What Am I Blogging About Again

I am a little confused! Ok, I am very confused. My blog is supposedly about me being awesome and the fact that online work can earn you $$$ and help you stop leeching off your husbands which is what women in this country are supposed to do (it has its perks, for sure). But um … been following search engine terms that people are using to find their way here and it seems like I am blogging about the following:

You understand what I mean??? Ahhh … of course honesty, sleep, lack of sleep, nervous speaker, no sleep, bilal sehgol, is what this blog is about … SO TOTALLY! *pulls out her hair* Despite the fact I understand honesty is a rare virtue to come by these days, and sleep evades us all for various reasons (no money, constipated babies, unemployment, Brad Pitt), I am having a hard time digesting this. (the ‘what clients want in content writers‘ doesn’t count – have had only 1 hit) The one that intrigues me the most though is, CARTOON VIRTUAL ASSISTANT!!! I want to LOL and CRY both at the same time.

Dear whoever-stumbled-upon-here-looking-for-info-on-honesty-and-lack-of-sleep, how do you feel after reading this c*ap? I mean, how disappointed are you? Do you want to kill me, yourself, the dog? I would really like to know. *scratches her head*

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

P.S. Free tip for all you SEO-types; if you are looking to make some $$$ through Google AdSense, try a website on the above topics – they are obviously in demand.)


Meet the 25-yr Old

You have heard a lot about him and wonder why and how a 25 yr old can mentor someone as awesome as me. Osama Sehgol, co-founder of TimeSvr talks about his startup, challenges, bootstrapping, social enterprise, CSR, and he talks a lot – so just watch the video. I am secretly very proud of the kid. You’ll know why in a bit. 🙂



Social Communications Company

That’s what the acronym Sococo stands for. I think I am in love. I simply MUST have this integrated into my soon to be launched (hopefully – sighhhh) website. Obviously I am never going to be able to afford it (notice how I said “going to” and not “gonna” – I am trying to grow up). I am forever broke. But, my sad finances aside, this is amazing. The website’s About page says that, Sococo is a social communications company that develops and sells shared environments for network-centric individuals to work and play. A small piece of advise to people in Silicon Valley – we know you are brainy and your products are usually great but there really isn’t no need to make things sound so complicated!!!

Mr. Scoble, whom I dislike for his past disparaging remarks about Quora, does a far better job of describing it. Sococo gives you a virtual office, where you have an office space on screen. Yeah, so what it essentially does is it provides you with this wonderful tool to work with your remote team where you can have a virtual conference room or office space, you see who is “sitting” in her office, you can call them and have a voice chat. You can even make calls to landlines or cellphones, much like Skype. The thing can even be integrated into your website. Look at some of these images – I am drooling, I tell ya …

How YUMMY is this!

Conference Rooms come in different sizes


Your own virtual office - I know mine would read, 'Meryl Streep was a softie!"

You can also share multiple screens. If any of my family or fans or secret admirer is contemplating bequeathing me with half their wealth, please hurry up – because I need this. I really do!  Plans start from $39.99/month to $59.99/month.

OK now – I kept the promise I made in my last post, and actually wrote about stuff that could help you with your online business. I am off now …. To infinity and Beyond …

OK byeeeeeeeeeeee




The language of art is universal. What’s better still is that you can interpret the same painting, music, poetry in different ways. I was reading through Charlotte Bronte’s “Passion”. Look at these lines:

Wild, long, a trumpet sounds afar;
Bid me–bid me go
Where Seik and Briton meet in war,
On Indian Sutlej’s flow.

Blood has dyed the Sutlej’s waves
With scarlet stain, I know;
Indus’ borders yawn with graves,
Yet, command me go!

Though rank and high the holocaust
Of nations steams to heaven,
Glad I’d join the death-doomed host,
Were but the mandate given.

Passion’s strength should nerve my arm,
Its ardour stir my life,
Till human force to that dread charm
Should yield and sink in wild alarm,
Like trees to tempest-strife.

I don’t know what they mean to you but they struck a chord with me. Our country is going through some very hard times. Karachi is burning, Waziristan has burned already, a huge mass of the population is living in IDP camps under some very tough conditions. There are drone attacks, visits from some very angry US officials, there is an energy crisis, so much so, our industries are shifting to, lo and behold, Bangladesh. Sectarian violence, terrorism, target killings, people burning down their own country and going on killing rampages because they hate America, America sending in drones and causing civilian deaths and crushing the economy because it hates extremists. Either way, it’s a Pakistani that is killed, or suffers in some way. I get depressed. I get very, very unhappy on certain days. But then I ask myself; what are you gonna do about it?

Who? Me? I am a nobody. I have no power, no voice. And a voice inside my head says; “WRONG! You are somebody – you are YOU! So think hard and tell me what are you going to do about everything that’s upsetting you.”

I know nothing about politics so that can be checked off. I know zilch about governments and how they should be run, so another check off. I can go out and start a  revolution Egyptian-style only my family would kill me and I also am not sure what the Egyptians were doing (see, I honestly don’t watch TV or read the newspapers). So what can I do? Ah, I know. I can stop whining for one. Another thing, I can help a bit with the economy of the country and earning my own $$$ and not being a dormant parasite.

Go one step ahead and try teach others how to do same. Maybe even find them work because let’s admit it, getting work on oDesk and Elance etc is REALLY hard. Now if each one of us would just FOR THE LOVE OF GOD stop feeling sorry for ourselves and go and do whatever little we can do, that’d be much appreciated. It doesn’t take fancy speeches, it doesn’t take quoting verbatim from Rumi, or shaking our heads in dismay and saying, “Pakistan has gone to the dogs – I am moving out of the country soon as I sell my mansion in Islamabad”. It takes just a little bit of sincerity.

Become a VA. Have your friends laugh at you and think you need a job. Earn a dollar an hour and have your family pass snide remarks about paying their janitors more than that. Think SMEs. Think startups. Let people think you are an emotional fool who needs to grow up. As Bronte said:

Blood has dyed the Sutlej’s waves
With scarlet stain, I know;
Indus’ borders yawn with graves,
Yet, command me go!

Things are bad – things are REALLY bad – Sutlej, Ravi, Indus – they are all dyed with the blood of people who haven’t got a clue what they are fighting for. But hang in there and do your bit.

I promise the next post will be more about tools,tips and tricks, and info on virtual assistance. For now, thanks for bearing with me. Have got a lot on my mind lately.

OK BYeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Business is Common Sense

The 25-yrs old does it again. Couple of days back I was whining to him about work and how I should do what my friends say and just get a job, and he says, “Business is common sense, Maria – perhaps you need to rethink your expectations”. Much as it pains me to admit it but that made sense. This blog is not about him so I’ll skip to what it actually is about. What is business really?

In her guest post on Women 2.0, Jennifer Toney, Founder and CEO of  WeMakeItSafer describes business beautifully (and I am a little jealous of her for being so eloquent).

“If I’m cursing, there is a business opportunity.” You know, every time you say, “@*#*! I hate it when that happens!” or “@*#*! Why in the world did they make it this way?!” …. if a problem is big enough and important enough that it makes you mad; if it evokes enough passion that you are writing about how stupid it is on your Facebook wall, or better yet, a three-page blog post; it just might be a problem worth solving. After all, if it irritates you, chances are good that it irritates others.”

I just LOVE the simplicity of this definition. I can relate to it when it comes to WDL. I was working as a teacher at a private school and hating every minute of it. I naturally quit though it took me three long years to reach that decision. While sitting at home, I kept thinking to myself there HAD to be a way around this problem. I couldn’t do anything but teach – no one would let me – but I am not one to give up easily …. 😀 I started looking around, found Rozee online. Wrote 200 essays for a lady in Multan for Rs. 15k. Found oDesk while shadowing her on the Internet (I am evil, I know), earned about $400 in the first month. Was approached by founder of a not-for-profit startup in SF, CA and became a full-fledged VA from a content writer. Heard about Women 2.0 Startup Competition, and became an entrepreneur. Ladies (GET OVER IT – I am a feminist), motive behind the brag? I had a problem and instead of sitting down crying about it and shouting at God for not  being fair to me, or having a sighing competitions with other women over who has had the hardest, saddest life and hence deserves a place among saints, I found a solution to the problem. I know, I am AWESOME! 😛

You don’t have to start big, you can start with making beaded jewelry, or embroidered mobile pouches and selling them on Etsy or Folksy. Or you can start from your home designing clothes for friends and family, taking pics of all the dresses you made so far and putting them on a Facebook page, or you may want to start a cooking class for little girls. It doesn’t have to be a social enterprise. It doesn’t have to have a huge social impact changing people’s lives for the better. Look at Facebook, Evernote, Angry Birds. I don’t feel like a better person for using any but man is a social animal and wants to mingle with people, we all have our own crazy ways of unwinding, many of us have trouble keeping track of our ideas. These businesses banked on those needs. Look around you and see if you can identify a problem that you can solve, something you feel passionate about, something you can do better and differently, find out if there is a market for it. Start with friends and family, neighbors, the random people you have added to your FB list, twitter – and then stop contemplating and take the plunge. See where procrastination landed Hamlet? I always say, “I’ll never know unless I do it”.

Trust me, it has its pitfalls – there are days you want to commit murder – you curse yourself for refusing to get an easy 9-5 job at some huge multinational whose owner is best buddies with your uncle – but it’s fun. The adrenaline, the small conquests, the way the world unfolds before you gives you a high like nothing else. It’s the strongest addiction ever. Try it and let me know how it goes.

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Social Enterprise as a Business Differentiator

So, I been thinking (I do that on certain rare occasions). Back in the US, during our presentation at the State Dept, Catherine Muther happened to be one of the panelists. Trust me, she intimidated me more than the idea of being inside the State Dept. I am a horrid public speaker. I get nervous, I twitch, worse of all, I GIGGLE, and I run away. So when I breezed through the presentation (thank you, Thunderbird) I was beaming with pride and was confident of receiving a “slow clap”. Of course, that wasn’t to be. All I saw on the faces of the panelists was mild amusement. Uh-oh! Q & A starts and Muther asks, “There are so many similar service providers available, especially in India and Philippines. Why would I invest in your company?” My heart in mouth, I blanked out for a moment. But only for a moment. Until that time I believed it was the fact that we were affordable, cost-effective, and all those boring words every business throws at you. But right at that moment I knew why Women’s Digital League was different. More or less, this is what I told them …

If you are looking for the most affordable service, you can find many that beat WDL on rates hands down. If you are looking for a service with a clear niche like writing or concierge solutions, there are many others doing wonderful work at much lower rates. Born out of frustration with the lack of choices available for a “respectable” job for women and an innate abhorrence of accepting “fate” as a reason for not doing anything to make things better, WDL had no choice but to turn out the way it has. It’s a social enterprise endeavor. Simple as that! We only employ educated, skilled women to work from home on digital tasks. I strongly believe that if women are empowered they can be a strong catalyst in bringing a positive change in society. I was inside the State Dept and it wasn’t the best of times with the guy on their most wanted list killed only 2 weeks ago in Pakistan but I couldn’t help saying that if the mothers are strong, both emotionally and financially, they will raise more stable families instead of the tide of “crazy fanatics” we see now.

The world needs ventures like WDL despite there being some very negative connotations around the word “Outsourcing”. We have to be able to see the bigger picture. Is outsourcing only meant to make the rich richer and take work away from people who deserve it more and pass it on to someone less skilled? I am not going to argue the case of stolen employment opportunities for those in the developed countries; very frankly, I also don’t know what effect it is having the world over. But in my own small world, it’s changing lives. Small changes with big impacts. I am not going to share the stories of these women and sound like I was cashing on their hardships. That’s not my intention and I won’t say more, but for those living in Pakistan – you know what it means to be able to work from home doing tasks that challenge you and give you a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction, making you realize your education was not in vain. I speak from the heart … that’s how it made me feel.

If you need someone to do your digital tasks and do them well, and paying $3/hr is a steal then WDL is what you might want to look at. For most financiers, this whole speech is not impressive enough to make them want to throw their money at you. But I also won’t even DREAM of taking money from someone who only wants to see how we are going to double the returns on that investment. It will have to be someone who is as passionate about the idea behind WDL as I am. If I never find her, no worries. I’ll do what someone said to me: “You can do business the rich (wo)man’s way and gamble a $100k on your idea, or you can do business the poor (wo)man’s way and make it a success with sheer belief, energy and talent.”

WDL, for me, is already a success because it’s not an idea any more. It’s a reality! I took the initiative and said “I’ll never know if it’ll work unless I try”. Some day, if not me, someone else will pick the idea, find my notes useful, learn from my experience, the mistakes I made, the things that worked and that didn’t, and reach more lives with it – and I assure you I am happy being the nameless, faceless person who conceived it. Maybe this self-depreciating attitude won’t take me far … and then maybe it would … will find out. Until then … I chug away …


I Am Not Rich, And Hiring An Assistant

I have been asked several times in the last few weeks why I don’t hire an assistant. I am interviewing someone on Tuesday for that much coveted (not really) position. But here is why the thought had never crossed my mind before:

Yes, that’s my workspace. A little corner of my bedroom with me sitting facing the wall for the most part of the day with a lone tube-light on at all hours as there are no windows in the room and is therefore very dark even during the day. To lighten up the mood, I have a super ugly puppet I bought from Rafi-Peer Theater 2 years ago. Don’t ask me why I bought it but I have this strange attachment with it and hence there it is, staring me right in the face for most part of the day every day.

Then there are the ADIDAS shoes and socks. I never know when I might get the chance to go outside for a quick walk around the courtyard, so they stay there unless I am expecting company.

And of course, there is the tea-mug (if I drink tea outta it and not coffee it becomes a tea-mug, right?).

This also shatters the myth that I am rich. I am not. Trust me. Don’t get fooled by the clothes and the gadgets. Some women come to me for work expecting to get paid a thousand $$$ a month. This is a very important blog for anyone wanting to work with WDL. Women’s Digital League is not a “get rich” project for me. I give fair wages which means over 60% of what the client pays me – and trust me, they don’t pay me $50/hr – FAR FROM IT. Also, I spend more time finding work to give to the ladies in Hunza that I don’t charge a cent as commission, then I spend finding paying work. Money is good, money is GREAT and I would LOVE to be rich but now is not the time and WDL is definitely not the means.

Coming back to the topic, I am working on cleaning up another room in the house and making it decent for another person to come and work from. I have been offered awesome office space (see, good things happen to me – I am not optimistic for nothing) but can’t take it as it’s in Islamabad and would mean leaving the kids alone every day for a few hours. I am sooo hoping I would find someone to come in and work with me. Maybe I am jeopardizing that by writing this post. What if it scares away the few candidates that are interested in the position? But then again, I would want my assistant, my very first assistant, to know exactly what she was getting herself into.

Working with WDL is not all that glamorous at all. You must be passionate about your work, have a strong desire to succeed, be willing to learn and be patient, extremely patient, and not think of it as a “job” but more as a mission, to really enjoy it. I know I love what I do. It’s amazing to see the difference a $100/month can make in the life of a person you have never met and probably never will. It’s one of the most satisfying feelings ever. As usual, I am rambling … so …


Financial Literacy with the Co-Author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad

Gross Expenditure

Here is my understanding of these words before the Accounting class with Prof. Petersen and Sharon Lechter:
Assets = children, family – usually just children
Liabilities = poor relations (Charles Lamb, a tribute to you)
Revenue = something they talk about a lot on TV during budget time
Profit = when the bank gives me money at the end of the month on a saving certificate
Gross Expenditure = when you spend so much it’s disgusting

Errr … yep … that’s how bad I was. NO exaggerations here. As a VA or a businessowner you have to know your finances. No matter how scary they are – no matter how intimidating. But I have always been scared of numbers and fancy words that don’t do anything for my imagination. Then, Project Artemis and Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women program happened. Besides of course the wonderful classes we had with Prof. Peterson, one fine day, Sharon Lechter came to merely “talk” to us about something called Financial Literacy. And that’s what she did. She talked. To me, who was in morbid fear of anything to do with numbers (my 8-yrs old son has a tutor come in to teach him Math – I can’t – I am terrified of it), her words tried breaking the force-field I had made around my head and at times it even succeeded in penetrating through that barrier but I wasn’t ready to listen. Case in point, the pic below:

But she had me sit up and take notice. Tell me, has any of you run a straw, an ordinary plsatic drinking straw, right through a gigantic potato? When Sharon’s assistant told us that’s what she was gonna do I thought it was only an exercise in teaching us how some things are impossible and should be left alone. And then she whammed the straw clean thorugh the potato! It was the COOLEST thing I’ve seen since I conceived WDL! We all got a chance to try it and I was the first one toget it right. You should have seen me jump up and down. A 32 years old mom of two and a businessowner jumping like a yoyo holding a potato in her hand with a straw is not a pretty sight. This was Miracle No. 1.

That’s me with the potato on my head.

Then came Miracle No. 2. She dangled a small metal ball from a piece of plastic wire and she told it to go round and round, and the ball actually started moving in a circle. I was looking at her hand – it was perfectly still! Then, she asked it to go back and forth, and the ball obeyed. It was CRAZY. All us non-believers of course got to try it for ourselves and it worked!

And then came Miracle No. 3 – the biggest miracle of them all. Sharon introduced us to a  board game she had been working on along with her team at Pay Your Family First. It was called Thrive Time and was supposedly meant to help people, especially teens, understand their finances. I was sceptical but then I love board games; Monopoly, Risk, Scrabble – you name it. So, I joined in. Within minutes I was totally immersed in the game. Of course the vocabulary wasn’t coming easy to me and I had a hard time deciphering where I put my losses and gains but it slowly started to make sense. BIGGEST MIRACLE OF ALL!!

I didn’t realize it at that point. I am guilty of even whining about it a little. But, when I got home and I was going through the invoice template I use to send to clients, I realized I was thinking of the numbers in terms of  revenue and profit. That encouraged me. I started making a list of things I had – my assets. Looked OK. I then made a list of my savings or the profit I received at the end of an assignment (I always used to wonder how I spent the entire $1000, not reliazing I paid a team-member $150 and paid my Internet bill and spent on adding more RAM to the computer). Here was my revenue and expenditure.

I am not saying I am a whizz at it now but at least I know the basics. For me, as a virtual business that’s very small scale at the moment, this is enough. I know at some point I am gonna need an accountant – but at least she won’t think I am a complete illiterate when it comes to finances and accounting, and won’t be able to intimidate me with an alien lingo.So Yipppeeee …

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Running a VA Business without any Electricity

Yep – can be done. Believe me. Come summer and the govt decides we are better off with no power – will make us more hard-core. Our daddies in WAPDA (something, something Power something Authority) feel us kids are being raised too soft. A bomb blast a day, random killings, CJ sent packing home, ppl dying in hospitals coz docs have gone on strike, drones … NOT enough. Having uniterrupted electricity would make us into wusses who cry at rainbows and sunsets. We can’t have that. NO NO NO NO!

Anyhoo … so I have a power-backup. It runs my clunky old desktop for about 3-4 hours on the condition that I only run the desktop, one tubelight and one fan on it, and nothing else. The team in Hunza works under even harder conditions. Temperatures go below freezing point and stay that way from October to March. They don’t have gas to run heaters. They hardly have any electricity thorughout the year so electric heaters are ineffective. So, the generators generously supplied by a local NGO help to run the computers but the women have to work under very harsh conditions. Still, they turnaround the work in good time. I am surprised they can even work. What am I talking about?

Just wanted to vent a bit. The power crisis is driving me crazy.

Ok byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Blog from a Sleepy VA at 2:45 AM

Am sitting up waiting for a client on the US East Coast send me an email rgearding an urgent project he wants done. I have to wait for the email because it’s an urgent task (did I use the word “urgent” before?). So if you are just starting and you love your sleep and can’t even think of ever having dark circles – please do yourself a favor and find another job – this ain’t for you.

Almost 3 weeks back from the US and I have yet to start delegating responsibilities. It’s Women’s Digital League – emphasis on the plural. If you have been a VA for a year and have 5 or more clients, go and hire a fulltime assistant. It can get pretty crazy. I am hardcore and can take it (bow) but not everyone is me (bow some more).

But seriously, jokes aside, this is what I tell all women that show an interest in becoming freelance VAs – just becasue you are working from home it doesn’t mean it’s an easy job. I work 14 hours some days and I can’t sleep because I keep waking up to check my email or to reply to Skypes. If I keep this up for another 2 years, I am sure pretty soon I’ll either get insanely rich or I’ll go bonkers. Starting a startup is easy. You wake up one fine day and think, “God, people are so stupid – why haven’t they thought of this idea? I better go out and show them how to do things.” But, making it succeed is a whole other story. Being poor doesn’t help either. So yes, as someone told me, you can do business the rich (wo)man’s way and gamble a million dollars or you can do business the poor (wo)man’s way and rely on your spirit and passion. However, if someone asks you what you prefer please don’t be a starry-eyed fool and go for the latter. Money helps.

I need help – psychological help.

Past 3 AM – still no email … still no sleep … I better get rich … WDL better become a success …