This week on the Wednesday VA Wisdom, we are featuring Louisa Stewart of Blue Ninja Consulting. Louisa and Blue Ninja specialise in virtual administration which is a different take on the Virtual Assistant role. Many of you will know though, that I often refer to the term “VA” as a label and its more about what we do to support our clients that is the more important factor. So let’s meet Louisa.
Hello! My name is Louisa Stewart and I’m Director and Founder of Blue Ninja Consulting. I set up my business to support not-for-profit orgs (NGOs), Charities and Universities (third sector) around the world and have been in business for just on 4 years. I’ve worked with NGOs for more than 13 years, and found many projects require short-term administrative support that is very difficult to find.
What or who inspired you to become a Virtual Administrator?
My journey to becoming a Virtual Administrator came out of a difficult situation of stress and burnout. I was administering two grants programmes, having been asked by the donor to set up the second as I had the first. I was also administering a conference at the same time so you can imagine it was hectic and stressful. I didn’t want to disappoint my boss and colleagues but was struggling.
After some soul searching and discussions, I realised that I could move into a consultancy and still support my client in the same way. It took a little adjusting at first, but I’ve not looked back and love what I do.
How did you go about establishing your business?
I gave myself 2 months to transition between staff member and consultant. This allowed me time to talk to business advisors, an accountant, the bank and set everything up to become a limited company whilst still working.
I took my time coming up with a name and logo, which I designed myself. I want my company to last, so took the time to come up with an identity I really love and I am proud of. I had doubters about my business name, but I love being called a Blue Ninja by my clients – I think it’s very quirky and very me.
Did you have any savings or financial support in order to start your business?
I had a clear financial plan to start with. I knew I would need to receive the first month’s fee to cover the costs of set up, which I covered from my job. I had negotiated and signed my first contract as Blue Ninja Consulting prior to leaving my position, after the company had been registered, in order to have as smooth a transition as possible without any financial concerns.
Was there ever a point when you thought it wouldn’t work out?
I was too busy to think! It took time to work out the details, but I didn’t worry in the beginning because I knew I already had the work lined up. This year will be the first time in 4 years that I’ll be without a contract already negotiated when finishing another, which is scary.
What support did you have around you to set up your VA business (family and friends, Coach or Mentor)?
I had many doubters (some of them friends and family) but my colleagues, close friends and partner were supportive of the move which made all the difference. I was stepping into the unknown and I did it with a fair bit of naivety which helped!
I realised I needed extra support once things had quietened down and I was at a transition point in 2015. I started to find administrative networks to join, and found a fabulous mentor to help through what I knew was coming to a challenging period. It hadn’t occurred to me that I’m under the VA umbrella, as virtual was a term I’d not come across previously but fitted with my work situation very well.
If you could go back and change one thing that you did when starting out, what would that be?
Set up good accounting practices at the start. I did all my accounts in an excel spreadsheet for 3 years. I now realise that by having used an accounting software all that time it would have saved me money and problems. My accountant wasn’t helpful and I didn’t have enough courage at the time to stand up to them and say they were not giving me satisfactory service. That cost me dearly when they didn’t advise me properly on my accounts and I was taxed more than I should have been.
What is your best advice for someone who is just starting out or someone who is considering becoming a Virtual Assistant (Virtual Administrator)?
Have a plan and talk to people about your decision to become a VA upfront, as you may be able to arrange support by the time you’re ready to transition. There are good VA networks that can help (be a little cautious of the info you read), and consider joining associations and participating in courses like the VA Mastery Course to help you frame your thoughts and give you tips and suggestions on taking steps as a business owner and professional.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Be honest about who you are and what you know and don’t know. Keep learning and improving your skills as you may find you can provide extra value to a client you haven’t even secured yet. You’ll have down days, but remember you’ll have wonderful days too and remember why you chose to become a VA. I’m seen as sometimes overly energetic (an energiser bunny), but my energy helps me to keep going.
If you’re going to pay for support and products, take your time and make sure you are comfortable with the person you are working with or the product you are investing in. Don’t commit to anything long term until you’re sure. Most services will offer an introductory call or trial period – prepare well and ask lots of questions so you have as much information as possible to make your decisions.
What is the best business book you’ve read and how did it impact you and your business?
I read Rework by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson when I first started which was very practical and full of helpful examples. I found so many small business books were for product development, and not so much about consultancy, so a lot of my experiences were a bit of trial and error, lots of research and many questions to other business owners and consultants!
What do you love to do when you’re not working?
I love TV and movies, so watch a lot of both, which helps my very active imagination. I travel a lot for both work and pleasure, and always try to get the most out of my trips wherever I am. I also enjoy a good crime drama and the best I’ve read recently is an Aussie author Matthew Reilly.
Tell us one thing you can tell us about you that not many people know?
I am terrified of change, but have moved halfway around the world from Australia to the UK on my own, and left a full-time job to start a business, again on my own. I try to see change as an opportunity rather than a traumatic experience, and although I am naturally a worrier I know everything will be alright in the end – it always is.
Website URL: http://www.blueninja.org
Facebook URL: https://www.facebook.com/BlueNinjaConsulting/
Twitter ID: https://twitter.com/lou_stewart80
LinkedIn URL: https://www.linkedin.com/company/blue-ninja-consulting