Why I LOVE Digital – and you should too!
Let me tell you a story
Once upon a time, well, not that long ago, 8 October 2015 to be precise, a lady called Elaine at the The Old Mill Accountancy received an email. Elaine shared it with one of their PA’s, Sophie. Sophie sent the email to her best friend and former colleague Rosy.
Two days earlier. At a little restaurant in the centre of Exeter, I met with Rosy, a fellow member of the Exeter PA Network. Rosy had been working as a Virtual Assistant (VA) and knowing I had left my employment to research setting up my own business as a VA, had offered to meet with me to share what she had learned. We had a great chat and lovely lunch and I left knowing for sure that setting up as a VA was what I wanted to do.
On 9 October, having received the email from Sophie, Rosy sent it on to me, with one sentence:
‘This might be of interest to you’
So what was the email about?
The email was from Cosmic UK. It was telling Elaine about new funding that had been received to provide free business support for 40 women in business.
The programme would include:
- Time with a dedicated digital mentor
- 1-to-1 sessions with a mentor
- Access to virtual classroom learning
- Face-to-face sessions at a work hub near me
- A business action plan
- Exclusive invite to their second LOVE Digital conference
It promised that there were benefits to my business which would:
- Improve my digital skills to work more effectively, saving time and money
- Increase sales through improved marketing and market reach,
- Save money and time on digital with cloud technologies
- Run a more efficient and profitable business
- Expand my networks and find new routes to market through social platforms
They were looking for women who had a clear motivation to adopt digital within their business and had a commitment to completing their programme. Additionally, applicants needed to be a woman running a business in Devon, Somerset, North Somerset or the BANES areas.
It did cross my mind that as I am quite good with technology and already had some digital knowledge such as Facebook and LinkedIn that I might not be accepted, but as I really felt that I needed to learn how to use digital resources from a business perspective, and that it was important that I had a good understanding of a lot of the technology available to increase my knowledge base and enable me to make informed recommendations to my clients.
It probably took me all of 10 seconds to decide that this was exactly what I needed to support me starting my business, so I applied that day. I continued researching setting up my business, and launched two weeks later on 23 October 2015.
On 9 November, I received an email that advised that I’d been selected onto the course, and a mentor would be allocated me.
This was the start of an incredible journey.
On 11 November, my journey started with my amazing mentor, Lizzie. Lizzie is an IT trainer at Cosmic, and I was told in the email was ‘known for her vibrant enthusiasm and energy which she brings with her’ and that she was ‘an incredibly passionate mentor with a vast range of digital knowledge. A highly effective communicator, with a friendly approach means that Lizzie will guide you carefully and honestly through your journey’. Apparently Lizzie was ‘very much looking forward to meeting and mentoring’ me. Phew! Good job.
So, over the past six months I have been very fortunate to have been taking part in this pilot project. LOVE Digital has helped me though the first few months of starting a business and has been far more valuable than I ever expected.
I have found the 1:1 mentoring with Lizzie to be invaluable. Sometimes I had something on my mind that I wanted to know more about, sometimes I joined our Skype call with no idea what we were going to talk about but either way always came out with a long list of ideas and things to action. Lizzie was always full of great ideas for me to address questions I had, solve problems and make recommendations for my clients. She has guided me through the process without judgement and enabled me to really explore different and new ways of doing things. And yes, she remained vibrant and enthusiastic the whole time!
Within the project we have also had the opportunity to attend monthly seminars on a variety of topics including the cloud, apps, SEO, monitoring my online presence amongst others. This has enabled us as a group of women with a wide variety of skills and knowledge to explore how the information can be applied in our businesses, and ask those ‘silly questions’ in a non-judgemental environment. This is where the networking started taking place as we got to know one another. The seminars were led by Helen, and her ability to get across such a wide variety of topics to a group with such varied levels
of knowledge was just incredible. Helen also gave us a video introduction to the topics and set us tasks to ensure we got the most out of the sessions. The Cosmic team also made sure that due to the geographical challenges of travelling to the sessions which were located across Devon and Somerset, that if we couldn’t make it, we could watch it live on Periscope, or play back a video later.
The networking continued on line, with a dedicated Facebook Group for the mentees. Here we had the chance to ask more of those ‘silly questions’ and test things out on one another. We shared useful tips, experiences, highs and lows. I used the group to gather feedback on ideas for my first digital competition, which I shared on social media. This competition was to offer two hours free support for four small businesses on 29 February 2016. The great thing was that two of the businesses that won the draw were fellow mentees, which gave me a unique opportunity to get to know these ladies and their fabulous businesses better – Jo at Barrel Top Wagons, and Jo at First Physio – check them out!
The networking didn’t stop there, Jo (First Physio) came with me to one of my business breakfasts with the Exeter Business Club and will be standing in for me there when I go away on holiday.
What did I get out of it?
- Network: An amazing business support network of very talented business women, who I feel are very quickly becoming more friends than acquaintances. Having shared this journey together has created a bond that none of us, least the mentors, expected;
- Media interest: I learned a lot more about blogging and whilst I haven’t blogged for a while (sorry Lizzie, I have drafted some and will get them published!), some of the blogs I wrote got noticed and I was asked to blog for some national and international PA publications;
- Industry recognition: I also linked all my social networks to Klout, and due to all the tips and advice I have received through the course, have remained in the Top 10 of the Executive Secretary ‘Power List’ for PAs;
- Self-confidence: The confidence that I have gained has been one of the biggest surprises. I signed up for a video to be made of me for my website and social media. Anyone who knows me, knows I hate having my picture taken and a video is even worse, but with the confidence that I had gained on the course I signed up to have this done without hesitation and the result is far better than I expected, although always self-critical I should’ve had my roots done first 😉 Watch it here. I even got up the courage to nominate myself for an award, and have been shortlisted in the Express & Echo ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ category. Whether I win or not is irrelevant, just nominating myself was a huge achievement! I’ll also be putting myself forwards for Virtual Assistant awards as they come along during the year;
- Public speaking: At the conference in March, Rachel (Tiddler & Fox) and I were asked to speak to over 70 women about our journeys. Having not done public speaking for a long time, this was completely out of my comfort zone but I felt I was amongst friends and if I couldn’t do it in front of them, where could I do it? It was hard, nerve-wracking and very emotional but putting myself outside of my comfort zone was a really great thing to have had chance to do.
“If you ever get the opportunity to be mentored or be a mentor yourself, do it!”.
So what next?
We’ve already started taking steps to ensure that at the 31 March 2016, the experience doesn’t end. As mentees, as the ‘class of 2016’ we’re keeping the Facebook Group so we can continue to support one another, and we’re planning on regular meet ups to continue supporting one another as our personal journey’s continue.
This post is mobile and SEO optimised (hopefully) has the right number of links and meta descriptions and is the final task I have been given. I will be sharing it far and wide and monitoring it’s success on my social media insights and Google Analytics! Hope that’s okay.
Thank you’s go to the Government Equalities Office for the funding. Thank you to Elaine for sharing that email with Sophie. Thank you to Sophie for sending it to Rosy and Rosy for passing it on. Thank you to Lizzie and Julie for the support and mentoring; Helen for the fabulous seminars (I shall forever remain envious of your creativity and style); Kate, Vicky and Jack and everyone else at Cosmic for making this happen, and selecting me in the first place. And lastly, a huge THANK YOU to my fellow mentees, you are all amazing and I look forward to seeing how your businesses (and our friendships) continue to flourish.
LOVE Digital is fully funded by the Women and Broadband Challenge fund supported by the Government Equalities Office. The programme is a part of Connecting Devon and Somerset and is being delivered by Cosmic UK, Peninsula Enterprise and Westward Pathfinder.
If there are areas of your business you could do with help with, we can help research possible funding support in your area. Call us on 07814 218142 or email firstname.lastname@example.org