Like many women, Jennie Moore’s career path has not been a linear one since she had children. Jennie had more of a dramatic transition to parenthood than many since she had triplets. That meant triple the childcare costs and logistics so she took a career break. She has just launched her own virtual assistant business and believes it acts as an umbrella, bringing together all the varied skills she has built up over years working in retail and the City.
Jennie started her career on the Harrods training scheme where she got experience in lots of different areas. She found that she enjoyed HR and stuck with that. She moved later to Arcadia and worked with the Top Shop/Top Man brand before she opted for a career in the City with law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner. There she was in charge of the graduate programme and looking after trainees. She worked closely with the College of Law on legal training issues. It was while she was at Berwin Leighton Paisner that she got pregnant.
Both she and her husband commuted from Bedford to London and, after Jennie had the triplets, they felt that one of them had to be nearby in case of emergencies. The cost of childcare for three children was also enormous so Jennie decided to take a career break. “I was only going to have these children and I thought let me give it my all and devote myself to that for five years,” she says. The babies were premature, arriving at 30 weeks, but were allowed home at 36 weeks.
Baptism of fire
Then the fun began. “It was a baptism of fire,” says Jennie. “I am very organised by nature and got them into a routine. While I fed one the others slept and then I would feed the others. It was physically exhausting. The weight fell off me. Once I had fed the last one I almost had to start feeding the first again.”
When they were ready to start school Jennie began a cake business as she loved baking. It really took off, but she found it quite lonely and there was more demand than she could cope with. She would be up at 5am to bake, but she realised ultimately that there was little profit margin to be made unless she upscaled the business. So she looked at other possibilities. She was a bit of a bookworm and loved Usborne books for children. She started selling the books in local venues, such as toddler groups, and was named best new salesperson in Europe. She enjoyed the work and built up a team of 20 people. In the end, though, she didn’t find the sales structure of the company worked for her because she was rewarded for how well her team did, rather than for what she did. “It didn’t suit me,” she says.
So she thought hard about what she could do. But before she could take action life intervened. Her children started a new school and had to settle in and then her mother was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour. After her mother died in April, Jennie felt she had been “sucked into a hole of grief”. “I needed to work to get myself out, but it had to be as flexible as possible,” she says. She considered her skills, particularly her organisational skills, social media knowledge and HR experience, and decided that she could set up a viable business as a virtual assistant.
She felt there was a growing demand from businesses, particularly SMEs, for flexible support. This was based on experience she had gained working for a local network marketing company where she had organised networking events for local businesses. “They all said if we only had more time and help we could do more, but we don’t have enough income to take on a new person. I could see there was a need,” she says.
She began looking into starting a business at the start of the summer holidays and found courses that would help build her confidence and help her run a company. She did an online course in the evening on how to build a team and developed a short-term plan. Then she joined Facebook support groups who provided a lot of support.
Her business, Moore Time, launched on the first day of autumn term and has done better than she expected. She has used all her local networks, HR contacts and social media to get the word out. “I put my big girl pants on and did it. You have to let people know what you are doing,” she says. One of her first jobs was to cover for a law firm’s office manager who had gone on long term sick leave. Jennie goes into the office a few days a week in school hours and provides the support they need to keep going and in return feels she is adding more strings to her bow. She supplements this with other projects working from home. She has also teamed up with another VA who helped build her website. In return Jennie refers work her way. “We are building a connected, supportive network,” she says.
Jennie would like eventually to take on more people and thinks working mums would be a good fit. “They often have a brilliant skills base,” she says, “and I can funnell work to them which takes the stress out of them running their own business. It means they can work, but that work doesn’t have to take up too much of their family time.”
*Jennie is happy to hear from any mums who might be looking for VA work in her area.