Amanda Johnson established Your Executive Secretary in December 2012 after retiring from the Royal Navy where she worked as a Logistics Officer.
She has 22 years professional experience undertaking roles including PA, Secretary, Executive Assistant, Career Development Consultant, Diversity and Inclusion Advisor, HR Officer and Head of multiple Logistics and HR departments. However it was a life shattering event in 2008 that was instrumental in Amanda re-evaluating her professional and personal lives. She came to the realisation that life was too short to stay working with the fear of having to go away for extended periods of time, so decided to use her vast skill set into starting her own Virtual Assistant Business.
Amanda’s military core values underline the way she operates her business; commitment, open and clear communication, honesty, loyalty and integrity; attributes she applies to all her clients and their businesses.
Read on to find out more about Amanda and her VA business.
Did you do any specific training before you opened for business and was it useful?
I have completed various military courses which have given me a good administrative grounding but as a VA, I am currently undertaking the VA Mastery Course with the VACT. I have completed Twitter Brilliance with Alicia Cowan, A Social Media that sells course with Antonia Chitty and have just registered for some legal training with Suzanne Dibble.
How did you find your first client and what was the first job?
My first client came as a result of a referral after attending a local networking group as a visitor. The actual job was to take over from his currently full-time employed Secretary to run a networking event on his behalf. The job itself was fairly easy but I learnt a lot! Even though I had a full contract with the Client – he failed to pay his bill and I am currently going through the Money Claim Scheme to get paid!
Have you developed a niche area and what is it?
I enjoy working with Business Owners who are passionate and serious about what they do, and who are prepared to do what it takes to make their business a success. To date, the majority of my Clients appear to be female in either the Alternative/Complementary Health area or Coaches and Trainers.
How many clients do you work with now?
6 regular clients but a number of occasional adhoc users.
Do you work alone or with other VAs/employ someone?
Currently work alone, but the plan is to work with Associates in Year 2 of business and by Year 3 employ a member of staff (well fingers crossed).
What strategies have you used to grow your business and what has and hasn’t worked?
It is still very early days, but I spend a lot of time asking questions, networking and listening. There are a lot of Business Owners who are willing to share their time and knowledge with me and this is critical in identifying ways in which to manage / grow my business. I really appreciate this.
What has been most difficult thing about growing your business?
Coming from an industry that does not employ VA’s, it has been important to network. I have also moved to a geographical area, that although I knew a lot of people in, I did not have business contacts. In this industry (as in many service industries) “People buy People” and it takes time for others to “know, like and trust”. Therefore it has been critical to remember that it takes time to grow a VA business and become that well-respected VA. There is also a lot of useful, worthy information available to read either about the industry, business development, social media or even about the industries my clients are in. It is important to make time available to do this research.
Tell us something about a typical day and what kind of work you do?
Every day is different, I perform different services for different clients and I love this. I know some would argue that this is a bad use of my skills, resources but I love the flexibility it gives me and the delight that Clients get when a task they hate (or are not trained to do) gets done. I try to work Mon-Thu 0900-1700 and then during a Fri or weekend, a lot depends on childcare arrangements and although work is scheduled to be completed during this time, I try to keep my client facing work out of those hours so that Clients are not disrupted by my family life.
What’s one thing you’ve done that’s made a client absolutely delighted?
Recently I was described by a client as a Goddess and her testimonial says it all “Amanda is not just a virtual assistant, she turns your dreams into bite size achievable actions… And then she does them for you! She has amazing business knowledge and will always do the best thing for your personal situation. I love having her to ask for advice and to outsource such a variety of tasks to. Nothing is too much trouble and she consistently goes above and beyond what you expect her to do. I don’t involve people in my business lightly but I trust her implicitly. There is nothing she won’t do well and you will notice results in your business very quickly. (Lucy Coffin from Catching Rainbows)”. After this Lucy sent me an email thanking me for giving her and her family her weekends back! The tasking was about getting Lucy some structure and organization in her processes and more importantly teaching her to manage her emails. Lucy thought she needed me for 10 hours per month to manage her accounts, but in reality she needed structure, process and some education, which we did in one session of less than 5 hours.
What are your favourite applications/gadgets that you couldn’t live without?
I love MinuteDock for tracking time / creating invoices in this early stage of my business – it also allows me to bill clients by the minute rather than by the 15 mins or longer, something that my clients are seeing as a real added bonus.
I also use Hootsuite for scheduling social media on behalf of my clients.
What do you enjoy most about being a Virtual Assistant?
I love the fact that the VA industry is so collaborative and that experienced VA’s (generally) are willing to share knowledge, tips, advice with those new to the industry, without seeing them as a threat.
What do you enjoy least about being a Virtual Assistant?
It is really hard to educate Business Owners on the benefits of outsourcing to someone else, especially without coming across as trying to sell to them.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given / or you would give to others about growing your business?
Listen don’t just hear what people are telling you! Remember it takes time to get to “know, like and trust you”. During my military career, I always used the phrase “King is dead; Long live the King” for when my Superior Officers changed (especially when I was either their PA, Secretary or Head of Department) – it is important to remember that everyone is different and will have different wants, needs and likes. This is the same in the VA Industry, not everyone will respond well to you, there needs to be an attraction, and for me they need to have either the same or similar core values.
What do you think are the most important qualities a VA should have?
My core values are: commitment, open and clear communication, honesty, loyalty and integrity – things that I believe are critical to a VA business. On a day to day basis, you need to be super organized; great at juggling the needs of clients, especially if you’re working with many different clients you need to be able to prioritise and work to deadlines. You also need to be focused and be able to use your own initiative, and be quick to pick up new procedures, or computer software.