Suzy Sanders quit the 9-5 when she fell pregnant and wanted to spend more time at home. She became a Virtual Assistant, realised she could help others looking to do the same and then set up the Alchemy VA franchise. She tells all to PA Life…
Why did you choose to become a Virtual Assistant?
My little boy is my why. After maternity leave, I went back to work but I no longer felt content or really challenged by my role. Motherhood bought with it great strength, resilience and incredible clarity. All the clichés are true – becoming a parent changes you on every level and it’s not something you can prepare for!
I became a Virtual Assistant as I was seeking more fulfilment, flexibility and freedom from my work – the Three Fs as I now call them.
I wanted to work but if I was leaving my little boy, I wanted work with tangible impact. I wanted to support people who lit me up and I wanted to know that I was truly making a difference. I also wanted flexibility; I didn’t want to have to ask anyone’s permission to take the day off if my son was ill or to take him to the park if the sun was out. I wanted the best of both worlds, a chance to pursue meaningful work, further develop myself and still do the school run.
What led you to set up Alchemy VA? And what does your company offer?
Skill and professionalism had allowed me to flourish in my previous fast-paced jobs, but it was when I became a mother that my mindset really shifted. My son gave me the focus and drive to leave my corporate job and embark on a journey to start my own business. As Alchemy VA grew and evolved, my purpose deepened, and I realised that I was driven by inspiring and facilitating the Three Fs for other people too. There are three main ways that I do this now:
• Alchemy’s Virtual Assistant services – we provide our clients with adaptable, flexible and efficient admin, marketing and PA support. It’s low commitment yet high impact.
• Our Virtual Assistant franchise – we enable others to replicate and build their own successful Alchemy VA business with our insight, guidance and support.
• My book – ‘The Alchemy of Virtual Assistance: Creating a successful Virtual Assistant business around your family’. My book was a real soul project, the main aim being to give curious, aspiring VAs real life insights into what it really takes to be a successful Virtual Assistant as well as sharing my personal highs and lows growing Alchemy.
Why did you choose to set up a franchise element to Alchemy VA?
I always had the vision of creating a meaningful and impactful business as opposed to being a freelance VA. After a LOT of soul searching, reading, planning, researching, risk and cost modelling, analysing and thinking – my husband Paul and I settled on the franchise model and got to work! It’s been a very long time in the making.
The steady influx of questions and enquiries from aspiring VAs asking if Alchemy were recruiting, and a growing number of established VAs who were struggling, definitely shaped things. Some days I get more of these types of emails than client enquires, and it’s definitely ramped up more in recent months as the world has been thrown into one big home working experiment. I think this is partly because we’ve all been given the chance to pause, reflect and reassess our true priorities. Heartbreakingly, to so many, the concept of a safe, secure job has been shattered somewhat and, whilst being your own boss still brings such uncertainty and risk, at least everything is in your control.
In the past I mentored new and growing VAs, which I absolutely loved doing! We also built a small pool of handpicked associate VAs too, to help us keep up with demand and really refine practical ways of remote team working. All of this gave me invaluable experience and great fulfilment.
Some strong themes were appearing with regards to the challenges and fears new VAs face. So, we set to work addressing these, using all our knowledge and experiences to strengthen our franchise model. It was the natural next step to fulfil both my personal and business objectives. The concept of really taking others under our wing, in every sense, and continuing to grow our family business makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up!
Pretty much all Assistants have been VAs over the past few months! What do you think the challenges are of working from home?
And what are the opportunities?
My biggest personal challenges have always been the blurred boundaries, the feeling of isolation and, of course, balancing family and personal commitments alongside my work.
The juggle is real, and I cover this in more detail in my book. I like to refer to it as ‘the bamboo effect’. Essentially, it’s all about having the mental strength and agility in order to really enjoy the flexibility and make it work for you.
There are so many opportunities and advantages to working from home and let’s be real, it is both a blessing and a curse. On a personal level, having the flexibility to work around my family commitments is a massive advantage. However, that’s obviously been much less fluid and much more reactive (and pressured!) during lockdown.
In a professional capacity, having the opportunity to structure my schedule is huge. It’s empowering being able to work with (instead of against) myself by setting up my working day to honour and align to my personal productive ‘peaks’ and find a happy, healthy and effective rhythm.
For example, I’m at my best first thing. I’m an early riser and I often get up at dawn to get a few more brain intensive tasks complete before the ‘normal’ working day starts. I often pick up more creative/reflective tasks (such as writing training exercises and sessions for the Alchemy team or writing blogs) in the evening after I’ve finished my working day and I’ve allowed my mind to rest and marinate in the learnings from the day. I have never had the opportunity to work this way in an employed job and it’s not only liberating but I am also far more productive.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career shift to VA full-time?
There are three key things I would always advise anyone considering the big leap to self-employment:
• Define what success means to you. It is so personal and deeply subjective. Before you set out on any path – first establish what it is YOU want to achieve. What success looks like to you.
• Do your homework – research and explore all of your options. Get your numbers and finances in order and establish which possible avenue will lead you to your personal definition of success in the most fun and fulfilling way.
• Once you’ve chosen a path, stick to it. Draw on your resources, believe in yourself wholeheartedly, show up for yourself and take consistent action – every single day.
What can a VA expect to earn?
There are so many variables to consider when it comes to being a self-employed VA as well as the complexity and diverse nature of individual circumstances. However, to give you an idea of earning potential, the Society of Virtual Assistants conduct an annual survey on the UK VA industry and the survey report I read recently stated that self-employed VAs charge on average £27 per hour. It’s important to remember that when you’re self-employed you’re never taking 100% of your charge rate home in your pay packet each month.
What are the most challenging aspects of your job?
I know that it’s all about balance and time to rest, recharge, reflect and restore are all very important parts of the process. But, I don’t really have a ‘stop button’, I’m all or nothing. I am also insanely passionate about my business. I’ve been burned out before and it’s not a place I’d like to go back to. I think switching off is by far my greatest personal challenge.
We’ve all been locked in the house, working together with our partners and families. You work full-time with your husband – what’s the secret to avoiding divorce or worse…?
Yes, it’s been a crazy time that’s for sure. I am incredibly proud that my company had grown enough that my husband was able to leave his full-time job in August 2018 and join me as my business partner. Paul and I are both completely real and open with each other about our needs. We have defined as clear and fluid as possible working hours, taking both our individual commitments into account. It’s all about self-awareness, understanding, trust and unconditional support. I’m a huge introvert and I need time alone; that’s been a challenge in lockdown. You know you’re an introvert when you’re craving time alone at a time when you can’t leave your house much! Having a home-based business helps though. If I feel I need to get out for a walk or lock the bathroom door and sink into the bath – I can. I always leave room in my schedule for down time on my own. That’s how I recharge.