Virtually Sorted

What’s your business called?

Virtually Sorted

Can you describe it in one sentence?

We provide admin to small businesses – everything from typing reports to updating your website.

When did you start it and what inspired you?

I had the idea when my dad had some office space to let and was planning on opening an internet cafe… I said that most people had the internet but that what would really make money was having access to someone who could really get the most out of a computer. And so the seed was sown!
The idea wouldn’t go away, so I went along to a start up event and launched the business in December 2004.

How did you fund your start up?

Being under 30 I got a grant from Business Gateway of £1,000 and a soft loan from what is now The Princes Trust of £5,000. This seems a phenomenal amount now, but bear in mind that VOIP phones did not exist (my first phone system cost £2,500 – it could be replicated now for £120) and that websites were hand coded so that cost £3,000 (the equivalent now could be done DIY via WordPress for about £100 in hosting fees). I had no option but to earn from Day 1, as being a singleton I needed to pay my mortgage. That was 10 years ago, if I did it today I would do things very differently – the technology has evolved so much, the whole world has changed.

How do you manage working around your children?

Logistically working from home makes a lot of sense, I have a tiny cupboard office which I lock myself away inside. My husband also works from home so we tend to play tag team when we are both busy and the kids are at home.
I have phone cover so no one ever hears the kids in the background. I also have a smartphone which can deal with most things on the move, so I’m not tied to my desk.
We do luckily have a lot of help from family – my mum in particular. Being 3, Cassius has a funded place at nursery which has really helped. And we have a part time nanny/cleaner a couple of afternoons a week – she is a godsend.
We’re hoping to get a place at a local nursery for my baby daughter Cameron, but they are fully booked – our area has diabolical provision of nursery places. If the government want women to work, they have to sort out the mess of nursery provision.
Having two children now, I decided that it made most sense to outsource some of my own tasks, and I have a wonderful VA, Emma, who “manages the desk” Tuesday and Wednesday for me. That means I get to spend some time with them uninterrupted by work, which is nice!

Can you describe a typical day?

I try to get all the household stuff done and be sitting at my desk for 9am. We have a turnaround of 10am next working day for all work sent before 5pm so, as each piece gets checked personally before going back to the client, it can mean an early start or a late night to make sure everything hits deadline and is perfect. I’ll also allocate work that has come in overnight and check on progress of regular tasks – my job is in a lot of ways like being The Fat Controller from Thomas the Tank Engine – I make sure everything gets where it is supposed to be on time.

The best thing about it is that we get such a variety of clients – from beauty therapists, to surveyors, to bloggers and HR specialists. If you need the boring admin done, we’re your first call. Because we work on a freelance hourly basis, it’s much more cost effective than hiring an employee and doesn’t wrap you up in red tape. So I really never know what is coming in next.

I also run the largest organisation for UK VAs (http://www.societyofvirtualassistants.co.uk) and I spend a good chunk of each week sorting out the blog, setting up new members and making sure everything is running smoothly.

I work with a team of VAs so a lot of the day is spent assigning work, making sure they have all the right information to complete tasks, and marketing my own business. I knock off at 5pm to go pick up the kids, invariably someone will sneak a few extra things in just afterwards and I usually try to get them done for the following morning. I spend a lot of time hanging around outside nursery sending emails from my smartphone!

What have you found hardest?

Not getting a proper maternity leave is hard. It’s especially hard because everyone else gets such generous allowances and the self-employed seem to get hit with the double whammy of not getting paid much Maternity Allowance and only being allowed to work 10 days throughout it. It means you struggle with being able to enjoy the time off and also with being able to go back to the job you left. No one will ever care as much about your business as you do.
Added to that, you do get some very careless comments from other mums about how “I couldn’t leave my baby that early” or how they couldn’t do a routine as it’s cruel. Often self-employed mums don’t have any choice in the matter because it’s the only way they can have children and still keep their business.
I did feel a bit smug as the kids have got older and they’ve had to go back to full-time work… It’s just a question of getting through the hard bits!

What’s the best thing about being self employed?

This:
playing in the snow image
It’s a Tuesday morning in October, and if I was working a “proper job” I should definitely not have been enjoying my toddler’s wonder at the frosty Autumn park in the bright sunshine. These moments make it worthwhile.

What are your plans for the future?

I’m continuing to build on the Virtually Sorted team – we’re going to be launching a new media product in a few months designed to cater to the blogging/PR market.
There are also some ace plans in place for the VA industry in 2016, so I’m really looking forward to being part of it via Society of Virtual Assistants.

What advice would you give for someone just starting out?

Research – especially in the Work At Home industries, there are loads of charlatans posing as “experts” except when you dig down they aren’t giving the right information out at all. Digging around a bit online can often save you thousands of pounds. We have a checklist for VAs looking for the right course, but a lot of the information provided applies to other jobs too.

Save money by being frugal, but also spend money where it concerns your reputation or professionalism. If you are charging clients for using you on a professional basis, you should be working on a professional basis too.

You need time to build your business. You can work evenings and weekends, but realistically you need that time to recharge your batteries, so working 5-9pm is an emergency and temporary measure if you are serious about starting your own business. Get childcare in place. Take time off work one day a week for 10 weeks and do without a holiday to get it started. Designate Saturday mornings as your business time which shall not be interrupted. But create that space to think and work.

If becoming a VA – join www.societyofvirtualassistants.co.uk – I wish it had been around when I was starting out!

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

It’s really important to have a supportive partner. My husband has often endured evenings with me with headphones on typing reports. He fends for himself making dinner a lot. As I’m busy 5-6pm with getting work sorted for the evening, he usually does bath time with the kids and gets them into their PJs. But a big part of why he helps with the house is because I pay half the bills. However, I do appreciate that it’s a bit “chicken or egg” if you’re a SAHM and he’s the breadwinner. Sit him down and talk to him about what having this business means. It isn’t just a nice family holiday or something fun to occupy you. It’s a serious business proposition and he needs to remember the sacrifices that you have made for the family by giving up work and the thousands he’s saved in childcare payments.

playing in the snow image
http://www.virtuallysorted.com – Virtually Sorted, Caroline’s Virtual Assistant business
http://www.societyofvirtualassistants.co.uk – Society of Virtual Assistants
http://www.societyofvirtualassistants.co.uk/2013/05/13/how-to-choose-the-best-virtual-assistant-course/ – How to choose the best virtual assistant course

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