Small Business Saturday – the initiative designed to support, inspire and promote small businesses – is gearing up for its 2014 UK campaign, scheduled to take place on 6th December, the first official weekend shopping day pre-Christmas.
As a vehement supporter of small and home businesses, Vonage loves the aims of Small Business Saturday, which is designed to have a lasting impact on small businesses through encouraging consumers to ‘shop local’ and support small businesses in their community.
To show our support for the campaign we’ll be featuring interviews with some of the small businesses to feature in the ‘Small Biz 100’ – a list of 100 small businesses that will be taking part in this years’ campaign.
This week’s interview is with Nicky Pasquier, founder of Virtuoso Assistant, who has been offering virtual office support services from her base in Reading, Berkshire since February 2013. Nicky shares with us how inbound marketing, blogging and social media helped her business when starting out.
- STARTING OUT
How did you start out? What was your industry background? Did you identify an opportunity or take a punt?
I don’t recommend this to any entrepreneur but essentially I walked out of my job in mid-February 2013. After a few days of thinking, “Oh good grief! What am I going to do now?” I was sitting on my sofa one evening when suddenly I had one of those ‘light-bulb’ moments.
As a legal PA I knew that standard, time-consuming work was very often outsourced to companies so that the in-house PA is free to concentrate on more pressing issues. I searched on Google to find out where these companies were based and sent off my CV to them. I set myself up as a freelance legal PA and transcribed as many recorded hearings, meetings and interviews as possible. It was hard work and very long hours but I was able to pay my bills and was ecstatically happy! It was the start of a whole new life.
- YOUR ROLE
How has your role changed over time? What were your primary responsibilities during the first year?
My role has completely changed over the past year. I worked as a legal transcriber for the first six months and then became a little more ambitious.
My website was designed and went live in September 2013, from which point it became clear to me that, in order to generate business leads, I was going to have to master the art of inbound marketing, social media and blogging.
This became my main priority and it was one thing I didn’t anticipate when I started my business – the need to do absolutely everything myself and wear lots of different ‘hats’. Not only that, I had to do it incredibly well because other businesses were outsourcing this kind of work to professionals which gave them a real advantage over me as I couldn’t afford to do so.
Networking was also a priority, which I did mostly online via LinkedIn, but also in person through a group I joined. I made some incredibly beneficial connections and found my first clients through them. As the saying goes, “It’s not so much what you know as who you know that counts”.
What was the most difficult aspect of setting up the business? With hindsight, what aspects would you do differently?
Long, long hours! I had an awful lot to learn and had to become very good at it very quickly. This meant reading articles and books into the early hours, although I didn’t mind too much because I was motivated by the knowledge that if I didn’t make things work I would have to go back to my old routine in an office.
In hindsight, I would have found a part-time job and worked at setting up my business at the same time so that I wasn’t under so much financial pressure. But then I’m never one to do things by halves and I never shy away from a challenge.
Did you attend any expert / networking events to further your expertise and contacts? Is this an on-going process?
Yes, I did join a small networking group for a short time in Guildford. I was very lucky in that one of my first clients was a LinkedIn expert; I looked after his social media accounts and managed his blog. I learnt a lot from him and I’d now say that if you do networking on LinkedIn well, you can actually get more out of it than attending some of these early-bird breakfast groups.
I’d also highly recommend building a profile on Google Plus for networking purposes. Many business people I’ve spoken to aren’t comfortable using this platform and tend to favour Facebook or Twitter. However, I can honestly say that I would never have achieved what I have in terms of social media, blogging and marketing expertise if I hadn’t worked hard at building relationships with ‘influencers’ on Google Plus.
I think this is the key to success in my line of business and maybe for any business; building relationships. Without them you’re going to be isolated, without the means to survive. Make friends with influential people and they’ll help you build all the bridges you need to connect with the right people who will help you build and grow your business.