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To leap or not to leap to self-employment

What does it take to make the leap to self-employment?

This is the question on the lips of anyone who’s ever thought about leaving the security of a full time job to go it alone. Making the decision is the first step, but how to turn that into a reality and stick at it is not always as clear cut.

Three years ago, I was working as a Personal Assistant (PA) to a senior Director in the headquarters of the European Investment Bank in Luxembourg where I’d gone to work 9yrs previously as a bi-lingual Project Administrator. I’d got to the stage in my career where I could go as far as I wanted in my grade and had already taken a sideways step to get more experience. I knew I wanted to use the skills I already had developed in 14yrs of varied administrative posts: customer –orientated , knowledge sharing, adapting to different personalities , evolving with new technologies and working with a high level of autonomy but I wasn’t quite sure which way to turn as I couldn’t find a role which was demanding and interesting enough.

So I started working on my LinkedIn profile and whilst doing this, I happened to see an interesting workshop called  from ‘ Personal Assistant (PA) to Virtual Assistant (VA)‘ run by Susan Moore, a successful VA who had set up her business 10yrs previously. My curiosity (as is always the case) got the better of me and off I went on the 1 day course in London. The workshop outlined the steps of becoming ‘virtual’ and the challenges being self-employed would bring. By the end of the day I was convinced becoming a virtual assistant was the chance for me to use the PA skills I had developed over 7 yrs (being highly organised, diplomatic, discreet, trustworthy and pro-active) whilst allowing me the much craved flexibility and creativity to choose my clients and the projects I was working on so that I was constantly learning and evolving.

(Hays Recruitment have recently published a report on what makes a successful PA which makes very interesting reading and certainly the fact of being assertive and knowing how to juggle many balls in the air at the same time, struck a cord with me!).

Where to leap to? Do your research/know your market/network

I realised as a Virtual Assistant that my target client would be either a well-established sole trader or micro/small- businesses  just starting out who would need ad hoc or ongoing administrative assistance but who wouldn’t necessarily need/afford a full time recruited in-house PA.

Initially, I did some research in Luxembourg about whether it was the place to set up but quickly realised there were relatively small number of business starting up there. As a Queens University Belfast graduate and with my heart strings pulling me back home, I decided Northern Ireland with its high constant number of micro/small-business start-ups up was place to be. So as inevitably all us nomads do, 4 months later (and not without a few share of tears shed), I packed my belongings and returned to my roots and my native County Armagh.

When to ask for help

Since mid –Autumn, I’ve been enrolled on the Women in Business NI (WIBNI) power#4  programme with other female start-ups; as even we high flying independent women need a helping hand at times! and advice from others who have taken the leap to self-employment and made a success of it. This course has been especially important to me as after spending 11yrs abroad (Luxembourg, France, Australia), I had to start from scratch building a business network and as the power#4 name suggests we are exponentially spreading the word about each other’s businesses.

When to leap

My fellow female entrepreneurs are all at various degree of fledging. Some are still in full time employment exploring their new business idea; some working part-time and a rare few have fully taken the leap to be 100% self-employed. We often discuss when is the best time to leave the comfort nest of full or part time employment to become fully self-employed and the answer we came to realise is there is never/always a good time. Sometimes you need someone to force you and sometimes you need to force yourself to see if you and your business idea has wings !

After a nine month gestation period :)) working full time and trying to set up my business in the background, I then changed to a part time job to allow me to spend more time on my own venture. It wasn’t easy juggling the two, from a time management perspective or in terms of focussing my attention. I often ended up doing many more hours in a week than I would have with a single full time job and because of my high expectations of myself, I felt I wasn’t giving enough attention to either.


As of 1st February, I have taken the exhilarating (and slightly terrifying) step of being 100% self-employed. 2 weeks in and I’m loving it!

As one half of a very wise couple said to me recently (Gilchrist & Co) ‘A freelancer is someone who jumps off a cliff and builds an airplane on the way down!’ thinking of that imagery you have to a) make sure you have skills to build that airplane and b) surround yourself with those who can help you in case of engine problems in transit. In this regard, we are blessed in Northern Ireland as we are by nature a very creative and collaborative lot and I’m very thankful for people who have helped me since my return (you know who you are).

So if you haven’t jumped yet, what are you waiting for? go for it! I won’t lie it has taken me about 3 years to get to this stage but so far I’ve few regrets. Being freelance  and now working 100% from home will of course bring a whole new set of challenges but that’s something I’ll come onto in my next blog…

Hello is it me you are looking for? A Virtual Assistant


  1. Having worked with Alison I know she will be a big asset to anyone using her services , level headed and a safe pair of hands. Your drive is inspirational . Well done .

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