Stefanie is a fine example of a Virtual Assistant who has successfully managed her career despite the odds. You can be as flexible as you want to be while being most productive, and Stefanie has definitely proven us that. This age is indeed moving towards a new way of working, and it is great that we are already acknowledging that. Our hats off to you, Stef!
Stefanie Grant holds a First Class degree in HR and Business Management and has worked as a Personal Assistant and Virtual Assistant for the past 4 years. Having worked in a wide variety of businesses and with an eclectic group of clients, her experience is broad and extremely diverse.
Stefanie helps a number of clients run their businesses on a day-to-day basis. Currently, her main client is Dragonfire Marketing, a bespoke digital marketing consultancy firm based in Canary Wharf, London. Stef’s hardworking, diligent and can-do attitude means her clients are prepared to place a deep level of trust in her. Managing everything from their accounts to their personal affairs, Stef is the first port of call whenever they need something taken care of quickly, efficiently and with excellent attention to detail.
Why did you decide to venture into Virtual Assistance? How does this help in your long-term goals?
I decided to set up my own Virtual Assistant business in 2015. I had graduated from University in 2011 with a First Class honours degree in Business and Human Resource Management and secured my first graduate role. In 2011, I had to undergo orthognathic surgery to correct a marked and painful facial deformity. Unfortunately, my recovery wasn’t all plain sailing and I was unable to return to my graduate position. After a year of pain, and little progress, I set up a blog to talk about my journey and to help other people who suffer from facial pain disorders and facial deformities. I learned so much about content creation, SEO and marketing.
By 2014, with a readership of 2 million people, I was nominated for the UK blog awards. I was made finalist in my category but, despite my best hopes, didn’t win. The experience really helped me to gain the confidence and skills I needed to get back into the real word. Shortly after, I designed my brand, built my own website, set up my social media pages and off I went. I offer both personal and virtual services, which means that I have the ability to work with my clients directly on site, while also ensuring that I am in control of the hours I work and the amount I can physically do in a day.
I am still undergoing treatment for my face and pain issues and visit various hospitals and consultants on a weekly basis. But, by working for myself in a predominantly virtual role, I can ensure I provide the level of service required to my clients, while not having to feel guilty about not being in the office 5 days a week. A 40-hour per week office-based job would not work for me in my current situation.
Long term, this role allows me the freedom to undertake a variety of tasks and roles in the comfort of my own home. Similarly, I can be sitting in the hospital waiting room, replying to emails and calling leads. Within the past year, I started to work less on administrative tasks and more on lead generation and marketing. I really enjoy the fact that I am not restricted to one job title. I am the executive virtual assistant to a HNWI and I am also the marketing and operations manager for a boutique digital consultancy.
What is a typical day like for you?
I wouldn’t say any one day is like the other. Because of my wide skill set, different clients have vastly differing requirements, and it is usually me who completes the work. I prefer not to outsource if I can help it. This means that one day I could be in London running errands and attending meetings with my clients. Or other days, I could be at home creating banner ads, social media posts and researching CRM solutions or event locations. Monday’s and Friday’s are usually my busiest days as I need to catch up from the events of the weekend – emails, new tasks and leads and then Friday, ensuring everything is completed and ready for Monday again.
What are your most favorite Virtual Assistant tools and how have these helped you to become productive?
I have several Virtual Assistant tools and software I just couldn’t live without. My mobile and my laptop are my world, so I would always recommend investing in a good phone and a high-performance laptop or PC. I run some heavy-duty programmes like Photoshop and Illustrator on my PC, so I have quite a high spec machine. Not only does it save me time, I can have everything on one device. I have a Microsoft Surface 3 that I use when I am out and about. This is lightweight and can run all the programmes I need. I have an iPhone 6 as my mobile which suits my needs best. Software – I use a free software called Toggl for my timing reports and for social media scheduling. I use the Videorama app for video edits and Zoom for online meetings. For quickness, I sometimes use Canva for mocking up quick online graphics. All of these are free which is fab!
The task management software I use depends on my client and how they like to work. If they prefer something more visual I use Trello. If they prefer lists, I use Asana (again both free). Or if they require something a little more involved I use a paid software like ProProfs or Basecamp. These also double up as great CRMs.
As someone who has worked in HR, what are the challenges of performing HR and office management work remotely in contrast to doing so in a face-to-face setup?
Most of my clients run small businesses, so the HR element is often minimal. My clients for the past 6 months have all worked in small, tight-knit teams. They are all mature, professional and business focused. I haven’t always been this lucky, as I have worked for clients who run small to medium-sized companies and even large corporate companies and it can be a real struggle working remotely. It is so important that you build up some rapport with the team and that is why I would always suggest I am office-based a few days per week, at least for the first few months.
A lot of HR relates to relationships and managing those relationships within the company. People need to know who you are, what you stand for and that they can trust you. Be that upper or middle management or the cashier who works at the store. In an ideal world, they would all know who I am. When I can not meet the people I am working with, I ensure communication is clear, friendly, well thought out and consistent. They also know I expect the same in return to be able to do my job effectively.
From an administrative perspective, HR and office management work fine remotely. If I need a form completed, I simply send those people an email, they complete the form and either take a picture or send a scanned copy back to me. I worked for a building company for over a year and I used to do the Friday ring round. I would call up, complete the project dashboards with the team over the phone and report back to head office. If you have a good team around you who are happy to be transparent and communicate to you, there is no reason why office management and HR cannot work remotely, well at least most of the time.
What kind of branding do you usually develop for your clients?
All sorts. I have been super lucky to work with so many amazing clients. Be that directly, with my company, or with the digital agencies I have worked for. Sometimes I am involved from the very first meeting – pre-name, logo, colour palette and brand voice and other times I come in much later to help refresh an existing brand or work building their online presence.
I have worked on everything from dating apps, to wearable technology, all the way to kitchen designers and estate agencies. I am genuinely interested in brand psychology and even with the worst logo in the world, I am able to take that logo, those colours and the brand voice and make something look and sound great for the company’s target audience.
What do you think is the impact of social media to your generation, and the way people communicate and would do business in the future?
I was 11 before my Dad decided I could have a mobile phone and a computer. We didn’t have internet until I was 13 and I was 15 when MySpace launched. Everything was new and exciting. I remember spending hours on the home phone when I was younger, running up huge BT phone bills talking to my friends. Then came the internet and with it quickly became the way me and my friends kept in touch. No longer was I sitting on the floor of my parent’s kitchen draping a telephone cord through from the living room. I was sitting on a dining chair, at the computer desk in my parent’s dining room typing away to my friends on the internet, sending numerous messages of varying lengths to my friends, who could have been 10 minutes down the road or on holiday in Malta.
This was revolutionary stuff and it still amazes me now, how far we have come in such a short space of time. It has made networking for businesses easier. We all have websites which can be found on search engines, we all have social accounts. I have 9000 business professionals on my LinkedIn. How many morning networking events would I have had to attend in the past 3 years to gain that many business cards? Without the technological advancements of the past 20 years I would not be able to work. And I am sure this is the same for many other VAs. I now run my business and my client’s businesses from home, from hospital or from another country. This flexibility means that we can find a solution that works for me and my clients. They do not need to hire me 30-40 hours per week and find me a desk at their office, they do not need to pay me to travel with them because I am there virtually all the time; on the phone, by email, text, WhatsApp or Zoom/ Skype.
London is moving towards a more contractor and freelancer model and I am sure many metropolitan cities will gravitate towards this way of working too. People need to be accountable for their own time and their own lives. So many great women and men leave the workplace to look after children or care for other loved ones. What a waste of talent. By moving towards a more flexible way of working, those people are still able to contribute, the average commuter will save thousands on money and time travelling to and from a workplace. With more businesses, less space and less time, it is, in my opinion, inevitable that we will continue to move towards this way of working.
What advice would you like to share to aspiring Virtual Assistants who would like to build a name of their own?
Be yourself. Know your strengths, identify your weaknesses and improve upon them, know your limits and communicate those to your clients and prospective clients. Know that the life of a Virtual Assistant doesn’t stop with your experience and qualifications. You will be learning constantly and need to be adaptable. One moment you could be the PA to a HNWI asking you to write and post a blog to their website. The voice could be serious and corporate. Within a minute you could be promoting a funky startup and encouraging people to download their app. Flipping across to book a business retreat the next and organising and coordinating the diaries for 20 employees.
You need to be flexible and able to change what you are doing to fit someone else’s business. Social media is a great way to promote yourself. Online networking groups and morning networking groups are great too. However, from my experience, all of my previous clients have come through LinkedIn, Facebook or word of mouth. Communication is key and you must be organised. You must be a self-starter and be able to motivate yourself. If these things do not come naturally to you, the Virtual Assistant life might not be for you.