While admin might send a shudder down the spine of some who loathe it, for others, it’s a delight, even brings joy! Emma Rowley is one of those people. After 23 years in various senior admin roles, she set up as a virtual assistant (VA). She was fed up of office politics and needed the option of more flexible hours to work around childcare.
After hearing about the term ‘VA’ and then reading an article online about how successful virtual assistants had started, the seed was sown. She set up ER Admin Solutions in June 2018.
She tells The Homeworker about how she set up her business as a Virtual Assistant, how she has overcome the initial challenges of leaving employment and the systems and apps she recommends to stay organised!
Starting out as a new business
What did you do prior to launching your business?
Prior to launching, I decided on a name for my business, set up a business page on Facebook and that was it. I also read an amazing book about setting up as a VA, which gave me the confidence to start.
You mentioned childcare was becoming a problem. Do you see this as a big obstacle for a lot of parents who want to pursue a career?
Yes, it definitely is. That, alongside the guilt of sending your child/children off to various childcare places – even if it is family – whilst you go off to work, isn’t easy to deal with.
What do you think needs to change for it to become easier for parents (particularly the primary carers) to have a long-term career?
I think employers could perhaps be more flexible during school holidays – maybe allowing flexi-hours or offering childcare vouchers to parents.
How did it first feel to leave the stability of full-time employment?
It was slightly daunting at first, not having the reliable monthly income coming in, but in a way that gave me even more determination to get my business up & running as soon as possible.
What were your main fears or concerns?
That I wouldn’t be able to find clients or enough clients to make it a sustainable business.
How did you prepare for the transition and what measures did you take?
I didn’t prepare financially; I know it is recommended to put aside 3 months’ wages but once I had made my decision, I just wanted to get out and start up on my own. We prepared an office area in our loft so that I would have a separate working space. I also looked into other options such as teaching English as a second language online so that I could still be earning whilst looking for clients for my VA business.
Practical steps for start-up success
Since starting your business, what have you found hardest or most challenging?
I think one of the hardest things initially is finding clients. It is so important to get yourself out there and to be noticed, to prove your credibility and that you aren’t just a ‘flash in the pan’ business — that you are in it for the long haul.
The other thing was not having colleagues around to bounce ideas off. I lacked confidence initially but found working as an ‘Associate’ with other established VAs helped me to learn various applications and also to experience how to work as a VA. I learned a lot through this work and am grateful to those VAs I worked with and still do from time to time.
What have you done to overcome those challenges?
I joined so many online business groups on all the social media platforms etc and posted in them regularly. I have also been to local networking groups to meet other business owners. This helps to get my business noticed as well as meeting other businesswomen. I have met, albeit online, some great ladies who I regularly have contact with, they are just like colleagues now.
The work-from-home lifestyle
What do you enjoy about working from home?
I love the freedom and flexibility of working from home. My work allows me to choose my hours so I can work around my family. I can eat whatever I want for lunch without people commenting on the smelly egg-mayo or tuna sandwiches too!
What is the biggest drawback you find to working from home?
It is very easy to get distracted, so you do need to be fairly strict with your working time.
Where do you work when you’re at home?
I do have an office space in the loft where I work which is nice as it separates the work from home life.
What measures do you take to ensure you stay productive and accountable?
I write a to-do list each day of all the tasks I have to complete. I don’t personally like having outstanding tasks so aim to finish them each day.
When do you find you do most of your work?
I usually do the majority of my work during school hours and in the school holiday, I try to finish by early afternoon so that I can spend time with my kids.
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Do you have a morning routine before starting work and if so, what is it and how important is it?
My morning routine consists of showering, dressing, eating breakfast and the school run. I then get home and write my daily to-do list. I am going to start fitting in a short yoga session each morning as I find this really helps set a good mindset for the day ahead.
What does your working day look like?
I usually start work at 9-9.30am every day and have a break at about 10.30 am for a snack. Depending on my workload, I will work until about 12 then stop for lunch. I make sure I spend at least 30 minutes away from my desk for lunch and then work until 3 pm when I have to go on the school run.
I quite often work on my business – training etc during the evening, or during the day if I can fit it in between client work.
Lessons learned as a Virtual Assistant
What are some of the biggest things you have learned since setting up as a VA?
I have learned so many different things, it’s quite hard to narrow them down to the most important ones.
I have learned to trust my gut instinct; if something doesn’t feel right to me then it usually isn’t. Imposter syndrome has been an issue and I was really bad at comparing myself to other VAs. This doesn’t happen so much any more, which is a relief.
What have you learned about yourself?
I have discovered how honest I am and clients have commented on my honesty, in a good way! If I am unsure how to use certain software or perform a task then I will let them know. If I don’t have a clue, I won’t pretend I can do it.
I am also more determined and resilient than I ever thought I was before. I have discovered that I am competent and have the ability to be successful.
What things do you love most about running your business?
I love the variety of work I now do. It’s not the same thing day after day like it used to be when I was employed. The range of clients I get to work with and learn about a variety of businesses is also a big plus for me as I find it so interesting.
Being able to choose who I work with is also a massive plus since running my own business.
As a VA, do you specialise in any particular area or are you quite generalist?
I term myself to be more of a ‘traditional’ Virtual Administrator as I offer predominately general admin services. However, I also specialise in research as this is something I really enjoy doing and it is very time-consuming for my clients.
I offer proofreading and CV formatting, as well as inbox management and customer service.
How to stay organised and productive
What systems or processes do you recommend when it comes to staying organised and keeping on top of admin?
I personally still like to use a paper calendar and diary to keep track of important dates & things to remember. I use my online calendar to keep track of client calls I have booked in and which tasks I need to do & when.
Are there any apps or software you use and recommend?
I have recently downloaded an app called ‘Notion’ which is good for listing tasks and reminders. I also like Trello which is useful to keep track of client tasks I need to do. It can also be shared and used with other people which is handy.
Which social media platforms have you found most useful for your business?
Since starting my business, I have found Facebook to be invaluable due to the number of business groups I have joined and network in regularly. There is so much help available and I have connected with like-minded businesswomen who are such great support.
Through Facebook, I have also joined a couple of business membership groups which offer regular training sessions and advice from the mentors/coaches who run them.
LinkedIn has been another useful platform for me. Initially, I was apprehensive about using it as I found it slightly daunting. It seemed like a ‘grown-up’ and more serious version of Facebook. However, I have now gained confidence in posting in there and have made some valuable connections and gained clients through using it.
Twitter is a good platform that I have found helpful and regularly join in on weekly business networking features. It is where I gained my first client so I would recommend giving it a try!
Reflecting on success
What has been the most rewarding aspect of starting your business?
I think it is really rewarding in seeing how far I have come over the past year, both in my business and as a person. I have gained confidence and have a newfound freedom.
How has your family responded to the change (good and bad)?
My family have been supportive of me and are glad that I am not as stressed as I used to be!
What is the best advice you’ve been given?
The best advice is that people need to ‘know, like and trust’ you before they will buy from you. This is where networking in groups comes into use. By showing up and helping others, people get to see and know you and your business.
What advice would you offer a mum, or any person, considering quitting a full-time job for a new venture?
I wouldn’t hesitate to say go for it. No one should be stuck in a job they don’t enjoy or want to do. If you have a dream to run your own business, do the research to find out all you can and just go for it. If it’s something you really want to do, then anything is possible.
What has been your biggest achievement or success so far?
Last December I was acknowledged by Theo Paphitis (of Dragon’s Den fame) through his weekly small business feature that he runs on Twitter. It gave me the opportunity to feature my story in the local press and I also attended a large event that he holds annually in Birmingham in February. He presented me with a certificate and I met other fantastic & inspiring business owners.
What are you most proud of so far?
I am proud that I have built my business from nothing. When I left employment, I didn’t have any clients. I have also just set up an online Facebook group for females over 40 where I share, learn and inspire others.
This is something I would never have had the confidence to do prior to running my own business. Within my VA business, all the work I have gained is off my own back and I have pushed myself out of my comfort zone but it was completely worth it. Clients are now approaching me as they want to work with me, rather than me reaching out to them now. That is a great feeling.
ER Admin Solutions
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