During the pandemic, Tashalee Cruz moved her business, Velia’s Virtual Solutions, from The Bronx to Hartford’s West End. MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Tashalee about her entrepreneurial journey.
NAN PRICE: Have you always been entrepreneurial?
TASHALEE CRUZ: Yes, I started my first company, Tashalee’s Tasty Treats, almost a decade ago. My at-home cupcakery was open for a few years. When I briefly moved to New Jersey and came back, I lost clientele—and I also lost the passion for baking. From there, I thought I’d do a blog, but the funding I needed wasn’t available. Then I found my way to Velia’s Virtual Solutions.
NAN: How did you evolve from cupcake baker to virtual assistant?
TASHALEE: That happened almost on a whim. After I graduated college, I was bouncing from job to job. Opportunities were scarce. All I was finding was entry-level part-time work.
Velia’s Virtual Solutions started when I received my first work from home assignment and client on TaskRabbit. I was hired to do expense reports. I didn’t make much, but I was just so excited to do some remote work—this was before the pandemic hit, so remote work wasn’t as common.
That job went well. So, I brainstormed and thought: Why don’t I make these skills more profitable for me and form a business of my own?” So, in November 2017 I started Velia’s Virtual Solutions as a sole proprietor. It wasn’t until last year when I filed my articles of organization here in Connecticut. So, I’m an official LLC here in Connecticut. I also recently got a Small Minority Business Enterprise (SMBE) certification.
NAN: What brought you from the Bronx to Hartford?
TASHALEE: It was the right blend of suburban and urban. It felt like a nice mix of home for me because I still feel and see the urbanness I experienced in the Bronx, but also have the peaceful suburban life I needed. For me, it became a more of an inspiring environment. I was losing my inspiration back in New York.
That was another driving force for why I came to Hartford. I knew I wanted to leave New York and go to another state and I had the opportunity to get to know the area and find my own place to enjoy.
NAN: Moving to the Hartford Region as an entrepreneur during a pandemic, do you feel like you’ve tapped into local resources or found an entrepreneur tribe here?
TASHALEE: I’ve just started to look into more entrepreneurial things. I’m trying to get to some networking events and I joined the Hartford Chamber of Commerce, which is a great resource. One of the reasons I got the SBME certification was to try and build that network, too. As far as utilizing the resources, I’m excited to discover more because I know there’s a lot out there. The pandemic made it challenging to connect, but thankfully a lot of things are online.
NAN: What have been some of the biggest entrepreneurial challenges for you?
TASHALEE: Gaining clients who want to sign contracts for longer than a month. I lost a few of my stable clients during the pandemic for that exact reason. For example, one of my clients traveled frequently and hired me to do his expense reports. Once his travelling stopped, he no longer had that need.
Another client is a life coach who did a lot of public speaking engagements. Once the pandemic hit, she didn’t feel comfortable signing a contract for more than a month. She wanted to go month to month.
So, convincing new clients to make a long-term commitment has been one of my biggest challenges. It’s an investment in your business. It’s like planting a seed. You have to nurture it for it to grow.
NAN: Any advice for others who are starting their own businesses?
TASHALEE: Don’t be afraid to ask for any help. When I got into this business, I was all about wanting to do everything myself. I thought: I don’t need anybody. I got this—that New York mentality never goes away! But, since then, I’ve learned not to be afraid to ask questions and ask others for help.
Also, don’t be afraid to collaborate. I started collaborating last year by hiring a team of 10 subcontractors. Now I delegate clients’ tasks to subcontractors. So, my role evolved from being a virtual assistant to more of an online business manager and project manager.
The other advice I would offer any new entrepreneur is to join many different networks, just make sure you have an idea about your niche. For the longest time, I thought it wasn’t important to have a niche. But it really helps. My demographic is mainly female entrepreneurs, those who are trying to grow their and evolve their businesses—kind of like in the state I’m in right now.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to be yourself. Because, when you start your own business, you want to follow your own rules, but still make a comfortable living for yourself. And for me, this is something I eventually want to pass down to a future generation.