VIVACIOUS Elizabeth Liddle is so busy helping other people run the administrative side of their businesses that she hardly has time for her own administration.

"So I know what it's like," laughs this 25-year-old farmer's daughter who runs her Rapport Admin Solutions company from her parents' sheep farm near Harrogate and describes herself as a "virtual assistant."

That means that Elizabeth takes the sting out of office, marketing and IT tasks by acting as a personal assistant, secretary and administrator but charging only for time spent working, whether by providing word processing, desk top publishing, drafting sales letters, faxes and e-mails, scanning, photocopying, maintaining client records, or organising mailshots and newsletters.

The idea, born in the US, has taken off so dramatically that she is now pitching to become the New Business of the Year in the Evening Press Business Awards 2001.

And her success is all the more remarkable, not just because of the constraints forced upon her and her family by encroaching sheep culls, but also because she has been desperately ill. with ME, myalgic encephalomyelitis, the chronic fatigue syndrome.

Exhaustion regularly overcame her as marketing co-ordinator at Ripley Castle as well as later, when working for a Harrogate computer firm.

"Rather than let this debilitating illness beat me I decided to change my lifestyle and break out on my own," says Elizabeth, who took advantage of the mentoring service offered by the Prince's Trust and finally began taking on her first customers in April.

It caught on so quickly she was amazed. Clients, all from North Yorkshire, included a horticultural contractor, for whom she researched to prepare a contract and provided holiday cover, preparation of leaflets for a rug restorer, cold calling sales for an office supply firm, a web-site design for a magician and a York hotel; and preparation and marketing of a brochure for a stress counsellor.

"So far every month I've exceeded my targets. Now I'm aiming a lot higher in spite of the problems and emotional tension I'm forced to deal with because of the foot and mouth threat." That tension is not to be underestimated. She and her parents, Martin and Sheila Liddle are on tenterhooks about the threat to their 1,500 sheep at Potbridge Farm as the animal disease reached Settle with culls moving ever-closer across the moor at Grassington and towards Greenhow above Pateley Bridge.

Because of movement restrictions delivery of her computer equipment was impossible because the supplier had had contact with other farms.

She says: "I prefer to actually visit clients so that I can really get to understand their business.

"The more thoroughly I get to know them, the greater the rapport and therefore efficiency, hence the name of my business"

Now she has her own website which spells out who would benefit from her services.

They include those who need an assistant but who have limited space or don't need a full-time employee; those whose workload exceeds staffing levels and are in danger of missing deadlines; who want to present a more professional image but lack administrative experience.

Then there are those who create more ideas than they have time to implement them, but are happy to delegate details and follow-up; those who travel and need a contact person to represent their business in a professional manner in their absence; or who have seasonal or periodic projects they don't wish to delegate to a variety of "temps".

She says: "To the small business person, the virtual assistant can mean the difference between failure and success.

"Unlike the larger corporations the smaller business seldom has the space or resources for the extra employee to take the weight out of their ever-increasing workload."