Cottage Industry Fields Impact Of Slowdown

June 13, 2002
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ADA — Back in 1994, Debie Kolehouse decided to resign her secretarial post with the City of Kentwood because she wanted to be home with her infant son.

But she told the Business Journal that she also wanted to stay in touch with her work, so she founded ACE Assistant — a company that specializes in doing office work for firms whom the press of business overwhelms.

“I do everything,” she said with her ready grin. “Invoicing, creating Power Point presentations, typing letters, writing surveys, distributing them to the respondents, tabulating the results on spread sheets and then writing the reports … ”

The first impulse is to say that she’s a Jack of all office trades. But it might be better to say she’s the master of all, as she also drafts and perfects speeches for company officials, writes and lays out brochures and does company newsletters.

Kolehouse chuckled and said that one of the keys to her business is having about all the office software a company can have, plus a good computer to run it. “It’s a Dell,” she said, “... a big one. It’s the third computer I’ve had since I started ACE.”

She also has a copier, a color printer, a fax and — well, you get the idea. Oh, and by the way, she and her husband, a CFO with a downtown firm, now have a second son.

“Some times,” Kolehouse says of her workload, “I’m busy every day and some days I am have free time.”

But lately, she said, ACE has been very busy because she believes lay-offs and downsizing have a tendency to swamp the office workers who are left behind.

“I’ve seen this several times,” she said, noting that when the economy takes a dip, her business improves.

She said ACE serves a number of small companies ranging from five to 50 employees. And when the press of business starts to overwhelm her, she added, she has a small group of ladies who come to her office — a home office.  

“But my biggest niche,” Kolehouse added, “is for consultants who work out of their homes. They need secretarial services, but don’t have a big enough firm to afford full-time secretarial help.”

She has enough business now that she has ceased advertising, relying instead on word-of-mouth.

Ceasing paid advertising also saved her from the considerable bother of people calling up seeking her advice on how to set up the same sort of businesses in their homes. They were turning her into a kind of consultant.

“I didn’t mind at all at first,” she said, “but it got to the point that I had to start charging because they were taking up so much of my work time.”

“Their situations were a bit different from mine,” she said. “They were thinking it’s going to be a huge money-maker. And it could be. It has done well for me. But we couldn’t live on it.”

She said the revenues from Ace support her office and the things she likes to do. “But to pay for the house and the car? That depends upon hubby.”

But she plans to keep ACE in operation.

“I want to keep my hand in so that when the kids are grown, if I want to go back to work, I’ll be able to do so. I probably won’t do that, but you never know.” 

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