I’d love to tell you that my ambition was to start my own business. That it was something I had always wanted to do.
But it wasn’t.
Starting my own business was born more out of necessity than fulfilling a dream.
The truth is I founded my company because...
...I was being bullied at work.
Not just by one person either. In the end it was a group of women. It came as quite a shock. I’d never been bullied at school or college. I was always one of those kids who had lots of friends, made friends easily, just fitted in.
I’m not going to go into details, let’s just leave it at it got to the stage I ended up crying just about every day when I left work, and sometimes at work, hidden away in the ladies.
It finally came to a head one evening when I'd got back from a particularly horrendous day and my husband found me sat in the car outside our home sobbing my heart out.
Sounds dramatic, but if you've ever been badly bullied, you'll understand.
The choice was I either continued to be a victim or I did something about it. I chose to do something about it.
I had recently finished studying a Business and Finance qualification at night school and had been thinking about finding a new job. It just so happened around the same time, whilst I was chatting to a neighbour (who turned out to be a Life Coach), she mentioned that she knew someone who worked with a virtual assistant. She found the phone number that she'd been given of a lady who worked as a VA and suggested I gave her a call.
I was curious, so I did.
Now, you’ve got to remember this happened in 1998 when VAs were pretty much unheard of, so I am not suggesting you ring or email loads of VAs to ask them how they started their business. There's plenty of information out there on the internet these days. Back then, there was just about nothing.
The phone call was incredibly positive, and I could see how working as a VA could become a reality for me. That call inspired me, so I began figuring out how to set up my own business.
I was incredibly lucky in that my husband and I were in a position to enable me to stop full-time work to create my business. I didn’t have to build a client base first.
In 1998 things were VASTLY different. Emails were only just starting to become part of the workplace norm and accessing the internet was via a dial-up modem. I lived in a rural location (no shops, no pavements, no gas - you get the picture). We were 3 miles away from the nearest telephone exchange which hadn't been modernised for quite some time. It was touch and go whether I would be able to access the internet.
We cleared out the spare bedroom to become my office. I bought a computer, printer, fax and phone and we had the internet installed. I was given a second-hand desk and chair from a friend of the family, and that was me, all set up ready to rock and roll.
Being at home initially felt weird. Not having to drive over 50 miles each day to get to work and back was a bonus though.
I have often been asked over the years whether I get distracted by the television or doing other things around the house instead of working. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending how you look at it), I am on the opposite side of the spectrum. Turns out to this day, if I'm not careful I get completely absorbed in work and forget the outside world.
I had never been financially supported by another person (apart from my parents when I was growing up). Getting my first client was paramount so I could become financially independent again.
I started scouring local papers to see if there were any opportunities to work virtually for companies that maybe didn’t know there was an alternative to employing staff. Within 6 weeks I landed my first client. They didn’t come through my search though. They came via recommendation. Living in a tight knit community sometimes has its advantages. I was sooo excited!
My first clients were not completely virtual. I started providing freelance services to local community groups such as the Chamber of Trade and the local theatre. I also worked for a couple of hotels in nearby villages and a firm producing designs for the textile industry. I did do some work virtually but in the early days it was a mixture of online work and going to the client’s premises.
I eventually get my first fully virtual client. We had connected a few months previously during my search for work, but nothing came of the enquiry. Then, one day I got a call and we set up a face-to-face meeting. The company was local but apart from the odd visit to their home office, all the work was done online or by phone. I finally stopped working with that same company last year (2019).
Although starting my own business was not my ambition, I’m glad I took the plunge. It may not have been my dream, but it's certainly been an adventure. I'll share more on that later.
So, here's my honest opinion about running a business. It isn’t an easy option if that’s what you're looking for. There’s a lot to think about – finances, systems, processes, marketing, whether to work with associates, how to still have an income stream and continue to support clients whilst you have holidays. New compliance regulations such as GDPR and Anti-money Laundering. The list goes on.
But you know what? Dream or not, with hindsight, I still wouldn't change my decision.
I may have done things slightly differently though...
If you've started your own business or are thinking about starting one, I'd love to know the reason. Email me your story at firstname.lastname@example.org