Kate Watts (Farrens Associate)
1. What’s your story? Why did you become a virtual assistant?
One word – probably the first word I ever spoke (much to my mum’s annoyance) and without a shadow of a doubt the most poignant word in my vocabulary today: Dad.
I lost my Dad in October 2015.
The first year was by far the hardest. My Dad was not only Dad to my sister and I, wife to my mum, Bampy to mine and my sister’s children, father in law to my husband and friend to many, he was also my business partner, my side kick, the first person I went to for advice, to have a moan or when I needed a boost! I can honestly say that the day we lost him I lost a part of myself that I will undoubtedly be forever searching for.
I found strength in the first year by having to be there for my children and my mum. The business decisions I had to make, often on-the-spot decisions, were the hardest part. Deep down I just wanted to curl up and shut out the world, just for a moment, but I had to be strong and put on a brave face. I certainly spent a great deal of year one battling emotions. Yes year one was brutally difficult.
Fast forward to year two. Now that was somewhat different. I can honestly count the number of times on one hand that I cried. Life was still a constant blur of grieving, but the world seemed to have moved on and I found myself having to ‘keep my chin up’ and focus on the new changes happening around me. I found my outlook on life changed, people changed. I lost some old friends but gained some really good ones. I just had to sieve out the dead weight and try to embrace this new, somewhat emptier, life.
You find me currently midway through year 3 and – wow – the tears are back with a vengeance. But this time it’s a whole new ball game. I am crying because I have somehow found strength in so many different ways. I have grown up. I love this new world of virtual assistance and feel extremely proud of the strides I’ve made. However there are days when these good tears turn bad and I now understand why – the hardest thing about losing someone so close is that when good things start to happen you all of a sudden feel the loss more intensely. No-one world have been more proud of me than Dad. I hope if he is somewhere watching over me then he’s smiling and nodding to himself as only he knows what year 4 will bring…
2. He sounds like a wonderful man. You mentioned he was your business partner, what did you do before becoming a VA?
Before working with Dad I was in five star hotel and conference event management. I then joined Dad in the the world of yacht brokerage, alongside which we also set up a very successful coffee shop in Cardiff Bay. Both sales and events management called for extreme attention to detail and excellent organisational skills. I loved my time working in both of these environments and when I knew I could no longer carry on working in the family business I truly believed that I could utilise the skills I had learned to assist small businesses with their everyday challenges, hence the move to virtual assistance. I also wanted more flexibility in my working life. As well as being career-focussed I am also a mum and a wife, and in the past I found that, no matter how hard I tried, running a coffee shop and yacht brokerage just clashed too frequently with family life. However, I realised that my diverse working background had set me up perfectly to take on the role of a VA. All of my previous roles required excellent communication skills, something I knew to be a critical element of virtual assistance. I understood completely the importance of business owners’ accomplishments, processes and expectations.
3. You certainly seem to be perfect for the role. So, what’s your mission statement?
To assist small businesses with their everyday struggles, and to try and be there for them in every way possible. Having been on the other side of the equation, I have an excellent understanding of the daily difficulties small businesses face.
4. You certainly sound like you have a strong business plan. Do you have an ideal client?
The simple answer is no. Initially, I thought I would specialise in event management, however one year down the line, I would say that the clients that I am currently supporting ARE my ideal clients. They hail from a variety of different industries, but each needs my support in different ways and not only do I provide day-to-day support I also share their passion to grow their businesses.
5. You sound multi-skilled and ready to take on any challenge. Here’s a challenge for you right now: name five things you do well.
I am a quick study and pick up systems and processes immediately.
I am an excellent listener. However, I also offer support and advice when needed.
Forget eBay, if you need sales support, I am your woman – there is nothing that I cannot sell.
I am also a fantastic event planner – small delegate workshops, to awards dinners for 500+ people and weddings with over 1000 guests I have planned them all.
My biggest strength by far, however, is my commercial awareness. I am to small businesses what Q is to James Bond, without me they just could not function.
6. Ok, so you must be social? How can people contact you?
If you can’t find me in Academy Espresso Coffee House #mysecondhome, you can email me (firstname.lastname@example.org), call me (07769 646703) or connect with me on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/kate-watts-53295548/)
7. What’s the best thing about being a VA?
That’s easy – happy clients.
Happy clients are an indication that I’m good at my job. Their acknowledgement and vindication that I’m competitive and bring value to their businesses motivates me to further improve my services. It is also an indication that they are likely to return to me in the future and hopefully recommend me.
8. Brilliant. So, how do you find these happy clients?
LinkedIn and face-to-face networking (daunting as this was at first) have proved very helpful. However, recently referrals have been more beneficial. Word-of-mouth is the most powerful marketing tool available (move over Instagram) and I have found that my clients have been ready and willing to provide glowing recommendations.
9. You are clearly achieving your goal of client satisfaction then. What kind of partnership do you expect to have with your clients?
To be honest I’m not your typical virtual assistant. In fact, for the most part, I’m not really virtual. It’s a rare occurrence to find me working at home. I thrive on building a close connection with my clients and I find that regular office visits and coffee catch ups are key to this role. Some would think me mad. They would ask: ‘Isn’t the biggest benefit of being freelance being able to work at home in your pjs?’ This is just not my style. I’m social and I think this is what has endeared me to so many of my clients.
10. Are you currently taking on new clients?
Oh yes! Farrens is growing daily. As an associate, I am proud to be part of such a successful enterprise.
11. You state that your specialisms are sales and event management what would you do if you found yourself asked to work for a client whose field of expertise was new to you? How would you be able to provide support?
I would start at the bottom. Most businesses are drowning in their day-to-day admin, which tends to be industrially generic, but I have found that this is the best way to get an insight into the real heart of a business and to best understand how I can support the client further.
12. Do you have a contract?
Yes. A contract is essential to protect both myself and my clients. It provides transparency and minimises risk in the long-term. All parties feel safe and secure if a contract is in place.
13. What are your working hours?
Ah the age old question.
I would love to say 9 – 5 (Dolly Parton told us: ‘It’s the way to make a living’) but who really does only work 9-5 nowadays? With all my experience in the hospitality industry I am better equipped than most to tell you this just isn’t realistic. On top of that I have also run my own business where I lived, breathed and ate coffee, cake and yachts (obviously I didn’t eat the yachts!) seven days a week so I am no stranger to long hours and hard work. Even in this virtual world I have found myself in, which promised flexibility, reduced hours and a better work-life balance, I seem to be always open and willing to work.
14. Would you be willing, therefore, to help out a client that had an emergency out-of-hours rush job?
Yes. As long as my family was not in more urgent need of my time or help, I would help where I could.
15. Where are your clients based?
Predominantly in South Wales. This allows us to have the face-to-face communicative relationship that I feel is most beneficial.
16. What are your rates/packages?
Farrens 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. How do you manage your work/life balance?
Hmm, after everything I have previously told you about working long hours I DO I try my best to not work after I pick up my children from school until that peaceful time of the day when they are tucked up snugly in bed. That said, I am often found back at my desk after their bedtime. I love spending time with my family but I also love working. I think the perfect work-life balance is much like an oasis in the middle of the desert, I know it’s out there somewhere and I, like most others, will spend a lifetime trying to find it. I want to believe that I always do the best for my family and my clients and I think it helps that I certainly don’t like being bored!
18. If YOU had a VA what would they do for you?
I would LOVE a VA!
My home admin is a mess!
In fact, I have a very long list of jobs ready and waiting – the first of these being to book a holiday. Are you offering your services?
19. Hmm, sounds tempting… let me get back to you. OK last question: tell us two things you would like your clients to know about you.
I have 2 gorgeous girls (being completely biased) aged 9 and 5. They are my world. I cannot imagine a day without them in it, and I certainly wouldn’t be in this role today or having this conversation with you if it weren’t for them
Also as much as I love the finer things in life (and my husband will tell you I won’t usually settle for anything less than 5 stars) I am also a keen camper. You will never find a happier Kate than one who is lying under the stars listening to the sea lapping at the shore. This is my happy place, my little sanctuary in which I finally, and completely, RELAX.