- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2005

Indra Books has an eye for color and style, and it shows.About a year and a half ago, Ms. Books was shopping at an Ann Taylor store when another customer turned to her and asked for help.

Ms. Books offered some advice and wound up helping the woman find all the right clothes.

It was a sign, and one of the driving forces — along with encouragement from family and friends — that helped Ms. Books start her personal-shopping and concierge service called On the Go 4 U.

After less than a year in business, Ms. Books, based in Leesburg, Va., is busy with ongoing projects in the Washington area.

She is consulting one client on her wardrobe and has three decorating projects, including a family room overhaul at the Curtis home in South Riding, Va.

“It’s not about shopping,” said Ms. Books, 35. “It’s about taking stress and burden off people so they can do what they want to do.”

Ms. Books recently met Kevin and Robin Curtis at the La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries in Sterling to find furniture. Although Mrs. Curtis enjoys shopping, she needs another pair of eyes — a professional — to help with mixing and matching colors, patterns, fabrics and woods.

That is where Ms. Books comes in.

With ease, Ms. Books points out colors that connect and textures that complement. She also gets some assistance from another designer, an independent contractor, to help pull the room together.

In less than an hour, Mr. and Mrs. Curtis had selected a sofa, two ottomans, a chair, a leather recliner and an end table.

Ms. Books and Mrs. Curtis continued shopping in the Sterling area that day for items to accent the room. They were successful, buying pillows, lamps and knickknacks at Kirkland’s and Pier 1 Imports.

Ms. Books’ decision to start her own business was not as easy as the Curtis’ shopping spree.

“My main concern was not having financial stability,” said the former government information-technology manager. “I couldn’t give up a steady job.”

But Ms. Books was so unhappy at that job that she took the plunge.

During a visit with her sister in Philadelphia in April, they hashed out a plan detailing her business.

Ms. Books logged on to Register.com, which provides domain registration and Internet services, to help her find a company name and Web address.

“I had to find a way to get information out to everyone,” Ms. Books said.

The first couple of names she tried were taken, so she ultimately decided on the name On the Go 4 U, with the Web address www.onthego4u.net.

“Businesses need to have a Web presence,” said Monica Hodges, general manager of retail for Register.com. “It is as essential as a phone-book ad.”

Next, Ms. Books outlined her services. She didn’t want to pick up prescriptions or be a personal taxi service.

Instead, her focus would be on personal shopping, from wardrobes to home furnishings; concierge services; event planning for small parties; and personal assistance like secretarial services, calendar planning and office organization.

She figured out pricing, which varies from $35 to $50 per hour, depending on the service.

Ms. Books quit her full-time job at the end of June and knew it was going to be tough financially.

She didn’t want to take out a small-business loan, so she has been relying on her savings to make it work.

The summer months were slow.

“The money was not coming in at the rate I needed it to, but it was good because I could really spend the time developing the business,” Ms. Books said.

In the fall, she acquired more clients through word-of-mouth, referrals and networking, which she realizes is a key to her company’s growth.

She became a member of the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce and co-founded the Strong Link Networking Group, which helps small businesses grow in Loudoun County.

Sales, which have increased every month, now are covering her operating expenses.

The goal is to grow 10 percent to 20 percent per month. She exceeded that in January, bringing in $1,000, which was nearly a 30 percent increase from December.

Ms. Books needs about $3,000 in sales per month to cover operating and living expenses and expects to be making that much by June.

She hopes to be bringing in $4,000 to $6,000 per month by next year so she can start to replenish her savings and begin contributing to a retirement fund again.

Ms. Books said the biggest challenge was understanding how advertising worked.

She spent $6,000 to $8,000 on advertising last year, but that didn’t produce the same kind of return on investment.

“I spent a lot of money learning,” she said.

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