Women in Leadership Series: Business Owner of Hello My PA, Annie Browne
On March 8th 2019, International Women’s Day (#IWD2019) will be celebrated with the campaign #BalanceforBetter; calling for a more gender-balanced world. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women in leadership roles. I asked a number of female leaders to answer a series of questions about their experiences to share with you right here on the Ad Florem blog.
In this interview, we meet Annie, a Business Owner. Read our Women in Leadership Interview Series to meet the other interviewees.
Annie is the owner of virtual assistant business Hello My PA, and co-founder of Freelance Heroes: an online community for UK based Freelancers.
She has recently taken on a member of staff and has a team of freelancers who work for her on a semi-regular basis.
After working as a reception team supervisor straight out of university, and moving on to a PA and office manager role, she took a brief break from employment to have two children. She never went back.
That break sparked an entrepreneurial spirit within her and in 2012 she started a craft blog called Mrs Crafty B. This led her to running workshops and craft events based on crafts for mental health. Building a network of amazing craft business owners, enabled Annie to see a gap in the market for ad hoc admin and marketing support. In 2015, she started Hello My PA.
Four years down the line, she has created a job for herself that is flexible, inspiring and enables her to enjoy the work she loves with people she likes to work with. Annie now aims to create that same job for others.
In November 2018, she took on her first member of staff on a ‘flexible working’ basis and they are working together to figure out what flexible working really looks like for employees, employers and if employment can work in the same way as self-employment in terms of work life balance.
Annie, thank you for taking part in our Women in Leadership series. Tell us, what are the skills that you have that make you well suited to your role?
I would say that my skill set has changed over the last few years in order to bring me to where I am today, but the key thing that has remained consistent is my ability to communicate.
Communication skills are extremely important in all areas of life and work and this is something I am extremely passionate about.
As a virtual assistant, my clients are based all over the UK and so communication is key to building the foundations of our working relationships. That has enabled me to bring my business to where it is today and in turn, my ability to communicate with my team, will determine where my business goes in the future.
And what does leadership look like for you?
I am very new to being in a leadership role that I have created myself, but the kind of leader I want to be has been something that I have thought about a lot. I want to grow my business and I want to create flexible jobs; but I cannot do that without a team of people. To me, leadership is not about delegation or leading from the front. I want to bring out the best in people, to help them to discover what they are good at and how they can develop personally and in turn contribute to the growth of Hello My PA.
Also, I’m extremely passionate about personal development and I don’t think that personal development means ‘working up the ladder’. I believe it means creating your own ladder to climb.
Can you share one leadership lesson you have learned in your career?
This is a tough question to answer as my career in leadership has been short so far but I would say the one thing I have learned, from taking time to reflect on each week, is that it is important to give my team opportunities to address things that they might have a concern or a worry about. Giving them time and space to be open with me and being open myself means that communication is more effective, and everyone remains happy and productive in their roles.
Who inspires you, and why?
Way too many people to list. I don’t really have one or two people who inspire me but rather I am inspired by the actions that people take, the people I work with every day, my clients who are working towards their goals and my friends and family. I watch in awe at some of the people I know who do amazing things and still find time to be amazing people and THAT inspires me.
As cliché as it sounds, I am very often inspired by the innocent, untarnished and simplistic view of the world that my children have, especially when they say things like
“Wouldn’t it just be better if we were all kind to each other?”
It would, wouldn’t it?
How do you balance work and life responsibilities? Do you have any practical tips?
I believe in a work life blend rather than a work life balance. A work-life balance suggests that where you give to one, you take from the other but in reality, our ‘work’ life and our ‘home’ life have to work in synchronicity. We have one life with different aspects.
Getting the right balance, or blend, can be really tough but I believe that giving your full attention to whatever you are doing gives you more fulfilment. For example, when I am with my children, I leave my phone in my bag. I give them my undivided attention and I give them (and me) what is needed from that time. That means that when it is time to switch to work mode, I am not feeling any guilt about not being with my family.
Equally when I am in work mode, I focus on my work; my clients and my team get the best of me. This focus means that I don’t spend time feeling panicked or worried that I have forgotten something or that someone needs my attention.
Describe yourself in three words
Focused, empathetic, and organised.
Have you ever suffered with ‘imposter syndrome’? What does it mean to you?
Of course! It is very easy to get lost in a world of comparing yourself to others. This can lead to a loss of confidence in yourself and your abilities.
To me, imposter syndrome means seeing a person in yourself that others do not see. It means that you are unable to see what you are achieving, the life that you are living and what you are REALLY capable of. That is why focus and reflection is so importance. Discovering our true self, knowing what you are achieving and focusing on your own life’s journey is really important. I believe that comes from having the right kind of relationships with the right people; whether that be co-workers, friends or a professional coach.
What challenges have you faced in your leadership career, and what tips do you have for how to overcome them?
When I started my hiring process, I met with a man who ran a consultancy business. His specialism was team building and staff engagement. His advice to me was:
“I don’t think you are in a position to hire staff right now, with your children being so young.”
Based on this, I feel that my biggest challenge has been overcoming the stereotypes of a mother running a business. Being a mother has no bearing anyone’s abilities to run a business or lead a team.
How should you overcome attitudes like the man I came across? If it is right for you, do it anyway.
What’s an accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Being able to create a ‘job’ for myself that works for me personally and for my family. I regularly take time to realise that where I am now, is always where I wanted to be.
What does gender balance in the workplace mean to you?
As much as I understand the importance of this conversation now, I hope that in the future it isn’t something we have to think about.
To me, gender is a part of who are and not what we are capable of. Opportunities, pay, work place relationships; these should all be determined by skill and ability in the workplace. Not gender.
Do you have any advice or words of encouragement for aspiring female leaders? Or just for leaders in general if you prefer.
Don’t be scared to be yourself.
You don’t have to be a text book leader. You don’t have to follow rules that were prescribed by a certain kind of person thirty years ago. We live in a changing world of openness in business, mental health awareness and recognition of work-life balance.
We are all people and we work better together as people than we do as pretend versions of ourselves.
How to find Annie online
Annie Browne, Business Owner
Read our Women in Leadership Interview Series to meet the other interviewees.
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