Getting ahead – and staying there


Rebecca Newenham has won a few awards since she set up her virtual assistance service, Get Ahead VA, but the latest one has given her business a massive boost on social media. Ex BBC Dragon’s Den star Theo Paphitis chose the company for one of his prestigious Small Business Sunday awards recently.

The award was created by Theo to reward and promote small businesses and entrepreneurship. To enter, companies have to tweet him and describe their businesses in one tweet, including the hashtag #SBS, between 5.00 pm and 7.30 pm on a Sunday. Every Monday night at 8pm, Theo reviews and chooses his favourite lucky six who are then re-tweeted to his over 499,000 Twitter followers.

Rebecca’s winning tweet, accompanied by a picture of her in the new Get Ahead VA office, said: “@TheoPaphitis A team of over 30 Virtual Assistants who are helping other small businesses reach their goals! #sbs”.

Rebecca now gets to meet Theo at a networking event. She says the award has created a buzz around the business and helped get her into twitter chat. She plans to do more training in this area.

Retail background
Rebecca was a retail buyer and was working for Sainsbury’s before she took an eight-year career break to look after her three daughters. It was five years ago when her youngest daughter was starting primary school that she decided to start up Get Ahead VA. She was inspired to start up her own business by her own mum who ran a tutorial agency when she was young, matching children up with the right tutor for them. She then retrained as a counsellor. “She was a role model for me,” says Rebecca. “She showed me it was important to have something for yourself.”

The idea for Get Ahead VA came about after Rebecca read about virtual assistants in the US and thought there was a gap in the market in the UK. She signed up with a friend for a one-day course in London.
Rebecca wrote a rough business plan and took some time to work on the branding. “Given my background in retail, I knew it had to be spot on,” she says. “I didn’t want it to look like I was a person at home with a laptop.” She also didn’t want to procrastinate so she got out and started talking to people as soon as she could. In fact it was through talking to a friend that she got her first client, a women’s networking group.

Rebecca herself embraced networking, although she found making pitches to other businesses frightening at first. As a virtual business she feels networking offers much needed face to face contact. Within six months of starting the business she had brought someone else on board. She built the business up with freelances. “It’s the perfect business model. It means we can react quite quickly,” she says.

Business support services

The business does not stick to the classic virtual assistant model, but covers other support services for businesses, including marketing, social media marketing and customer service training. “We’ve been confident to let it evolve,” says Rebecca. “A lot of our clients are at different stages in their development. We understand their journey because we have been there ourselves. We understand the importance of having a consistent profile so people feel they can trust a company.”

Rebecca has also let her own role evolve. She is aware that her skills are in business development, networking and building the website.

The business is growing fast and its freelance model means it is very adaptable and never has to say no to new clients. Some 75% of those working for Get Ahead VA are mums. Rebecca says it suits those who want to work flexibly.

Two or three mums approach the site every week wanting to be virtual assistants. Getting the right people is important, says Rebecca. They need to have up-to-date office skills, a good knowledge of marketing or social media and to be up and running already. “They need to bring something extra to the mix,” says Rebecca. “Personality is important, and being confident and proactive.” Everyone is given training and sent on relevant courses. There are also monthly team meetings.

Although everyone at Get Ahead VA works remotely, the business is also launching hubs around the country. It launches a Glasgow hub this month and a Reading hub in May. “Although it is virtual people still like to know there is someone around in their area so they can network,” says Rebecca.

Her children are now 10, 12 and 14 and she says her working life is easier now than when she first started. She works as much as she can during school hours and then can check emails when her daughters get home and go to evening networking events. She says: “Running your own business can be quite daunting and it can be hard to let go of certain things and delegate, but in return you don’t have anyone to answer to. I would struggle to work in a more conservative environment now.”

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