Anne Williams, Linchpin PA
Whilst facing redundancy in 2011 and applying for jobs (surprisingly not getting any interviews which I think related to my age), I discovered the virtual administration industry and decided I could use my 40 years secretarial/PA/project management experience to start a business, where I would help small businesses by taking on their administrative burdens. Unfortunately at the time of redundancy I suffered from a back injury because of an accident and received Employment Support Allowance. So I used the time planning the development of the business, which included gaining a SFEDI business award from The Preparing to Run your Own Business course provided by The Princes’ Initiative for Mature Enterprise (PRIME).
I discovered that very few VAs had any ethics or values on their websites and as a result developed three core values which every part of my business adheres to:
- to operate a VA service I am passionate about
- everyone needs a linchpin
- to offer collaborative partnerships based on good communication and honesty
I also incorporated a code of ethics:
- always respect client confidentiality
- trade fairly, honestly and truthfully with clients, suppliers and partners
- aim to promote standards within the VA industry
I strongly believe that businesses do need someone or something to hold everything together, but that must be based on honest and open communication. If you can’t communicate clearly with a client or you don’t understand how that client operates the relationship is never going to work and I am always willing to embrace that fact.
LinchpinPA began trading in October 2012 and to get cash flow started I enrolled with an audio transcription agency and also worked for two clients I secured via contacts. I also started to attend networking events to promote my business and build-up contacts while co-working, as well as keeping up my learning by attending free training sessions and webinars. During this time I also developed my website, started blogging and using social media, which increased my presence in the North East of England.
Gradually my customer base grew to such a point that I could stop working for the transcription agency, which was a big turning point. From then on I have secured more clients, many of whom are referred by my network or clients.
I realised that to achieve growth I needed to attract new clients, as well as retaining existing ones, so to ramp up marketing activity I applied for funding from the North East Rural Growth Network (Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs/European Union) in 2014 and secured bespoke marketing sessions which led to sending out newsletters to existing and potential clients, networks and ex-colleagues. These are designed to let people know what I am doing as well as providing resources which can help them with their business and have a higher than industry average open rate.
Other key milestones for me include being asked by a networking group to complete their administrative tasks and be paid for it, I was approached by a co-working group to be videoed talking about how co-working has been good for my business and I have been highly commended in the Entrust/Pitman Superstar Awards 2013. I also had a mentor via PRIME which resulted in sending out questionnaires to clients and got some great feedback: “Great value primarily by enabling me to focus on growth and sales based activities, and not on administrative tasks. I would say I am now at least able to spend 25% more time on high value tasks”.
Update (August 2017):
It’s hard to believe I will have been in business for five years in October, it hardly feels like it, the time has just flown by.
The biggest highlight undoubtedly was meeting HRH Prince Charles at PRIME’s Celebrating Enterprise ‘Be a Business Champion’ event at St James’s Palace.
Another is being acknowledged in a client’s book “Grow Your Geeks” by Antoinette Oglethorpe. “Writing a book while running a business is not easy. I’ve been able to do both only thanks to the help and support of my wonderful PA, Anne Williams. You are truly the lynch pin that holds my business together”. I’m so fortunate to have such lovely clients!
Along the way I’ve learnt:
- If you don’t shout about yourself no-one else will
- Trust your instincts – if it doesn’t feel right then don’t do it
- Don’t be nervous when attending networking events – everyone else has had to walk into a room full of strangers on their own. Just smile and say hello and people will talk to you.