Holidays pose a special challenge for personal assistant and her band of elves


Story and Photo by Georgia Swing

Wrangler News Issue 12-21-133333A life-sized inflated Santa Claus
lounges in a hammock between
two palm trees in front of Anessa
Burnside’s Tempe home.
It’s a deceptive image for a woman
who lately has spent much of her time
running holiday errands, writing out
Christmas cards and decorating homes
for people too busy to do the tasks
Since 2008, Burnside has owned
and operated a personal assistance
business in the east Valley called
Ask Anessa that picks up the slack
for overwhelmed professionals and
“Really, what I see is that our
clients just don’t have the time to do
the normal things,” she said.
And Burnside, 33, understands.
On her calendar for the next 24 hours
following our interview:
Decorate her own Christmas tree
and host a baking party for several
dozen friends and family.
Also penciled into the week’s
schedule was an evening driving
around looking at holiday lighting
displays with her husband, Dan, and
their newly adopted 6- and 7-year-old
Her personal approach to the
holiday season? “What I have learned
is that I have to plan to enjoy it,” she
Ask Anessa and its three full-time
and three part-time personal assistants
do bookkeeping and marketing for
businesses, manage vacation rentals for
private homeowners, prepare meals,
organize homes, shop for groceries and
plan events.
“What are you not getting to in
your life, and how can I make it work?”
she asks clients.
This time of year, add decorating
trees and homes, addressing and
signing Christmas cards, throwing
parties and buying gifts. In a
newspaper ad, she bills herself as
“Santa’s Helper.”
“We’re all exhausted and we’re
maxed out,” she said, explaining the
growing trend of hiring personal
assistants to perform a wide variety of
domestic and professional tasks.
Steven Laitmon, founder and
owner of the Calendar Group in
Westport, Conn., which provides
domestic and executive support in
the “higher-end marketplace,” said
the improving economy has boosted
his company’s placement of personal
assistants by 20 to 25 percent in the
last year. They’re hired by people in a
wide variety of occupations, including
busy moms, executives who need
support in their offices and people who
run businesses out of their homes,
Laitmon said.
Holiday-related tasks like
entertainment planning and resourcing
and buying gifts is “a huge portion of
their job,” he said.
Burnside said hers isn’t the only
personal assistance company in the
area. She pointed to Girl Friday and
Dependable Divas as other businesses
that do at least part of what her
company does in the east Valley. An
Internet search also yields LifeStyle
Concierge Services in Scottssdale.
Last week, Burnside pushed a
cart through the Target at Baseline
and McClintock with a client’s list that
included holiday items and everyday
needs. Long socks. Winter outfits for
twins, 24 months. Boys’ lace-up tennis
shoes, Size 2. Miniature Legos. Hair
and beauty accessories for a 9-year-old.
“It’s fun because I get to pick out
things I’m interested in,” she said,
inspecting a blue-striped long-sleeved
shirt in Toddler Size 2. “I got the
kids Angry Birds shirts last year, just
because that was really hip.”
Sorting through the little-girl
makeup took longer. Back went the
eye mask in favor of Minnie Mouse
Couture. Into the cart went the purple
cosmetics case and the sparkly, redbowed
“Tomorrow night I have two
assistants at two different holiday
parties,” Burnside said. “Traditionally,
we go in and let the host become the
host. So we’ll take care of making sure
the food’s out, the drinks are out, the
garbages are emptied.”
The first house she and
and assistant decorated before
Thanksgiving was Angie Poulos’
6,000-square-foot home in Paradise
“She has two mantels in the
house, and both mantels were decked
out. The Christmas tree was over the
top with ribbons and then all of her
ornaments tucked in. We were having
a lot of fun making sure the tree was
They set up a toy train around the
tree with stuffed Christmas animals
positioned as spectators. Walls, shelves
and curtains were trimmed. Even the
bathrooms were decorated.
The massive job took Burnside
and her assistant six hours. Her normal
fee is $30 an hour for each assistant’s
“My house looked so beautiful,”
Poulos said. “She just transformed my
whole house into a Christmas room. I
couldn’t have done it better. It took off a
lot of stress.”
Poulos first contacted Burnside
when health problems prevented her
from keeping her house as organized as
she likes.
“ I’m a bone marrow transplant
patient and I get tired easily, so I can’t
do a lot of what Anessa has done for me,”
Poulos said. “And I have a 7-year-old and
I have a 16-year-old; my 16-year-old is
special-needs. I have a lot on my plate.
“She put my house in order, starting
from one room to another. All my rooms
have a place for everything.”
Another client who relies on Ask Anessa for
holiday-related help each year is Angela Patten,
co-owner with her husband, Chris, of the Tempe real
estate firm The Patten Team.
“My husband and I run a multimillion-dollar
business, and I’m eight months pregnant,” said
Patten, who spoke on the phone as she left a soccer
tournament with her 9-year-old daughter.
Each year, Burnside and her team order
calendars, address and sign holiday cards and buy
and personalize holiday ornaments for 100 Patten
Team clients, delivering them with a company
newsletter to each person’s home. They also handle
the family’s personal Christmas cards.
“It’s just one less thing for me to do,” Patten
said. “It’s so much stress off my shoulders. I give her
a million things to do, and she does it quickly.”
She also appreciates that Burnside looks for
“I’m focused on price simply because I’m a
person that budgets and likes to see things fall in
line,” said Burnside, whose mother rewarded her
coupon-clipping as a little girl by
splitting the savings with her. “It was
free money,” she said.
One of her proudest moments this
year involved Black Friday bargains
on two Razor scooters with light-up
wheels. With a limited number of
door-buster items offered, she warned
her client:
“No promises, because I wasn’t
going to (shop) Thanksgiving evening.”
Instead, she hit the stores after
midnight and wasn’t surprised to find
the popular electric scooters had sold
“As I was in Target, it must have
been about 2 a.m., I heard on the
walkie-talkie of the one the Target
‘We have two scooter go-backs to
come pick from upfront.’ So I literally
stopped the gentleman and said: ‘I’m
sorry. Did you you just say you have two
of the Black Friday Razor scooters as
go-backs?’ ” At his affirmative response, she scooped
them up. “That made my entire shopping trip.”
And the holidays provide plenty of leftover
business: returning gifts, taking down Christmas
trees and holiday lights, and organizing all the
“It goes much quicker for us, because we
are able to just pull down the ornaments without
reminiscing every time we look at an ornament,” she
said. “It’s a business for us.”
Information: 602-710-1122.



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