Interview with a career change mum – Carly Stringer

Ruth Kudzi34

Today I interview Carly Stringer, the founder of Keystone Virtual offering virtual assistant and marketing support to time-poor creative and communication businesses. I love her advice on saying no, I think this is one of the best pieces of advice for entrepreneurs. 

1.     What gave you the idea to start up your business? 

My decision to establish Keystone Virtual, a virtual assistant business, stemmed from both the desire to have more flexibility around my family as well as wanting a career I could feel proud of and passionate about.

After having my second child in 2015, I returned to work as a marketing manager for a global healthcare communications agency. My agency was extremely accommodating in allowing me to work flexible hours with only one day in the office a month. But when my first child started school in September 2016, I realised that it wasn’t enough. The reality was that I still needed to be at my desk most of the day and I felt incredibly torn when it came to fitting in school events. When I did need to be in the office (nearly two hours away), finding someone else to do school and childcare runs wasn’t always easy. And I’m sure most working mum’s can related when I say the school holidays were like a military operation, planned meticulously to coordinate childcare, work and spending time with the children. I had absolutely no idea how we’d manage during the long summer break!

I also felt detached from the workplace and held back from achieving my personal goals. I couldn't see myself progressing in the way I wanted. I knew that if I was to stay in employment either my family or my career would have to take precedent.

Something had to change, and establishing my own business was the ideal solution.

2.     What did you do to prepare to start up your business? 

I’m not going to lie – at first I had absolutely no idea where to begin and invested a lot of time researching, researching and researching some more! I found Facebook groups like Ruth’s, as well as those aimed specifically at virtual assistants, an invaluable resource of information.

I soon discovered that a clear vision for my business was going to be critical to my success, so I spent time mapping out my goals. Thinking like a bigger business from the outset, with a defined business plan and a clear idea of how I wanted to organise myself and my work, has given me clarity on my ideal client type and how to move forward with my business.

Once I had this in place, I prioritised setting up my own website and business social media channels so that I could begin to market my services.

3.     Which aspects of your business did you need help with? Where did you get that help? 

Having all the legal aspects of my business in place from the start was important to me. I found Annabel Kaye at KoffeeKlatch very helpful regarding my contract and policies. I purchased her packages to get me started.

I also thoroughly recommend researching relevant Facebook groups, or local networking groups if you can get to them. I have made some fantastic connections with like-minded business women through these groups. Everyone I have come across approaches these forums with a collaborative mindset and is willing to share their experience and advice. The prospect of going at it alone is extremely daunting, so networking in this way has kept me sane!

4.     Describe what your business does and who you target it at / your ideal client

As a virtual assistant, I provide time-poor entrepreneurs and businesses with premium administrative, organisational and marketing support. This gives them more time to focus on their clients and growing their business.

Prior to setting up Keystone Virtual, I worked for a global healthcare communications consultancy in roles including executive assistance for the two CEOs and Executive Board, leading the agency’s marketing efforts and supporting with new business development, social media management and internal communications.

Although I work with a range of businesses across different sectors, I specialise in working with those in the communications industry. This includes PR, consultancy, marketing, advertising, digital and social, and design and motion. With over ten years’ experience in this field, I understand the specific challenges faced by these agencies and can offer administrative and marketing support tailored to these needs.

5.     What is the most rewarding thing about having your own business? 

With a background in executive assistance and marketing, working as a virtual assistant completely plays to my strengths. It’s reignited my passion for work because I’m able to take complete ownership of the clients I choose to work with and the direction in which my business is heading. Every day brings a new challenge and I’m excited by the prospect of scaling my business and eventually taking on associates as my client base grows.

But most important, is the flexibility my new work life allows me to have around my family. I now know I can be there for every school run, assembly, after school club, parents evening and sick day.

When I was an employee I felt like I had to choose between my family and my career, but having my own business has allowed me to integrate the two. To quote Richard Branson, “I don’t think of work as work, and play as play. It’s all living.”

6.     What has been the biggest challenge? 

Saying no! It’s tempting when you first start a business to say yes to every piece of work that comes your way. But it’s so important to remember why you started and have your ideal client in mind. I keep having to remind myself that it’s okay to say no to work if it doesn’t fit my values or the direction in which I want to take my business.

7.     If you could go back and give yourself some advice what would it be? 

It took me a long while to commit to doing this. With a mortgage to pay and mouths to feed, I worried about what would happen if I failed. So, I’d tell myself not to be so anxious about making the leap because you won’t look back!

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