Louise Potter’s work ethics and perspective have taught us a lot of things about venturing into your own virtual assistant career path. It definitely isn’t going to be a piece of cake, but if she can do it, so can you – you just need to be brave enough to face the hurdles and prepare yourself well by maximising your strengths. Very inspirational, Louise!
Louise Potter is a Virtual Assistant, business owner and a busy mum of two based in Leeds, UK. After graduating from Leeds Metropolitan University completing a HND in Business Studies, Louise started her career as an Administrator in the public sector. For the last 14 years, she has been a senior PA to various Executive Search and Selection recruitment organisations and is now the owner of her own Virtual Assistant business.
What made you decide to venture into your Virtual Assistant career? How does this help you with your long-term goals?
I’d always wanted to own my own business but never had the courage to go it alone. Having the safety of a guaranteed income and doing a job I knew inside out was a lot to walk away from. After the birth of my second child, I knew I needed greater flexibility to fit around my family and childcare commitments, so I thought, just go for it, what’s to lose?
It’s the best thing I ever did. I can now do the school run and go to all those school assemblies without having to take annual leave. I can choose my own hours, if I want to work early or late in the day to meet deadlines, I can. I do feel the world of work is changing and the role of the PA or EA will be very different in 20 years time as remote working grows. With the advancement of technology, we are able to communicate on many different platforms e.g. Slack, Google Hangouts, Trello and Asana.
I wanted to diversify now and hone my skills to a flexible work environment. I also wanted to build a flexible working business that fits with client’s business goals. I focus on delivering a quality service which is tailored to each individual client’s needs. Small businesses don’t always need or want to employ a part time PA. Outsourcing to a VA or OBM means they get the skills they need for particular projects and they don’t have the ongoing costs of employing office based staff for any ad-hoc work.
What is a typical day like for you?
Each day is varied depending on client work requirements. However, usually on a morning, I check for any urgent messages on all the platforms I use with my clients, email and slack generally. That sets my day up, I can deal with anything urgent if it requires immediate attention. I then go through my social media accounts, I keep myself up-to-date with VA industry news and anything else that my clients or audience might find of interest that I can share. I also look to see if I can add value to any threads in the various groups I am in. I complete all client work before working on my own business which includes non-billable work like recording expenses, invoicing or working on promos.
Client deadlines and expectations must be met in a timely fashion. You’re only as good as your last piece of work. I try to go to a networking group on a weekly basis, this isn’t about winning business, it’s about meeting other business owners and building relationships, sharing knowledge, building my network, being able to pass on referrals and getting away from the desk for a short while. To make networking groups work, you have to try a few out first to see where you fit in well, then keep going! Only attending a handful of times isn’t going to work, you need to put the effort in. Sometimes work pressures do prevent you from attending but it’s important to go at least 2-3 times a month to the same group to feel the benefit.
I see that you love to add a personal touch to your services. How do you keep them personalised despite being virtual?
To provide the best possible service for my clients I try to understand where they are coming from, what challenges do they have, what their goals are and how I can assist with that. It’s not just about completing the tasks they set. I always read around the industry my client works in to gain a better insight to their business. I do this in my own time. I find that by putting the time in to increase my understanding, I can add value in different ways. Keeping in touch with clients and building a relationship is key. I often keep in touch via slack, email, skype/hangouts. Working remotely doesn’t mean you can’t be part of the team. Get to know people and build relationships.
Can you tell us a story of when you spoke up and contradicted a boss? How did it impact you and your work?
I think the interesting part of your question is the word ‘boss’. You aren’t an employee, you are a business owner working in collaboration with other businesses. Breaking out of that employee mindset is so hard at first. I don’t take on any work I know I can’t deliver or if I don’t have the appropriate skills as maintaining my reputation and integrity is part of my ethos. Delivering par standard work would damage my brand as I get a lot of my work through referrals. I usually have a frank conversation with any potential client to find out exactly what they need. These discovery calls can save so much difficulty in the long run. I set out in the contract the details of the discussion and what has been agreed to save on ‘scope creep’. Occasionally, a client may ask you to work on a project that you know may compromise your values or skill set. Don’t be afraid to push back or ask questions. If you lose work, maybe it was for the best. You don’t have to chase down every lead or piece of work, sometimes it’s better to walk away. Trust your instincts.
What are the most difficult challenges you have encountered as a VA, and how did you overcome them?
The hardest part of being a VA was taking the decision to take the step into the unknown and starting up. This can be such a big decision for anyone thinking about going self-employed. Fear can really hold you back, but I can honestly say all those worries I had haven’t manifested. It’s been a real journey so far and I’m learning all the time. Different challenges present themselves from time to time whether that’s client work or my own work, but I draw on my 14 years plus experience as an admin professional and if I get really stuck, well, Google certainly has a lot of the answers!
What do you enjoy doing outside of work? Can you tell us more about it?
I am a busy mum of two young children so if I’m not working on my business startup, I spend all my free time with my family, usually on extended dog walks in the country or going to kid’s sports clubs. I am hoping to get back to one of my real passions, when the kids get a bit older, which is motorbiking! I’ve got a full UK bike licence and I regularly toured the UK on bike trips with a ‘ladies only’ bike club. Learning to ride and passing my bike licence was one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced. Its exhilarating!
What advice would you like to share to aspiring VAs who would like to build a name of their own?
Don’t be afraid to start. Overcome that fear. Make sure you have a clear direction for your business, find your niche and know your market. Don’t skimp on your brand, it’s going to be with you for a while! If you can’t do something yourself, then outsource the work to a professional. You don’t have to spend a small fortune to get started, use social media groups and forums to gain knowledge. Read what you can, there’s a raft of information on the internet for aspiring VAs. You don’t have to buy fancy courses, play to your strengths and use the skills you have gained in your working career. It’s going to take time for the work to start coming through, but you can do it, believe in yourself!