Ruth Coe

Startup profile: Starting up a business on a wing and a prayer

Ruth Coe hit on her idea for her virtual assistant business after going on work experience. She talks to why starting up was a heavenly experience.

Startup profiles go straight to the hub of the action by speaking to entrepreneurs who have literally just started up. We find out what made them decide to start their own business, how they got it off the ground, the obstacles they’ve overcome and the barriers they still face. We’ll look at their hopes and aspirations for the future, and then, in six months time, we’ll go back and find out how they’re getting on.

Name: Ruth Coe Age: 26 Business: Type of business: Virtual Office providing business support 24 hour, seven days a week. Start date: November 2002

When did you first decide you wanting start your own business? I had always had the burning desire to start my own business but always thought that I would never have enough money and time. I completed a HNC in Business Studies which gave me an insight into the whole process of running a business. I decided to come up with something that would fit in with my family commitments as I already had a five-year-old child but the real crunch came when I found myself without a job as it pushed me into picking a path for the future. As I had continued my further education so I thought of a business that used my “college” knowledge instead of finding any old job. Hence the concept of secretarial angel was born

Tell us about your business is a virtual office that provides business administration, marketing and PR support. The idea is to be accessible to clients 24 hours a day as, and when, they need us. Also customer service is a huge priority as I think this kind of virtual office offers a more personal service and can be used by national and international clients.

Was it your first business idea and where did it come from? This has been my only business idea because it’s the only thing that I have been interesting in doing. The nature of the business means I can still strike that work-life balance that many of us are looking for. It basically came from the desire to be a successful businesswoman and achieve my goal of being in control of something that I have created, nurtured and hopefully help grow into a flourishing business.

Was your decision to start a business inspired by any other companies or individuals? I have had support from family and friends but I have also been inspired by the comments and advice from various business forums and women’s business networking groups.

What makes you think there’s a market for your business? I had never heard of a virtual assistant until I started doing work experience for one. I assumed there had to be a market and did research into the kind of services on offer, and who and who currently used them. It was at this point that I decided that there was an advantage of being able to extend the business to international clients because of the time difference.

What research did you do?I used the internet a lot to look on websites for small businesses. I also looked into funding possibilities and banks that offered suitable business accounts.

Talk us through the process of writing your business plan. I had written many business plans through college, which also included marketing and promotional plans. But when it came to my own I found I had a real mental block. I used templates and also Business Link’s advice as well as my own college notes to help.

How much did it cost to start the business and how did you fund this?Less than £500. I had researched the Prince’s Trust and funding through Business Link, but didn’t want to take out any business loans as my operation was small and start up costs were very low. I had been working part-time and putting small amounts away and when I found I was out of work, decided I might as well go for it. But this meant I have had to be very careful and assess all my costs carefully. There are some things that you think you need but can realistically do without.

How are you funding your running costs until the business takes off?The amount of work I do varies, so I am lucky to have the help and support of my husband and family.

Have you made any provisions for business not being as prosperous as expected? I am lucky in the fact I haven’t risked anything. If things don’t work out, at least I can say I’ve done it and just move on.

Are you working from home or from premises? I work at home as we have the space and facility to do so. There is only myself and as long as I have the phone and the computer the business can function. I would like to think that the business would grow enough to need extra space and staff. I am very disciplined and try and work just as I would in an everyday office setting.

How are you managing your day and what steps have you taking to ensure you’re able to get everything done without working around the clock?I work between 10 to 20 hours a day When you have your own business you do find that you do put in many more hours. I have to be quite disciplined so that I don’t spend time doing work related things when there is really no need to. But as I offer the service of being open 24 hours I have to be able to fulfil this.

What about staff, is it just you? There is only me which I enjoy as I can make my own decisions but if I need advice I have built a network of support who always help.

What marketing and advertising have you done so far?I have used no paid advertising, as I don’t think I really need to but it is something that I may use when I can develop a budget for it. The internet has been powerful for marketing and gaining enquiries and the website is the main promotional tool. In addition I have been doing complimentary work to build a reputation and extend my future market base. Word of mouth is also good free PR. I would like to think people are using my services because of recommendation rather seeing an advert in a paper mixed with everybody else’s.

Where do you hope to be in 12 months’ time? I hoped to have developed a good client base and to have increased my hours. I also am extending my services to logo design and am hoping this will incorporated into the services range.

What are the main obstacles to growth and how do you plan to overcome these?Finance has been the main barrier. But the best way to overcome this is by networking. It’s a good way of striking up business relationships so getting out there and meeting potential clients.

Tell us about your website. The website is very important. It is the virtual component for Secretarialangel as email and the internet is the key communication for many of my clients. I employed somebody to do the website but it could be better and is something I plan on upgrading as soon as possible. I am looking for a more corporate and professional image and I would advise people not to use freelance designers but think about using a web design company. I have now realised that you can’t skimp on some things and if I have to pay £400 for a website then I will.

What are your main ambitions, to make a lot of money or enjoy what you do?I haven’t made much money but I enjoy what I do. It has been varied and I think that is important at work since it’s what we all spend most of our time doing.

What have you found difficult about starting up and what do you wish you’d done differently? People didn’t take me seriously and I also wished that I had the chance to work for longer to gain more financial support.

What skills and personal characteristics do you need to start your own business?Be confident, organised, ambitious and most of all to be positive.

So what advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business?Put together a good business plan and do not be afraid to take any help. On top of that research is very important on all aspects of running a business. It’s surprising how many people aren’t aware of registering with the Inland Revenue, for example. That is why websites like are such a good idea.


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