With her maternity leave ending, a posting for her spouse to Bagotville, Quebec and a desire for something different, Tamara Stephen was on the lookout for not ‘just another job’ but work that would fit her nomadic life as a military spouse.
“Starting my own business was something I always wanted to do but didn’t have the nerve to do it. I realized pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to find a job in my field because I don’t speak French well enough so I started researching what kind of work I could do from home.”
With years of experience as an office administrator, Tamara took stock of her skill set and started to research the new-to-Canada world of virtual assistants.
“Because of technology today, we’re not limited by communications…I can offer administrative support for companies looking for assistance maybe three hours a week or six or seven hours a month. The contracts run for a month at a time, so it can depend on their sales cycle or work cycle and we bill in 15 minute increments so they are paying for the productive work time. No office space is needed on their end and I have all my own equipment.”
Tamara’s company, Jotam, is narrowing in on the field of real estate agents in particular, something she’s always found interesting and something inextricably linked with life as a military spouse.
“I knew I couldn’t become a real estate agent myself, but you have that (military spouse) community. I googled real estate agent slash military spouse and I emailed and called them and explained what I was looking to do to get their advice; since we have that network already it’s easy because they know what you’re experiencing.”
Once she was ready to launch www.Jotam.ca this past October, the hard work really began.
“I made close to 500 cold calls before I was successful, there were days that I wanted to pull my hair out, so I tweaked what I was doing and I finally broke through. It’s a matter of finding those people who are willing to take a chance on a new idea.”
When asked what she would say to other military spouses looking to become their own boss, Tamara says getting past the mental hurdles are just as important as the practical ones.
“It’s so easy to be trapped by your own fears, when starting your own business. You can see your limitations but its not easy to identify your skills, stay focused and find a need. Don’t listen to any doubts you have, step off that cliff and try to surround yourself with helpful supportive people. My spouse is my partner in this, I have a friend who is a graphic designer, and my brother is a branding manager. I looked to them for advice and help to get going, and still do.”
In the long-term Tamara hopes to hire other military spouses to work for Jotam from their homes, but for now she and her spouse Karyne are giving back to the community by launching their side project www.civies.ca. It’s a free business directory for military spouse entrepreneurs across the country. They are excited to volunteer their time on the site in the hopes of providing networking and a stronger business community for military spouses like Tamara who are paving their own way in the work world.
Laura Earl Middleton
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