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AZRIELA JAFFE

7.21.99  
From Impaired to Virtually Empowered
For the disabled, home-based entrepreneur, the jobs and technology are out there

Technology now makes it possible for many disabled individuals to work from home in surroundings better adapted to their needs than an office. A booming economy and a shortage of skilled workers also weigh in disabled entrepreneurs' favor. Still, the challenges they face are daunting. Here's a letter I received from one woman:

"In the last three years, my health has steadily declined. I left my job of four years as the director of economic development for one of the fastest-growing areas of the U.S. I came home, bought a graphics computer, and taught myself how to use it. Since I owned an advertising agency at one time, going back to graphic arts was something I could do. I have been seeking, without luck, some sort of 'virtual job.' Do you have any suggestions?"

The good news is that the jobs are out there. And with the Net, it's easier than ever to locate them. (I've listed an assortment of Net resources below). First, let's look at what it means to work "virtually." To run your own business, you must be extremely self-disciplined, motivated, courageous, unfazed by rejection, and able to handle the financial volatility. In a corporate environment, your work is handed to you. Now, you have to go after it -- even though you aren't feeling well. It's hard enough to market and sell yourself when you are feeling tip-top. I understand your impatience. Unless your former employers give you work (have you approached them?), it will take time to generate referrals. Virtual work requires great trust on both sides. Anyone who hires you must be confident that you can work without supervision. It's difficult for potential clients to invest that kind of trust in someone they do not know.

I asked Robin Ryan (RobinRyan@aol.com), a Seattle career counselor and author of 24 Hours to Your Next Job, Raise or Promotion about your situation. She suggested: "Try to break into Internet advertising. As a consultant, clients would hire you to direct them in strategies and the ad campaigns that will win Internet buyers. This can be done using technology -- E-mail, telephone, and fax -- without ever leaving your home. It will pay a much higher rate than straight graphics design work."

To whatever extent you can, leverage your past contacts in the advertising business -- and anyone else. "Look at past colleagues, friends, and family members for referrals...Networking is key," Robin says. She also offers this useful tip: "For general exploration, go to www.monster.com and search out jobs that appeal to you. It's a massive database of job listings, so it can be quite insightful as to skills needed and salaries offered by real employers."

If you're willing to depart from the graphics realm, consider becoming a virtual assistant, providing administrative support on a contract basis to a busy entrepreneur, small-business owner, consultant, or executive. You can even learn the business online. Stacy Brice has created a virtual university -- Assist University (www.assistu.com), which trains virtual assistants and gives them the support they need to create and sustain their own successful businesses. You can contact Stacy, a pioneer of the virtual assistance profession, at president@assistu.com or (410) 666-5900. Stacy also recommends several other resources for telecommuters and freelancers -- referral services, organizations, online recruiters, and temp agencies -- for you to check out for possible leads:
* Hireability (www.hireability.com)
* The Independent Homeworkers Alliance (www.homeworkers.org)
* Internet Outsource (www.internet-outsource.com)
* Paladin Staffing Services (www.paladinstaff.com)
* Telecommuting Jobs (www.tjobs.com)
* Tryads (www.tryads.com)
* Will Work 4 Food (www.2020tech.com/ww4f/index.html)

I recently discovered another: Freelance Jobs Exchange (www.freejob.com). If you haven't already done so, contact your state vocational rehabilitation agency. Their offices typically have counselors who place disabled workers. Meanwhile, you must build your new business like any new-business owner would -- network, sell, and network some more. Lots of entrepreneurs give up within six months because clients aren't beating down their doors. The first jobs are the hardest to get. Land a few plum assignments, knock their socks off, and the referrals will start flowing.



Have a question on how to handle the pressures of running a business and the impact on your personal life, marriage, and family? Contact Azriela Jaffe at AZ@azriela.com. Please put "BW Online question" in the subject field. Your real name will be kept confidential if you request, but please give an E-mail address, phone number, and your hometown so she can contact you for more information. Because of heavy volume, Azriela cannot guarantee that she will answer every query.

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