1. Tell me a bit about your business – when it started and what are your main services?
I started Practically Perfect PA back in 2011 while I was working as an Executive Assistant to three board level Director’s in a boutique insurance company in London. I’d been working as an Assistant or Administrator more or less for ten years, and I had a lot of experience working for different Executives in different industries so I thought I’d share my knowledge by starting a blog. Fast forward eight years and Practically Perfect PA now has over 800 articles on the website; we have templates, eBooks, online courses, four Virtual Summits coming up in 2019 and the Future Assistant Conference which takes place in London every year. This year we had just over 200 Assistants attending and about the same number online.
2. What was the main driver for starting your own business?
It’s funny when I look back on it because I would never have imagined that the blog I started in 2011 has now become my full-time job. It certainly wasn’t the primary driver for starting Practically Perfect PA. As I said, I was working as an EA in an insurance firm, I wasn’t particularly challenged in the role and there wasn’t much room to flex my creative skills so I thought I would start a blog in the hope that I would be able to write a lot more, learn how to use WordPress and maybe think about starting a VA business at some point. I also had a lot of experiences working for interesting Executive’s, and I wanted to share my tips with other Assistants. At the time there weren’t many free online resources for Assistants in the UK. Many of the available blogs were written by Assistants in the States, or they were anonymous/sensational blogs about the London party scene (which was not the lifestyle I was living!). I wanted to write practical tips for Assistants who were doing similar work to me. Fortunately, the blog took off pretty quickly, and it felt like there was quite a demand for the tips I was offering. The driver for me changed quite quickly once I realised that it wasn’t just my mum reading the blog, so I ditched the VA idea and decided to see how I could grow the audience and what more I could offer the readers, and that has been my driver ever since!
3. What gets you up in the morning?
My kids mostly – way before I want to get up! No seriously, being an Assistant is an incredibly rewarding profession, and I want people within the industry to have all of the tools they need to be great at their job. It is rewarding, but it is also challenging for reasons that are so antiquated it drives me mad. So I want to make sure that the readers always have a place they can go to if they are facing something challenging in their work or need some advice on how to get tasks done.
4. If you could change one thing about your first year (or first few years) in business, what would it be?
Good question! The business has grown so quickly that I rarely get a chance to reflect on the first few years. Just recently we have restructured how the team works, and it has made an enormous difference. I realised I had to delegate more and not be in complete control of everything, which has been really tough for me! If I could go back maybe a few years, I would have tried not to do everything myself and get other people to help me!
5. What is your biggest achievement to date?
I think the blog itself is my most significant achievement to date. I’m so proud of it because it helps Assistants find solutions to the challenges they have, whether that is a task they have been struggling with or just that realisation that they aren’t alone in this job, there are loads of us doing this work! We get around 10,000 pageviews on the website every day, which is just incredible when I think back to starting the blog, it just wasn’t something I expected!
6. What has been your biggest challenge?
For me, the biggest challenge has been running the business while starting a family. I started the company in 2011. It was still pretty new when I had my first son in 2015, and then we had our second son in 2016! I remember sitting in the hospital with my second child next to me in his cot asleep, with my laptop on my bed asking the nurse if there was WiFi in the hospital that I could connect to because I needed to check my emails. Nuts right? I look back and just think ‘what was I thinking??!’ At the time it felt so essential because if I stopped the blog stopped. It was a pretty intense few years, and now with hindsight, I wished I had been a bit kinder to myself and delegated more!
7. What would be your number one tip for other entrepreneurs who want to develop their personal brand (related to their industry / specialism)?
I think it is imperative that you, first of all, find your niche and find your voice. Find the people that you want to connect with, your tribe so to speak, and then define what exactly it is that you want to say to them. There are a lot of voices demanding people’s attention in every industry, and to stand out you have to decide pretty early on what it is that you want to say. For me, I’ve always wanted to offer practical advice for Assistants that is honest and comes from my experience as an EA and now as a business owner. I like to take career and personal development guidance that is available to everyone and apply that to the role of the Assistant, how does say… productivity tips apply to Assistants, what can I adapt to fit their needs? If I stay true to that idea, then I can offer a unique perspective in what is a busy market.
8. What advice would you give to other women thinking of starting their own business?
Do it! Do it now!
Looking back, when I decided to go full time with the blog, I think I had youth on my side, I was 30. Yes, I had a mortgage and bills, but I didn’t have any other responsibilities or anyone depending on me, so that helped. I moved to Barcelona, for a whole load of reasons, but it is much cheaper to live here than in London, so I immediately reduced my out-goings. I didn’t plan too much. I just worked hard to make the business work and to generate an income. I also told myself (and still do, to be honest) that I have a good education, I have significant experience and skills so if Practically Perfect PA doesn’t work out I can always return to a ‘proper job’. I didn’t have anything to lose!
I don’t know if I would be as brave now that I have a family and more significant responsibilities. If I was going to offer advice to women who like me, have bills, kids and other obligations I would say plan everything out, take the time to start the work while staying in full-time employment, save some money and realise that you will have to make some sacrifices along the way. But still – do it!!! Don’t be afraid. We need more women starting businesses and leading organisations. The patriarchy isn’t giving us a seat at the table, so we need to go and build our own tables!
9. Lastly, what is your preferred way of networking on LinkedIn? Is it via posts on the feed, networking in groups or via direct message and why?
I mostly use LinkedIn for posting links to the blog posts on my feed, and we have a Practically Perfect PA Group which I have to do more with this year! I also connect with Assistants on LinkedIn, and I like to see what everyone is up to. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with social media, mostly because I just haven’t had the time or resources to dedicate to it. I put all of my content out there and never manage to engage as much as I would like. Now that I am delegating more, I’m hoping to be able to spend more time on LinkedIn and network properly!
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/nicky-christmas/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/PracticalPA
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/practicallyperfectpa
Practically Perfect PA – https://www.practicallyperfectpa.com/
I launched Practically Perfect PA back in October 2011 and it has since grown to become the go-to blog for Personal Assistants, Executive Assistants, Office Managers and Administrative Professionals at all levels of business seeking support, information and guidance in their chosen profession. Practically Perfect PA offers practical tips, honest advice and all kinds of career development support specifically for assistants.
Since 2015 Practically Perfect PA has also organised events for the Assistant profession. We hold the annual Future Assistant Conference, which has sold-out for the last two years, Assist Travel, Assist Regional Events and Assist Training.
In 2017, Practically Perfect PA launched the very first virtual summit for Assistants through an innovative crowdfunding campaign. The first Practically Perfect PA Virtual Summit attracted over 500 PAs and was widely regarded as a game-changing event within the industry.
When not working on Practically Perfect PA, I enjoy everything living in Barcelona has to offer, including good red wine, the beach and attempting to run along it as often as I can. I have two young sons, Brodie and Beau, who keep me busy (tired) and a wonderfully supportive partner, William, who is also the CEO of Practically Perfect PA.
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This interview was conducted by Jennifer Corcoran, LinkedIn Consultant & Trainer and Founder and CEO of award-winning social media consultancy, My Super Connector. Jennifer regularly writes and speaks on the topics of social media, personal branding, networking and being an introverted female entrepreneur. If you need help with your LinkedIn profile mail [email protected].co.uk. You can follow Jennifer on Twitter @SuperConnector.