Recruitment: Got a problem? Call a concierge...

For those with cash but no time a new breed of personal assistant is at the ready
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The Independent Online

If you want something done right, do it yourself. Or pay someone to do it better. Concierges, once a luxury associated with five-star hotels, are now an affordable option for cash-rich, time-poor households. From buying theatre tickets to waiting for deliveries or overseeing house renovations, the new breed of personal concierges work on a project-by-project basis to plan people's lives, so that they don't have to.

"We are all time-starved and trying to squeeze 36 hours into a day," says Katharine Giovanni, interim president of the International Concierge and Errand Association (ICEA).

"Personal concierges are saying, let me do things you have to do so you can do the things you want to. You make one telephone call, write one cheque and we do it all."

Katharine has been working in the industry for more than 20 years and says although the personal service has been going strong in the US for a few years now, it is only just sweeping the UK.

One of the new breed of concierges is Aimee Bateman who has set up PreciousHours in Cardiff. She believes that concierges, like cleaners, will soon become an accepted service to offset a demanding schedule.

"A lot more people are now aware of work/life balance and lots of mums are going out to work. Most of my clients are women and work long hours as well as running the household. A lot of them are business owners."

From sourcing chocolate-covered brussels sprouts to buying a £20,000 ring, Aimee believes understanding and satisfying her clients' needs – whatever they may be – is what has made her service successful.

"You can't do this job and not get involved. We have to get to know our clients to give them the best service."

Carmen Morris-Coulson runs the London based concierge service Plan My Life. She agrees that becoming personally involved is all part of the job – and part of the satisfaction. For her, it was a natural progression to use her skills and attributes to set up a concierge service.

"I constantly received requests from friends and family to help them to plan and organise their home and life. I really enjoyed the process and seeing how happy they were with the results. After seven years working in the theatre I was looking for a new challenge. I am a firm believer in playing to one's strengths and passion and, after a period of reflection, Plan My Life was born."

Working as a concierge offers great variety, but with that comes unpredictability. You never know what you will be asked to do from one day to the next and must be ready and able to deal with any request. Carmen says there is never a typical day.

"My day starts at 8.45 after I drop my three-year-old off at nursery, and ends between 10pm and midnight. I check my Blackberry first thing before my work day starts and when I return from nursery I check emails while making my breakfast. I then respond to all my emails and make phone calls. My two most frequent requests at the moment are for our "De-clutter" service and the "Perfect Wardrobe" service. Other regular requests are for tradespeople; we are very lucky to have a very reliable team that I can call on."

To be a concierge you need to be very personable, able to deal effectively with anyone, and be organised and calm under pressure. As most of your work will come from personal referral, meeting people and interacting with them is the best way to advertise your services.

"The one thing I wish I'd known when I started out was that the number one way to market is face to face," says Katharine Giovanni from ICEA. "Networking social functions are 100 per cent better than mailshots and advertising."

Katharine also advises to make the most of the contacts you already have.

"Whatever industry you are coming from, offer your services to them, as you will have contacts and understand that world.

"Have a specific target market – it can be as specific as divorced men over 40 – but do it well before moving on. The more focused your area, the easier it is." She says that to make your business a success you have to be committed, focused and willing to be flexible. "If it doesn't work don't give up. Refocus, repackage and try again. If this is your dream – refuse to give up."

Visit www.iceaweb.org for details of other concierge services UK and advice on how to set up your business.



Two good books to get you started are 'Start Your Own Personal Concierge Service' by Lisa Addison and 'The Concierge Manual' by Katharine Giovanni.



There is no training service in the UK but US-based company, www.triangleconcierge.com, offers a course that is tailored to international businesses.

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