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Just a few weeks ago, I finally met up with Heather face to face in London, sitting in the most wonderful armchairs that would do the Mad Hatter’s tea party proud, sipping cocktails and talking as though we had known each other since school. There were some wonderful stories to share and we surprised ourselves at how many different elements of our careers mirrored each other, how we shared the perceptions of ‘outsiders’ who still do not understand our industry, and what motivates us to share our experiences for the benefit of others.
Aside from me wanting to hear about Heather’s busy life as a global coach, mentor, trainer and writer, Heather wanted to hear about my ‘new’ career as a Virtual Assistant (VA). Yes, by sheer serendipity (I do love that word) my random thoughts at the end of my last article came true…
I haven’t quite moved to France – yet – but I’m certainly doing a lot more travel while doing the work I love. It all started a couple of years ago when I decided I wanted a little more freedom, take holidays when I wanted, choose my manager instead of them choosing me, and work where I wanted… you know the feeling, sitting by the pool, in that cosy little coffee shop, getting all those emails answered while you’re still in your pyjamas. It seemed only natural to move on and become a VA. But first, I needed to set up a business and find the courage to change direction again.
After some extensive research, diving into Google’s middle earth to find out all about how to be a VA, how much to charge, what services to offer, it was time for me to think of what to call myself. I spent an entire week dreaming of business names containing the word ‘virtual’ which, after all, would be the essence of how I would be working, but I kept coming up with names that seemed to be taken by everyone else. Then, I had it.
Ever since my husband bought me my first set of pearls when our third daughter was born, I’ve loved them – and wear them in some form or another most of the time. It wasn’t until I googled the word ‘pearl’ that I came across a quote from Richard Branson (now my ‘go to’ person for quotes), who said “Entrepreneurs can begin by removing a grain of sand from an oyster and end up creating pearls”. I’d not only found a name, but my potential clients as well. ‘The Virtual Office Pearl’ became real and ‘entrepreneurs’ would be my clients (not Richard Branson, although that would be nice). Of course, I also realised my Newsletters could be ‘pearls of wisdom’!
So, from the logo – in black, rose gold and pearl (just a hint of the Chanel style that I love) – to the business card and then to the LinkedIn profile and website, which I designed (but I’m no technical wizard, so I got someone else to build it), and then... what? What services do I offer - all of them? some of them? specialise? What do I do next? I had the branding, i.e the rose gold edged laptop, the pen with the pearl on top, and even a fashion watch in black, cream and rose gold with “more issues than vogue’ written across the face.
So, I reached out to people I had worked with along the way, and some who ran their own mentoring businesses, and indeed some of them who have become entrepreneurs themselves. They made me realise I should just do what I enjoyed most (which admittedly is almost everything) and market myself to those I felt comfortable with – the C suite of executives. I would be their ‘personal business solution’.
Then came the really hard part. As we all know, the best assistants are chameleons, hovering in the background, supporting our executives, ensuring they meet their KPIs, that they are always prepared and impress their clients; we are flexible, forever changing or adapting our styles to suit theirs so they are still in their comfort zone – but more efficient. To put myself out there and blow my own trumpet was quite a challenge – not least of all to give the ‘one-minute elevator pitch’ in a networking environment. How on earth do I describe so many years of experience in 60 seconds? The secret is – I don’t.
I very quickly learned that marketing oneself as a VA is not like going for a job interview. You are not proving you are an indispensable Executive Assistant who can take minutes, or book travel, or arrange meetings or, miracle of miracles, be able to multi-task AND make executive decisions – all before lunch. As a VA, you are expected to have all these skills – and more besides. You are asked if you can ‘do’ social media, web design, book-keeping, marketing and basically any other administrative support function known to man (and some not, I might add!). For the first time in my professional life, I had to learn how to say ‘no’. Instead, I asked them questions, and now my one-minute elevator pitch lasts all of five seconds, because I answer them with ‘I am your personal business solution’.
I discovered very early on that I absolutely love proof-reading – a little like ironing really, getting a sense of satisfaction about ironing out all the creases! Having had Grammar and Spelling drummed in to me at school, topped off with five years of mandatory Latin classes, I feel I’ve earned the right to be pedantic. And that I am! Of course, I still miss the odd error – I’m only human after all, which is more than can be said of the infamous Mr Spell Check.
So proof-reading is the skill that I shout about the most – it’s needed everywhere, together with punctuation and email etiquette – and it opens doors to other opportunities - but then that could be just another story. After all, the world is our oyster and who says I can’t be an author …..