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Colorado Springs start-up navigates COVID-19 pandemic

Sharai Johnson with WeAssist
Posted at 6:58 AM, Jun 08, 2020

COLORADO SPRINGS — A start-up business is working its way through the pandemic to see the light at the other side and help create opportunities for minority women and military spouses.

Sharai Johnson, CEO of the start-up WeAssist, created work-from-home opportunities for businesses and assistants.

“We match businesses with virtual assistants,” Johnson said.

She is a veteran, military spouse, mom or two and lover of all animals who uses her time to manage all of the above and her small business.

“Once I figured out I could do this from home, I was making really great money. I wanted to bring other people on to have this type of opportunity which is why I shifted to the agency model that I have now,” Johnson said.

She has a mission to help other women like her.

“We try to give opportunities and train minorities and military spouses,” Johnson said, “to give them access to remote jobs and teach the businesses how to utilize them and how to optimize them.”

Johnson said a lot of military families live paycheck to paycheck and moving every few years makes it hard for spouses to keep steady, long-term jobs.

Working from home can be a game-changer for many families.

“It’s really fulfilling for me to be able to give opportunities to minorities, because it’s often a luxury. They’re going from job A to job B to job C,” Johnson said, “They don’t really have time for anything in between. So being able to break down those economic barriers and maybe take job three down to job one and you’re only doing one job where you have time to raise your family.”

Virtual assistants help with everything from clerical work, social media management, organization, processes, and answering phones. Instead of having someone in office 40 hours a week, businesses are finding they can hire someone for maybe five to ten hours a week.

“It reduces the time of unproductive time,” Johnson said, “So you’re able to work on things you need to work on, not the coffee talk, or bathroom breaks, or smoke breaks, you’re just paying for the productive time that you get. That’s how we bill.”

When Covid-19 hit Johnson spent the first few months of the pandemic just being a resource.

"We just tried to offer ourselves during that time, our knowledge our expertise, because that’s what getting us through this, a sense of community and everybody bringing together their skills,” she said.

The CEO also applied for and received several loans, Survive and Thrive Colorado Springs, EIDL and PPP.

They Paycheck Protection Program has 75 percent of the funds go to pay employees, but Johnson is the only employee at her office. Her staff of three are all contractors.

“I don’t want to use that money all to myself, it’s useless to do that. So, the way that I had to basically work around that, was my CPA said to pay myself and then reinvest it back into my business as an investment. That way they could get paid,” Johnson said.

Of course she connects with her workers virtually. Lead recruiter Na’Chanelle Brown lives in South Carolina.

"WeAssist just seeks to be that beacon of light,” Brown said, “So, I appreciate that and being able to be on a team with someone seeking to make such an impact in our communities, for me, is inspiring, so I wake up motivated.”

Johnson’s business model seems ahead of the curve as businesses found themselves thrust into working from home during the pandemic. Still, she knows businesses are struggling and she had to pivot from her long-term employee model and start offering short-term services. That way businesses could see if it would work for them.

“ I realize that small, small businesses really do need assistants and they don’t have a lot to invest up front- to maybe staff someone and then pay them,” Johnson said, “and so I realize that it’s really important to pivot and be able to address the concerns in the community.”

These are scary times for a lot of people but Johnson has stayed positive. She’s keeping her vision 20/20 and is excited for what’s to come.

To learn more about WeAssist click here.