Home Business Heroes, in association with
Home businesses generate
£284bn of the UK's GDP, making them the true heroes of our economy.
So to continue Smarta and Viking's celebration of these brave
entrepreneurs, we tracked down Helen Jacobi, the founder
of The Inspired PA.
What's your business?
The Inspired PA provides flexible virtual PA and business
management support to businesses and entrepreneurs across Europe
and North America, helping clients save both time and
We listen to client needs and develop inspired solutions for
them, underpinned by understanding how their business
works. There is no one way of working with a client -
businesses are as unique as people; no two are the same.
We were thrilled to win Outstanding VA of the Year 2012 (Over 2½
Years in Business) at the National VA Conference in April, which was a
What were you doing before?
I had been working as an executive PA in both corporate and
entrepreneurial environments for around 20 years and I was used to
being on call almost 24/7. While I thoroughly enjoyed my previous
life and was privileged to work with some brilliant people, I felt
I'd covered all the bases and it was time for a gear shift.
How did you get the idea?
About 10 years ago I got to know a lovely lady who was the
family PA to an ex-boss of mine. She was a virtual PA as it
turned out. Listening to her speak about how she ran her business
from home was a complete revelation.
I did some research and discovered there was a need for virtual
PAs so, some seven years later I took the plunge, which happened to
coincide with the onset of the economic crisis. I was up for a
challenge and the virtual PA model is perfect for this kind of
economy - a professional service that is responsive to client
needs. It's a win-win for both parties.
How did you fund it?
I funded the start-up from my own capital, but the costs were
relatively low. The key expenditures were networking, office
equipment, branding and insurance. I also studied for the VA
Mastery Diploma with the VA Coaching and Training Company, which helped
enormously in making the transition from PA to VA.
How did you market it?
I threw myself into networking, big time. Breakfast? I was
there. Lunch? Count me in. It opened my eyes to a whole new world
and I gained so much in a relatively short space of time purely by
turning up, listening to people's needs and seeing how I could
Networking can be one massive missed opportunity if you set out
to be heard, rather than listen to what your peers have to say.
Working for your network is without doubt the key to
Utilising online networking tools was critical too, in
particular LinkedIn and Twitter. There are excellent opportunities
to be had by getting involved in industry forums and
How did you build a list of clients?
Initially via networking but as the business has grown, all our
new clients within the past 18 months have come on board as a
result of word-of-mouth recommendation from existing clients or
Where's your office?
I'm based in Surrey and commandeered the guest room, which
looked rather like a bedsit at the beginning as it was far too
cluttered. So I ditched the spare bed and moved a couple of
pieces of furniture out. I now have a lovely clear working space
with garden views!
Each of my team work from home too, but it's important that we
get together to collaborate and thrash out ideas, which we do about
once a month.
Do you have set working hours?
Generally speaking I have a fairly normal working week, much
like anyone else. Some client events require being away from
home, or attending an evening Board meeting and I enjoy the change
About two years ago I gave myself a strict talking to about
weekend working and have reclaimed back that precious time as my
own. The only business-related work I do out of hours now is the
fun stuff, like writing articles for industry publications, or
researching new opportunities.
How do you make sure you're focused and never get distracted at
Having a good supply of great coffee! We're coffee lovers
in our house so I make sure I step outside a couple of times a day
with a cup to gather my thoughts and focus my mind. It's often the
time when I get a flash of inspiration on how to tackle a
What was it like at the start?
A complete novelty, which I suspect is the same for most people.
No sweaty tube journeys, queuing for a coffee, or office politics.
It was brilliant! Then after about a month, reality set in along
with the realisation of having no guaranteed salary at the end of
the month. That certainly focuses the mind and keeps you
What's the worst thing about working from home?
Being distracted by household chores, so I get them out of the
way first thing.
What's the best?
Several of my neighbours also run businesses and we're lucky to
live in a very communal environment, so there's usually someone
around if I need to bend an ear, or vice versa.
I always joke about life when I had a 'proper job' but in all
honestly, it doesn't get any more real than when you're ultimately
responsible for chartering your own destiny. Having happy
clients is what it's all about. Also, I get to travel
nationally and internationally several times a year, which I love
as it gives me a chance to spread my wings and get a fresh
Would you ever go back to working in an office that's not at
I occasionally work in a client's office at the start of a new
relationship. It's massively helpful to get up to speed
quickly and work with your client at the coalface, understanding
how their business operates and how we can best support them.
On balance though I love having my office at home and I wouldn't
change it for the world.