One Hour PA Ltd: Pattie Mason

Pattie Mason tells us how her new admin and PA support business is coping

A budding entrepreneur bursting with startup ideas, Pattie Mason saw a gap in the market to startup her own small business support company. She saw an opportunity and could not refuse. Here she talks to about how she’s getting on.

Name: Pattie Mason Business: One Hour PA Ltd. Type of business: Flexible admin and PA support for small businesses and individuals Start date: 12th July 2004

When did you first decide you wanting start your own business?

I have always wanted to work for myself in some capacity. Over the last few years I’ve worked as administration manager for a succession of start ups that have either gone bust or I’ve been made redundant from, so when this happened again a few months ago I started to think about what else I could do. I decided to use the skills and experience I had acquired to set up my own business.

Tell us about your business

One Hour PA offers flexible admin and PA support to small businesses, individual entrepreneurs, freelance consultants, start ups, etc. It is designed to support people who need someone reliable to delegate admin and miscellaneous tasks to, but don’t have the workload or money for a full time employee and don’t want to hire a succession of temps. So they can hire One Hour PA for as little as an hour a month or a day a week, and we work either virtually or on site at their premises. Obviously because of the on site thing I only work with companies in London.

The idea is that with One Hour PA you have all the benefits of a permanent employee, in that we get to know your business and how you like to work and have time to build a good working relationship. However, the only commitment you have is to pay our invoice. There’s no worrying about holiday pay, sick pay, National Insurance, payroll, etc, etc.

Was it your first business idea and what was your inspiration?

It wasn’t my first business idea but it was the first that actually made it past the idea stage. I think that’s because some of the other ideas I have had have been ones where I don’t have the necessary experience to get it off the drawing board.

What makes you think there’s a market for your business?

In my own experience of working for start ups and other small businesses I found that for support staff there’s an initial phase when things are very busy, when the company is just starting and you are setting up admin systems, researching employee benefits, kitting out the offices, etc, etc. Then once that’s done, the workload tends to decrease and I found that I was underemployed. It occurred to me that what companies like this need is someone reliable and experienced, who they can get in on ad hoc basis, but who functions as effectively as a permanent employee who knows the business and how things work.

I’ve also worked for a few individuals who are trying to run their own show and really need some admin help to get them organized, but simply don’t have the money for a permanent employee. I figured that One Hour PA would be the solution, we are not just virtual assistants at the end of the phone, so we can deal with physical things like filing systems and at the same time you pay only for the time you use.

What research did you do?

I did a lot of internet research, looking at virtual assistant services and what they offered as opposed to the more lifestyle management orientated services. I compared rates and services and thought about how I could pitch my business with a slightly different spin on it. I also found out some facts and figures on the number of small businesses in my area and ran the idea past friends who have some idea of business.

How useful has your business plan been and do you think you’ll stick to it as your business begins to grow?

Well it was useful initially in that it helped me get to grips with my idea and confirm how I was going to proceed initially. It also helped in that writing it down spurred me on. After writing it I registered my company and kicked things into action. Other than that I haven’t looked at it since. Which is probably a cardinal sin!

How much did it cost to start the business?

Not much. As I work from home and already have a PC I didn’t need to invest in a lot of equipment or anything of great expense. I guess overall it cost around £500 to get set up and the majority of that was on marketing materials and business cards.

How did you fund this?

I funded this from my savings and a little family help.

Similarly, how are you funding your running costs until the business takes off? The same way! That and being very frugal!

When did you stop working and how did you find the transition from full-time employment to self-employment?

I’d already been made redundant and had just been temping whilst getting my business started, so the transition wasn’t really too dramatic. I’m really glad I decided to become self employed, it’s very motivating working for yourself. The cliché is that it is very hard work and that’s definitely true, I am constantly thinking about ways I can build my business and I do longer hours in the week than I used to and I often work on weekends as well.

Are you working from home or from premises?

From home because I have no need of premises at the moment and can’t foresee myself needing any. My business works in such a way that I can either work from my spare room, or from the customer’s premises, there’s no need for all the cost of premises.

How many hours do you work?

I probably work around 8 hours a day, the majority of that spent trying to develop my business. I find that I have to be quite strict with myself in timetabling my day otherwise I tend to jump around from one task to the other and then end the day with nothing much completed. So I actually write out my plan each day, 9 – 10 reply to e-mails, 10 – 11 cold calling, etc, etc.

What about staff, is it just you?

It’s just me and to be honest I quite like it. Obviously I hope that things get busy enough for me to employ someone in the long term but it would only be a part time position.

Is the amount of red tape that comes with taking on an employee something that concerns you?

Yes, definitely. Employing people can be complicated and expensive, I’d probably look for some kind of freelance help.

What marketing and advertising have you done so far?

One of the first things I did was have postcards printed up with my logo and detailing my services and delivered them to local serviced offices and businesses, plus I did a small mail out with some of them. None of which gave me any return. In fact it was the least successful marketing tactic I tried. Other than that I have joined the local chamber of commerce so that I can attend networking events. I’ve built up a list of local companies that I’m working my way through cold calling. I’ve registered on some women’s networking sites, have told all my family and friends to mention my business to anyone who may be appropriate and I also scour the job pages for local companies that are looking for part time help, I then give them a call and suggest they try our service instead.

I think networking is the best way to get clients. My first client came from the print shop I used to get my business cards done, I had left some cards with them and they recommended me to this guy. Recently I’ve started cold calling people as well, I have to force myself to do it as it’s a bit daunting, but there’s a definite sense of satisfaction when you get someone who expresses an interest in your services. You do have to get used to rejection though. It’s also a quick and fairly cheap way to do a bit of marketing. It’s made me far nicer to people who call up trying to sell me things!

Where do you hope to be in 12 months time? This time next year I’d like to have a good core of clients that provide a steady stream of work, and a few others that come and go on a more ad hoc basis. I’d like to have a reputation in the local small business community for providing excellent service and first class office support. The main obstacle to this would be that, like anything worthwhile, it’s a long hard slog to achieve such status.

Tell us about your web-site. How important is it to your business?

Obviously I was constrained by my budget which was basically nothing. So I built my website myself. I wanted something quite simple and basic that looked clean and neat and provided potential clients with all the necessary information. Which I think it does.

What are your main ambitions, to make a lot of money or enjoy what you do?

I don’t think they are mutually exclusive so I shall say both!

What have you found difficult about starting up and what do you wish you’d done differently?

Getting things off the ground in terms of finding clients. I had no idea how difficult it would be or what a lengthy process it is. When I think about it now I was very naïve to expect that simply doing a mailshot would generate me any business. I think the only way to find clients is to approach people, either face to face or on the phone, but basically you need to get talking to them and make them aware of your business. New business doesn’t just land in your lap on the back of a few mailouts.  If there’s one thing I would do differently it’s probably start being a lot more pushy and proactive about finding clients much earlier on.

What skills and personal characteristics do you think you need to start your own business?

I think you need to be very determined. The idea of starting one’s own business is initially quite exciting but it does boil down to a lot of hard work in the end. If you thrive on team work and need the support of colleagues to encourage you then you might not be cut out for it, because you really do need to be able to motivate yourself. It is very exciting though to be in charge of your own business and know that its success or failure is all down to you.

Thanks a lot and the very best of luck. Will you come back and tell us how you’re getting on in six months’ time?

Of course


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