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Let me introduce myself: Hello, my name is Sophie Green. I am the founder, CEO and Executive Virtual Assistant at Wild Grace Associates. We are a virtual assistant business that supports small businesses and nonprofits by managing their admin, and social media and keeping them organised so they can achieve their primary purpose.
I started my business in July 2019, shortly after I did one of the scariest things a 24-year-old can do: quit the security of their full-time job.
My journey to starting my business started long before 2019. It started when I was about 14/15 years old. I loved planning events. Birthdays, parties, gala dinners, conferences, friends and family weddings, and youth club balls. Any kind of event I could get my hands on, I wanted to be involved.
So when I was deciding what to do after secondary school, I found out about the BTEC course in Business and Event Management here at Warwickshire College. For me, that sounded like a perfect fit.
When I was studying here, in the back of my mind I thought maybe I would like to start a business but I’m not quite sure what in. At the time, creating an events planning business seemed like the most obvious choice. So I applied for Event Management degrees at a number of universities.
However, I didn’t want to go to university straight away. I wanted to get some practical experience first so I deferred my place and started to apply for Event Management internships.
I eventually found one that was linked to a large church in Melbourne, Australia. With my love for events, travelling the world and my faith, this felt like the right decision.
Fast forward 10 months, and I was coming to the end of my internship year. Lots of things in my life changed in that time. I decided I didn’t want to do a degree in Event Management and I didn’t want to come back to England yet. This led me to stay in Melbourne for an additional 2 years (3 years in total), starting a bachelor's degree in Theology while continuing to be an intern. It gave me valuable experiences in managing large-scale youth events for over 500 young people, understanding safeguarding, managing a team, understanding finances and budgets, hosting annual conferences for 10,000 delegates, learning how to speak in public, managing stress (or in my case, learning how not to deal with stress well and recovering from that), problem-solving, making last-minute decisions, preparing presentations. The list goes on.
Looking back now, my 3 years in Australia set me up for starting a business.
When I returned from Australia, less than 20 hours after I stepped off that 24-hour flight, I was walking through the doors of the Leamington Spa site about to take part in my first full-time job interview. Bubbling with excitement, I was ready to use all the experience I had gained in my 3 years prior for another big organisation.
While having a full-time job satisfied many of those ‘big adult goals’, earning a regular income, making friends with work colleagues, getting myself onto the career ladder, starting to plan and build a life for me, figuring out what the next 45 years of working were going to look like, it soon became clear that the dream I had 10 years ago to start a business was still there.
But at the age of 22, it was ‘irresponsible’ to quit. I had rent to pay, and car payments, I wanted to go out with friends, and go on holidays. To do that I needed money. And money was something I wouldn’t have if I quit. So I did what most people do, stay in their comfort zone and stick to the job.
In 2018, all that changed. At the age of 23, I had 2 open heart surgeries. I spent nearly 15 hours laying on an operating table. I spent 2 weeks recovering in ICU. I spent an additional 4 months recovering at home before I could finally return back to work.
During that time recovering, I had a lot of time to think. I asked myself, ‘If I died on that operating table, would I have looked back on my life and gone “Well done. You made the most of that?”’ Or would I have gone “Oh I wish I had done something more exciting? I wish I took a risk and tried. I wish I had the courage to try and fail than always wonder if it could have succeeded?"
Ok, it's a dramatic situation to be in but it was an eye-opener for me.
Those questions stirred sometimes inside of me to go, ‘I can do better than this. I want to make a difference, not under the heading of a big company. I want to help individuals and small businesses with the tasks they can’t do or can’t afford to pay someone full-time to do. I think I want to start my own business where I can help people.’
So about 6 months before I quit my job, I started to prepare. I asked myself 3 questions:
Who is currently doing what I want to do that could mentor me?
What skills do I need to train in in order for me to start a business in 6 months?
What resources do I need to build up in order to start my business in 6 months?
When I was preparing, I gave myself a challenge/goal: You have 6 months. If your business isn’t making money by the start of 2020, it’s game over. You gave it a go, but now it's time to look for another full-time job.
I felt that was a fair but challenging goal. Enough time to put everything I had into it to see if it was going to succeed.
When I started my business, I had saved up about £6,000. This was my security fund. This gave me the confidence to go for it for 6 months while still having enough to pay rent, bills and eat.
By March 2020, that money had run out. And what else came in its place: COVID! The world went into lockdown. Which meant business and jobs took a turn.
While most people were being furloughed, still receiving 80% of their income and were at home, watching Tiger King, doing Joe Wicks workouts and eating through your supply of pasta (if you were lucky enough to get some), I was not so lucky.
A small number of people were ‘irresponsible’ and decided to quit their full-time job and set up as self-employed between April 2019 and March 2020. This group of people got nothing. No support, no help, no funding. Just figure it out yourself.
If you have been following along with my story, you would know that I fell into that ‘irresponsible’ category.
Yes, I had emptied my security fund and didn’t qualify for government help. So what do I do now?
I have 2 options: sit around and mope that I have nothing. I have failed. Or I decide to give this one more go and see what could come out of this challenging situation.
8 months after I started my business, I thought ‘I should probably start using social media to tell people about my business.’
Here I was, offering social media management services and I hadn’t even posted on my own platforms.
So I started a course that would teach me about social media strategy and joined a bunch of Facebook groups full of other VA sharing tips and posting about jobs.
I started posting content on my accounts regularly and started actively looking for new opportunities. Within 1 month, I had just booked a new client and was talking to a few more about possibly starting in the next few months.
Skip to the end of 2020, I had just doubled my client list all without leaving my home for more than 1 hour a day.
Fast forward to today, we have worked with 25 different clients, all from very different industries: financial advisors, women’s health brands, athlete talent agencies, young people mental health charities, international speakers, journalists and even a local fish and chip shop. Some have been just for short-term projects whereas others have been consistent clients since Day 1.
Looking for 'Launching a Business' mentoring?: Take The Leap Mentorship. To find out more, click the link below.