Carole Meyrick launched Office Stuff in 2005 after being made redundant at the end of 2003 and embarking on an idea that had been fermenting away in her mind due to the distinct lack of work opportunities in mid-Wales (where she lives with her husband, his six working sheepdogs, two cats (Henry and Max), and a multitude of chickens).

With over 30 years experience working in senior roles at Chairman and CEO level for chartered and building surveyors, architects, solicitors, loss adjusters, insurance brokers, solicitors, charities, in merchant banking, manufacturing, marketing and sales, she became increasingly frustrated at not being able to use her mastered skills in rural Wales.

Through determination and a dream of working for herself Office Stuff was launched in January 2005, whilst continuing to work a part-time job to help the finances until February 2006, when she made the decision to become fully self-employed and run Office Stuff as a full-time business.  Since then she has never looked back.

In Carole’s words “I’ve always been passionate about being ‘simply the best’, and it was the part-time job that finally crystallised the feeling that I would be better off doing this on my own behalf, rather than being told how to run an office by someone who knew no more about office management than I knew about manufacturing!  I am still surprised that I lasted as long as I did at the part-time job!”

Here’s more from our interview with Carole.

Did you do any specific training before you opened for business and was it useful?

No specific VA training, but I have secretarial qualifications, and attend courses where I feel they would benefit the business, for example I have Level 1 Book-keeping from the ICB, and an ILM Leadership & Management qualification.

How did you find your first client and what was the first job?

My very first major client was a referral from a friendly bank manager.  His client needed someone to handle the book-keeping and office management.  Pretty soon afterwards a colleague of his referred another book-keeping/office management client.  I also acquired a couple of smaller clients by word of mouth, and another couple who found me in Yellow Pages. I work with 18 clients now.

Do you work alone or with other VAs/employ someone?

I mainly work alone, but can call upon other specific VAs when I need an extra pair of hands, or on trusted associates when I need some specialist knowledge.

What strategies have you used to grow your business and what has and hasn’t worked?

Advertising doesn’t work, and it’s expensive.  Free listings on other websites (e.g., FreeIndex) haven’t proved to be successful, either.  My strategy is to ‘get myself out there’ either by meeting people face-to-face, or by using Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.  I’m also a member of my local chamber of trade, and know most of the members, several of whom are clients.

What has been most difficult thing about growing your business?

‘Getting out there’!  Living in rural Mid Wales, an acknowledged black hole of business networking, it is difficult to meet business people without travelling vast distances.  To give you an idea, my nearest large supermarket is 25 miles away, which means a 50 mile round trip if I want to shop in Morrisons.  Thank heavens Tesco and Asda deliver!

Tell us something about a typical day and what kind of work you do?

A typical day will start with Huw bringing me a cuppa at about 7.00 am.  Hungry cats shoo me out of bed by 7.30, and on the way to the kitchen I switch on the computer so that it can get its warm-up exercises out of the way, and then I feed the cats.  Cats fed and kitchen tidied, I have a shower and get dressed, and am at my post between 8.00 and 8.30 am.  I read and respond to emails, catch up with Skype conversations, and then on to the task for the morning which can be anything from audio transcription, to writing, proof-reading, or preparing a business plan for a client.  I stop for lunch at 12.30 when Huw comes home, and get back to my post at around 2.00 pm after washing up and another tidy in the kitchen.  The afternoon may be spent doing book-keeping, copy typing a novel for a local publisher, or designing a website or some stationery.  I usually stop at 6.00 pm and start making dinner.  Most of the time I get to spend the evening in Huw’s company, but if there is a deadline, then I’ll be back at my post until the work is done.  The cats usually keep me company in the office, either in their baskets on the windowsill, or on the desk under the monitor.

What’s one thing you’ve done that’s made a client absolutely delighted?

Designed and planned an email campaign for a client in Hungary, and at the same time run a separate one for his client which I knew nothing about until I started his.  Monitored both and reported back – success for him, and an incredibly messy database for his client!

Do you have any funny stories/anecdotes about jobs you’ve done?

Nothing springs to mind, but the clients I choose to work with are a lovely bunch, and it’s always a pleasure working with them, or popping in to see them.  Most of the local ones have a dog, so I’ve been known to have Buddy sitting on my feet whilst I up-date his “dad’s” database at the office, or Bob sitting beside me with his head in my lap whilst I do the payroll!

What are your favourite applications/gadgets that you couldn’t live without?

I’m known as a bit of a Luddite.  I don’t see the point of buying something just because it’s trendy or whatever.  I bought my first android mobile in November 2011 and I still haven’t mastered all the things it can do!

What do you enjoy most about being a Virtual Assistant?

The freedom to choose what I want to do, who I do it for, how I do it, and when…

What do you enjoy least about being a Virtual Assistant?

Having to chase clients for money.  It really, really annoys me.  If a client has the manners to ring me to explain why payment will be late, there’s no problem.  And I quite understand that invoices to government bodies/large organisations will get paid later rather than sooner.  But I get quite cross when my invoice seems to have dropped down the black hole of Calcutta and polite reminders don’t get an answer.  All my clients have signed up to my terms and conditions.  I have been known to sack a client (or two) for repeated offences.  If they can’t afford to pay me, I can’t afford to work for them.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given / or you would give to others about growing your business?

Don’t under-price or under-value yourself is the best advice I’ve been given, which I would pass on to others.

What do you think are the most important qualities a VA should have?

Experience of different businesses, good qualifications/skills, flexibility, manners, diplomacy, and above all, a good sense of humour!