So many mums struggle to find work that enables them to be there for their children as they would like and also make a good living. As part of my series of interviews with successful business women, I was delighted to speak with Rebecca Newenham who is the Founder and Director of Get Ahead VA. I loved hearing how she was inspired by her parents and has built a successful virtual assistant business.
Tell us a little about your childhood and teenage years
I grew up in Tunbridge Wells in Kent with my brother and parents. My father ran the largest junior school in England and my mother ran her own tutorial agency. I learnt a lot from both of them as I grew up.
My father was hugely pioneering as he oversaw the school becoming grant maintained. This meant that he had to transition to a whole new way of working, running the school as you would run a business. My mother worked flexibly and showed me that it was possible to contribute financially to the family and to do school drop off and pick-ups too. She was a great example and I knew that one day I wanted to run my own business just like she did.
In my teenage years, I flew the nest to Staffordshire University to complete a Business Studies degree, to further my interest in business.
What was your first career? What did you learn from this?
My first career was in corporate buying. I was very lucky to be offered the role of Cosmetics Buyer at Superdrug. It was a fantastic experience, travelling the world to source new products, running in-store promotions and looking after a multi-million-pound budget. After a few years, I moved on to become a non-food buyer at Sainsburys where I helped run the first-ever online supplier auction. I have always loved the fast pace of retail and being able to walk around shops and see my products on shelf.
My corporate background taught me a lot and when I set up my business, I knew right from the start that branding would be important. I wanted to give Get Ahead VA a recognisable identity. I also knew I wanted to offer work to other people and to run a business – so it was important I had a brand, not just ‘Rebecca Newenham VA Services’. I was lucky to work with a great designer and though the brand has evolved slightly since 2010, it remains very similar. Consistency is key and the changes I have made have been to develop our identity across social media and to use our core colours to champion our brand values of being flexible, professional and vibrant.
What led to you setting up your business?
Though I loved my corporate buying career in London, I wanted more flexible employment after my daughters were born. Once my youngest started school in 2010, I felt the time was right to start something for me. I looked at various business ideas and the way the employment landscape was shaping up for the future. I felt a virtual assistance business offered the best solution. I have always loved networking, which is such a big part of my role now.
What are your products and/or services?
At Get Ahead VA we deliver marketing and business support services for small-to-medium sized businesses and entrepreneurs across the UK. From will writers to window cleaners, financial consultants to fashion designers, all of our clients are motivated and driven business owners, with clear plans for business growth. Our team of over 40 virtual assistants take on the tasks that they don’t have time to do, don’t have the skills to do, or simply don’t want to do. We enable them to get back to what they do best – growing and running their businesses.
What makes your business special?
Our business is totally flexible. That’s the reason I set it up in the first place so that I could work flexibly around my children. All of our VAs work flexibly and remotely. Many of them are also mothers who have decades of experience in their field, yet struggled to find meaningful part-time or flexible work. Working for Get Ahead VA allows them to use their significant skills yet work flexibly around their families.
All of our clients pay for our services in a flexible way, so that they only pay for exactly the skills they need, when they need them. We don’t have minimum contracts or tie ins. Our clients simply work with us on an hourly, project or ongoing basis – whatever is best for their business.
We’ve won awards for our commitment to flexible working including winning the Flexible Business of the Year in the Mum and Working Awards which is something I am very proud of. I have also recently been selected onto the #ialso100 – a list of 100 inspiring female leaders across the UK, and we have been shortlisted in awards for Talent Attraction, Networking and regional company of the year awards.
What tip would you give to someone who wants to set up a business but lacks self-belief?
Don’t be afraid to follow your dreams. Be brave and believe it can happen. Do your research upfront and then just get on with it. If things don’t turn out quite as you thought first time don’t panic – just think about how you could do it differently. Keep evolving until you get it right.
Being a successful business owner requires resilience, confidence and a positive attitude to believe anything is possible with the right hard work. Having the right support around you can make a real difference and I would highly recommend using a business coach or mentor, to help keep you focussed.
How do you ensure you look after yourself properly? What do you do for self-care?
Achieving the balance of running a business, family life and time for me isn’t easy. I have found that exercise is really important and I work with a personal trainer and attend regular Pilates classes. These both help me to digest everything that is going on and recharge physically and emotionally. Family holidays are also a special time to really switch off, relax and spend quality time with my husband and children. Thankfully, I have an excellent team of virtual assistants to manage things whilst I am away.
Who supported you as you set up your business?
My husband has always been my biggest supporter. He helped me source a good quality second-hand laptop and looked after the girls whilst I attended a VA training course when I first started the business back in 2010. Since then he has been a fantastic sounding board and I know that he, along with my girls, is very proud of everything I have achieved.
What things would you like to see change about the position of women in society?
Being a woman certainly has some unique challenges. I think particularly when it comes to work, some women feel anxious about losing seniority or that they have to tread water for a while when they have time out of the office to have a family. It can really affect their confidence. But women are highly talented and make a vital contribution to businesses large and small and we should all be confident about what we have to offer.
If you could recommend ONE book to women what would it be and why?
I do love Michelle Obama’s Becoming. She really is an inspiration to women around the world. She tells her story so honestly that I think all women can identify with the challenges she has faced. Reading the book really makes you think about finding your own voice and being true to yourself, as well as doing the best for your family.
If you could recommend ONE website to women, what would it be and why?
There are so many great websites but as a woman in business, I would recommend LinkedIn. It’s been really important for us in growing our business, but also a hugely supportive community. I run the LinkedIn Local events in Guildford and its great to meet LinkedIn connections face-to-face to get to know each other better and build relationships. Particularly if you are self-employed and work from home, meeting other business owners both online and in-person is vital. I love being able to help others and pass on recommendations or listen to challenges they may be facing. We can all achieve so much more when we work together and support each other.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
My mum always said to me ‘Keep your eyes on the prize’ and it’s a great piece of advice. Try and stay focussed on what you are doing and why you are doing it. Don’t get too distracted by the competition.
For me, I am currently focussed on growing our franchise network this year. We already have regional directors in place across Newcastle, Leeds, Reading and Guildford and are just about to launch in West Surrey and South Yorkshire. I really enjoy bringing new franchisees on board and supporting them to achieve their dream of running their own successful business. It took a lot of hard work to get the franchise offering just right but seeing our franchisees enjoying running their own businesses and being able to mentor them makes it all worthwhile.
Are you interested in the virtual assistant business?