All Charlotte Perry ever wanted to be was a mom.
“I thought my mom had the best job in the world,” she said. “I just wanted to stay home and have children.”
Perry grew up in Chicago and earned a degree in communications (cum laude) at Loyola University. She worked briefly at McGraw-Hill before marrying and starting her family. Her family moved to Berwyn and later to Darien, where Perry still lives.
But life doesn’t always go as planned, and changes in her family life eventually led Perry to look for work.
Perry celebrated her 40th birthday while enrolled in the College of DuPage's Suburban Law Enforcement Academy. “I’ve always liked to take care of people,” she said. “I want to be able to resolve problems.”
Having to scale a 10-foot wall and push a police car 50 feet didn’t deter her. But being an officer in Woodridge didn’t work for her family situation. So after only a few months, she left.
Perry then worked for Charles Levy, putting up displays in Jewel and Dominicks food stores. Again, it wasn’t quite what she wanted.
Then a call from her sister changed her life.
In 1998, Perry’s sister, an attorney, lost an administrative assistant due to illness. She took Perry to lunch and asked if she could help with billing, letters and other similar tasks.
“At that time, I didn’t even really know how to turn on a computer,” Perry explained. “I suggested she hire a Kelly Girl. But she said, ‘You’re my sister, and I trust you.’”
Perry enlisted the help of her middle-school-aged daughter, Andrea, to learn the basics of using a computer. “I just started out small and learned as I went,” she said.
In conversation with a friend who owned a marketing business, Perry mentioned the work she’d been doing for her sister. The friend said that he could also use her help and began sending her work. A mentoring group contacted Perry about providing administrative assistance for their organization. Another of her sisters connected Perry with the Chicago Nurses Association, which was cutting back on staff and needed administrative help.
Word-of-mouth was proving to be a powerful marketing tool. “My business just kind of grew around me,” Perry said.
Perry appreciated the flexibility she had in balancing work and family. But she finally reached the point where she had to decide if this was a real business or just something to do until she decided what she really wanted.
In 2002, Perry found support with an organization called West Suburban Women Entrepreneurs. “It’s really all about being with other women who get what you’re going through,” said Perry.
The organization helped Perry embrace her entrepreneurial spirit. She secured a business loan and named her company .
Perry’s three children were the reason she started Off-Site Office Assistance. “They are my rock,” she said. Her children, and often their friends, have all done work for Perry over the years.
“We can never get too much work,” she tells them. “When we don’t have enough work, that’s when there’s a problem. Work equals money, and money gets us the other things we want.”
Off-Site Office Assistance provides a wide range of administrative support, including event management, database creation, data entry, correspondence and appointment setting. She tells her clients, “Let me do what I do best so that you can do what you do best.”
Changes in the economy have affected Perry’s business, so she’s now learning how to market her services. Her business provides administrative assistance on both contract work and short-term projects.
Perry derives great satisfaction from giving her clients peace of mind. "They’re just so grateful and so happy,” she said. One of her clients, a doctor, always writes “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” when she sends in her check.
“On my business cards, it says ‘We’re dedicated to your success.’ And that’s how I feel about my clients,” Perry said. “I try to treat their work as if it’s my own. It isn’t all about price; it’s about quality service. And I offer that.”
Working in her upstairs office, surrounded by family pictures and mementos, Charlotte Perry is truly home.
Off-Site Office Assistance is located at 7756 Wakefield Drive in Darien and can be reached at 630-910-7438. The website is www.offsiteofficeassistance.com.