Our latest Featured Freelancer is Annie Browne, who launched Hello My PA in South Wales almost 2 years ago. As well as being a busy Virtual Assistant, Annie is also a moderator on the Freelance Heroes FB Group and will be co-hosting the soon-to-be-launched Freelance Heroes Podcast. Back to Annie Browne the VA though, as the following story is all about the journey of her freelance business so far…
What is your name and what do you do?
Hi! My name is Annie Browne and I am a virtual assistant and blogger.
How long have you been freelancing and why did you decide to become a freelancer?
I have been freelancing for almost two years. My family relocated at the end of 2014 and with no local jobs paying enough to cover childcare costs (I have two young children), I took the decision to focus on the skills that I had to offer and started working for myself instead. Becoming freelance made the most sense for me and my family.
What support did you have from family and friends? Did anyone advise you against becoming freelance?
We live at least 3 hours away from our family so it is very difficult for them to offer much support; I am certain that there is also a lack of understanding with regards to what I actually do. Most of my local friends are actually fellow freelancers and that offers a great amount of understanding and moral support.
I have been advised several times that I shouldn’t be self employed and I have often been asked things like “when are you going back to work?” and “what will you do now [youngest child] is going to start nursery?”. Freelancing isn’t for everyone I guess.
Did you use any professional support resources in starting your freelance business?
Not initially but at the start of this year I have secured funding for a place in The Welsh Innovation Centre for Enterprise. It offers lots of support and advice from professional sources for those wanting to develop their skills and their businesses.
Sometimes I find it overwhelming when looking for the right kind of support but I have found that the advice of other freelancers and a business mentor has been invaluable (thanks Ed!).
How would you describe your clients or customers?
My clients are freelancers and small startups (mainly creative and craft businesses) who need a bit of help with getting focussed on being more productive; they normally have a big ‘ol list of marketing and admin tasks that they never get round to doing.
Why do your clients/customers select you over your competitors?
Because I talk about cake a lot and who doesn’t like cake?!
Joking aside, I have a passion for client experience. Making sure my clients are happy, content and feel achieved is top of my list. I can empathise with my clients concerns and with the problems that they are trying to solve and I am fully committed to being their personal assistant; meaning that the service I provided them with is personal to them and their business needs. My clients choose to work with me because we have a good communicative working relationship and my service is focused on them.
Is being a freelancer what you expected? Do you work more hours (or less) than you had first anticipated?
I expected that being a freelancer would be hard work. It has certainly lived up to that expectation. I hoped I would be able to work more flexibly around family life but it hasn’t always been the case due to the nature of my work. I have dedicated ‘work days’ rather than fitting things in just around school hours. That’s ok though because I can still be flexible when I need to be. Case in point; not having to call my employer if my child is sick and I have to stay at home.
I certainly underestimated the amount of hours I would have to work on actually building the business; marketing, admin etc. Ironically I didn’t account for doing for my business, all of the tasks I do for my clients.
What app or website could you not run your business without, and why?
Just one?! Mmmmm…
Ok, Buffer! I use this social media scheduling tool for all of my clients and for myself. It is a great time saver and I highly recommend it for anyone who is using more than one social media platform.
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start a freelance business, specifically in your field?
Consider your niche and your key skills! There are a growing number of VA’s all over the world competing for business but the term is so broad. Promote your specific skill set and strengths and don’t make your target market too broad.
Don’t be afraid to network with other VA’s either. There is plenty of work being exchanged in VA networks where VAs don’t necessarily have the ability to complete a project. For example, I have outsourced accounts work to another VAs in the past as accounts isn’t my key strength and I have had work passed to me from VAs who aren’t confident with writing blog posts and email campaigns.
What are the most notable things you have learnt since starting your business; either about running a business or about yourself?
My self confidence has grown massively since I committed to working for myself. I am far more in tune with myself. I have a better understanding of what I can do and more importantly what I can’t do.
The key thing I have learned about running a business is that you can not do it all yourself; whether it is asking for feedback, advice or outsourcing tasks that you struggle with, you have to be able to ask for help. I have struggled greatly with this notion and if someone had said this to me two years ago my response probably would have been “er, yes I can”.
It’s ok to say “I can’t”.
What is it about being a freelancer that you most enjoy?
Having control over what I do, when I do it and mostly, being able to provide a level of client experience that is to my own standard.
What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?
Financial uncertainty; not knowing how much I will earn month to month. That is the biggest struggle.
What is your ultimate professional goal as a freelancer?
I would like to grow and develop a small business from my freelancing work. I would like to have a small team of people working with my ethos and passions for client experience.
What one thing do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?
How important it is to network with likeminded people. Not for business opportunities but to be inspired, motivated and informed by other peoples experience, drive and knowledge. I am always more productive having been in a room or conversation with a group of fellow freelancers.