Rebecca Newenham is the founder of Get Ahead VA, an award-winning national virtual marketing and business support agency.
Following in the footsteps of her self-employed mother, she is a true champion of flexible working and is passionate about enabling highly skilled professionals, particularly women, to balance work and family life.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I am founder and director of Get Ahead VA, an award-winning virtual agency which delivers nationwide virtual assistance services for entrepreneurs, small and medium sized businesses. With clients ranging from will writers to window cleaners, financial consultants to fashion designers, all of our clients are motivated and driven business owners, with clear plans for business growth. They recognise the value of outsourcing, passing onto others tasks that either they lack skills in, or tasks that drain their valuable time. We enable them to get back to what they do best – growing and running their businesses.
Following a business degree, my career started in corporate buying for retail giants Superdrug and then Sainsburys. But after the arrival of my three daughters, I was looking for a more flexible employment solution, which led me to start my own business. I always knew I wanted to offer the same flexible work to other people and now run a team of nearly 40 virtual assistants, many of whom are also mothers and all of whom work flexibly and remotely.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
Not exactly. Having grown up with a successfully self-employed mother, I knew that one day I wanted to run my own business just like she did. Once my youngest daughter started school I felt the time was right to start something for me. I wanted to use the skills from my corporate career and contribute financially to the family, as well as do school drop off and pick-ups. Having looked at various business ideas and the way the employment landscape was changing I felt a virtual assistance business offered the best solution. I have always loved networking, which is such a big part of my role now.
Have you faced any particular challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?
Like any small business owner, there have been many challenges along the way. Knowing when to invest and in what has been key. A few years ago I made a major investment in a new website, which proved to be really worthwhile. It made a significant difference to our reach online and helped to develop social media as a key referral channel for our business.
The first time I lost a client was also a hurdle to overcome. I soon realised that I should be proud that we had helped them grow their business enough to justify recruiting a full-time role in house.
If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?
For us all to be more confident! I think some women feel anxious about losing seniority or that they have to tread water for a while when they have time out of the office to have a family. It can really affect their confidence. But women are highly talented and make a vital contribution to businesses large and small.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I think mentoring can be hugely beneficial – for both the mentor and mentee. I don’t personally have a mentor, but I have worked with a business coach for many years. She really helps me focus on the long-term objectives and not get distracted by the day-to-day issues of running a business. My Personal Trainer is also my coach – he keeps me on the straight and narrow!
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Welcoming our first franchisee last year felt like a real achievement. So much work had gone in to getting to that point. It was real proof of the scale and potential of our business. I have recruited another two franchisees since then and I am pleased to see our business progressing in this way, as well as through our core team. I am passionate about helping other people to start and run their own business, just like I did.
I was also hugely proud when we won our first award – for Flexible Business of the Year at the Mum and Working Awards. Flexible working is the very core of our business, and winning the award was true recognition of our commitment to it
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
My next challenge is to recruit further franchisees – particularly in some of the major cities such as Birmingham and Manchester. I am excited about managing a more complex team yet ensuring that we stay true to our core personality. We are a vibrant business and every single member of our team reflects that.
Personally, now that my girls are older I am really enjoying the opportunity to travel more with them. We had a fantastic trip to Australia last year and I am looking forward to more family adventures over the next few years.
What advice would you give to other women thinking about starting their own business or changing career?
Don’t be afraid to follow your dreams. Do your research up front, and then just get on with it. If things don’t turn out quite as you thought first time don’t panic – just think about how you could do it differently. Keep evolving until you get it right.