Flexible Working that Works: Rebecca Newenham, Get Ahead VA
We’re excited to be sharing stories and developing the conversation with people successfully working flexibly and achieving a great work-life balance in today’s world. In this interview, we meet Rebecca Newenham, founder and director of award-winning, national virtual agency Get Ahead VA. She talks to us about enjoying flexible working that works for her and her family.
Rebecca, tell us a little bit about what you do
I run Get Ahead VA, a virtual agency which delivers nationwide virtual assistance services for entrepreneurs, small and medium-sized businesses. With clients ranging 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. They recognise the value of outsourcing, passing onto others tasks that either they lack skills in or tasks that drain their valuable time. We enable them to get back to what they do best – growing and running their businesses.
What triggered your decision to start the business?
After a corporate career in buying for retail giants Superdrug and Sainsburys, I was looking for a flexible work solution that could fit around my lifestyle and my three daughters – now 16, 14 and 12. Having grown up with a successfully self-employed mother, I knew it was possible to be able to contribute financially to the family and to do school drop off and pick-ups too. My mum was a great example and I grew up knowing that I wanted one day to run my own business just like she did.
Having 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. In 2010, with just a second-hand laptop and a book full of contacts, Get Ahead VA began.
How has the team grown since then?
Since then it has been a fantastic journey. I always knew I wanted to offer work to other people, particularly other parents that were looking for flexible employment just like me. Now in 2018, my team of over 30 virtual assistants deliver marketing and business support services to over 100 clients across the UK. Each VA brings with them a particular skill set in many areas of business including PR & Marketing, Social Media Management, Business Development, Account Management, Design & Administration. Many have decades of experience in their field but have struggled to find flexible or part-time work that enables them to use their significant knowledge. Working for Get Ahead VA allows them to do just that.
What have been your highlights so far?
Every time we receive a positive testimonial from a client is a massive highlight – knowing that we have made a real difference to their business. We have won a variety of awards including Flexible Business of the Year in the Mum and Working Awards and Theo Paphitis’ Small Business Sunday #SBS Award. We have also been shortlisted in awards for Talent Attraction and Networking and were selected as one of the best Home Businesses in the UK. I am excited that I have just been shortlisted for the Female Entrepreneur of the Year Award and the SME of the Year Award in our local Thames Valley Business and Community Awards. I am looking forward to the awards night. They are always inspiring events, filled with so many people making a positive contribution to our local area.
What are your thoughts on flexible working?
Flexible working for me is the new normal. I appreciate there are certain jobs and certain companies where it doesn’t work but for many roles, flexible working is a practical solution. Our economic and social landscape has shifted dramatically over the past few decades. Gone is the notion of the 9 to 5 and the job for life. Flexible work reflects today’s society.
As a business, flexible working gives our clients access to highly experienced professional assistants without significant, ongoing commitments. It gives our VAs a chance to use all the skills they have spent so long gaining, to make a difference to small businesses across the UK.
How have you achieved work-life balance?
I haven’t always got it right along the way! Achieving the balance isn’t easy but in general, I am lucky to be able to work for myself and make my own choices about when and where I work. Having a separate workspace has been very important. My home office enables me to shut the door and walk away when the family come home.
Exercise is also really important to me. I work with a personal trainer and also attend regular Pilates classes. These all help me to digest everything that is going on and recharge physically and emotionally. Family holidays are 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.
Any advice/tips for parents looking for a flexible work or a better work-life balance?
Think about your reasons for wanting flexible working that works and what the potential employment solutions might be. Formulate a plan, do your research up front and then just get on with it. Don’t be afraid to follow your dreams. 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.
What are your future plans for the business?
I am particularly excited about our franchising model which we launched last year. We welcomed our first franchisee Carrie Jones to the Reading Area last year and have just been joined by Fiona Ibbetson who will be running Get Ahead VA Leeds. With the challenges of Brexit ahead, we see more and more companies outsourcing to remain agile, leaving VA businesses such as ourselves and our franchisees perfectly placed to assist.