hour Secretary to do special projects, such as mailings, each month.

While most of the firm’s clients are in the Baltimore area, she does handle chores for a few out-of-state firms. Such companies include New Day Communications, a radio production company in Boca Raton, Fla., which hired 24 Hour Secretary for billing and administrative work, and a Rochester, N.Y. sports agency, EnterStar. It’s taken time to build that client base. When she started, 24-Hour Secretary had one customer. Now, Williams says she is comfortable handling eight clients at a time. Although she would like to add customers, she is moving slowly, “because I want to manage my growth.”

Her customers have been pleased with her work

“I find Sharon Williams to be very dependable and efficient,” said Jerome Wicks, the president of Secure-It-Fasteners, a wholesaler of fasteners, nuts and bolts that has been using 24-Hour Secretary for four years. “Regardless of the time of day, her business has been there for me over the years. She does all of our mailing and all of the work that a full-time secretary would do for me,” Wicks said. “As her company has grown and she has acquired additional customers, she still has time for people like me who are basically small businesspeople,” Wicks said.

“You can reach her anytime during the day or during the night,” said Esther Kirkpatrick, the owner of Success Empowerment Enterprises. Williams, who has worked for Kirkpatrick for two years, created the design and layout of a book that Kirkpatrick published on grant writing. And she does the letters that Kirkpatrick sends out for her grant-writing seminars.

Joseph E. Green-Bishop is a contributing writer in Baltimore.
Reprinted with permission from
Baltimore Business Journal


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