It was a pleasure to interview Amanda from VACT about her business journey. Amanda’s story is so inspiring and I’m in awe of her passion to succeed and dedication to inspire and support Virtual Assistants.
Hi Amanda! Thanks for featuring, please introduce yourself…
I am a Virtual Assistant (VA) Coach, Trainer and Mentor. I work with new and aspiring VAs and experienced VAs to help them build their businesses. Immediately prior to this, I was a VA having launched that business after 23 years’ military service, where I was a Logistics Officer. I am married to Andrew, who runs his own business and mum to James (age 7) and Jacob (age 3).
Tell me a bit more about your business and how you first came up with the idea.
In 2008, I had a life-changing event and it caused me to re-evaluate life and I realised that life was too short. Basically, I had twins who were born exceedingly prematurely and subsequently died. During an immense period of grief, I spent money on renovating the house and was frustrated when I could not get hold of the tradesmen; in fairness to them, they were out doing what they did best – fitting Windows or gas etc and admin was not their strong point. I decided they needed to use a pay as you go admin service, that was affordable and could be used as and when they needed it. I couldn’t find anyone else doing it – so thought I had created a brand new industry.
Fast forward a couple of years, I become mum to James and the opportunity arose for me to leave the military and start this new career. It was only during my research of professional insurance and data protection that someone said to me “so you are going to a VA then?” And I responded with a “What?”, that I learnt the VA profession had been around for over 20 years+. So my VA business, Your Executive Secretary launched in December 2012. At the end of 2014, I bought the training side of the business from Carmen MacDougall on her retirement from the industry, and at the end of 2016, I subsequently merged the 2 businesses together to create VACT Limited.
What stage are you at in your business now and what is your big vision?
At the start of this year (2017), I was voted Best VA Training Provider 2016 in the UK in the PA_Assist Members Voice Awards which was a huge accolade for me – what has been even better is to see the people I work with go on and win industry and business awards for themselves, which to me demonstrates the value I can add to working with them. The big vision is to continue doing what I already do in all honesty, my core values underpin everything I do and for me it’s about helping others to have those opportunities.
One thing, I am working on and very passionate about is training military veterans and military spouses – military personnel have a fantastic transferable skillset and that’s something that a lot of businesses are beginning to realise. Also, people forget that we often ask our military spouses to give up their careers to support the service person – what I want to be able to do is give our service spouses the opportunity to have a portable career that allows them to feel valued and worthy as well as be financially independent.
What’s been the biggest challenge(s) you’ve had growing your business online?
Coming from a military background and not a corporate background, there was a huge business learning curve, and although I have a degree in business – its nothing like working with a real business. However, I have worked with some amazing clients in my VA business, learning from them as I have gone on – at the same time as investing in my own professional development – working with a Business Mentor / Coach where necessary.
Learning social media was also a massive thing for me – in 2012 I was adamant that I wasn’t going to do it – 3 months into being a Business Owner, I found I loved it and not only that – it was critical to the success of my business. Here I am 5 years later and would not be without it (although I try to have digital detox times!)
How do you fit in running your business with your home and family?
Hmm, I juggle! I often talk about work / life integration – there will be times when I make decisions that affect my family in order to progress something for the business and at other times, I will say no to business decisions because it doesn’t fit with our family life. For me it’s about having a good blend of what’s important to me and know that at times, one will take precedence over the other. I do work evenings when the boys have gone to bed, partly because the people I work with, who are just starting out on their VA journey can make training sessions then and partly because when I pick the boys up from school I become “Duty Parent” for a period of time. Andrew also runs his own business, so we have diary meetings to make sure stuff gets factored in, and the weekends are all about the boys and so there will be times our house looks as if a bomb has hit it, but hey – that’s life! For me, I would rather be doing stuff with the boys than making sure the house is immaculate! Although I do think they have a better social life than me!
How do you cope with overwhelm?
I don’t really do overwhelm – I find a significant level of stress is good for me! I am a Planner and I am a bit of a control freak (find me a VA that isn’t in all honesty!) so overwhelm – nah, not something I do!
How do you find the time to grow your business?
I am constantly learning, I have 2 business coaches/mentors for different strands of my business and I am also part of a Mastermind group of successful Business Owners. This support has been critical to helping me grow my business – being able to discuss issues and decisions with people who are not part of the day to day running of my business and who hold no emotional attachment to is – has been so powerful.
It’s critical to spend time working on your business each day – VAs tend to feel the most comfortable when they are in “Do’er” mode but in order to build and grown an authentic and awesome VA business they have to be the “CEO” of their business so for me its about making dedicated time to fulfil that role.
Have you had any disastrous moments or times when you felt like throwing in the towel?
No, sorry I haven’t. I love what I do and although I always planned to go into training, coaching and mentoring it was critical for me to go in at entry level and work my way up – I needed to get the credibility as a VA first, before becoming the VA Coach, Mentor and Trainer. That’s what I have done – its all about having a plan.
It’s very easy to get sucked into the drama of looking at what others are doing, comparing your start to their middle or end. I recently had someone copy some of my materials and although you want to go and strangle them – I have learnt to ignore them, watching what they do does not serve me and so a great tip is “ Don’t compare yourself – they are not you! Be you and be awesome!”
What’s been your most amazing moment in your journey so far?
I have loved the whole journey, winning awards in my VA business and winning awards in my VA Training business have been huge highs for me but the best bit is watching my clients win awards. That to me is the best feeling in the world – then I know my coaching and mentoring is working!
Who do you look up to in business?
The list is long and so it’s easier to say, that I look up to some amazing business owners doing amazing things and take the bits that are relevant to me and learn from them. I do wish to credit 2 people Judith Morgan (judithmorgan.com) and Steve Clarke (eurekaselling.co.uk) as they have helped shape my business in recent years.
I would like to share the book that had the biggest impact on me is “Bob Burg and John David Mann “The Go Giver” and I can honestly say this book changed the shape of my business and the mind-set that I had about being a Business Owner.
If your business hadn’t worked out, what would you have done?
I don’t do failure so that wasn’t an option! Everything we face are lessons!
Describe how your business looks now, what’s next?
A number of my courses are currently being refreshed, the VA arena is constantly growing and its critical to stay on top of what’s going on, with new technology, new systems etc.
We also have some great things in the pipeline for both new and existing VAs that I cannot share yet but I am very excited about.
“Do you know what? I’m passionate about creating exceptional VA’s – I am at my happiest when I am inspiring, challenging and supporting others” (and there might be a bit of xxx kicking in there too…) and that’s what I plan to keep doing. However, its about doing it authentically as I want those I work with to become “Awesome”.
What business advice would you pass onto other mums who are running a business and want to grow it online?
My success is down to hard work and core values which underpin everything I do in business – commitment, open and clear communication, honesty, loyalty and integrity – effectively my core values that were instilled in me during my military career. So the best advice I can give is to know what your core values are and be true them.
And finally, where can we find you online?
Instagram: instagram.com/va_mentor (my 2017 learning goal!)