Rebecca Holloway and her husband started Alkira in July 2008 after returning from a 6 month work sabbatical when they went travelling to Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Singapore. During their adventure they both read Sir Richard Branson’s Autobiography, which inspired them to start their own business on their return.
Rebecca’s professional background was always office based; she started her career as an Office Junior and worked her way up to a Senior Management PA, working for various large corporate companies within different industries giving her the wide ranging skill set she has today.
This vast PA experience, along with her husband’s extensive IT expertise, was the perfect combination to turn their dreams of providing a service where they could supply high level PA’s as Virtual Assistants to businesses who didn’t want the added expense of employment costs, into a reality.
Today Alkira continues to grow and go from strength to strength.
Find out more about this successful business in our interview with Rebecca:
Did you do any specific training before you opened for business e.g. book-keeping, web-design, start-up business, something particular to VAs and was it useful?
No I didn’t do any specific training before I started my own VA business, as I felt very well equipped with my 22 years of office administration/PA experience under my belt.
How did you find your first client and what was the first job?
My first client was a previous boss from my corporate PA days, this was a fantastic opportunity to get me started and on the right road. The business first started with me and my Husband, and over the years we have gradually grown our client base and VA team.
Have you developed a niche area and what is it?
I haven’t developed a niche area as such, as all our clients’ businesses/requirements are very different. This has made the Alkira journey varied, interesting and our VA business versatile/adaptable to any kind of business. Our Virtual PA appointment setting service has proved very popular and social media support.
How many clients do you work with now?
We have 10+ regular clients whom have all been fantastic to work with.
Do you work alone or with other VAs/employ someone?
Alkira is very much a team effort, as mentioned my Husband supports on the IT side of the business and we have a team of experienced VA’s. Our VA’s are employed on a contractual basis.
When the Alkira journey first began, the main concept was to offer a high level Virtual PA service, so all our Virtual PA team have previously worked for large companies at Director Level for 5 years or more.
What strategies have you used to grow your business and what has and hasn’t worked?
Starting your own business for the first time is a learning journey and I have learnt so much since I first started. Everyone makes mistakes and in my opinion that’s how you learn and grow.
A lesson I have learned is that the simple low cost marketing strategies are often the best. Social media, especially LinkedIn is great for growing your business network and gaining warm leads/referrals.
Also, taking the time to really get to know and understand your clients’ VA support needs and their business is crucial to growing with your client and becoming an invaluable part of their business.
What has been most difficult thing about growing your business?
In my experience, the most difficult thing about growing my business has been breaking down the barriers that some people have regarding virtual working. Some people cannot see the cost benefits over the fact you are not sitting in their office with them.
Thankfully, there are lots of forward thinking people out there that really do see the value in hiring a Virtual Assistant.
Tell us something about a typical day and what kind of work you do?
My main role is to market our business via social media, networking events, meeting/negotiating contracts with new clients and supporting our VA team. So a typical day for me in the office would be to check emails and messages, social media updates, client meetings, VA calls and dealing with anything new that crops up.
What’s one thing you’ve done that’s made a client absolutely delighted?
I was assisting a very good client of ours recently with the arrangements of a surprise sunset air balloon flight for his wife’s 50th birthday which involved 16 guests. Due to bad weather conditions the flight got cancelled on the day of the event, so we had to rearrange the evening at the last minute to a local restaurant instead. My client was delighted that the surprise evening went well in the end, despite the last minute change of plan.
A client recently said thanks for Alkira’s VA support, in his words “you doing your job leaves me to do mine”, which in my opinion sums up what a VA service should deliver to its clients.
Do you have any funny stories/anecdotes about jobs you’ve done?
When I first started my business I was contacting businesses to get the Alkira name known in my local area and this particular lady I spoke to told me “I couldn’t possibly work with someone virtual, I need a real person”. This made me smile and emphasises my previous point in breaking down the Virtual Assistant barriers.
What are your favourite applications/gadgets that you couldn’t live without?
My Samsung Galaxy S4 (also known as the life companion), our IT infrastructure, exchange email, Dropbox, social media, SKYPE and the Internet.
What do you enjoy most about being a Virtual Assistant?
Everything, having worked for large corporate companies in the past I do not miss the open plan noisy offices, office politics and the interruptions you get in an overcrowded busy office.
I love the freedom of being my own boss, working in a quiet environment with no interruptions and most of all the job satisfaction and work/life balance is invaluable.
What do you enjoy least about being a Virtual Assistant?
Never totally switching off, when you have your own business you are responsible for everything but having said that the rewards totally outweigh the pressures.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given / or you would give to others about growing your business?
Don’t run before you can walk, starting your own business takes time and dedication. Take the time to get it right and learn by your mistakes.
What do you think are the most important qualities a VA should have?
Excellent administration/PA experience, highly organised, versatility, dedication, always willing to go the extra mile and a can do attitude.