The Biz: Task master

Katrina Bragg believes she’s hit upon a great idea. Companies of all stripes are constantly facing a variety of tasks they’re either ill-prepared or too busy to perform in-house. Bragg’s company, Task Mania, seeks to fill the breach. The one-stop shop handles assignments ranging from administrative to marketing to financial and beyond.

Can-do spirit: Katrina Bragg’s business, Task Mania, aims to take the pressure off of companies with projects they lack either the time or the in-house expertise to complete. photo by Jonathan Welch

Right now, Task Mania consists solely of Bragg, who does the vast majority of the work herself but sometimes farms out jobs that she can’t handle. The list of what the company does runs the gamut: preliminary audits for Sarbanes-Oxley Act compliance; creating brochures, menus and newsletters; reorganizing databases; basic bookkeeping; addressing regulatory compliance; planning conferences and other events; and designing everything from signage and letterhead to postcards, newspaper ads and even Web sites.

“The business was started simply because I recognized the need,” Bragg notes on her Web site. “I once worked in a company during a hiring freeze. Projects kept piling up, new ones were introduced, frustration grew between employees, and morale was low. My manager said, ‘I wish we could hire someone just to do certain projects.” And for Bragg, a light went on.

“One of my managers said, ‘I’m going to take you off production so that you can work strictly on these new things coming down the pike,” she says. “I loved it. Every day was something different, and upper management always had some new idea they wanted to run through my department to see if it would work. It was amazing.”

It was also an amazing learning experience that came in handy when Bragg moved to Asheville and encountered the local job scene. “I loved being in Asheville … but the employers I ran into were very old-fashioned. They would hire you for a receptionist position, for example, and you wouldn’t leave the desk: You’d just answer the phones. They would hire for that one function instead of hiring for ‘Look what this person can do for this company.’”

So the 38-year-old Alabama native, who moved to Asheville with her husband in 2000, decided to go back to school in 2006. She studied business administration at A-B Tech, which “opened my eyes to how easy it would be” to start her business. Bragg launched Task Mania that same year, and this year she became the first graduate of the school’s Student Business Incubator program, which enabled her to build her business while she pursued an associate’s degree.

Bragg also benefited from her time in the food and beverage industry. “A long time ago I did the bartender scene and waitressing, so I learned how to deal with people,” she explains. “I think everybody should go through that.”

And though Bragg’s business is still small at this point, she’s already built an impressive list of local clients, including the city of Asheville, SMP Data Communications in Swannanoa, Meet the Geeks, AdvantageWest and Advanced Composting Technologies.

“I’m so busy I can hardly see straight,” she reports. Typically, the work comes in waves, cresting around the holidays when companies and their employees are either preoccupied with the social demands of the season or racing to get things completed before year’s end.

Bragg, who charges a flat $30 hourly fee, says she’s growing her business strictly by networking and word of mouth, with no real plans to advertise. One project, she notes, often leads to another in the same company or to referrals to other companies.

“In my business, what I want more than anything is for you to keep coming back,” she says. “If you hire me to do one project, you’ll find out that I can do a couple of others in your office as well. It’s definitely the repetition I want to maintain. I love new business, don’t get me wrong, but it’s the ones that actually trust me enough to come back and do this because they know I can get it done—and pretty quickly.”

Client trust and verifiable competence are vital, says Bragg, and those are what she feels sets Task Mania apart from conventional temporary-staffing agencies.

“It’s trial and error with temp agencies,” says Bragg, who has worked for some. “With me you know who you get right off the bat. And I don’t take a project unless I’m 100 percent certain I can [do it], so there is less risk.”

Right now Bragg is looking to hire an employee to take some of the pressure off her and handle lower-level projects, freeing her up to concentrate on bigger stuff. She also aims to triple her business in the new year.

“Everywhere I go to network, I get a client. Sometimes it’s a one-project client, sometimes it’s a 50-project client, and I never know until it’s all over. So I really need to hire someone to take that [pressure] off. I also have about 20 clients at this point, and I’d like to triple that—and there’s no reason why I can’t.”

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