Meet Carly Stringer: Virtual Assistant
Hello! I’m Carly. I live in Kent with my husband, John and our two children, Freya (4) and Leo (22 months). I’ve been freelancing since February 2017 when I setup my own business — Keystone Virtual — providing time-poor entrepreneurs and businesses with virtual administrative and marketing support. My decision to establish my 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.
Eight months after Leo was born, I returned to work as a marketing manager for a global healthcare communications agency. I already worked from home most of the time, but when Freya 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 the school and childcare runs wasn’t easy. I also felt detached from the workplace and held back from achieving my personal goals. I knew that if I was to stay in employment I would continually feel like I was choosing between my family and my career. Something had to change, and establishing a business that allowed me to work flexibly from home was the ideal solution.
Today has been pretty routine work-wise. I kicked off by checking the emails and diary of my architect client. She’s currently on holiday and there wasn’t much to pick up on – a few meetings to schedule and people to get back to. I also spent some time scheduling Instagram content for my personal trainer client. The rest of my day involved working for one of my main clients who is currently setting up her new business. It’s due to launch next week so there are lots of last minute materials to sort out – including a press release, Mailchimp newsletters, social media content and her website. Her business is centred around virtual, flexible working. This has been fantastic for me because, even though I’m working virtually for my own business, I’m genuinely treated as an integral member of her team and have got to know the others very well. We all get along great and meet up regularly in real-life too.
I packed up work a little earlier than normal this afternoon. I usually finish in time for the school run, but as it’s half term right now I went to collect Freya at around 2pm and we headed into town for a little pre-holiday shopping, a late lunch and to get our hair cut. I also made the fatal error of trying on swimwear with a four-year-old watching – cue Freya loudly proclaiming in the changing room, “That one is perfect mummy… your boobies don’t fall out of that one”. Excellent. We then picked up Leo from nursery. John is away tonight so I was flying solo with both bedtimes. By some miracle (or rather because Daddy wasn’t there instigating games that make the kids hyper just before bedtime), both were asleep by 7.30pm and here I am trying to get this blog written whilst I have a moment’s peace.
I tend to pick up on work in the early evening but try hard to finish by 9pm and make sure I have at least a few nights off completely (if I didn’t, I think I’d risk divorce!). I try to leave easier tasks for the evening and that’s also when I work on my own business — things like writing blog posts or scheduling social media posts. The last few hours of the evening are spent relaxing. I rarely watch TV, so for me, relaxing involves catching up on the day’s news and social media or reading a book.
I’m pretty set in my working routine and like to work from my home office when I can. I’m not the sort of person who likes background noise when I’m working so I find it hard to work in the garden or from a coffee shop and I prefer to work from my computer rather than my laptop – it’s quicker and time is money as a freelancer after all! So, in a way, I probably don’t make the most of the freelance way of life day-to-day. That said, it’s great to have the flexibility when I need it – tomorrow I’m working from my mum’s so I can take Freya to her gymnastics class in the day and next week I’ll do a little work from my Father in Law’s house in Spain, hopefully on the terrace with a glass of sangria or two.
My to–do–list is never ending — I really need my own VA! Although I’ve only been freelancing for a few months, I’ve already nearly reached capacity. I have started the search for a couple of associates to join my team so I can take on more work and grow my business. I’ve got about thirty applications / CVs to read through in the next few weeks so that will keep me busy. I’m also excited to be starting my Digital Mums course at the start of June. I’ll be participating in their new pilot course for mums who already run their own business. I’m nervous about the workload — it’s around 15 hours’ worth of work a week and god knows where I’m going to magic that time from — but it’s only six months, and since starting my business I’ve learnt to say “yes” and worry about the consequences later.
One of my biggest concerns about going freelance was how lonely it might be. I’m a bit of an introvert so knew I wouldn’t miss an office environment massively, but it’s nice to know you have people in a similar situation to talk to. Between my clients, their teams and the VA and wider freelance community, I’ve already made some great connections and it’s nowhere near as lonely as I thought. Everyone is so supportive. If you are new to freelancing or just starting out my top tip is to network with other freelancers, whether that’s face-to-face or online.
My biggest challenge is the juggling. Juggling school runs, nursery runs, client work, work on my own business, self-development, time with the kids, time with John, house work, relaxing, eating, sleeping… I’m an extremely organised person but juggling everything since starting my own business is still an art I’m perfecting. In fact, I’m not sure I’ll ever perfect it. I need to learn that sometimes done is enough and that I can’t be everywhere at once — which for a perfectionist like me is a tough lesson to learn.
Making the decision to go freelance was nearly a year in the making but I don’t regret it for a second. I can only hope that in the future my children are able to work more flexibly when they have their own family, regardless of the career path they choose.