Rebecca Newenham founded her virtual agency Get Ahead VA back in 2010. After a career in corporate buying, she was looking for flexible employment that would enable her to work around her 3 daughters. 10 years later, Rebecca runs an award-winning team of over 40 virtual assistants and franchisees.
How did you balance being a mother and professional?
It’s a tricky balance! I have some strict rules about not working in the evenings which help. I am also lucky to have a separate office at home. This means I can shut the door on work when the family are back and strike that balance between work and family life. I feel very lucky to be able to work flexibly around my girls and set my own timetable. I can be there for netball matches and rowing training, yet still enjoy an interesting and challenging career too.
What have you sacrificed (both personally and professionally) at each stage of your career?
I loved my corporate buying career. Being paid to travel the world and buy cosmetics for Superdrug was pretty amazing, and I worked on some fantastic projects for Sainsbury’s too. But the sacrifice at the time was the hours I put in, both at work and commuting after we moved out from London to Guildford in Surrey. Once my daughters were born, I knew the time was right for me to sacrifice my career to be at home with them. Then, when my youngest started school, I was ready to embark on a new adventure and start a new career which would enable me to have both a professional and personal life. After researching various options, my virtual agency Get Ahead VA was born.
Who inspired you and why?
My mother was a great inspiration. She ran her own business whilst I was growing up and I always knew I wanted to run my own business one day, just like she did.
What advice would you give to young women who want to succeed in the workplace?
Stop dreaming and start doing! I’m a firm believer that anything is possible if you put the effort in. I love Karren Brady and I think she is a great role model for young women. She says that it doesn’t matter where you start in life – it is where you end up that counts.
Do you think women feel intimidated in business?
Sometimes. There’s still work to do on gender equality. Many of the virtual assistants in my team have decades of experience, yet struggled to find meaningful, flexible work that would allow them to use their significant skills. Our entire business is built on flexible working, which is something that I am passionate about. I hope that eventually, for the majority of roles, flexible working will become the norm and not something people feel concerned about requesting.
Where will we find you on a Saturday morning at 10 a.m.?
Walking my dog Sydney after a morning run. Getting into running was one of the goals that I set with my coach at the start of lockdown and I am really enjoying it.
What do you love about your job?
I love making a difference. Every time we receive a positive testimonial, I am so proud of what my team has achieved. Small businesses are such a vital part of our economy. We take on the tasks that they don’t have the skills to do, don’t have the time to do, or simply don’t want to do, enabling them to get back to what they do best – growing their businesses.
Attending awards events is also a real highlight. The first time we won an award was such a buzz. To be recognised as one of the best in your industry or local area means a lot.
What’s the best career decision you’ve ever made?
Starting Get Ahead VA was definitely the best career decision I ever made. I always knew I wanted to offer other people flexible work and run a team. Welcoming new franchisees on board and seeing them grow their own businesses is so rewarding.
What’s the worst career decision you’ve ever made?
I once worked for a property company doing research. I had always loved houses and found property fascinating, but the research turned out to be so dull! I did meet some great friends as a result though, so it wasn’t all bad.
How do you organise your time?
My iPhone is the central hub. Everything goes in my calendar and I have it with me all the time. I am also a firm believer in writing lists – whether they be in a notepad or on an app – what gets written down gets done. I use the Pomodoro technique – working for 25 minutes and then taking 5 minute breaks. It helps me to be more productive and efficient with my time, as well as making sure I stay active and not stuck at my desk all day.
What do you think is your greatest strength?
I love networking which is a huge part of my job. Meeting new people is fascinating. I enjoy listening to their stories and thinking about how I, or someone I know, might be able to help them. Matching the right VA with the right client is important as it’s not just about having the right skills. Personalities need to work together too to make the relationship a success. The same goes for franchisees. I can tell quite quickly if someone gets our brand ethos or not and is likely to be the right fit for our business.
How do you make decisions?
Mu husband and my business coach are both great sounding boards, so if I need any help making decisions I always turn to them. I know I can count on them to be honest with me.
What do you read?
A real mix! I have read some really interesting business books but I enjoy reading biographies as well. Michelle Obama’s ‘Becoming’ was so inspiring. I am part of a book club which encourages me to read different kinds of books. When it comes to holiday, I do like to relax with a bit of ‘chick-lit’ like Jill Mansell. It is real ‘feel-good fiction’ for relaxing in the sun.
What do you think are the secrets behind getting to where you’ve got to?
Resilience is really important. In business, as in life, things don’t always go to plan. I remember the first time one of the VAs in my team left. She went to go and work for a client and initially I was very upset. But as I thought about it I realised that it was actually a compliment. The VA had done such a good job and had helped grow the business enough that it could take on a permanent employee. A positive mental attitude makes such a difference.
I am also lucky to have a great team of people around me to help. I see many business owners who struggle to delegate to others. But like outsourcing to a VA, delegating enables me to get back to what I do best which is growing my business.
Website address: www.getaheadva.com
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