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Advent Business Start-up Stories – Day 2 meet Amy Richards

Amy Richards

Amy Richards Online

When did you start your business?

April 2015

What made you start your own business?

I started the business after leaving my career as a high school teacher. I’d been off work for five months, suffering from burnout, depression and anxiety, and decided to leave for the good of my mental health. When it came time for me to start my ‘phased return’ I set off for the school where I taught, got as far as the gates and just kept on driving! I’d actually always liked the idea of having my own business, and had had various ideas over the years, but it was that moment outside the school gates, facing a return to a life I hated, that was the final push I needed.

What were your main obstacles during the start-up phase?

Money to cover set up costs and to live on while I was getting established. I left my job with enough money to last around four months, and ended up doing supply teaching a couple of days a week to make ends meet for the first 18 months. The other practical obstacle was contacts and building a network: I’d always been employed until then, so I had to pretty much build a network from scratch. Though I was lucky enough to find my first clients through friends and family, I needed to invest in networking to widen my reach and meet new people. I also struggled with confidence, and believing in myself as a business owner! Though attending networking meetings (including being a member of BNI for 18 months) did help with that, as I practised standing up and introducing myself and my business to rooms of other business owners.

How do you define success as a business owner?

Being able to take on only the clients I actually feel excited to be working with, doing work I enjoy! When I stopped having to accept any work I was offered, and was able to niche down and choose what I wanted to specialise in (and no longer had to do tasks that I wasn’t enjoying), that felt like success to me. I also feel successful when I get great feedback from clients, and know I’ve helped them to achieve something.

What has been the single most important skill that you have as a business owner?

Time and task management! I work with several clients, and have to constantly juggle a variety of tasks and deadlines, and manage expectations. I have systems in place to help me manage it all, so my brain doesn’t get too overloaded – and I do work with some associates too; other freelancers like myself who take on some of my workload when things are busy.

Did you need finance at any part in your business journey and how did you access that?

I’m lucky in that my business model is fairly low on overheads – I work from home, and all I really need is my computer, various pieces of software/apps, and compliance stuff such as insurance and ICO registration. So I haven’t had to access finance. The biggest investments I’ve made have been things like a new computer, which the business paid for, and networking memberships, which pay for themselves in the business they bring in.

What support/training have you accessed?

I’m a big believer in investing in yourself; even if it’s a stretch at the time, in my experience the results are always well worth it. Early on in my business journey I joined an online membership called The VA Handbook, run by VA trainer Jo Munro, which offers initial and ongoing training and support to virtual assistants (and is also a good place to find work and associates). I’m still a member, and it’s been invaluable in terms of practical support and advice. I belong to Denise Duffield Thomas’s Money Bootcamp, an online course and community that’s provided me with invaluable mindset work and peer support. I’ve also been a member of Janet Murray’s Love Marketing membership for a couple of years, which is useful both for my business and in my client work, and this year I invested in Anna Parker-Naples’ Podcast Membership, which has given me a new skill: the ability to support my clients with launching and producing their podcasts.

Thinking back to the initial plans and start-up phase, has your business changed or moved on and in what way?

Yes definitely! I initially started out as a VA (virtual assistant), taking on all sorts of admin tasks. But as I gained experience and widened my client base I was able to leverage my skills from my previous lives as a web designer and English and media teacher, and offer support with WordPress, copywriting and email marketing. I began marketing myself as a tech VA, looking after the behind-the-scenes parts of online businesses. I now no longer describe myself as a VA, as I’ve moved into more of an OBM role, alongside copywriting and web design.

What’s been the most difficult part of running your own business?

I love having my own business, and all the freedom it brings – but sometimes it can be hard to juggle everything that needs to be done. Though I’ve always been a self-starter, and learned to work under my own steam when I was teaching and had to manage a heavy workload at evenings and weekends. So it did stand me in good stead for working at home by myself and needing to motivate myself and manage my time efficiently.

What’s been the most surprising thing you have learnt about yourself running your own business?

I’ve always been a bit of a control freak, so I’ve surprised myself by finding that sometimes you have to let go of the outcome, trust your instincts and just take things one step at a time. I’m a self improvement junkie (which is probably why I’ve ended up working mainly with life and business coaches!) and over the last six years I’ve learned to trust my gut, have a regular gratitude practice and train my thinking to be more positive – to have faith and expect good things (while working hard for them too of course). In my experience, mindset plays a huge role in success.

How has 2020 been for you? What have you changed about your business?

I’ve been incredibly lucky. The Covid pandemic meant that everyone wanted to be online – so I found myself more in demand than ever. My wife wasn’t able to work at all during the three month lockdown, which had a massive impact on her business and our household finances, so I was grateful to be in a position to support us both. I’d say the main change for me has been that this year I’ve attracted more clients wanting smaller contracts, whereas in the past I’ve usually had a smaller number of clients with larger contracts. You could look at it as people are more cautious at the moment – but I think it shows that people are starting new businesses during this time, and trying new things, which is exciting!

What keeps you going through tough times?

Knowing I’m helping people who help other people to build success and realise their dreams and ambitions. It’s why I love working with coaches – it feels good knowing I’m part of the process of enriching and improving lives. It’s also important to me to have a personal goal to work towards. This year I’ve started a podcast as a personal project – nothing to do with my business – and it’s great to be doing something that (judging from the messages and feedback I’m getting) is touching people’s lives and making a difference.

Have you had a mentor (paid or otherwise) and what if any benefits did they bring?

This year I was thrilled to manifest 6 weeks of free coaching with someone I met in one of my online memberships. She really helped me get clear on what I want in my business and in life, and working with her gave me the kick up the backside I needed to start my podcast. I’m going to look at working with someone again in the new year to help motivate me and keep me on track.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone starting their own business?

Trust your gut instinct. If a piece of work or a client feels wrong at the start, it’s not going to feel any better six months down the line. Don’t take on work just because you need the money or you’re afraid nothing better will turn up. Work on your mindset and put out the right energy and you will attract something far better.
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