This week it is my pleasure to introduce you to Nancy Benn of Direct PA Services. Nancy is a member of the VA Membership and I am always envious of her being in warmer climates to me – I often describe her early business of that as a digital nomad. However, what Nancy shows is it is possible to have a VA business and travel between countries – supporting clients that are not in the same country to you.
I’m Nancy Benn of Direct PA Services. I started out as a VA in 2010 with my first client, a non-exec director of the company that had just made me & the whole workforce redundant. My second client was the insolvency practitioner who put the organisation into receivership. We’d worked closely together so he’d experienced my skills first-hand. I have a background in the third sector and in mental health, so some of my clients provide these services, are coaches & trainers, or therapists in the health and wellness space. I live in Spain, still supporting clients in the UK and until lockdown, was networking with other ex-pats, making new connections with business owners who live here on the Costa Blanca.
What or who inspired you to become a Virtual Assistant?
Hubby Rob and I had a dream to move to Portugal so I’d need a means of earning an income. As part of my research, I subscribed to Portugal Magazine and one article was about Emma Crabtree of Redbox Virtual Office, living in Portugal and working as a VA. She still does! On one of our holidays to Portugal, before I set up as a VA, I made arrangements to meet her over coffee in Coimbra and find out more.
How did you go about establishing your business?
After research online, I decided that setting up as a sole-trader was the simplest way to begin. However, I wasn’t confident enough to trade under my own name so spent ages trying to decide on a company name. This was delaying me actually starting as a VA, so I opted for Direct PA Services, though I wasn’t actually thrilled by it!
Did you have any savings or financial support in order to start your business?
I was made redundant in January 2010 and decided I wouldn’t look for yet another employed job and would start working as a VA. Rob &andI had separated at this point so we sold our family home and split the profit. By moving in to live with my son and his partner, I could live very cheaply and use my savings to start my business. For the first three years of trading, I built my VA business part-time as I worked 15 hours per week as an employed PA, before being made redundant, again! However, I was ready by then to trade full-time as a VA.
Was there ever a point when you thought it wouldn’t work out?
No, not until ten years after setting-up; when the Covid-19 Coronavirus crisis severely affected my client base and work slowed significantly. By then I was living in Spain so needed to keep trading as there was no other option.
What support did you have around you to set up your VA business (family and friends, Coach or Mentor)?
In 2010, I bought Carmen McDougall’s VACT VA Mastery Course and spent an initial two days of intensive training with her in person together with just one other VA, also starting out. After a few months, whilst networking, I met another local VA early into her journey. We became friends and have continued to support each other ever since.
If you could go back and change one thing that you did when starting out, what would that be?
Not to procrastinate and to get out networking and promoting myself straight-away!
What is your best advice for someone who is just starting out or someone who is considering becoming a Virtual Assistant?
Don’t get hung up on business names or niches. Update your Linkedin profile, print some business cards and go to PAYG business networking (don’t sign-up to costly annual subscriptions) and speak to other business owners, find out what they do and where they struggle. Don’t lurk in VA support groups, join the conversation and don’t be afraid to ask questions about anything that you’re unsure about – I was unnecessarily too afraid of looking an idiot. Invest in good VA training – this is more important when you’re starting out than paying out for a fancy website.
How would you describe the good, the bad and ugly of being a Virtual Assistant?
Being a VA enables me to work from anywhere with a good internet connection, at the moment, that’s from Spain, right near the beach. It’s great to choose a working pattern to fit with my lifestyle. A good client can be a dream, but bad ones are a nightmare and can be really stressful. Ugly is me nipping onto my PC before breakfast, a shower or changing out of my PJs! Not the time for a video call…
What is the best business book you’ve read and how did it impact you and your business?
Not strictly business books, but ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway’ & ‘Eat That Frog’. Both are short easy-read books ideal for anyone lacking in confidence, or who procrastinates like I do. Self-confidence is a big issue and problem for me so these books helped ground me away from constant fear and worry. The ‘E-Myth’ is also a fascinating insight into running a business, especially if you want to expand and grow. It is very US orientated but it does explain each step in the life of a business as it develops, with good examples of what works and what doesn’t.
How do you stay on top of your own professional development?
Signing-up for various challenges & taking advantage of any free training webinars, though these are usually to sell something at the end! I also invest in a few key paid courses and membership groups of VAs or other entrepreneurs.
What do you love to do when you’re not working?
Walking my dogs in the countryside. After a day at the computer, I need to get in the fresh air, breathe deep, stretch out and let my eyes drift across nature and beautiful scenery. I used to enjoy reading, but as my eyes tire easily, I now love audiobooks, crime and thrillers in particular. I fully intend to get out my sewing machine again too – honestly!
Tell us one thing you can tell us about you that not many people know?
Everything I own fits into one half of a large car…
What does the future hold for your business?
A difficult question to answer right now. The Coronavirus situation has necessitated big changes in most people’s work, whether employed or self-employed. I’m looking forward to adapting, flexing and excited to see what the future brings in the way of new clients & challenges.
Learn more and connect with Nancy
Website URL: directpaservices.co.uk/
Facebook UR facebook.com/nancy.benn1
Twitter ID: @nancybenn
LinkedIn URL: linkedin.com/in/nancybenn/