My career as a teacher was actually pretty short. I’m sure my experience isn’t unique – a tricky PGCE mentor and the overwhelming feeling of never being able to do enough in the classroom – and as I’ve never been one to suffer through, I left the year after I finished being an NQT. I had been a Personal Assistant (PA) before teaching so the natural step for me was to return to that line of work. So off I went back to the City, smarter shoes and a radically improved pay packet with it.
But a few years later I realised that one thing I did miss about teaching was having a creative license. Although the benefits of working in a corporate environment were huge, I craved being able to make broader decisions about how I managed my day and carried out the things on my list. So in 2016 I took the daunting step of becoming a freelance PA (or virtual assistant), and I‘ve really never looked back.
Is running a business easy? No, but it’s far easier than being a teacher (in my humble opinion, anyway). Teachers and ex-teachers aren’t work shy and we’re a pretty resilient breed, which certainly helped during those first six months of business. I really had no idea how to find clients or market myself so that was a real learning curve, and one that in retrospect I wish I had had help with. I also fell pregnant with my daughter (now 2) a few months in, so morning sickness added another dimension to the struggle!
But my goodness, the flexibility. I now work for three days a week around my own schedule and I don’t have to worry about taking time off when my daughter’s unwell (and no need to book all my appointments in half term, either). I can even head guilt-free to a yoga class at 11am on a Tuesday. The flexibility goes beyond how I structure my week, though. I get to choose who I work with and what types of services I offer. My business has evolved over time too and I now run a Virtual Assistant (VA) training programme and offer coaching, so I get to use my teaching skills after all.
The longer I’ve been running my own business, the more I’ve come to realise just how transferrable all the skills you develop as a teacher really are. Planning, differentiation, communication, management – all these skills can be applied to your own venture and can actually help you stand out from the crowd. A few teachers have asked me what type of work they could do if they decided to leave the profession, and I can easily reel some off (tutor, coach, PA, VA, HR). But a common theme I’ve noticed is the fear of actually doing something different, especially when it comes to starting a business. It’s a common fear – doing something new always seems scary at first! But for me the pay-off has been flexibility, autonomy, work satisfaction and the feeling of making a difference through my training programme.
So if you’re toying with the idea of starting your own business, I suggest you start by working on these three things:
- Write down all the things you enjoy about teaching
- Make a list of the skills you have
- Write down the types of industries you might like to work in
Now, do any of these tie together? Eg. if you enjoy talking to people, are good at really listening and want to work with small businesses then HR consultancy might be a good fit for you (there are heaps of HR qualifications you can gain to extend your skills). Or if you enjoy planning (some people might!), are super organized and want to work across a range of industries then being a freelance PA/VA might be a good fit for you.
Whatever you decide to do, I recommend reading Be a Free Range Human by Marianne Cantwell and You are a Badass by Jen Sincero (yes, very Californian title but it shifted my entire thought process!) And don’t be afraid to seek help from someone who has done it before. It’s something I wish I had done when I first started out and it’s the reason I created my VA training programme, From PA to VA.
Amy Gould is a Virtual Assistant, trainer and Coach. You can find out more at www.amyrosegould.com