From Assistant to CEO

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Have you been in a situation where everything seems to be going well? Then BAM! The balance is upset and you have to face a change. How do you deal with it?

Imagine a scenario where your job has disappeared.

Although the process will be the same in any situation, this is the moment when you need to stop, take a step back and look at the bigger picture. What is the worse that could happen Is it life threatening? It may feel as though it is at that particular moment but it probably isn’t. It may well be challenging but you have met challenges before and know you can overcome it.

If you have been prudent you will have been putting some money into savings for just this sort of situation, or you may get a redundancy payment. You might have a month or so before your job disappears completely so you have extra time to work out a plan of action.

Do you want the security of being employed by an organisation, or is this the moment to provide your own security by running your own business?

It is an ideal time to take control and take on this challenge. With the present economic situation there has been a rise in the number of small businesses that have been created. They may start off as one person working from home, but as they build their business they will need someone to help them and a Virtual Assistant is exactly what they need. So you will become a small business supporting maybe one or two slightly bigger businesses, but that is how all businesses start. How far you want to take your business is entirely up to you. You could grow it as big as you want by organising other VAs to work for other businesses.

So how would you start? This is where you plan what you are going to do and how you are going to do it. Some of the questions you need to address will relate to the particular industry with whom you want to work, what you will charge, what equipment you will need if you are working from home, what effect will this decision make on other parts of your life. But the most important question is this one: what is your vision for the future? Where do you want your new business to take you? What will your life look like once you have accomplished that goal?

This is not a process that can happen quickly. You need to take time, put the idea into your head and let it take you wherever it decides to go, there are no boundaries. Once you have seen the bigger picture you can work out how you will achieve the goal. Do not allow your mind to be bound by unfounded preconceptions. Let me explain exactly what I mean. I run my own business helping organisations with their leadership and teamwork, or helping them overcome various obstacles and challenges by using the lessons I have learnt from various expeditions and from my life, so I always speak from those experiences.

After we successfully completed The Nordkapp Expedition I set up the Arctic Leadership Challenges working with the leader of the Expedition. We take groups or individuals into the Arctic Circle dog-sledding in the winter and sailing, kayaking, orienteering and rockclimbing in the summer. The Arctic Leadership Challenges are my legacy. I set it up so that it can be run by my children in the future and it will provide another revenue stream for them, or they can sell it to someone else.

Now, find yourself a comfortable place, turn off the telephone, and with pad and pen in hand write down what you would like your life to look like in five, 10, even 15 years. It may take some time to draw out exactly what you will be doing but stay with it. Once you have that vision it is time to turn your thoughts to what you will need to do to get you there.

You will have to decide where your office will be – it’s a good idea to start with a room at home that you can close off at the end of the day. What equipment will you need for your office and to back up your business? What sort of telephone system will you install? What insurance will you need? The list goes on. When I started my business a friend suggested that I should read a very good book called The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber, which shows you how to set up a business that can be replicated over and over again but still keep the same model as the original.

There’s lots of useful information on the internet and organisations such as Business Link, Chambers of Commerce and your bank who can advise you. Start going to networking events in your area, not only will this bring you into contact with possible future clients, but also with people who can advise you on marketing your business. You will meet other business owners and one of them could become your mentor. We all need help, and not just when we are starting up our business.

As an assistant you have been used to working for someone else, and in the terms of the Belbin Team Roles you would most probably be a ‘Completer Finisher’. You probably have very high standards that head towards perfection with details checked time and time again. You probably focus on the minor details and do not delegate tasks to others as you are not really sure that you trust them to work to your high standards.

That is admirable when you are working for someone else, but not when you are working for yourself. Don’t get me wrong, you still need to provide work of a high degree, but there will only be you doing it at the beginning. However the most important phrase you need to know and understand is ‘Cash is King’. I know it sounds wrong but, without it, you are not going to put food on the table or pay any of your bills.

You will need to hone your ‘Plant’ skills (another Belbin Team Role), the creative, unorthodox side of you. You may have to ignore incidentals and you cannot afford to concentrate on the detail because as the business owner you have now become, you have to be innovative to be able to solve the challenges that come your way. And there will be challenges but you have overcome them before and you will do again. You will also have to look to your ‘Shaper’ skills where you pursue your goals with tremendous energy.

You need to focus on the money, and as your business grows, then you must provide the drive that will keep other VAs (if that is what you decide to do) focussed. As a Shaper it’s up to you to challenge your team to improve, to stimulate them and find the best way to overcome those challenges. You will have to look at each problem from every angle to find the right solution, and you will need to keep going when others want to quit.

It’s really helpful to have a mastermind group to keep you focussed, to challenge you to achieve your goals and to provide advice if necessary. The most important thing is to chase the money by doing a really good job and delivering what you say you will deliver on time, within budget and to a good standard.

Is it easy? No. Is it challenging? Yes. Is it rewarding? It certainly is. People are generous
with their help and knowledge so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Where will your business take you? That’s for you to decide!”

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About Author

Rona Cant

Rona Cant is an explorer, international speaker and author. Once an unexceptional, middle-aged single parent she became a round-the-world yachtswoman by competing in the BT Global Challenge Round the World Yacht Race (the toughest yacht race in the world). For the last 10 years she has been putting together programmes on leadership and teamwork, and motivating businesses and individuals to get out of their comfort zone and reach their potential based on the lessons learnt on her expeditions. Her second book, Snow, Sleds & Silence – the Story of the Nordkapp Expedition describes the ups and downs of her epic adventure on this trail, which lead her to establish Arctic Leadership Challenges which offers experiential training inside the Arctic Circle for individuals and teams.

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