Rebecca Newenham followed in her mother’s footsteps to set up her own, flexible business from home to work around her family. She now runs a team of 19 Virtual Assistants – mostly women, who also benefit from this flexible, home based style of working. Rebecca shares her business journey in our real women in business Q&A.
Why did you start your own business?
I always knew that I wanted to run my own business. My mother run a tutorial business from home when I was growing up and was a real inspiration to me. I wanted to give my daughters the continuity of me being able to do school drop off and pick up but I also wanted to contribute financially. I started to hear about the term virtual assistant more and more, as it evolved in the US. I researched various courses and found one run by 2 hugely successful UK based VAs. The course ran over one day and it was fantastic as it covered everything you would need for a home office right through to documentation and types of work we could do. With my background and contacts I had a clear vision for how I could create a team and service a broad range of customer requirements.
What does the business do?
Get Ahead VA is a team of virtual assistants that supports small businesses and individuals remotely. We do jobs that our clients don’t have time to do, can’t do or simply don’t want to do. The huge benefit of using a Virtual Assistant (VA) is that we don’t take up office space and our clients simply pay us for the exact work that we do – there are no hidden costs, no payments for holiday or sick pay. It is a hugely flexible arrangement. We aren’t glorified secretaries, Get Ahead VA offers a much broader range of support. We are virtual office and business support, covering anything from basic administration and customer service through to sophisticated email marketing and PR campaigns.
What did you do before you started your business?
I was a non food buyer for Sainsbury’s based in their Head Office in central London. I ran the first ever supplier auction where suppliers had to bid for business online. I loved the fast pace and the excitement of new product development. I met my husband Martin whilst I was working in London and we subsequently decided to move out to Guildford in Surrey where we now live with our 3 daughters Isabelle 11, Aimee 9 and Robyn 7.
What has been the highpoint of running your business?
One of the real highpoints for me was last year’s Christmas lunch. Seeing the team together and hearing them all talking passionately about our clients and also the huge benefits of being part of our team made it all worthwhile. The majority of our VAs have children and I know how much they value being able to work from home, flexibly around their families. I was also very proud earlier this year when we were voted 2nd most loved VA business in the UK through ‘the best of’ business directory and I was selected as a finalist in this year’s MumpreneurUK awards.
What have been the toughest challenges and how have you overcome them?
Running your own business from home is definitely a challenge but since moving into my garden office I have found it easier to set boundaries. Technology makes it a lot easier to manage your time but you have to be disciplined. At one stage I would wake up and check my emails before even putting on the kettle. This was crazy but an easy habit to get into!
Where do you get support from?
Definitely my family. My husband Martin is hugely supportive, very proud and a great sounding board. My girls often talk about GAVA and they love checking the website for new updates and talk about it with their friends.
How do you take time out to relax?
By demonstrating the benefits of having a VA myself! At half terms and holidays I always ask one of my team to check my emails so I can have a proper break and spent time with my family. We had a lovely 2 weeks holiday in August this year which gave me plenty of time to relax and have fun with the girls. I also love my bootcamp exercise which I do outside twice a week come rain or shine. I have a babysitter booked so there is no excuse not to make it.
What are your future plans for the business?
I want to continue to grow the team, giving more mothers flexible and interesting work and to be famous for playing a part in helping small business owners to deliver their dreams. I want to extend our geographic coverage and look at introducing area manager levels within the business.
What advice would you give to other women looking to set up their own business?
Make sure you really consider what your customers want and then deliver upon it. I pride myself on being a fantastic match maker. I understand our varied customers’ requirements and then make the right connections between them and our VAs. I have also been lucky to benefit from a fantastic business coach and would strongly recommend working with one if you can. My coach constantly challenges me to ensure I am doing the right things to continue to develop and grow my business.