Please tell us a bit about the nature of your business...
At Get Ahead VA we deliver marketing and business virtual assistance services to over 100 small-to-medium sized businesses and entrepreneurs across the UK. Our clients range from will writers to window cleaners, financial consultants to fashion designers. We take on the tasks they don’t have the skills to do, the time to do, or simply don’t want to do. By outsourcing to our team of nearly 40 VAs, we enable these ambitious business owners to get back to what they do best – growing and running their businesses.
What inspired you to start your business?
After a corporate career in buying for retail giants Superdrug and Sainsburys, I was looking for a flexible work solution that could fit around my lifestyle and my three daughters – now 17, 15 and 13. Having grown up with a successfully self-employed mother, I knew it was possible to contribute financially to the family and to do school drop off and pick-ups too. My mum was a great example and I grew up knowing that one day I wanted to run my own business just like she did. Having looked at various business ideas and the way the employment landscape was shaping up for the future I felt a virtual assistance business offered the best solution. I have always loved networking, which is such a big part of my role now.
What was the most challenging aspect of building your business in the beginning?
Back in 2010, ‘virtual assistant’ was quite an unknown term. When I spoke in networking meetings people would look confused and say, ‘a virtual what?’ Thankfully, nine years later things have certainly changed. Virtual assistance has become much more established. Many people understand the benefits of outsourcing, particularly in an uncertain economic environment. Outsourcing enables companies to remain agile and keep overheads low. Our service is totally flexible with clients paying only for the services they need, as and when they need them. There are no minimum contracts or tie in periods.
If you were to launch your business again, would you do anything differently?
With my corporate background, I knew right from the start that branding would be important. I wanted to give Get Ahead VA a recognisable identity. I also knew I wanted to offer work to other people and to run a business – so it was important I had a brand, not just ‘Rebecca Newenham VA Services’. I was lucky to work with a great designer and though the brand has evolved slightly since 2010, it remains very similar. Consistency is key and the changes I have made have been to develop our identity across social media and to use our core colours to champion our brand values of being flexible, professional and vibrant.
What keeps you motivated?
Being able to make a difference. Every time I receive positive feedback from a client I know we have made a difference and enabled them to grow and achieve their goals. That spurs me on to want to achieve more. I also find recruiting new franchisees, new VAs and new clients extremely rewarding. Helping other people to start and grow their own businesses gives me a huge sense of satisfaction.
How do you balance work and family life?
Achieving the balance isn’t easy. In general, I am lucky to work for myself and make my own choices about when and where I work. Having a separate work space has been very important. My home office enables me to shut the door and walk away when the family come home. Exercise is also really important to me. I work with a personal trainer and attend regular Pilates classes. These all help me to digest everything that is going on and recharge physically and emotionally. Family holidays are a special time to really switch off, relax and spend quality time with my husband and children. Thankfully, I have an excellent team of virtual assistants to manage things whilst I am away.
What’s your proudest business moment?
There have been so many to choose from! I was very proud when we won the Mum and Working Flexible Business of the Year award, as flexible working is at the core of our business. I am passionate about flexible working and the benefits it delivers for both our VAs and our clients. Some of our VAs have decades of experience and are real experts in their field, yet still struggled to find meaningful part-time work that allows them to use their significant skills. Working at Get Ahead VA gives them that opportunity. Welcoming our new regional directors on board has also made me really proud. It took a lot of hard work to get the franchise offering just right but seeing our franchisees enjoying running their own businesses and being able to mentor them makes it worthwhile.
What’s been your most successful form of marketing and/ or brand awareness?
Knowing when to invest and in what has definitely been a challenge. I have exhibited it at some big trade shows but I’m not sure the return on investment was really there. A few years ago, we made a major investment in a new website, which was very successful. It made a real difference to our reach online and helped to develop social media as a key referral channel for our business. Despite the benefits of technology though, over the years I have found that word-of-mouth referrals are still the most effective form of marketing. Every time we receive a referral I know we’ve done a fantastic job.
Do you have any positive habits or routines that you feel have attributed to your success?
Not working in the evenings has been a must for me from the start. Part of the reason I started my own business was to have more time to spend with my family – not less. Being a good delegator is also important, as well as planning ahead and writing lists to ensure things get done. Making time for me is vital – to give me perspective and balance, so I can focus in the right areas.
What's your favourite business app/ tool/ book/ podcast etc?
I love the Xero app for keeping tracking of our accounting. It’s so easy to use and helpful to have everything in one place. The ‘What’s Halfway’ app is great for organising meetings with someone as it helps you find a suitable venue which is halfway. I also love the Focus Keeper app and have just discovered the value of podcasts. I love listening to them in the car so that I can use time spent travelling effectively.
What advice would you give to new entrepreneurs just starting out?
Don’t be afraid to follow your dreams. Do your research up front, and then just get on with it. If things don’t turn out quite as you thought first time don’t panic - just think about how you could do it differently. Keep evolving until you get it right.
If you want to get in touch or see more of Rebecca's adventure, head over to her website or social media:
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