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Virtual help reaps rewards
Julie Gardner uses her experience as an administrator to help businesses with everything from event planning and diary management to running social media and doing their shopping.
Julie started her “virtual associate” business Virtually JAG in March, 2015. It has one employee and helps businesses in the Bendigo and district area with a range of tasks.
With more than 25 years’ experience in administrative roles including executive assistant, personal assistant, assistant manager and hotel licensee, Julie can cover almost anything they need done.
“I saw that there is a need for businesses to have casual executive assistance without the commitment of employing someone full time,” she says.
Virtually JAG works with a business to pinpoint what she can do for them. This may include network facilitation, event planning/management, onsite and remote administration, diary management, obtaining liquor licences or planning permits, data entry, social media, payroll, human resources, staff relocation, personal concierge and shopping.
Customers mainly include small to medium enterprises. “The world of virtual assistants is growing and so too are the opportunities,” she says. “My work is mainly centred on the Goldfields region, although some overlap into other large centres.”
Julie’s hotel experience gives her an insight into dealing with industry and government agencies. Her aptitude for completing financial bookwork quickly and accurately is also a bonus, as is her curious nature to look laterally at problems and develop innovative solutions.
“I am a go-getter and enjoy a challenge,” she says.
Photo courtesy of Bendigo Magazine
Virtually JAG had great potential but Julie needed help to develop a professional framework for her business and a plan for the future.
She found SBMS when the Bendigo Business Council offered an introductory day for the Women in Business Course and was matched with mentor Gilly Swinnerton.
As a mentor, Gilly shares the insight she gained from a range of experiences in health care areas including hospitals, wholesaling, pharmaceuticals and Monash University in Parkville. She also spent 15 years as director of an architectural joinery business with her husband, managing the estimating, finance and marketing.
SBMS is a non-government, non-profit organisation of volunteer expert mentors who give their time and experience to help small business. It is supported by Small Business Victoria, which refers clients to it.
The Women in Business Course involved six four-hour sessions over five months. Julie had seven sessions with Gilly and mentoring is continuing occasionally.
Gilly says Julie had a good idea of what she wanted to do, but her goals and aspirations needed structure and format - both from a financial and marketing viewpoint.
“The Women in Business program was available to Julie at the right time,” she says. “We reviewed course work, and set about establishing a cash flow budget and forecast, and also worked on 90 day plans, together with longer term goals to achieve a full business plan that Julie will develop over time.
“As Julie is in tune with her emotional side, she incorporates ‘wheel of life’ diagram reviews to monitor how she felt she is tracking, and to give encouragement to work on the financial and business management facets of the business through SMART objectives selected and documented.
“A monthly report to self was suggested to provide insight on progress and use as a communication tool on the business with her husband.”
Gilly says Julie now has a better handle on managing her time, negotiating her rates and gaining longer term commitment for projects with prompt payment.
The women who attended her course, who were from a diverse range of businesses, continue to maintain contact as a support network and attend events together.
Since seeing Gilly, Julie has continued to develop her client base while starting a management role with a local business. A number of opportunities have arisen and Gilly’s advice helped her juggle them.
“I feel I would have not focused as well on my niche skills without our discussions, which were sometimes surprising in their outcomes!” Julie says.
"I couldn’t speak more highly of Gilly, who went above and beyond my expectations. I now believe and do acknowledge the benefit of celebrating achievements, even the small ones.”
Julie says Gilly advised her to set realistic goals when it came to chargeable hours, particularly given her role as a foster mother. After working through the family schedule they decided on a more achievable number that did not place as much pressure on her.
“I have a better understanding of budgeting both time and finances,” Julie says. “Compiling monthly reports is a great way to keep track of what and who I work with and helps keep me accountable by allowing my husband to readily see my business in progress.”
Julie’s understanding of her skills and what she can offer a business has also improved.
“I am more confident when talking with a prospective client and highlighting to them the importance of outsourcing and asking them questions, which in turn makes them question what they can let go of,” she says.
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