By Heather Lee Whitley
Hollywood typically portrays personal assistants as eager 20-somethings who field ridiculous demands barked in their direction by egotistical celebrities or executives. But this stereotype is becoming out of date, helped along by entrepreneur Valerie Riley.
“Frankly, I thought it was below me,” said Riley, recalling the time in 2001 when she became a personal assistant after moving to Dallas. “But I ended up really falling in love with the work. I’m a natural caregiver, a natural problem solver. That work just really aligned with my authentic self.”
She loved the work so much that in 2010, she founded a company in Oklahoma City to provide personal assistant services to busy professionals, working parents or anyone else who couldn’t find enough hours in the day to get it all done.
“You don’t have to be a big celebrity with homes across the country to have help five hours a week,” explained Riley. “It just kind of opens up a group of people that are like, ‘Hey, I’m a hard-working, two-income family; I’ve got some kids at home; and I don’t have time to do laundry or run to the grocery store.’”
Riley’s clients purchase monthly packages that let them choose when they need help. Most hire personal assistants to work 10 to 15 hours a week for about $35 an hour.
At Your Service
In 2014, Riley rebranded the company as LifeSquire and set her sights on franchising.
“My original plan was always to be the first to franchise a personal assistant service,” said Riley. “I could just see that at some point down the line, that was going to be the next wave of service-based franchises.”
In addition to the 20 employees working in the Oklahoma City office, LifeSquire now has franchises in two other Oklahoma cites — Edmond and Tulsa — as well as in Sarasota, Florida. An additional franchise opened in Key West, Florida, in August.
Part of LifeSquire’s rebranding included redefining the company’s culture by making employees and staff top priority. In cases when clients have treated staff improperly, LifeSquire has sided with staff, she said.
Staying On Task
As her company grew, Riley incorporated technologies to keep her team organized and connected. She turned to TSheets for tracking employees’ hours; Trello to help manage company and client projects; and GroupMe to set up chat rooms for instant communication among employees in the field.
Riley in July launched the LifeSquire mobile app, which bundles some of these internal functions and introduced customer-facing features, such as prompts to remind clients of errands or tasks that they may want to delegate to an assistant.
“All they have to do is swipe left and say, ‘Yes, I want that done.’”
The LifeSquire app will also have an SOS function that gives clients instant access to a personal assistant when urgent situations arise.
“Say you have us scheduled Tuesdays and Thursdays, but it’s Wednesday and your dog ate something it should not have, and it needs to go to the vet,” Riley said.
The client will simply hit a button on the app that pings LifeSquire. An assistant who is close — and available — can swipe left to accept the task.
Riley believes technology is important. But when trying to expand and scale a business, she warned other entrepreneurs against adopting too much too soon.
“Get to know your business; get to know your customers; get to know what they need; get to know what your staff needs,” she said. “Then build in technology behind that.”
Heather Lee Whitley is a writer and producer. Her work has been featured on CNN, ABC’s “20/20” and Gannett websites.