Monday 23 January 2017

My Big Idea: My desire to work remotely turned into a successful business

Published 21/07/2016 | 02:30

Ranai Dabrai
Ranai Dabrai

Mum of two Rani Dabrai is the founder of Miss Moneypenny, a virtual assistance provider based in Limerick.

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"My mother is from Limerick and my father is from India so I grew up between Newcastle West in Limerick, India and the UK.

I went to school and university in England then began a career in public relations, working for the publicity department at Channel 4 looking after big shows like 'Lost'.

I enjoyed it but when my contract came up for renewal, I realised that I had had enough of London life and really missed a calmer pace. So I decided to move to Limerick - it's about ten years ago now.

Scarily at the time, I didn't have a job. There were no opportunities in public relations in Limerick back then. I took whatever work I could get, mostly administrative, temp work.

I ended up temping for a construction company who were undertaking a water meter project, a 90-minute drive away. It was there that the value of remote working and virtual assistance first occurred to me. The contract was coming to an end and all that was left were administrative responsibilities, which I realised could be performed much more cheaply remotely without the need for a dedicated office. Personally I also really liked the idea of cutting out my commute and being able to work from home.

I pitched the idea to the construction company and they declined, but the idea stuck with me. Shortly after that the construction industry started to slow so I found myself without a job again.

Rather than take up the next thing that came my way, I threw myself into researching virtual assistance.

At the time it was unheard of in Ireland, but very popular in the US and India. Virtual assistance providers basically provide business services on an outsourced or contract basis - anything from remote answering of phones and processing orders to customer services and making travel bookings.

This kind of thing is valuable to any business that needs help but can't or does not want to commit to hiring staff full-time or pay for equipment, office space or supplies.

I took the plunge and launched my company, Miss Moneypenny, in 2007 from Limerick.

The first five years were really tough and we didn't make much money, primarily because the concept was so new in Ireland and people just didn't get it.

I got around that by introducing a gateway product, phone call answering. Every business can see the value in that, it's easy to understand.

The call-answering service established the brand and gave us a client base who we could sell other services too.

The business has a core team of around 10 people now, and about 30 freelancers who provide specialised services such as graphic design. Many work remotely, based all over the country. Unlike some other virtual assistance companies we charge a flat rate for our time rather than per person.

In terms of competition there are small-scale virtual assistance businesses out there consisting of just two or three people - but in that situation you run into holidays issues and sick leave and so on. Our clients know they can always rely on us around the year," Rani says. "We provide a huge range of services now - everything from personal assistant work to running social media feeds - and work with international clients too.

The business has grown dramatically in the last 18 months and the target is €1m turnover in another 18 months.

We are planning to open an office in Dubai later this year. A lot of our customers, who tend to be mobile themselves, spend a lot of time there and we are regularly asked why we don't have a presence there."

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