About twelve years ago I started a home based business as a Virtual PA so I could earn money from home and be available for my daughter, my firstborn. I was fresh out of a corporate life; used to the suits, the company cars, having someone to pay my expenses and having regular ‘Monday morning meetings’, and ‘fish & chip Friday’ in the work canteen!
I went from all business, to home based business and it was a culture shock! However I wanted to make the new venture work, so I approached it with all the business knowledge that I had gained in my career to date. There were just two problems; I didn’t know how to sell and I didn’t know how to run a business around a baby. All I knew was marketing.
I found a business mentor – a successful and smart lady about 15 years my senior who had made it work. She had created a home based PR company and employed 4 people at her offices in a converted outbuilding in her home back garden. She was there for her kids but this was very much a serious corporate business – without the city centre location or the Armani suits. She dressed in high end High Street and had big name clients. This wasn’t a woman working from her kitchen table or making cupcakes or selling Avon. This was a mum running a serious business, just scaled down into a domestic setting. She inspired me and terrified me at the same time. I still admire this lady today, even though we are no longer in contact.
One of my tasks as the mentee in this relationship was to show her my business plan. I worked so hard on putting together a document packed with exciting strategies for world domination, I went into detail about how much I would charge my clients per page for any photocopying I would do for them (bear in mind, this was the early noughties – tech has moved on since!) and I dismissed my so-called ‘competition’ by saying how unique my business was and no-one had done what I was proposing before. It was such a new and emerging market.
Dragon’s Den the TV show had just launched at the time and entrepreneurs were the new buzz word. This was before the world economic crisis that humbled everyone. Small business owners all over the UK were excited about the opportunities that the internet was providing. The world had suddenly become their marketplace. The playing field between large corporate business and startup one-man-band had been levelled. The world was there for the taking. I created an office space at home out of an outbuilding, installing windows into the roof with VELUX roller blinds and creating a glass frontage, laying a wooden floor and buying desks and chairs.
I was going to be the next big thing in business support with my company that was an ideal candidate for franchising. I had a scaleable model that could be replicated into a turnkey business. I could sell franchises of The Dream PA and sit back and reap the profits. I fancied myself as a cross between Jacqueline Gold and Karren Brady. I was invited to a reception at Downing Street for young British Entrepreneurs, I was listed by Business Insider Magazine as one of the ’42 Under 42′ in 2005 – a list of the year’s brightest business talents – the ones to watch. I liked going to Downing Street, I liked being in the magazine, I also liked being in LOOK, Woman’s Own, Psychologies and the other glossy magazines that I was featured in. I was in my comfort zone – I was marketing.
I took my business plan that I’d worked so hard on to my mentor and left it with her to absorb. We had a meeting the following week where I couldn’t wait to hear what she’d thought of my plans, and how we would triumph together. I wanted to be in one of those magazine articles with her where the young entrepreneur shares how much she values the wiser friend’s advice and the wise friend says how much she sees herself in the young friend. I walked in so full of dreams and plans. This lady that I so admired and wanted to impress, tore into my business plan, verbally ripping it to shreds.
I don’t remember all the points she made but the one that sticks with me, all these years later is “Where is your head at?”
My business plan was full of fantasy and dreams. There was no grounding in reality. I had focused on the big picture and also the nitty gritty (charging 25p per page of printing) but no acknowledgement about the middle. The nuts and bolts. How I would actually find my clients and make it pay. How I would deal with issues that would crop up, how I would deliver on my sales promises. My business plan was all ego – and marketing. It was great on the marketing!
I went home and cried – literally nonstop – for two days.
This lady had said that what I had, what I was describing, was a lifestyle business. Back then, this was code for ‘not a serious business’. It was more about me ‘playing’ at being an entrepreneur whilst I stayed at home with my baby – my real priority. I was so wounded. I felt offended that I wasn’t being taken seriously. Then I realised she was right.
I didn’t want to sit in endless sweaty business meetings on sunny days talking to men in suits about my operations manual. I didn’t want to put in the hours and hours of cold calling to find new businesses to serve. I didn’t want to spend my weekends visiting trade fairs and franchise shows to get my flyers into the hands of prospective clients who’d I’d have to train up in the ways of the business. I wanted to earn a little money to help out the family finances whilst I stayed at home with my baby. Then I had another baby and I wanted to do the same with him too!
I worked as The Dream PA for about five years, I wrote a book to help out other prospective VAs called The Virtual Assistant Handbook, and it did address the topics of how to find clients and make it pay! All the things I wish I’d have known about when I started out. The book became a best-seller on Amazon for a short time. It made me very proud. It got me writing again. I’d missed writing when I’d take time out to be an assistant. Always working on someone else’s project – never having the chance to get creative and flex my writing muscles.
Soon after baby number two came along I started blogging. I wanted a creative outlet and to have a voice again. I started JuggleMum. Then I wrote another book! These days I make money from blogging! I write about my lifestyle on this blog – I have a lifestyle business! I am also the Editor at BritMums and I adore working with the team there on a virtual basis. I couldn’t be happier to say that I am a lifestyle blogger and I have a lifestyle business – AND I am at home with my children (now a teenager and a tween).
What is your experience of working around a young family? Do you have a business yourself or work for an employer? Share your story in the comments!
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This is a commissioned post.