Sunday, September 28, 2008

Interview with entrepreneur Ellen Levinas

Interview with entrepreneur Ellen Levinas


Ellen’s bio

Ellen Levinas from How to Guide, How to Guide - MVA Business Services, and Creative Marketing Assistant for Cello in A Box, Company, and also Webmaster for The STA - Superintendents Technical Association of New York City as well as owner of The Sample Bag.

Ellen was most recently nominated in two categories for the Stevie Awards for Women in Business, first award being Best Entrepreneur in the Services Business, and the Women Helping Women Award, Ellen also owns and operates How To Guide, which is a free resource site for work at home mothers, and includes resources, tips, informational how-go guides, written and published by Ellen, and also is a Certified Master Virtual Assistant, which is a sub-site of How to Guide, where Ellen offers MVA business services, How to Guide - MVA Business Services. Ellen is also the Creative Marketing Assistant for none other than the famous Cello in a Box, Company and works with many people, as well as reps a for few other direct sales company’s. Ellen also has a Bachelor's of Science degree in Business/e-Business from the University of Phoenix.

Q: You certainly possess a lot of business experience. Did your college degree propel you to online success or was it something else?

A: I think that it was/is a combination of a lot of things that proved to be successful for me. Granted the degree that I chose was surely in this arena, because I set up a plan to be able to use my degree in the future. I was already experienced in the “business” aspect, but I wanted to follow through with some real exposure in the world of E-business. The combination factor was the will and determination to make it happen legitimately by obtaining my degree, and then proceeding to move forward with my plan of action. Some things do happen by sheer luck, other things we have to make happen.

Q: You are a virtual assistant. Tell us a little about the VA position and is it a viable full time business for most people?

A: I believe that becoming a Certified MVA is one of the best things that I ever did. Being a Master Virtual Assistant, allows a person to work for other individuals or businesses “Virtually” or from one’s home/home office. However, both the VA and the business owner win in all aspects, because a VA gets paid by the job, (a job could be a one-time task, or could run for years). So what does this do? A business does not have to pay anyone a full-time salary, insurance, vacation pay, sick days, or any of the other things associated with a full-time job. A Virtual Assistant, works from their home, eliminating the expenses associated with an office staff and so forth, and is also a business owner in his/her own right doing jobs for various people when he/she wants to. It is up to the VA on whether or not they would want to work it full-time, or part-time; however, if you have the qualifications now more than ever people are looking to cut costs and this is a very viable solution for many especially today!

Q: You are a Creative Marketing Assistant for Cello-in-a-Box. Is that a salaried position? What are your duties there?

A: Yes, this is a salaried position to where I work very closely with the owner of Cello in a Box, Company. My duties are comprised of many things, such as: I am the moderator of our Yahoo group, I put together our weekly newsletter, I conduct our trainings, assist in our annual online auction, I run contests, answer questions, email representatives, work on catalogs and items, market, advertise, and basically am the assistant to the owner, where I do my very best to help her as much as possible. I’ve been with Cello in a Box now for probably close to three years, and I absolutely love the company and its owner Lonna Weidemann!

Q: What is How To Guide ? How do you fit in there?

A: How to Guide came about from my very first published how-to guide, “Your Online Party Guide,” with the onset of many online parties hitting the WAHM community at the time and even at present. I chose to write a guide that would teach individuals how to have their own online party, with step-by-step instructions on how to do so. Personally I have done many online parties, and the reason for this was because it helped me gain more sales. This is the very same reason why people are still running these online parties today. It also allows people to Network and in many instances long-time friendships are formed, and so forth. As time went on, I named my site after my book with a twist. The name in itself was chosen to “guide” people with resources and such that they could utilize on an everyday basis. This site is always changing as I am always adding new things to it whenever I can. I am also involved with, and in cooperation with to where anyone can participate or have their own online parties.

Q: Looks like there are tough economic times ahead. Do you think this is a good time for people to get into a work at home business?

A: Absolutely! But as always use caution and think wisely about what you would like to do. If you already have a business, do not quit! Keep promoting, keep advertising. The times are always changing, just because today is not good, does not mean that tomorrow won’t be. Taking on a different outlook on this, because economic times are hard now, and could be for some time people are lowering their prices on just about everything. Now would be a good time for the buyer if you will. So if you are looking to start a new home business you can probably do so much more cheaply now than ever. A business plan is a must! We are seeing people going out of business left and right, but by the same token, people that are unemployed right now in the work force are looking for other means of income, some of that income will be generated by newly opened home-businesses. People also do not want to travel by car, as gas prices are way up there. So there are pro’s and con’s to everything, but that is not unusual even if economic times were not hard. Use good judgment, research, and form a business plan of action, a positive attitude combined with determination is a must in today’s world!

Q: We understand that you can get a lot done for “free” on the Web. Most experts, though, tell us that some expenditures are necessary to succeed. What is your opinion about finances for an online business?

Yes, that is true, you most definitely can get a lot done for “free” on the Web, but as with anything else, you must consider taking a certain portion of your dollars and putting it into some paid advertising venues. This does not mean that you need to put all of your money into one thing. For example, as I am a Virtual Assistant, and I write press releases, ads, and provide a long list of services, etc., I can do this for you. Now this is just an example, this does not mean that everyone should hire me or other VA’s to do that, but in this case it relieves a person from having to do it especially if they do not know how to do it, which brings me to the point. There are many people out there that simply do not know how to advertise, and/or market their businesses free or not free. Thus a business must set aside some finances for this purpose, as well as emergencies that come up, inventory to purchase, assistance needed, etc. An online business is exactly the same as a brick and mortar business, the only real difference that I can see is that of course it is not a place that people can physically walk into, but one can physically click their way into your store! However, the basic fundamental concept of running a business is exactly the same. Brick and Mortar businesses advertise too, they have business cards, flyers, they offer specials, have sales, etc. Again as mentioned in a previous question use caution when planning to do anything. Spend you hard earned dollars wisely and not foolishly and you will prevail!

Another point to consider is that when you create your business, if it is your own home-business that is, you will need finances to build a site, i.e. your store. Yes you can do this for free as well, but remember your store is a representation of who you are. A site that has ads all over it from the “free” sites that are out there is not as professional looking as your own site. Believe it or not it makes a huge difference in the eyes of many whether they tell you about it or not. You will surely need some finances to run and manage your online business, whether it is simply for business cards, some inventory, advertising, or whatever else is needed to become successful. Thus I would have to agree with the experts.

Q: Would a party plan business be a good choice when money is tight?

Yes it would be a good choice, because you are not investing much and you are still able to earn a commission from any sales. I would suggest looking for companies that are low-cost to join, and offers a decent compensation plan. The reason why I say low-cost to join, is because from my own experiences, and not to say that it is bad or that it does not work, but many companies that offer free sign ups usually acquire people that are not serious about their business. Many will join up just because it is free and never do a thing with it. Of course this is all up to the individual. I think that companies that offer a decent sign up fee will offer more to their representatives, and that is because they can with the dollars brought in by those sign up fees. However, whether or not a party plan company is free to join or not, is not really the issue, no matter what type of company, it is only up to that individual on whether or not they will succeed. This is where will and determination comes into play. Nothing will be handed to anyone on a silver platter. To become a success one needs to work for it.

Q: What are some ways that WAHMs can make a go of it without spending money?

A: There are many advertising venues out there that are completely free to join, and/or to use. While it is time-consuming in many cases, there are tons to be found, and everyday something new pops up. This excludes the obvious, like joining free Yahoo groups, Networking forums, ad boards and things of this nature. There are virtually thousands upon thousands of free places to join for many different reasons. Use them! Set aside one hour a day to join places, promote, advertise and Network, etc. If you do one thing every single day for your business you are one step ahead of the game! You can have the most stunning site in the world, but if no one knows about it, it’s as good as not having it. Utilize the free resources that are available to anyone to your advantages. They do work, but persistence, determination, will and effort is the key!

Q: How is your business blog going for you? Do you recommend blogging for WAHMs and why?

A: I do recommend blogging for WAHMS. Let’s put it this way, a blog could be anything that you would like it to be. It could be a spin off of your own site. However, the search engines love blogs and with the advent of some really simple blogs to use today, it is not that hard to start blogging. You can be creative on a blog, be informational, rant or rave, or a combination of all three plus more. I think that a lot of WAHMS do not blog simply because they do not know what to say, or that they may perceive themselves as not “good enough” for lack of a better phrase, to write. Perhaps they are not confident within themselves. My theory is to jump in and hop to it! You will never know what you are capable of unless you try! “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” - Franklin D. Roosevelt 1882-1945, thirty-second President of the USA.

My own business blog has been going quite well. While I am often strapped for time, I make it a point to always post something on my blog at least three times a week. Eventually all of these entries will lead up to a lot of information, and since we are all about information these days, what better way to do it than to blog about it!

Q: What do you say to people who think it is easy to develop an online business

: No matter which way you turn the picture and you would like to develop an online business that will show results, (in dollars that is) it is NOT easy to develop an online business. What people see on the outside, meaning the business site itself is just a completed pretty picture of what the site/business represents, and while I am a firm believer of presentation making the sale, that works well sometimes, or for more specific items or services. On the inside it is an entirely different ball game that requires patience, determination, time, will, effort, and some knowledge at the very least. I don’t think that people truly understand the depth of work that is entailed in the creation process, updates, site work, marketing, advertising, and all the other areas that it takes to truly create a successful online business. There is no such thing as easy if your objective is to truly succeed. Yes, anyone can put up a very simple site using a WYSIWYG editor, but that just isn’t enough. That is just the beginning of a very long process yet to come. There is too much competition out there that will sell the same products or items that you do, the question is, what differentiates you from the rest?

Q: If you could start over again, what is the ONE thing you definitely would do first for your online business?

A: Good question. Although all of my sites are now solely maintained and run by me, I think the one thing I would have done over first pertaining to my Sample Bag site is not have any partners mixed into the picture. I have learned that YOU are only responsible for your own actions, and that you can not control the actions of others. That is not to say that assistants, helpers, and such is not great, they most certainly are, but I do know now, that when starting The Sample Bag, and beyond (and this could be any business of course) I would have definitely re-evaluated my options on whether or not to take on partners. I’ve learned some hard lessons along the way, but that is life, we live, we learn and then we move forward to bigger and better things! Thus the first thing I would have done in this case, would have been to not jump the gun, and allow feelings and emotions to get in my way. I think that when people get excited over new business ventures they tend to jump at something without really evaluating or re-evaluating the pro’s and con’s associated with it, and even though one may think that they know better, it still happens because we are all human and we do make mistakes. This is not to say that all partnerships do not work, some most certainly do, but if you have never physically met the person, think twice, three times, or ten times before you make a decision, and most certainly draw up an agreement that sets forth the rules of the plan first and foremost. What is theory and what is practice are very often two different things, what seems wonderful in theory may not always work out when it is actually practiced.

Q: Is there anything else that you want to share with the readers?

A: I invite you all to keep in touch with me, for whatever the reasons are. I do enjoy helping people thus I am not what you would call shy. Email:

I also invite all of you to take a look at one of my newest sites as mentioned above., and if you need a MVA to assist you, you know where to find me!

Thank you, Ellen, for taking time out of your busy schedule to share your thoughts with us.

Greg Cryns
Join a new community of Wahm folks.
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My business blog:


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