At the end of 2009, Michelle Myers was at rock bottom. Displaced and “without anything,” she struggled to support herself and her two children by working at a wine shop.
Today, she’s on solid ground as the entrepreneur behind My Virtual Paige, a thriving back-office service provider for tree and landscaping firms across the United States and Canada.
Myers started her company out of economic necessity, and she’s not alone. According to the 2012Global Entrepreneurship Monitor from Babson College, just over a fifth of female entrepreneurs in the United States start businesses for this reason. Among the women who took part in our 1,000 Stories campaign, 4 percent started up out of economic necessity, and slightly fewer to gain financial independence.
Myers’ drive has paid off — and shown that entrepreneurship can be a powerful solution for women in financial straights. While My Virtual Paige started as a one-woman show, today it has six employees. And though Myers declined to disclose current revenue figures, she says her business has gone from grossing less than $10,000 in its first year to pulling in six figures in 2015 — and is poised for significant future growth.
The Uphill Climb
Myers’ rough patch began in 2008. “I lost my corporate design job and found myself without work, raising two children alone,” she says. The recession compounded her financial problems. Though she was able to get government assistance, she still lost her home and car.
In a bid for survival, Myers made what she calls a “traumatic” choice that, in some ways, haunts her still. In June of 2009, she and her infant daughter left Virginia and went to live with her sister and brother-in-law in Colorado. Sadly, she had to leave her son with his father in the Washington, D.C., area.
In Colorado, Myers’ sister and brother-in-law gave her work in their construction company. But when their venture shifted gears in response to the recession, she took the wine shop job for additional income.
Myers was 41 at the time, and while she was grateful to be employed, she was frustrated by the state of her professional and personal life — feelings that came to a head during what she calls her “shopping-cart moment.”
“The manager asked me to clean up the carts in the parking lot,” she says. “It was snowing and freezing that day, and I’m pushing carts through the lot. And I just thought: ‘I’ve got to do something better.’”
The longer-term solution was in her blood. “I come from a family of entrepreneurs. On a daily basis, my sister would say: ‘You have to work for yourself.’”
In January of 2010, Myers started My Virtual Paige after answering a Craigslist ad to provide remote administrative support to a local tree service — a company that would become her first official client. Soon, she built a firm that handled scheduling, invoicing and other business tasks for tree, landscape and lawn-care operations, all using an industry-specific software called Arborgold.
Then, fate struck again.
In the summer of 2011, she got the opportunity to return to Virginia and reunite her family (and later meet her current husband). She was able to keep her Colorado-based clients by incorporating the ability to work remotely into her business model — now, all of her staffers serve company clients from home offices, thanks to cloud-based software systems.
Watching the Seeds Grow
Today, Myers and her six employees cater to dozens of businesses in every U.S. time zone. And, she recently expanded her offerings to include web design, social media management, marketing and more through a new unit, Arbor Agents. She projects both her employee numbers and revenue figures will double in the coming year.
Now, when asked about her most significant challenge, Myers points to marketing. She’s in good company — about 26 percent of the women who participated in our 1,000 Stories project cite the same key challenge.
To address it, My Virtual Paige is pairing up with landscaping bigwigs on outreach initiatives, and has sought and received coverage in trade publications. Myers also attends trade shows to get the word out.
Those efforts should help Myers meet her current expansion goals and add to her roster of clients. “We really enjoy working with this demographic,” she says. “These are people who care for the land, for the trees, for nature. We’re honored to help support them.”
As My Virtual Paige has grown, Myers has also made a special point of helping — and hiring — other women who have struggled economically, or those who want to stay home with their children. As a result, nearly all of her employees are mothers of young children.
After all, she still recalls the pain of being separated from her son for the sake of finding work. “I remember what it was like to not have any options.”