Virtual assistance company now in MAREC incubator space

June 25, 2012
| By Pete Daly |
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A two-year-old Muskegon company that provides U.S.-based virtual assistant services is the newest tenant at Grand Valley State University’s Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center located on the Muskegon Lake waterfront.

LongerDays.com just signed a two-year agreement with GVSU to occupy business incubator space at MAREC. Currently housed in the historic Hovey House in downtown Muskegon, the company provides outsourcing services such as web design, copy writing and administrative support to more than 80 clients worldwide, including companies in Montreal, South Africa, Alaska, the U.K. and Costa Rica.

Owner Chad Lawie, a 27-year-old Muskegon native, said he wants to change the perception of outsourcing work.

“Instead of companies outsourcing to India or countries other than the U.S., they’re outsourcing to Muskegon and supporting full-time jobs,” he said.

LongerDays.com began in 2010 and now has 12 full-time employees who will move into MAREC July 1. The Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Center at GVSU and MAREC staff members helped Lawie develop financial and business plans for the company.

“It was apparent to us early this year that our pace of growth would require us to move to a larger office, so we began to look for a new location,” Lawie said. “Our company is young and we’re growing fast, making it difficult to know what kind of space we’re going to need five years down the road. MAREC’s incubator program is the perfect solution because it gives us time to stabilize, and the business consulting services will help us build a stable foundation much faster than we could have on our own.”

Arn Boezaart, director of MAREC, said LongerDays.com is a great example of business development in Muskegon.

“We’re glad to be supporting the next generation of technology startups in Muskegon and happy to help the company get moving in the right direction,” said Boezaart. “They fit with MAREC’s broader mission as part of the Muskegon SmartZone to support local tech startups as well as energy businesses.”

Lawie started his business via the Internet, working out of his home in January 2010. Within a few months he needed to hire employees, so he began leasing space at the Hovey House, which has been converted into office space.

Lawie attended Muskegon Community College and worked part-time during his school years as a painter at his parents’ business in Muskegon. He said that after graduation from MCC, he went on a long sailing trip for two years, living and working much of that time in Charleston, S.C., from 2008 to 2009. While in Charleston, he became friends with a man who had hired the services of a virtual assistance company based overseas, but he was dissatisfied with the service he received from the overseas staff.

Hearing that, Lawie said he realized “we can do it better here in the United States. That’s how it all came about.”

Lawie said his core customers are start-ups and established small businesses that don’t need a full-time employee to provide the services LongerDays can provide via phone or Internet. His company is also useful to some larger corporations and some “high net-worth individuals,” he added.

“We can do anything that an administrative assistant can do as long as it can be done from a remote location,” said Lawie. That can range from the basic functions of a receptionist taking phone calls, to booking flights or hotel stays, and even doing quick research.

“The way we differ from an answering service is, when you hire a receptionist at your company, that person learns your company. They are there every day, they speak to the same customers, they make outbound calls for you, they problem solve … We do the same things except from a remote location,” he said.

“We’re actually learning the business and learning the products and learning the customers. We’re a much more intimate service.”

Lawie said recently he was looking to hire two more employees.

LongerDays’ fees start at $350 for a monthly retainer, providing the assistance for 10 hours a month, and go up from there to plans providing 20, 30 or 40 hours per month or more.

“It’s all managed here in our office,” he said. “We are the overseeing manager, making sure that all these people are doing good jobs, getting to work on time and answering the phone.”

The client doesn’t have to manage his LongerDays staff, which means he or she can “disappear for days at a time climbing a mountain. And he just knows that his business is functioning back in the United States. Unless there is something hugely drastic that goes wrong, we just pretty much run on autopilot,” said Lawie.

LongerDays.com joins existing incubator business tenants at MAREC, which include Logical Lighting Systems, Energy Partners, McKenzie Bay International and Michigan PACE.

MAREC is an economic development initiative of the city of Muskegon in partnership with GVSU and the Michigan Economic Development Corp. As one of Michigan’s 15 SmartZones, MAREC’s mission is to be an economic development catalyst and business accelerator, as well as a center for high-technology business development, with particular focus on alternative and renewable energy. It offers a range of business start-up and incubation opportunities for technology companies, in partnership with the MSBTDC. MAREC also provides education and outreach programs for audiences such as energy professionals, educators and citizen groups.

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