“I was torn between a career that I really enjoyed and a lifestyle I knew I wanted.”
What work were you doing previously?
I worked in corporate buying, most recently for grocery store chain Sainsbury’s as a non-food buyer.
What are you doing now?
I run award-winning outsourcing agency Get Ahead.
I have a global team of over 70 franchisees and virtual business experts, who deliver flexible marketing and business support services to companies from the UK to Australia.
We carefully match clients with the right expert or experts from our team, including social media managers, virtual assistants, online video conferencing facilitators, bookkeepers, designers, and any other kind of outsourced business services.
How did you feel in your work before you decided to make the change?
I loved the fast pace of retail and the excellent grounding in branding that it gave me.
But once my three daughters arrived, I knew it wouldn't offer me the work–life balance that I wanted. I was torn between a career that I really enjoyed and a lifestyle I knew I wanted.
Why did you change?
I wanted to do something different and work flexibly around my family.
Inspired by my successfully self-employed mother, I knew it was possible to work and also be there for school pick-ups and drop-offs.
When was the moment you decided to make the change?
When my youngest daughter started school.
The time felt right to start something new for me. My retail buying career was behind me, and I was ready to realise my dream of running my own business.
How did you choose your new career?
I came across the term ‘virtual assistant’ when researching business options, and it seemed to make so much sense.
Why recruit staff in-house if you didn’t really need them? Outsourcing to virtual assistants could plug the gap for businesses, providing services when they needed them. It seemed much more efficient and 21st century to me than the traditional recruitment model.
The business also had low start-up costs, which made it appealing. I knew I could quickly turn a profit and reap the benefits of my new career, as well as work the hours I wanted.
Are you happy with the change?
I took a big risk, but I absolutely love running my own business and being in charge of my own destiny.
Right from the start, I knew I wanted to create a business, not just be a VA myself. I wanted to offer work to other people, particularly women like me who wanted to work flexibly around their families.
Since then, it has been an absolute pleasure to watch my team of VAs and franchisees grow. I have been lucky to meet so many fascinating people.
Many of the women I meet have decades of experience yet have struggled to find meaningful part-time or flexible work. Working with Get Ahead allows them to use their significant skills and work when and how suits them, as well as realise their dreams of running their own business if they become a franchisee.
What do you miss and what don't you miss?
I do miss some of the social side of being employed.
In my previous career, I got to travel the world and was able to walk around shops seeing the impact of my hard work. But after having children, my priorities changed.
I certainly don't miss the office politics or feeling like I have to apologise for having children, as I see other mums doing. My girls are the reason I started my new career and central to everything. They are my biggest motivation.
How did you go about making the shift?
Once I'd identified that starting an outsourcing business would be the best route, I went on a training course to find out more.
I bought a second-hand laptop, and Get Ahead was born. I started by simply talking to other mums in the playground and then started attending a local networking meeting, which really became the springboard for my business.
How did you develop (or transfer) the skills you needed for your new role?
I've always loved networking, which has been such an important skill for growing my business.
I also completed a training course, which laid out the practicalities of running your own outsourcing business, which were completely new to me.
Developing the skills needed has been a constant process, though. I feel I'm still learning things every day, which is what makes it still so interesting and motivating.
What didn't go well? What wrong turns did you take?
Things certainly haven't been plain sailing and there have been challenges to overcome.
The first time a team member left to go and work for a client was hard to accept. On reflection, I realised that it demonstrated what a good job we'd done to help grow the client’s business to the point that they needed their own in-house support.
Knowing your numbers as a business owner is vital, but I struggled with an accountant who became slow and inefficient. I didn’t have clear enough visibility of my numbers, and she appeared uninterested in my plans for growing the business, so I knew it was time to move to another provider.
How did you handle your finances to make your shift possible?
We were lucky that my husband was employed at the time, so we were able to manage on his salary until the business was up and running.
Of course, we had to make some sacrifices, but it was worth it to achieve the work-life balance that we all wanted.
What was the most difficult thing about changing?
To begin with, some people I came across weren't aware of the term ‘virtual assistants’ or what outsourcing could deliver.
I'm pleased to say that has changed over the past few years. The businesses I now meet are very aware of the benefits of outsourcing to enable businesses to get ahead and realise their growth ambitions in a cost-effective way.
What help did you get?
I was very lucky to have a hugely supportive husband.
Right from the start, he's always been ready to step into the practicalities of looking after the girls when I've needed to travel for events or meetings.
On a mental level, he's my first sounding board when making business decisions and discussing ideas. He knows me so well but is also that one step removed from the day-to-day to give an objective perspective. His support, both practically and mentally, has helped me become both the mum and the business owner that I wanted to be.
Working with a business coach has also been a huge help. My coaching sessions enable me to step away from the day-to-day of running the business and think about the bigger picture of what I want to achieve.
What resources would you recommend to others?
The Pomodoro app is brilliant. It helps me manage my time effectively, ensuring that I take regular breaks and remain focused on the task at hand.
I also recently discovered Trello, and it has revolutionised how I work. Previously, my desk was covered in ‘to-do’ notes and lists, and I found it difficult to focus. I started using Trello, and now my desk is totally clear as all my actions are in one digital source. I can delegate tasks much more easily and keep track of progress. I would highly recommend it!
What have you learnt in the process?
I've learned new skills, new tools, made new friends.
I've learned that I work really well with coaches - whether it is a business coach to help me stay focused on my goals for the business, or the book coach that helped me turn my dream of writing a business book into a reality.
I've also learned to believe in myself and trust my gut instincts. One or two of my franchisees haven’t worked out. This has helped me understand that the franchise option isn’t for everyone and that I should trust my instincts about who will be the best fit. I value those franchisees who are such a great fit even more and it inspires me to want to find more people like them who can drive our business forward.
What would you advise others to do in the same situation?
Don’t be afraid to follow your dreams.
Do your research up front, and then just get on with it.
If things don’t turn out quite as you thought the first time, don’t panic - think about how you could do it differently. Keep evolving until you get it right.
To find out more about Rebecca's business, visit www.getaheadva.com.
What lessons could you take from Rebecca's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.