Back in November 2016, I was absolutely delighted to be asked to present Gwen Backhouse of Curlew Secretarial Solutions her award for VA of the Year 2016 and so I am thrilled that I get to interview her on the Wednesday VA Wisdom. Here’s what Gwen had to say in answer to our questions:

Hi, I am Gwen Backhouse, and I started Curlew Secretarial Solutions in February 2014.  I am based in North Cumbria in the small town of Brampton, and I am a married Mum of two girls 19 and 13 and a bonkers German Shepherd who is 10!

I adore being a Virtual Assistant, and I truly believe that this is what I was meant to do.  I have an office in Brampton town centre, and I have a wide range of clients from around the UK and Europe.  As well as offering the usual PA and Administrative services I also offer a family tree research service, and as I have a background in Environmental Science, I provide administrative services for Environmental Science lecturers, students, and companies in the renewable energy sector.

I love the rapport I have with my clients and by building that relationship I am able to work with their clients in the same way they do, offering a seamless service.  It is fantastic to see my clients growing their businesses, and I am giving them their time back so they can focus on that.  My favourite business tag line is “We sell time!”

Last year I was over the moon to be announced as VA of the Year England 2016 and VA of the Year North West 2016 as well as Best Newcomer VA in 2015.  It was a huge boost to the business

What or who inspired you to become a Virtual Assistant?

Way back in 2004 I had a friend who started her own Virtual Assistant business and grew it very successfully.  At the time, I was working as a PA and studying for a degree with the Open University so it didn’t really occur to me that it was something I could do and the idea of being self-employed was quite frankly scary!

It wasn’t until 2013 that I reached that metaphorical ‘fork in the road’ and I decided that I wanted to do something that I loved doing and I wanted to work for myself.  I have always really enjoyed administrative work, with fifteen years of experience working as a receptionist, administrator and PA, and having learnt all about what it meant to be a Virtual Assistant back in 2004; I knew this was the way forward.  It was a daunting step but, one I am so glad I took.

How did you go about establishing your business?

The very first thing I did was to sign up to the Cumbria Growth Hub; they supported me in starting up my business with free courses, business advice, technical advice and much more.  This meant that I had all the information I needed set up my business, manage my business finances, build my own website and much more.

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

No.  I was fortunate enough though to have a lot of the equipment I needed already.  To begin with, a lot of the work was done at my dining room table until I managed to source a desk!  It has been quite satisfying though to build up my business from scratch in this way.

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

No.  I can honestly say that I haven’t felt that at all.  It has always felt very much like I am doing the right thing and my mindset has always been very positive when it comes to my business.

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

I had twelve hours of free business advice from the Cumbria Growth Hub, and my mentor was fantastic, in fact, she ended up being one of my clients!

The North West VA Hub have also been a fantastic support to me, logging on to the Skype chat each day is a real support to me.  Plus, all the VA’s I have met along the way at conferences and networking events.

I have to say; I couldn’t have done any of this without the support of my husband Adrian, who worked hard to ensure I could take the time out to grow my business.  I am eternally grateful to him for that.

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

I’m not sure I would change anything because everything that has happened, even the negative things have been part of the learning curve that comes with growing a business.  It has got me where I am today, and I value every part of that.

VACT, Wednesday VA WisdomWhat is your best advice for someone who is just starting out or someone who is considering becoming a Virtual Assistant?

The best advice I would give anyone starting out as a VA is to get in touch with other VA’s, look up VA support groups, go along to conferences and meetings and learn as much as you can about the industry.  The most important thing I have learned in this business is that it is about collaboration with other VA’s, NOT competition.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Network, network, network!  Do it online, face to face and even in the supermarket!  It is the best way to meet people and get yourself known.

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

The Hippo Campus by Andrew & Pete – It is written in a fun way and packed full of top tips.  It has changed the way I market my business, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is self-employed.

What do you love to do when you’re not working?

I play the fiddle in a ceilidh band called Four Moor Fiddles and a folk group called Blue Jam.  I also love walking, crocheting and exploring castles.

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

I have played the fiddle since I was seven and I have played at quite a few ceilidh’s over the years.  The largest one I played at involved 2500 people at the Bournemouth International Centre where we were playing in the middle of a huge conference hall, and everyone was dancing around us.  It was an amazing experience.

Curlew Secretarial SolutionsMeet Gwen:  If you would like to connect with Gwen or follow her on social media, here are the important links:

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