And Just Like That…

When it came to deciding what to write for my first blog, initially, I didn’t have a clue. But inspiration finally struck when I channelled my inner Carrie Bradshaw and ‘kinda got to thinking’ that even from an early age, destiny had been setting the scene for my VA vocation some 40-odd years later! I soon realised that the theme for Blog Number One should be all about how I got here… and how every role I’ve had since leaving school has contributed to the services I offer as a VA today.

And just like that, “Blogs from Behind the Cape” was born!

How it Started…

Being organised was instilled in me from a very young age. My mum – up until retiring – was an insanely organised PA her whole working life. In fact, as well as destiny playing her part, it was Mum who pretty much set me on this path at the age of eight, when I spent some of the school holidays at the marketing company she worked for as her “glamorous assistant”. Stuffing envelopes with marketing materials for the princely sum of £10 per week? Not too shabby for a child in the late 70s!

She also drummed into me (to the point I still quote her on this today) that “if you get yourself a secretarial background to start with, you’ll never be out of work”). And to be fair, I haven’t really proved her wrong yet! Even by the end of the day that I was made redundant eight years ago, I’d already secured myself an internship working with two great London journos to keep myself active in the workplace and ramp up my copywriting skills at the same time.

Plucked from Obscurity

Arthur Andersen was my grounding… 20 or so of us were plucked straight from completing the LCCI’s Private Secretary’s Certificate in college and placed onto the accountancy firm’s secretarial training scheme. After two weeks’ induction, we each had our own permanent position supporting PAs across the business.

I left (as you do when you’re 19!) for a higher-paid secretarial gig at a Trading Firm and very soon learned that I really didn’t want to be spending two hours every day from 5pm shredding!). So, I left and gained my wings as an ‘Office Angel’ temp – which I absolutely loved. Plus, it set me in great stead for working with different clients regularly AND for the fallout from this bloody pandemic (i.e., when my workload became somewhat leaner).

At KPMG Peat Marwick, I picked up my “design skills” (oh Canva, where were you when I needed thee?!)… using Microsoft Publisher to create the team’s bi-weekly Tax Central Resources newsletter. And then I found the love of my life – the travel industry – when I bagged myself a fabulous PA job at American Express Travel. Wow… what didn’t I learn there?

Baptism of Fire

Video-conferencing was just starting to be a ‘thing’, and I was nominated by my lovely bosses to trial and test it. (God, it was awful… every time we used it, it was pixelated as hell and so slow we all looked like we were ‘doing the robot’ to our colleagues across Europe… well, that’s when they could actually see us)!

I had a baptism of fire into PowerPoint presentation creation (again, unleashing my ‘frustrated creative’ on the world) and the mother of all intros into event organisation too when I was tasked with arranging a weekend in Frankfurt for 250 Travel Agents from all over Europe. This included making all the travel arrangements (flights, hotels, transfers etc.), making sure everyone was where they needed to be, when they needed to be there and co-ordinating a treasure hunt for all 250 of them across Frankfurt Airport (pre-911, of course!). It all culminated with a big celebratory bash in a vast airport hangar at the end of the weekend, which I also put together! It was a tough few months organising it all, and many late nights were involved, but boy was it worth every second!

Heading North

I ended my PA career in London after meeting ’a boy’ and headed north to Chester. I started out with a six-month stint in Conferencing and Banqueting at The Chester Grosvenor Hotel (fancy schmancy!), six months as a PA for a food stabilising company (mega-yawn!), and finally found my Northern jam at a luxury tour operator. My first two years or so there was spent as PA to the Marketing & PR Director where I did everything from getting her lunch, doing her shopping, and finding her daughter a summer job in the States (I wasn’t jealous at all!), to assisting with press trips and arranging every element of their annual World Travel Market cocktail party at the Four Seasons Hotel in London for 500 of the world’s top hoteliers.

A Brand New Career

Then somehow (and I still can’t quite believe it as it really went way beyond my comfort zone at first), I landed a role in the Product Team. This was an incredible role. One minute, I was contracting hotels for inclusion in our brochures. The next, networking my ass off! It also entailed writing marketing copy, proofreading, managing content, developing processes and procedures for new product, working on brochure production, even helping to co-create a swish new brand from scratch. It also meant I got to stay in a ton of the world’s most heavenly hotels and resorts – all in the name of research, natch… well, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do!

I Should Be So Lucky

On top of all that, I’ve had some incredible experiences on my travels. I’m pretty sure my careers advisor never mentioned I could get paid to kiss giraffes over breakfast; hug elephants before lunch; narrowly escape hippo attacks… (well, kinda!); spend three decadent days cruising along the French Riviera onboard a super-duper superyacht; ride a scooter underwater; go to International Space University in Strasbourg (I promise I’m not making any of this up!); visit Virgin Galactic’s “mothership”, WhiteKnightTwo, at the Mojave Spaceport in California; stop by Spaceport America in New Mexico during construction, and complete sub-orbital space flight training in Philadelphia – being spun around in a human centrifuge that recreates the g-forces encountered when breaking the earth’s atmosphere!

New Beginnings

The party was over (or so I thought) when I was unfortunately made redundant… but that’s where my internship in London came in. And as well as honing my writing skills, it’s also where I learnt how to use Mailchimp and discovered my love for content management. But without doubt, my last – and most fabulous – task with them was arranging a party for London Pride in their co-working space at the heart of Old Compton Street. An event that turned out to be one of the best days at work I’ve ever had (so much so, I barely made it home alive)!

Freelance Fever

And for the last eight years, I’ve been self-employed, writing copy, managing online content, project-managing brochure production and taking care of business for a luxury travel company… that was until COVID hit, and the travel industry fell onto its knees. But I picked myself up and let destiny play her part once again when I randomly came across an article about Virtual Assistants (which I don’t think I even knew was a ‘thing’ until March 2020)!

How it’s Going

That’s when all the stars aligned, and I realised that transforming my business into a Virtual Assistant service really was a no-brainer. I thrive the most when I have a real mixed bag of tasks to work on; I LOVE being part of something that’s continuously evolving; I have a heap of transferable skills, a passion for learning new applications (good job too, with everything that’s out there these days!). I still love organising, admin, and taking care of people too. So you can definitely say I’m in my happy place once more!

3 Comments

  1. Cheryl Rowell

    Wow Justine! That was an awesome read! Good luck with this fabulous new venture – I just know this is going to be the mega success you deserve!!

    Reply
  2. Justine

    Awww thanks so much Cheryl! You were a massive part of my journey too, so I wouldn’t be where I’m at now without you! We had so much fun too eh? xx

    Reply
  3. Jill

    Well, I have learnt some things about you Juzzie! I had no idea you had done half of that! I have chuckled through your write up- what a great read. I love the way you write. What a life so far and I think there are going to be a lot more amazing adventures heading your way. Good luck with this great venture.

    Reply

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