Can you tell me a little about yourself, your background, and your current business?
My name is Susan Wright, and I am a Virtual Assistant. I set up my business, The Wright VA, in 2018 so I could work from home and help individuals and clients with their day-to-day challenges.
I actually didn’t go to University. I had a conversation with my dad about it and I said I would go, but that I would go for the social life and not do any work, to which he then told me I wouldn’t be going at all if that was my mindset, and that was the end of the conversation about University! My dad did tell me that I needed to do something, so I went to secretarial college so I could learn a skill.
After attending college for a year, I got a junior level role at a private equity firm. I was there for seven years working my way up, learning lots and having a really good time. It was an enjoyable company to work for, and during my time there I progressed and moved into the accounts department. It got to the stage where I could either take my accountancy exams or go back to secretarial, and actually, I didn’t fancy four years of studying accountancy, having just seen my cousin do it, so I went back into secretarial and became PA to the company secretary of the private equity firm.
I was there for a couple of years and suddenly realised I couldn’t progress any further, so I left and joined another venture capital firm. Unfortunately, I didn’t really settle. I found that being in a huge organisation meant you had to go through lots of different levels to get the green light to do the smallest of things when actually I’m quite capable of just doing it myself. So, I left there and went to a different private equity firm which then got sold out. Luckily, I got moved across when they bought out the funds, and I probably stayed there for about fifteen years.
In 2015 I got made redundant, which was quite hard, but a few of us were in the same boat, so it was nothing personal, but it was still hard.
When I got made redundant, I realised I was done with commuting into central London and wanted to work from home. I was looking around for jobs and I came across Smart PA which is a PA franchise where you work from home. I investigated that quite considerably, but I ended up getting cold feet, and instead went to work at the local NHS in Croydon. Going from the private sector to the public sector was a bit of an eye-opener as it was very different. I was PA to one of the Directors of the local CCG, and I really enjoyed it, but I got signed off sick after eighteen months. While I was off sick, I then got made redundant for the second time and I wasn’t sure whether I was well enough to get another job. I re-visited the idea of setting up on my own as I had a couple of contacts at the time who wanted some admin support ad hoc, so I decided to set up my own business, and as they say, the rest is history.
What encouraged you to set-up your own business and start working for yourself? Is this something you’ve always wanted to do?
I never thought about working from home until I got diagnosed with chronic fatigue (ME). When I was off sick, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be well enough to go out and get a new job. Every day you wake up you don’t know if you’re going to be well enough or strong enough to get out of bed and go into work, and if you’re starting a new job then you have to turn up day in day out for week and weeks, you can’t all of a sudden have three weeks off work if you’ve just joined. So, for me, it seemed a bit of a no brainer to start working for myself at home when I got ill. I thought if it works then that’s great, and if it doesn’t then I’ve given myself some time to rest and build up my strength to start working again. But luckily it did work and has gone from strength to strength!
Do you think that working from home has helped with your mental and physical health?
Absolutely. There are some days where I wake up feeling so tired, but I can go back to sleep if I need to, get up at 10 in the morning and still get my work done. I’m quite lucky that with my clients there’s generally nothing really time-critical, there aren’t any tight deadlines, and things can be done as and when I can get them done, so there’s no pressure to always work the traditional 9-5 hours.
If I’m not feeling well, or if I’m feeling really tired before bed, it can be quite stressful worrying about whether I’m going to be well enough to work the next day. But working from home, not having to commute, and having that flexibility of choosing my own hours takes that stress away which definitely helps with my mental health.
What qualities do you think are needed to set-up your own business?
I think confidence, ability, and experience. I think you need the confidence in your own ability, but also the confidence to go out there and tell people that you’re good at what you do and show them why they should choose you. You have to believe in yourself, because if you don’t believe in yourself then nobody else will.
I think ability and experience are important too, as there’s no point in setting up a business in something you’re not knowledgeable in or have the ability to succeed in. You need to have some experience in the field and/or have some proper training.
I would also say that it’s imperative to have a support network, particularly when you’re first setting up. It can be family, friends, or even a local networking group, but if you don’t have that close support championing you every step of the way then it can be really difficult, especially if you start doubting yourself, so you need that support system to help lift you up.
One thing to be mindful of when starting a business is that it’s not going to be something that happens overnight. There’s a lot of groundwork to do and a lot of foundations to lay to make it a successful business that’ll continue into the future.
What is the best part about having your own business and what is the most challenging part?
The best part is being my own boss, the lack of a commute, the flexibility and making an instant difference to my clients and their businesses.
I would have to say the biggest advantage is being able to work from home. Commuting to central London for twenty plus years was enough, and I’m not very good with large crowds or the stress of worrying about public transport being late. Not having to commute takes a lot of stress away, and I just like being at home, having the flexibility of choosing my hours and fitting work around other parts of my life.
The worst is actually running the business! Doing the job is the easy part because that’s the part you know how to do and feel confident in. It’s doing everything else that comes with running a business that is the difficult part, such as making sure you’ve got all the legal and financial elements in place to ensure you’re doing everything right and running a viable, sensible business.
When you’re employed you’ve generally only got one or two hats on, but as a business owner, you’ve got several different hats on. You’re the CEO, the finance director, the marketing manager as well as the tea maker, the IT support and the doer, and you need to make sure you’re dedicating equal time to all of these elements and doing all of them in the right way. You can outsource some of the roles, for example, I outsource to an accountant, and you can outsource other elements like your marketing and social media etc. But at the end of the day, it’s your business so you’ve got to take responsibility for everything.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from running your own business?
The highs are high, and the lows are low. When you’re employed the ebb and flow is quite shallow, but when you own your own business, they’re a lot more exacerbated. I think if you’re aware of that, can ride the storm and not let yourself be affected by it too much, then you’ll be ok. I think it’s also important to remember that the lows are short-lived, so don’t let yourself get too down about them, and remember to celebrate all the wins, even the little ones!
What impact do you think the pandemic and lockdown will have on gender equality?
I think a lot of men who have always gone out to work while their partners worked from home, or stayed at home to look after the kids, have a newfound respect for what actually happens at home during the day because they’re working from home now too so can see first-hand what it is like. I don’t have kids, but I imagine it has been mostly women who have automatically undertaken the role of the teacher in home-schooling. In fact, I know several women who are business owners who have had to put their work to one side, or work late into the evenings to catch-up, because they’ve had to balance work with home-schooling while their husbands continued to work. It’s quite hard to predict the outcome, but I do think it will affect everyone for years to come.
What’s your next big goal?
My next personal challenge is to start walking more and improve my fitness. I was discussing this with one of my VA friends recently and said that she would buddy up with me so we would motivate each other to get out for regular walks. We’ve decided to try and do a virtual walking challenge together, one where you end up walking up Everest or something like that, and hopefully, that will make me get out more.
My next business-related challenge is to sign-up for a proof-reading course. I’ve got a few clients who have recently asked me to proofread a couple of documents. Whilst I know I am quite good at it, I also know I could be better and I would like to have that proof-reading qualification in my back pocket.