We talk to APVA member Kathy Soulsby of Personally Virtual about her journey from sole VA to running a large team, and how being a part of the APVA mastermind has been crucial to her success…
Tell us a bit about how you ended up as a VA…
I ended up as a VA because I couldn’t find the right job. I was a home-based PA, a peculiar job (actually 2 jobs) which had come about through a previous employer. When it was time to move on, I couldn’t bear the thought of having to commute into London again and local jobs just weren’t paying the kind of money I was on. So I starting looking for other options, met a local VA through dog walking and took it from there.
Were you always planning to work with a team?
No? Yes? I don’t know. I was certainly very open to it. But if you’d have told me in 2014 that in 2020 I’d have a team of 9 associates I would have laughed. A lot.
I am the kind of person that has goals. I wouldn’t say I’m a driven type- A who needs to be running an empire and always building. But when you start everything is new and terrifying. And having a team is just another thing on the road of terrifying that comes with running your own business.
Yes so my first realisation of being petrified as a freelancer was going to my first networking meeting. Now I do that without even thinking.
And as your business grows, so does your comfort zone, but there are always new things that will keep you up at night, it’s just different things.
I have a quote stuck to my wall: “More often than not, being brave means doing it scared” (Michael Hyatt). Every new big job it gets a bit easier to manage and I get better at it but I have had to accept that, at least for now, I have to sit in an uncomfortable place of worry for 4-10 weeks! “What if the client hates us?” “What if one of my teams falls ill or loathes the client or makes a huge mistake”. It’s endless!
I’m sure there are people 3 years further on from me who now don’t bat an eyelid at this. Their comfort zone is different, but, I’m sure other things keep them up at night!
So, you talk about big jobs. What does that look like?
So my current biggest job at its largest was a team of 6 and we supported 12 partners in a consultancy. In practical terms, our biggest month to date was over 325 hours for that one client. So that’s quite a lot of hours! I think of a big job as being 100 or more retained hours, it’s a multi-person role essentially.
And how do you get big jobs?
My first one was a smaller job (although still not that small) that expanded after one of my team (a long time APVA member) did such an amazing job that they extended and extended. I had that contact from my employment 15 years ago and had very gently stayed in touch. When they were stuck for a solution they came to me. For which I am hugely grateful
I’ve also had work referred by people who know me and from APVA.
To a certain extent it’s also been a self-fulfilling prophecy; people know that I have a team so when a job is too big for one person to take one, I will come to mind for anyone that knows my set up.
In terms of hours, what do you do versus your team?
When it was mostly just me, my target billable hours for the week were 25. That’s a lot! Especially when you have lots of smaller clients, it’s not so bad if you have 1 or 2 big ones.
As the team expanded, I was able to bill less myself. In fact I had to bill fewer hours myself because managing a bigger job takes time. Lots and lots of time upfront, that isn’t billable and then it gradually evens out. But it still takes time.
What are the best things about having a team?
My team! Honestly, I had forgotten as a solopreneur how much I love being with people. And being part of a team is fun.
Also, the team as individuals are amazing. They are bright, hardworking and generous. They are brilliant at what they do and also are super at looking after each other.
And the worst things?
For me when something goes wrong. Which it does because people are human. It’s my role to manage that with the client and that’s not always much fun.
How has APVA helped you?
I was so very lucky to meet Amanda Slack who was co-founder of what was VIP VA and then Charlotte almost as I started my VA journey. I was blown away by their passion for getting standards up in an industry with none and for having amazing values and a true belief in this being a kind of business that would benefit both those that ran them and their clients.
Without that support and input, I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am today.
Practically, I have met pretty much all of my amazing team through APVA. The reason my clients love me is because I provide them with shit-hot VAs at the very top of their game. My team are much better than me at what they do. They delight my clients. They have the same standards as me in terms of business set up and professionalism. And they are great fun to work with. Without APVA I wouldn’t have that pool of top-level associates to get to know.
Emotionally, running a business is hard. With APVA I have a tribe of likeminded people I can ask for help. Or just have a rant when something has gone wrong. That safe space is vital for me.
Professionally, I know that being a member of APVA I’ll be kept up to date with industry news and vital things I should know about as a business owner. When something comes up, GDPR or IR35 I know that they will help their members get accurate information that’s easily digestible. And that makes my life easier!