Getting Connected at the Northwest VA Conference 2016

Louise Attenborough, Chocolate Collective

We’ve spent the last couple of days at the Northwest VA Conference across in Warrington and what an incredible couple of days it was.  Hosted by Executive VPA and VA champion, Joanne Hawkins, the event pulls together some outstanding speakers to advise, inspire and motivate those in the business support profession.


Catering for the virtual professional service, it also pulls some very talented individuals away from their hot desk or kitchen table to put names to faces, share knowledge and network with a hugely skilled pool of talent.  Last but not least, it looks to recognise those leading the way through the VA of the Year Awards…but more on that later 😉


This year’s theme was #getconnected looking at topics of finance, social media, PR and business vision; all vitally important aspects for any micro-business looking to spread the word and see their business grow.  This is why we love this conference; the sessions are all constructive, relevant and incredibly valuable.  Attendance is not about the free biscuits, day out of the office and schmoozing (although we won’t lie that the evening drinks on the first day was lots of fun, even if they did cost a fortune eh GEM Business Support?), it’s a genuine investment in your business.


Get connected to the Media


The event kicked off with a riveting talk from Mary Murtagh Media, an award-winning news reporter, copywriter and PR who shared her top tips for getting your story noticed by the media.  Forget PR agencies, generic emails and flimsy intros, every press release needs to be short, easy to read and jargon free with a who, what, why, where, how and when.  More importantly, recognise those stories’ that are space fillers and promote them to journalists as such; ‘grout’ was the term Mary used – they’re more likely to get picked up than if it were dressed and fluffed to be something bigger and grander than it really is.  Any publicity is good publicity, so don’t expect it to be a page lead every time.


Get connected to your reputation


Next up was Rosalind Henshall from Big Thinking Online who demonstrated why reputation marketing is a hugely powerful tool.  When researching a new product or service, do you buy from those featured at the top of Google? The cheapest? Or from those with the best reputation? And thus Ros described the importance of reviews, testimonials and case studies.  Not necessarily new information right?  But if those reviews aren’t being fed into Google, your product or service loses out on the essential stars that could sit by your business profile and immediately communicate to your customers that you are outstanding.  So watch this space as Helen and I start to hunt you all down to transfer all your lovely feedback and comments onto Google over the coming weeks!


Get connected to your vision


Day 2 was jam-packed and kicked off with an inspiring talk from Debbie Hayes on how to get connected to your vision; the absolute true north of your vision and not the 359 other degrees that are set to distract us.  Sharing practical tips and tools for staying connected and continually evaluating that your course is set on the right path, Helen and I were both amused and inspired that one of Debbie’s exercise’s revealed we were 100% aligned on our path.  Apparently, the 4th of July is a new moon and so a great day for setting new intentions; we for one will be laying down the steps to reach our shared goal.


Get connected to others


It was reassuring to hear from Tricia Peters from Cheshire Business Events about how to get the best from networking.  Not always the most comfortable experience, Tricia’s advice resonated with our own approach and we were pleased to be able to share our experiences with others.  Sara McKee from McKee Direct expanded on this to explain why you should invest in all of the interesting people you meet; it is those who will form your ‘tribe’ – your invaluable team of connectors, facilitators, resources and friends.


Get connected to your finances


And finally we all had a necessary reminder of how important, as a business owner, it is to be connected to your finances.  Fortunately, Andrew Collier had the decency to get us all to admit our financial habits (or lack thereof!) with everyone’s eyes closed, but when translated against lost income and lost holidays, the importance of timesheets and charging our worth really hit home.


Get connected to each other


We both scribbled plenty of notes and left with plenty of ‘must-do’s’ but we also left with a real sense of community.  Last year, we were like rabbits in headlights, so new to our business, in awe of so many experienced professionals.  This year, we felt like one of them.  The pool of virtual assistant talent is immense in the Northwest, but we are all uniquely talented and each with different skills to share, so the conference felt like a collaboration, connecting us all to each other on a much deeper level.


We might just throw in at this point that we were also successful as runner-up in the Northwest VA of the Year 2016 against some stiff (but friendly!) competition in the form of Curlew Secretarial Solutions and Chadwicks Admin Ltd.  Because if we’ve learnt anything from the last couple of days it’s about not being afraid to blow your own trumpet, being confident and trusting in yourself and your vision.  So s’cuse Helen and I if we sing about our success from the roof tops for the next few days!


NW VA of the Year 2016 - With award

NW VA of the Year 2016 – runners up!


Big thank-you to Joanne and her team for organising, to BeMyVA for recognising the hard work we do within the judges’ comments and to the inspiring speakers that gave up their time and experience.  We highly recommend this event to other Northwest VA’s, old-timers or wannabes – it’s a hugely invaluable experience that sits firmly on our yearly calendar.