This week I am excited to introduce you to Anne Clarkson of Strawberry Office.  I have known Anne for a number of years now and have seen her business grow from an idea through to an actual business.  Anne is a military spouse and one of the big things for me is supporting this sector of the community.  It’s one of the reasons VACT signed up for the Armed Forces Covenant.

Hello, I’m Anne, the owner of Strawberry Office, which provides traditional PA, and administrative support to small business. Ideally, although not exclusively, rural diversification businesses, especially those who have Anne Clarkson Strawberry Office Headshotbeen in business approximately 12-18 months and ready to develop their businesses. I have a varied working background, which has given me a wealth of knowledge and experience. Having spent 3 years studying Hotel Management, I decided it wasn’t for me and started working for British Telecom in their Payroll Section. The catering experience wasn’t wasted as I continued to cater for social events and work for restaurants in my spare time.

Seven years later, and following six months backpacking around SE Asia, Australia and New Zealand, I took an opportunity to move across to Bass Leisure Retail, the pub and brewing company, initially in Payroll but then in Operations providing admin support to a Director, his six Area Managers and their pub managers (approximately 150 pubs). It was a job that I thoroughly enjoyed as no two days were ever the same. I then spent two years in Cyprus working at the Sovereign Base Areas Police Headquarters, followed by some military posting moves, which bought me to Lincolnshire, and a job with the Civil Service as PA to a senior executive officer.

My business is developing and evolving. I have a wealth of experience which I can tap into and have often had to work in challenging situations and to short deadlines. This has taught me to be adaptable and to find a way to get things done. My work ethos is to be professional, respectful, and honest. My favourite subjects are IT and all things to do with etiquette, but most of all I love helping people and making their lives easier.

What or who inspired you to become a Virtual Assistant?

My inspiration for becoming a Virtual Assistant was to have work that I could do anywhere due to my husband being in the Services. Fast forward a few years, it is now to have the flexibility to be able to work around school holidays. My role as an Operations Administrator with Bass was a remote type role as I was based in Birmingham City Centre supporting Pub Managers who were located in an area from Leicester up to Yorkshire. When I returned from Cyprus and living just outside London, and wanting to keep up to date with the latest office administrative information, I attended the Crème Office Show 2005 (now known as the PA Show) in London. I booked on some of the seminars including one about Virtual Assistants. I had no idea what that was and decided to go to it, to find out. It was a presentation by Carmen MacDougall about working remotely as a Virtual Assistant, something that I realised I had already been doing in my role with Bass. A few years passed, and a few of life’s events. I was still thinking about setting up as a VA, and when again attending the PA Show, met Amanda. After chatting to her I decided to have another go at starting my business.

How did you go about establishing your business?

I’m still working on it! It has taken a few years to set up my business as I am still in full-time employment and lack of time mean progress has not been as quick as I would like it to have been. I am finding networking, and telling people about it, are the most effective way of letting people know about my business.

Did you have any savings or financial support in order to start your business?

I have had no financial support and used my employed earnings to fund my business and training.

Was there ever a point when you thought it wouldn’t work out?

Yes, many times. My doubts, were usually about my ability, especially marketing my business, and what other people thought.

What support did you have around you to set up your VA business (family and friends, Coach or Mentor)?

The main support has been Amanda and the wonderful members of VACT Facebook groups. Some members of the Lincolnshire WiRE network group, which I led for two years, have also helped.

If you could go back and change one thing that you did when starting out, what would that be?

Not to worry and go for it. Don’t worry about what you think people are thinking, or your abilities.  And, make the most of your time when you can; I now have a six-year-old daughter and wish I had made better use of my time when I had fewer commitments.

What is your best advice for someone who is just starting out or someone who is considering becoming a Virtual Assistant?

Undertake training such as the VACT Mastery course, which will give you the skills and confidence to set up your business.

What is the best business book you’ve read and how did it impact you and your business?

My book recommendation is ‘The Go Giver’ by Bob Burg and John David Mann. I worried considerably about networking, even backed out of going to some events. Reading the book was life-changing and took away all the worry and stress.

What do you love to do when youre not working

I have many interests. I studied horticulture a few years ago and love being outside working in my garden. I also used to do a lot of scuba diving and planning to get back to it next year. But most of all, I love spending time with my daughter.

Tell us one thing you can tell us about you that not many people know?

Back in 2012, I was a Gamesmaker at the London Olympics based at Greenwich. It was the most amazing two weeks, not just for being involved but also the wonderful uplifting atmosphere when travelling around London. Having ridden horses from a very young age and followed show jumping, the highlight was being at the side of the arena when Nick Skelton won his gold medal. It was so exciting and I will never forget the atmosphere in the arena, especially when he cleared the last jump.

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