HUTCHINSON — Diane Potter knew little about computers or the Internet when she got laid off from her job with a hearing aid company in 2008.
“I was from a very offline world,” Potter said. “I barely knew how to attach a document to an e-mail.”
Driven by fear she might lose her home, Potter immersed herself in the online world, eventually starting her own business as a “virtual assistant” – someone who provides administrative and other work for clients as an independent contractor, often on a long-distance basis. Potter ran her business, The Virtual Difference, out of her home, farming out work to other independent contractors as her enterprise grew.
Potter’s new business, called Springboard Designs, offers some of the same services, but it also includes two hallmarks of traditional businesses: an office and staff.
“I wound up with an actual firm, with bricks and mortar,” she said.
The focus of Potter’s business has evolved as well, with the emphasis now on Internet marketing for small businesses. She said that change has been driven by client demand.
“At first, it was very administrative related,” she said. “Now they’re coming to me to say they want someone to manage my public relations, Web development and that sort of thing. It just so happened that as I changed, the market changed.”
Springboard Designs currently has about 20 clients and revenue of about $200,000 a year, but has just launched a new website and hopes to add to both of those numbers. Potter employs three people full time – a project manager and two designer/coders. Potter said those employees are more accountable than independent contractors, although she still uses some of those, too.
Springboard’s goal is to provide affordable online marketing services to small- and medium-sized companies. Clients include a number of coaches and authors who are also professional speakers.
Potter said she usually begins her work for clients by creating a website or tweaking their current one to make sure it’s optimized for search engines and offers visitors a way to take action.
Her firm then uses social media and a variety of marketing strategies to drive more potential clients to the sites. The firm works in the “real world” as well – for instance, scheduling speakers and developing products they can sell at their appearances.
“But our main focus, the thing we’re best at, is getting people exposure for their business,” she said. “Marketing is really about getting people to your website.”