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PA Profile: Helen Haslam from EA to VA business owner

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We interviewed Helen Haslam, the Founder of Virtually for You, for our Summer Issue’s PA Profile. Helen runs a Virtual Assistant service, based in Cumbria. She’s worked as an Executive Assistant for over 23 years, mostly within the NHS before setting up her own VA service in Cumbria. She made the  move into self-employment three years ago and have built up a client base of over ten clients, ranging from a celebrity sportsman, famous artist, healthcare, bio-health start up, fintech, government, a ladies’ choir, property and lifestyle brands. Let’s find out what her work life is like since Helen made the move from EA to VA business owner… 

What led you to become an Executive Support professional?

My Mum! Having started my career path wanting to be a hairdresser, it soon became clear that it wasn’t the job I wanted to do. My mum suggested a secretarial role as according to her I spent most of my time organising the family, so should give it a try.    

I also wanted to be a dolphin trainer, but there wasn’t much call for that in Derbyshire! 

You now run your own Virtual Assistant business. How do you combine your duties as a business owner and a VA?

I think what drives me is my passion. I love what I do, and I see any task where I am working on my business as a positive. My working week begins at 8am on a Monday morning. I try to have calls with my all clients to ensure the week is set up and we are ready to go. Saturday mornings I work on business-related tasks and Sunday is planning for the week.    

What would be your top advice be for someone considering a move from EA to VA business owner?

It is important to have enough savings to see you through the early months without a salary. This will give you the headspace to transfer from employment to finding your own clients. I spent a lot of time planning out what I would need to work as a VA, such as IT setup, insurance, ICO registration.  

When I started out, I signed on with a VA agency. The pay wasn’t the best, but it gave me the experience of working in a virtual world. 

What makes a great Assistant today?

Organisation is a key skill, as well as having a level head. A PA’s job can be as stressful as the CEO’s. They often look to you for that calming influence, if something in their day is going badly, you can’t be stressing out too. 

Technology is changing, so it is important to keep up with this, and part of this change is working from home. There is a great deal of adaption required to work closely for someone, but remotely, communication is key to making that relationship a successful one.  

You are also part of our PA Life Club Mentoring Programme supporting two mentees. What has this experience given you as a mentor?  

Being part of the mentoring programme has given me the opportunity to share my experience of the industry and help my mentees. It is great when I see them come to me with a problem, or if they are feeling deflated. Then at the end of the call, when I have showed them how much they are achieving, they have a smile on their face and feel empowered.  

What does the future of the Assistant role look like to you and how can Assistants ensure they stay at the top of their game?

As technology advances, Assistants will become more important on the ground, being even more the ears and eyes for their execs. I see the role moving more into arranging briefings, working closely with stakeholders, project work and business development.   

Training plays a big part of staying ahead of your game. It is vital to keep on top of industry and technology changes and how to integrate these into your working life, it is about adapting and adopting new technologies.   

What’s the best advice you’ve been given and by whom?

Well, I do remember one of my favourite bosses saying “never have a tidy desk, as people will think you have nothing to do!”, but that’s probably not the best advice! 

A CEO I worked with at the NHS was very pedantic and would reject a 40-page report if it had a comma missing, he wanted everything that came out of his office to be perfect, as reputation mattered to him. He believed if a document left the hospital with errors, it gave the impression that the hospital didn’t care. If they couldn’t get a simple letter right, why should patients put their faith in their healthcare.     

He was right, everything you do should be done with the highest level of professionalism you can provide. 

Are you involved in any special projects, either at work or during your free time, that you are particularly passionate about?

I’m working on a few interesting client projects at the moment, including a rebranding project, a project to bring on investors and an office move. 

In my personal time, I volunteer for a Horse Rescue Centre in Scotland and I’m currently helping them with transferring from a charity trust to a Charitable Incorporated Organisation. 

Which career or personal development books or courses would you recommend to other PAs and EAs?

One of the main courses I often recommend is minute taking, as this is a dying skill these days, so it’s a good one to have under your belt to make you stand out from the crowd. 

I recently read The Modern-Day Assistant by Lucy Brazier. I found this book to be inspiring, as it provides some great insight into how to innovate in this ever-changing world.  

What are you favourite things to do and places to visit in London?

I love heading to London, as I am in awe of the history and architecture of the city.I love visiting famous sites and will always go to Covent Garden too. I also love a proper London pub. One of my favourites is The Clarence on Dover Street, near the Ritz, the food and atmosphere is amazing.  

Can you name your go-to places when booking business lunches or dinners in London. Any favourite hotels to book for your visitors?

My go-to hotel is The Tower Hotel, it is perfect in terms of location as it overlooks the Tower Bridge. For visitors, I look for hotels that are close to a tube. Some of my favourite choices are the Nomad Hotel in Covent Garden, the Mondrian in Shoreditch, and for high end opulence, the NED can’t be beaten.  

For business lunches I recommend Caravan in Kings Cross, HUO in Chelsea, Sketch in Soho and Hide in Mayfair. 

Connect with Helen

You can connect with Helen on LinkedIn.

 

Read more of PA Life’s PA Profiles here.