In The Beginning
Hi there – I’m Sam, the founder of Escape From The City Content Creation.
I’m a very creative person and am currently transitioning my business from VA to copywriter and (Canva) graphics designer – as well as an all-round wordsmith, proofreader, editor and researcher as my business grows.
I write copy for business owners (incl. VAs) who struggle with finding the right words to get their website, social media, emails/newsletters, blogs and other communication out into the world. I help them with anything they find difficult to convey or get tongue-tied with, in a way that tells their story, in their voice, from the heart.
I do still support a few clients with the more traditional VA stuff (and have a client I do regular ad hoc research for) and I think I’ll always have a hand in that, and you never know, copy may become a service they need support with too.
People are at the heart of everything I do. My biggest strength is being friendly, approachable and adaptable, and giving a damn about how people feel… while having a sharp gut instinct about what people might need as support in their business, especially with their marketing needs. This is matched with a natural ability to tap into how to say something without waffling on and on!
I spent almost 20 years as a PA / EA in the City of London from when I was in my early thirties. I had a life in Edinburgh before then, but that’s a whole other story! I left Edinburgh to move to London on my own when I was a fearless 28-year-old.
I originally started out as a Producers Assistant at Ealing Film Studios for a small independent film company, and I still remember six of us sharing a small Apple Mac computer in one small office! I was very poorly paid, spending my days reading books and all sorts of stuff, interpreting them into ideas for short films and television. I was also bookkeeper and all-round dogsbody, but I enjoyed those days and met some very interesting characters in the Ealing Studios bar after work! I was there for over three years.
However, the film industry was a tough one and as I approached what ended up being the end of my film production career, the company I worked for folded.
Off to the city I went!
I started as a temp PA to the Managing Director of a small music company (where I met my now husband) before heading off to Warner Bros as a team PA (for the design and build of cinemas dept where I had some of the best times of my career!), then to various other corporate organisations over two decades. Finally, I left a temporary job after four months in 2017, and never applied for a permanent job again.
What or who inspired you to be a VA?
I loved working as a PA / EA but the corporate world didn’t suit me in the end. It wasn’t creative enough, there weren’t enough opportunities for someone who wanted to get much more involved as a PA, the commute was killing me, I wasn’t paid enough and I didn’t want to try to move into senior management roles either. What on earth would I do?? I really felt stuck for a long time.
After I left, I started researching what I might do next and I came across the original VACT website. I started to read all about Amanda Johnson, and stalked her a little! I deliberated for a long time about what I would do and who I could train with. Also, at that time, I got a temp job at BUPA as a Senior PA for around a year and I met some of the best people I think I’ve ever worked with – who are still friends. They kept getting me back time and time again – offering full time roles I kept turning down – and BUPA kept me going on and off until I made the leap to be a VA in 2018/19.
How did I go about establishing my business?
I was never a great planner – probably because I had to be so fast and reactive in the city for years – so mapping out a business plan and goals was pretty alien to begin with (and I admit I still struggle with it!) I made many, many mistakes – some very expensive ones.
However, I was a prolific networker – I went to every single network meeting there was, face to face and online, and its reaped rewards for me because I know so many people in my local & surrounding area as well as online and a lot of my clients have come as recommendations. My weakness in business is not being visible on social media – but I am working on that as we speak!
Completing the VACT Mastery gave me all I needed in training to be a VA, and I still love being a member of the VA Membership.
In the last two years I’ve also completed two fantastic copywriting courses – The Content Writing Mastermind run by Tara Louise Stych (The Word Professor) and the VA Copy College by Chantelle Davison – and I’m a reader of copywriting masters and storytellers including Donald Miller’s Building a Brand Story and Stephen King On Writing: A Memoir of The Craft – I am hooked.
I’m recently one of the first five people to be accepted in Chantelle’s VA Copy College Agency, and work will start in earnest in March /April.
Did you have any savings or financial support in order to start your business?
None except for some savings (that soon vanished into the ether) and a husband who had a full-time job he loved in music. His job isn’t well paid and we’ve had some incredibly challenging times over the years – but together, we’ve got through it and we both know that with perseverance, it will all come good.
Was there ever a point where you thought it wouldn’t work out?
I soon realised that the only way to succeed was to be determined, tenacious, bloody minded and driven and to just keep going. I learned never to lose sight of where you want to be even if you don’t have a clue how to get there or even what that looks like exactly. The thought of going back to office work or being employed by anyone else also keeps me motivated to succeed!
I hadn’t really planned to be a copywriter as such, but my love of writing and words soon whetted my appetite for more. I’m sure Amanda remembers this from our VACT Mastery training weekend that we had a few years back now – me talking about how I wanted to write more. It’s taken a while but here I am. Rome wasn’t built in a day!
What support did you have around you when you set up your business?
My husband Ben has always been my biggest supporter (and is also a writer about music mainly) – and a few good friends and of course the wonderful VA community including Amanda. To be honest, that’s really about it. My family never ask me how it’s going, and most don’t know what I do at all – which I’ve given up feeling sad about – though my dad does ask me how it’s going from time to time – with trepidation in his voice!
If you could go back and change one thing that you did when you started out, what would that be?
To start sooner! And to get organised and have a frigging plan. I’ve been a bit of a rebel over the years, but you do need to have a plan in place, to take action and to be consistent in order to achieve goals – including financial goals.
What is your best advice for someone starting out or someone who is considering becoming a VA?
Start with a few simple steps, do what you love and don’t offer everything under the sun. I think that’s the biggest mistake a lot of VAs still make. They offer too much and then come unstuck. If you don’t know how to do it, don’t offer it. I know we learn as we go but even with the best of intentions, you can’t and will never know everything.
If you can, find a good mentor or coach. That is one of the best investments you can make for your business starting out and as you grow.
How would you describe the god, bad and the ugly of being a VA?
The good – freedom from being told what to do, when to do it and how to be!
The bad – the roller coaster and lack of confidence and not taking chances has held me back on occasion. Some call it Imposter Syndrome and I’ve had a few chronic bouts of it over the years.
The ugly – the wrong clients. I have had a few (one in particular was awful and just happened to be a man) but now I know that I what I need to do in order to spot the red flags sooner.
What is the best business book you’ve ever read and how did it impact your business?
I used to be a hugely avid reader but with the online world it started to decline. I’ve vowed to change that (like switching to Audible) and have lots I want to delve into now. I did love reading You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero (and she has some fab follow on books after that one) and as referenced above, a great read is Building A Brand Story by Donald Miller and Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of The Craft. It has really opened my eyes about storytelling in business and I love the psychology behind stories. I have had a lot of Aha! moments with these books and they’ve given me so many ideas for my business let alone how I can help clients grow theirs.
How do you stay on top of your own professional development?
I really love to learn and there are plenty of things you can do for free to keep on top of things. If you’re a member of the VA Members group, you’ll know the trainings are excellent. I may not read a lot of books, but I read a lot of stuff online and I watch videos. I also sign up to newsletters from fellow business owners to learn a lot and if I’m ever going to financially invest in something again, that won’t be until I grow my business as a writer. I’d like to invest in a proofreading course so I’ll look into that in time. And always, always listen to other business owners and what they have to say – new and experienced.
What do you love to do when you’re not working?
My husband and I love music – all kinds of music (Ben’s a classical music boffin) and we love going to gigs. When we can afford it, we love eating out in different restaurants especially when we get to go on holiday to places like Ibiza. Of course, the pandemic put paid to all of that over the last two years but we’ve got a few possible treats lined up as rewards for all the hard work we do. I also love to cook and am often doing something different at the weekends.
And we are both huge fans of a dark dramas and detective series that we watch with our two cats – I especially love a horror story too!
Tell us one thing you can tell us about that not many people know?
I trained as a classical guitarist (and toured!) from the age of eight until I was about 16 – until when I left home. I don’t play anymore but I do love classical music still.
What does the future hold for Me?
Short-term – to get my website and socials up to date and consistent! To get myself out there and just be me.
Longer term – to establish myself as a creative copywriter and business owner and just to be happy with what I do. I’ve love to be an award-winning copywriter one day, so with that in mind I have a lot of work to do … as long as I love it! I’m also all about collaboration and that’s one of my goals for this year, to build really great collaborations with other VAs and fellow business owners so we support each other through the ups and downs (and ups again) and through all the exciting times ahead.