Spotlight on Claire Farren…
1. What’s your story? Why did you become a virtual assistant?
In a previous life, I was a PA for over 15 years. I thrived in the fast-paced, unpredictable environment. I loved being busy – so much so that just over two years ago my partner and I decided to increase our family. Clearly we weren’t busy enough both working full-time and looking after a teenage step-daughter and a puppy! As soon as I felt my baby’s first tiny kick I knew I wouldn’t be comfortable putting him in full-time nursery care. I wanted flexibility. I wanted to have a career that I loved, but I also wanted to be the Mam I’d always aspired to be. After a little investigation I learned about VAs and knew instantly that this role would provide me with the best of both worlds.
At only six weeks pregnant I set up my website.
Two hours later I went to my first networking event.
Talk about throwing myself into the lion’s den!
Being pregnant made me fearless. Suddenly everything had changed. My life was no longer entirely my own. I needed a solution to work around this little human that was going to arrive and turn our world upside down whether we were ready or not! This fearlessness gave me the confidence I needed to go for it and to believe that it would work. Funny what a surge in hormones can do #girlboss!
To date, Farrens has been trading for two years. Someone once told me the first two years are the hardest. Not for me. I know in every fibre of my being that this was best career move I ever made. Supporting small businesses, entrepreneurs and consultants is amazing. I provide a solution for businesses that don’t have a large enough budget for full-time admin support. I also strongly believe that I provide a meaningful and appreciated range of services. I have learned more about myself in the past two years than I did in the 15 years I spent as a PA. The growth in my business knowledge and personal attributes has been overwhelming.
2. Excellent. OK, describe your ideal client (and tall, dark and handsome isn’t an option).
I don’t have an ideal client. Every project is different and every client is special. I love variety, which is why this role is perfect for me.
3. What’s your working style?
Logical, organised, planned, detailed-oriented, supportive, expressive, big-picture focused, integrative and ideation-oriented – aka a typical PA at heart.
4. What’s the best thing about being a VA?
For me it’s all about family. My step-daughter is 16 and my son is 19 months old. Life is family first and me time (aka putting on my fast-paced VA shoes) second. There is never a never a dull moment, which is just how I like it.
5. How are you different from other VAs?
I never compare myself to other VAs. I prefer to prioritise understanding how Farrens can do more to support clients and integrate into their businesses. If we can understand their business strategy and key drivers we can execute work at another level and sometimes even bring new ideas to the table.
6. How do you find your clients?
Referrals are the biggest driver for finding new clients. It’s the age old adage of: ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’. I have found that if you do a good job people want to rave about and recommend you.
7. Brilliant! So are you currently taking on new clients?
We certainly are! Farrens is expanding daily. We now have five fantastic VAs with a wide range of skills and knowledge who completely understand Farrens’ ethics. They are allowing Farrens to extend its bandwidth.
8. What kind of partnership do you expect to have with your clients?
Business integration is key. We have found this is hugely beneficial for clients.
9. Wait a minute! What if you’ve never worked in your clients’ field of expertise how will you be able to provide support?
I am a quick study and welcome new challenges therefore working in a new industry or with a new service offering is exciting. Research is a key factor in understanding the commercial aspects of a business and spending time with them is paramount to learning what support they need and how that will impact on their business.
10. Sounds great, but surely there are services you cannot provide.
Not really! Due to Farrens developing a number of relationships with strategic partners, there aren’t many services we can’t help with in some shape or form.
11. Do you have a contract?
We do, this is important to protect ourselves and, more importantly, our clients as we provide third-party, outsourced support.
12. What are your working hours?
They vary each day, week and month all depending on our clients’ needs.
13. What would you do if a client had an emergency out-of-hours rush job?
We are very flexible with out-of-hour jobs. At the end of the day, we provide executive assistance and a lot of directors are drowning in back-to-back meetings so many calls happen at inconvenient times – this is part and parcel of the role.
14. Where are your clients based?
Our clients predominately span the M4 from Llanelli to Newport, and up to Mid Wales.
15. Do you subcontract for other VAs?
All of our VAs have associate contracts with Farrens to protect both our clients and Farrens as a business.
16. What are your rates/packages?
We have a standard charge of £30 per hour, but we also quote for project-based work and retainers. This is helpful to clients who need to manage outgoing costs carefully.
17. It sounds like you’re super busy. How do you manage your work/life balance?
I have no idea but somehow it works, and it works really well.
18. Who is your biggest inspiration?
That’s easy. My son. He is the reason Farrens exists. He is the one person that drives me forward every day, and he is the reason why I am succeeding outside of my comfort zone.
19. Tell us about one recent project you’re proud of.
I recently carried out a PA mentoring project. This is something I am very passionate about as I have learned over the years that the PA role can be isolating and misunderstood. I want to educate businesses and directors on how they can best utilise this exceptional business support function. I loved working 1-2-1 with the PA helping them develop their skills and assisting them in taking their role to the next level.
20. That’s interesting. OK. Imagine this scenario: you hire a VA – what would they do for you?
Hmm, that is interesting. They would do a little bit of everything because I have learned over the past two years it’s OK to ask for help. I have learned that I don’t have to do everything myself. Therefore, I would open up my world to them so they could see how I work, and how my mind works. If they haven’t run away by this point, then I would mentor them to allow them to become creative alongside me.
21. You seem like you have it all figured out. Would you do anything different if you were starting your business again?
No, I believe everything happens for a reason and I have learned so much. I believe it was the right time for me in my life.
22. Are you social? How can people contact you?
Yes am I – especially if there is tea and cake on offer!
Failing that, you can reach me by telephone (07929 359781), email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or via LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/claire-farren-83a90787/ ) or Twitter (@Farrensuk).
I don’t care how you get here; just get here if you can! (Sorry cheesy nineties reference – but who doesn’t love a good power ballad?)
23. Last question: tell us two things you would like your clients to know about you.
Much like the coffee and cake situation above, I can also be bribed with wine and chocolate!
Joking aside, I want people to understand that I am very passionate about what I do and I strive to do everything to the best of my ability. Farrens is most definitely a passion project and I hope that this drive, enthusiasm and commitment is obvious to everyone I work with. However this passion grew from a tiny baby and being a good mam is my other role in life so there may be times (especially later in the day) when I answer the phone and the Teletubbies can be heard in the background! Just go with it – it will eventually be Tubby Bye-Bye time and then I’m all yours. In the meantime I’m a VA and if there is one thing we thrive on it’s multitasking!