Personally Virtual Blog

As I have mentioned on a number of occasions, there are certain characteristics that are more common in people who are self-employed (or run small businesses) than they are in employed individuals – and vice versa. It’s not a bad thing at all, as if we were all the same then life would be incredibly boring.

One of the characteristics that is pretty much essential for any small business owner is the ability to ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’. Obviously, there are a huge number of employed people who have this characteristic – brain surgeons, astronauts, paramedics, firefighters, etc. (to name but a few) – but as a self-employed person without this mentality, the likelihood is that you’re going to find it more challenging to run your business for a long period of time without burning out or experiencing huge levels of stress.

Things go wrong in business. All. The. Time. In a large business, these incidents can be shared by the wider community – computer issue? Speak to IT. Invoices not being paid? That’s an issue for the finance team. Having to self-isolate for 14 days as a precautionary measure to reduce the spread of COVID-19? There’s probably a colleague or two that can step in to cover your work and the buffer of sick pay to help ease the financial burden of absence from work.

When you run your own business, it’s not quite so simple. You are the IT department, and if something is so catastrophically wrong with your computer or essential software that a google search and the good old fashioned ‘turn it off and turn it on again’ can’t help, you need to pay out to get it fixed (and ensure that there’s a little pot of money somewhere entitled ‘ARGH HELP ME!’). If invoices aren’t being paid, you become the debt chaser or, yet again, have to pay out to find someone to support you with this task. And don’t get me started on self-isolation… I’m not sure that it’s any different to my usual working routine, and without the benefit of sick pay or income protection (though if you can set this up, it is highly recommended), the likelihood is that most freelancers and small business owners will be working through illness, at least up to a point.

When it comes to a crisis within a small business, there are only two options – a.) freak out and nothing will get resolved, potentially signalling the end of your business and b.) have a momentary freak out (we’re human after all, not sinister virtual assistant robots) and then make a cup of tea, take a deep breath and sort it out. It’s not always simple or pretty, but most things can be fixed, and there’s always someone out there who can help.

If illness is a worry for you, don’t panic. Bulk buying toilet roll and washing your eyeballs with hand sanitiser isn’t going to help. Why not speak to someone about the possibility of outsourcing work on a temporary or ad-hoc basis, or pre-purchasing a support package from them so that you have a fall-back plan? Even if you are a small business owner and are worried about the financial impact that time off work will have on you and your business, try to think about things longer term – giving yourself time to rest and recuperate properly if you do come down with a bug simply means you’ll be back at your desk and full of beans before you know it, rather than working through the illness and feeling terrible for a much longer period of time. Mistakes are more common when you’re feeling tired, ill and run-down, so save yourself from having to do work twice and give your body the time it needs to recover, if required.

The possibility of some of your work ‘drying up’ during periods of economic and social uncertainty can be a major worry for a small business owner, but it’s important to be pragmatic.  During the current health related crisis, there will be businesses – both large and small – who have to cut back on the work they are doing (particularly if it involves a lot of travel or in-person events, etc.), and on work that they outsource to other businesses. Worrying about the situation won’t change things, so why not start to think about your own business cashflow and offerings? Are there any tools that you pay monthly subscriptions for that you could do without to help reduce business expenditure? Are there any other services that you could offer temporarily (or long term) that aren’t necessarily top of your list of ‘favourite tasks’, but that you are skilled and experienced enough at to provide a high-quality service to people who need it? It’s likely that the coming months are going to be a little tempestuous, but we need to be as prepared as possible to weather that storm, and worrying about it isn’t going to help you stay objective and focused – two characteristics you’re going to need when everyone around you seems to be losing their heads!

To be honest, whatever your job is, the motto ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ is a pretty good one. Life is stressful enough without worrying unduly about things that are beyond your capability or your control. Reach out to a colleague or contact and ask for help (and be willing to pay for it if necessary!), and don’t forget to put the kettle on.

In my office, it’s not usual to find a cat lounging across the keyboard (even on Skype once – that was an impressive feat).  Sometimes there’s even a dog on there too, but generally, I like to have a clear and organised working area if I want to work as effectively as possible.  In my pre-business owner days, I worked in enough offices to know that not everyone feels the same as me, with some people seemingly unfazed by two weeks’ worth of festering coffee cups cluttering the desk, along with reams of scribbled paper notes, dozens of chewed biros, and a liberal scattering of crumbs and food debris.

I’m just not sure how people can work like that (it makes me twitch and feel compelled to anti-bac my keyboard just thinking about that), especially when science supports seems to support the old ‘tidy desk, tidy mind’ adage.

1.)    It’s healthier – 2008 research carried out by Consumer group Which? in their London offices found that of 33 keyboards tested, four were considered a potential health hazard and one had 150 times the recommended limit for bacteria (5 times more than a lavatory seat) and was so horrendous it was immediately removed, quarantined and deep cleaned. (source:  Even if you’re not sharing a keyboard in some kind of germ-filled hot-desking nightmare, it’s likely that your keyboard isn’t as clean and shiny as it might appear, and may be harbouring all kinds of nasties that are putting you at risk of illness. Wiping your keyboard, mouse and desk with a lightly dampened cloth to remove dust and debris, and then wiping down with alcohol wipes can help to make your desk less of a health hazard, as can a conveniently placed bottle of hand cleansing alcohol (don’t forget to take it networking with you too!).

2.)    It’s easier to focus on the task at hand – 2011 research carried out by Stephanie McMains and Sabine Kastner (source: found that being in a cluttered environment makes it more difficult to focus, with the items strewn across our desks apparently all competing for our attention.  By removing unnecessary paper piles, old mugs, defunct pens and other non-essential clutter from your desk, you should find it easier to concentrate on your work.

3.)    Need a little boost? Sometimes, projects seem to go on and on forever; other times, you carry out the same tasks day-in, day-out with little variation (and little thanks!); on these days, a quick tidy and desk organisation session can give you a little bit of the instant gratification for a job well done that we all need every now and then – it’s immediately visible what you’ve done and the improvement that you have made, and should leave you feeling a little more positive than pre-desk tidy up.

4.)    Video calls look more professional – if you regularly have Zoom or Skype calls with clients, it’s much nicer to have a clear backdrop behind you rather than stuff. Everywhere. Admittedly, if you’ve got a cat it’s almost guaranteed that they will join you at some point during the call to present their rear end to the camera, but as long as the backdrop for the rest of the call looks as professional as you are, that’s a good thing!

5.)    It’s just easier to find things! Calls with potential clients or existing clients can be challenging enough without being able to find a.) a pen on your desk when you know you’ve got about 1500 in your office and b.) something to write on that has more than 1 square inch of space available on it. Important paper documents in some kind of filing system can also be a godsend, without you having to venture into that pile of unopened bills, junk mail and other ‘stuff’ that is gradually taking over the corner of the room… it’s okay, we’ve all got one of them somewhere!

So why not start your day off with a little desk spring clean? There are worse ways to spend half an hour or so (the Which? offices apparently being one of those…).

A bit about us! 

I realised when catching up with a long term client this week that I don't very often talk to clients about other clients. Obviously, confidentiality is vital but my client wasn't aware of the variety of businesses we work with. 

Although we work with a number of solo entrepreneurs, small business owners and local organisations providing administrative support, did you know that Personally Virtual also works with large businesses? Several of our customers are large organisations who employ 200+ staff and already have permanent in-house employed team members providing internal PA support.  We have been brought in to provide additional long-term remote support to help the business work more efficiently and effectively, and work successfully alongside the permanent, employed PA/EA team in order to do this.

One of the questions I get asked quite frequently about this working relationship is, ‘How does it work?’. In my opinion (and experience!), high quality administrative support, call answering services, email management, lead generation and sales assistance, expenses and invoicing help, diary management, holiday cover and travel planning can all be carried out successfully both in-house and externally – it’s the knowledge, skills and professionalism of the individuals carrying out these tasks that makes all the difference; when you’ve got an experienced team of professionals with years of experience behind them, they could be in a cabin in Antarctica and still be able to provide high level support (WIFI permitting, obviously, but you get the point!).

At Personally Virtual, we’ve got an incredibly skilled and highly experienced team of organisational ninjas working together on a variety of projects, supporting everyone from microbusinesses to international organisations.  Over the last few years, I have found a dream team who can support consultants and partners within a business seamlessly, without having to be ‘in the room’.  Looking at the businesses we support from the outside, no-one would ever know that the high-level PA assistance we provide is done remotely, and from a business’s perspective we are a highly cost-effective administrative support solution, given that we don’t need desk space or computer equipment, and that holiday pay, etc. is not required (and if a Personally Virtual team member goes on holiday, we’ve already got holiday cover prepared!).

So when it comes to finding the right administrative support for your business, it’s worth remembering that it doesn’t have to be an ‘either/or’ situation: you can have a team of in-house administrative professionals, but you can also bring in one or more virtual assistants to support your business short- or long-term to help you work more efficiently.  You can also rely solely on these external professionals to support your business if you would prefer not to bring the role of administrative support in-house.  We’re here for whatever works for your unique business, and can develop a package of support that fits your needs.

We spend a lot of time reviewing what is working in our businesses at this time of year as we create business goals for 2020 and celebrate our 2019 successes – both of which are important things to do - but, as well as looking at the things that have gone well, it’s really important to address and acknowledge the things that didn’t quite go to plan so that we can take steps to avoid them in the future (well, as much as possible!).

So how do you carry out a review of all the terrible things/apparent failures/depressing business memories without being sucked into a black hole of despair and making a spur-of-the-moment decision to move to Siberia to become a nomadic reindeer herder? Here are my top tips:

1.)   Make yourself a cup of tea or coffee and grab a snack that makes you feel positive.  Cake is totally acceptable for this job.

2.)   Identify 10 things that didn’t go to plan in 2019.  This can be anything from a new software that you trialled, a customer (or two) who didn’t work out as expected, or a new working style designed to improve productivity that fell by the wayside (5am starts, anyone?). Remember, these ‘failures’ don’t define your business! If you’re still in business now, you’ve managed to overcome these obstacles and still find business success, we’re simply re-addressing these issues in a safe and comfortable environment to see if we can learn anything from them.

3.)   Try and establish why each of your 10 ‘failures’ occurred.  Was it a lack of knowledge/understanding of the software or task? Perhaps it was that you lacked the time necessary to dedicate to learning new skills? There might not be a tangible reason why, so don’t get caught up on it if you can’t find a reason.

4.)   In an ideal world, do you actually need to learn the particular software/skill that you struggled with this year? Do you need to work with customers like the ones you have found challenging this year? Do you need to work more productively? These questions are important as it should help you to establish whether or not you need to re-address the things you found challenging in 2019 again in the new year.  If you don’t need these things, feel free to chalk them up on a ‘Never, ever try this again’ board – there is something quite cathartic about recognising an issue, realising that you couldn’t realistically have done anything to change it and letting it go.  And whilst we’re on the subject, it’s worth noting that if your issue was with a particular customer and that the problem was out of your control, it’s perfectly acceptable to have a mental list of customers to NEVER WORK WITH AGAIN! It’s not necessarily their fault, and it’s not yours, it’s just human nature that some people aren’t compatible when it comes to working together. Find peace with that and you’ll find it easier to leave some of the frustrations from 2019 behind as we move into a new and shiny year full of hope and promise and definitely lacking in terrible customers (fingers crossed!)

5.)   If you do need to look at something again in 2020, it’s important to be realistic about the time and resources you will need to try it again – successfully this time! New software or a brand-new skillset might seem like a nightmare at the moment, but with time and the right people around you to support you, it will get easier! Don’t be put off by something just because it didn’t go right the first time – but then again, you probably know that already if you are self-employed or a small business owner. If running your own business was easy, everyone would be doing it; everyone faces challenges in business, and it’s how we address these issues and perceived ‘failures’ and come back stronger, with greater experience and more knowledge, that helps to make each new year in business more successful than the last.

Happy New Year everyone!


28th November, 2019

It’s No-vember.  I know that the title of this blog might come across as a little ‘Bah Humbug!’, but that is not my intention.  Ultimately, as a business owner who is familiar with the peaks and troughs of self employment, I am all too aware how easy it can be to want to say ‘yes’ to everyone, whether that’s a favour, a quick ‘last minute’ job (you know the ones – they are never, ever quick!) or to client work that you have a bad gut feeling about but feel compelled to accept because you know that cash-flow isn’t always guaranteed in business!

We all start with the best intentions – we want to be a valuable resource, a trusted business associate, a useful friend, but there comes a time when these ‘favours’ inevitably have an impact on our life and work; you may find yourself working at 2AM for free or your normal rate to help someone out, or find that your energy and enthusiasm have been sucked dry as you scramble to complete one of the last-minute jobs, at the detriment to your other customers.

I’m not saying that you have to say no to everything, but there comes a moment when we need to ensure that our own wellbeing (and sanity) and our existing clients are prioritised.  If you want to help but can’t do it ‘urgently’, suggest a more appropriate timescale – if it doesn’t work for them, that is their issue. You are not solely responsible for the success/failure of anyone’s business except your own, and as long as the work you have agreed to deliver (and do deliver) is of the high standard you expect of yourself and delivered in a timely manner in accordance with your existing contract, you are doing all you can (and all you are able to do) for your customers.

So this NO-vember, take a moment after every client enquiry, every little request for a favour, every call for urgent assistance to pause, breathe and quietly consider if, and when, it is appropriate for you to help.  If it isn’t, be honest with yourself and your colleague/client/friend – tell them that you haven’t got availability at the moment but could help in the future or can recommend someone else who could help. And then let it go! You’re doing all you can to maintain your own business and support your customers with a high quality service, and that is already an achievement worth celebrating.

Copyright © Kathy Soulsby. All rights reserved. Terms & Conditions | Privacy Policy | Cookie Policy