Rachel and Louise are virtual assistants who work together under the banner of SmartPA. They’re also sisters, who have been business partners and collaborators for many years! In this episode, they talked me through all of what a virtual assistant actually does, and dished the dirt on what it’s like to have your sister as a business partner. Rachel and Louise are just starting to use Instagram, alongside LinkedIn, Facebook Groups, and in-person networking. So we spent some time talking about my best advice for business owners hoping to get the most out of Instagram from the very beginning. We also talked about their amazing networking calendar – visit the Calendar Girl website to see all the events coming up in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Louise bought into the SmartPA franchise a few years ago, right after she had her son. The company she’d been running before had closed, and she needed to find work that was flexible enough to handle with a new baby. She had plenty of the skills and experience needed to run a company, and found an advert for SmartPA by pure co-incidence whilst trawling job posts at 2 in the morning. Rachel trained to join her shortly afterwards, and so far they seem to be loving it!

What does a virtual assistant actually do?

One way to describe a “VA” is a freelance personal assistant. The term virtual implies Louise and Rachel always work remotely from their clients but that doesn’t have to be the case. They can also show up in person at events or in offices to help out where needed.

The work they do is quite varied, and so far they’ve yet to answer phones for a single client. Instead the spend their time writing blog posts, helping with social media, organising receipts and planning events. Many of these are things a business owner could do for themselves, but as Rachel says, “why would you?”

Because of the variety of their work and their clients, there’s not an online tool around they haven’t used or investigated. Whether it’s an email service, a CRM, accounting software, or even design tools, it seems like Rachel and Louise have looked at just about everything – so they’re great people to ask for recommendations!

Running a business with your sister

Before they started with SmartPA, Louise and Rachel each ran their own company – something to do with pensions – but the two companies worked very closely together, due to the nature of their business. So they have many years of practise working together, and a great sense of humour about it. 

They both have very different skills and preferences, which means they make an excellent buy-one-get-one-free pairing. Louise is good with reports and figures and spreadsheets, whilst Rachel is a people person and loves to organise events. When pressed, neither of them could come up with a favourite project because they each enjoy so much of what they do. I think the lesson here is to find a business partner, sister or not, who has the right set of skills to complement your own. Where you can share the work in a way that suits everyone, it’s much more enjoyable.

Focus on relationships over pitching

Even though they’re great at keeping on top of content for their clients, Rachel and Louise find it difficult to keep on top of their own digital marketing efforts. They do a lot of in-person networking, and find that their clients come through referrals, and getting to know people. Business owners need to trust their VAs to hand over tasks to them effectively, so that process of building relationships is key. When they do use social media, they focus on connections with people rather than broadcasting a sales pitch or showing off what they can do.

LinkedIn is a great place to do that, but they actually get more traction in Facebook Groups. Over time they’ve found a few groups that have a great community and allow them to build on in-person relationships and to offer help and support to new people too. Again, they use the groups as a way to connect with people personally, instead of posting offers or pitches about their services. It took a bit of trial and error to find the right ones, and found over time it was better to stick with a few that really worked than to expand too far. Engagement from group members was the most important thing to look out for.

Your Calendar Girl – the networking website

One of my favourite things that Louise and Rachel work on is their Edinburgh and Glasgow networking calendar. This is a fantastic resource for local business owners who need to spend more time meeting other business owners in person. When Louise started working as a SmartPA, she trawled through Eventbrite to find events. However, a lot of the best ones she only found through word of mouth, and were hard to discover online. After putting all of these into a shared calendar and using it between the two of them, Louise then responded to requests from other people to share the calendar more widely, and eventually found a website creator who suggested putting together the site as it is now. There were some fun ideas of how to “jazz up” the site a little, although in the end they didn’t quite come to fruition. Maybe their Instagram account would benefit from re-purposing some of the pictures!

“Multitasking is the worst thing… it’s actually really detrimental.”

Focus on one task at a time

Louise suggested the most important thing for business owners to master is just to do one thing at a time. If you do more than one thing at a time you won’t give your best to either task.

Sometimes that might mean using a VA, an accountant, a subject expert of some kind. Where you’re not amazing at something, or you don’t like it, or even if it just takes up too much time, outsourcing is a great way to give yourself some breathing space to focus your efforts where you can make the most impact.

Rachel and Louise do some outsourcing themselves – as well as having an accountant, they are able to connect with others in the SmartPA network to get expert help for clients who need some really specific support. At the moment they work alongside a consultant in America who does just that.

How to get started using Instagram for business

Rachel has already set up an Instagram profile for their business – her handle is @RachelA_SmartPA so go and say hello. Because she’s just getting started, I shared some tips and ideas for how they might get off to a great start.

1. Seek out the accounts you want to do business with.

2. Communities build up around specific hashtags – work in those communities like you might in a Facebook Group.

3. Lastly, when it comes to your early posts – don’t overthink them. 

If you’re looking for more guidance on great strategies for Instagram, check out episode 2 of the podcast, where we covered an amazing Instagram growth strategy in five easy steps.