FSB Northern Ireland Member Case Study #10: Sandra Parry, SP Solutions Bangor

  • 26 Oct 2020

Some background details on Sandra, Virtual Assistant & Visual Presenter

My entire career consisted of Secretarial/Executive Assistant posts in Northern Ireland, London and abroad (as far as Australia and New Zealand) and customer service hospitality posts in the French Alps.  I thoroughly enjoyed the variety of tasks within all these roles and the fact that no two days were the same. 

For a long time, I have wanted to use my transferrable skills gained over the years to set up my own business and have the flexibility that comes with being my own boss. 

 

SP Solutions Bangor began trading on 9th April 2018, providing administration support to Solopreneurs and SMEs who are managing all aspects of their business on their own. 

I add value to them by getting them and their admin office organised, introducing easily to navigate filing systems for their documents and inboxes.  I can populate their online diary and manage it going forward, event organising (more so online now) website maintenance and much more.  Having been through the start-up process myself I can also help start-ups feel less overwhelmed with the multitude of tasks involved in setting up their business.  My specialism is Transcription which involves the preparation of a multitude of documentation types for businesses, including minutes of meetings. 

Being an SVA Approved Virtual Assistant has enabled me to contribute positively to the following clientele: a driveway/ landscaping specialist, an enterprise agency, a local author writing his first book, an aviation environmental specialist, solicitors and more.   

Through networking with Bizmerang during the first Covid 19 Lockdown, I adapted my business model to include Hosting of a Local – North Down circle of the platform and am super excited about the future and how this community of professionals and experts can help me grow my business.    

Why did you join FSB?

Being a sole trader means you must play the role of many professions, legal, marketing, financial, operations and many more besides.  By joining the FSB, I have peace of mind knowing that I have the support of a team of professionals in all these areas should the need arise to avail of them.   Their networking events gave me hope for the future at a time when all business were unsure of what the future holds.   

The FSB also provide an abundance of helpful guidance and template documents for all members, including Contracts, Terms and Conditions and GDPR templates, which was particularly current at the time of setting up my business. 

It is reassuring being a member of the FSB, that there is a voice representing the small and micro-business community when it comes to government and lobbying on our behalf.   

 

Have you used FSB Services so far, how has it helped your business?

The FSB plan several online events which provide members, and non-members, with a platform to reach out and network with other businesses.  This service was particularly important during the first Lockdown of the Covid 19 pandemic in 2020. 

Not only did it provide essential connection locally and nationally, but it also eliminated feelings of isolation for me and other sole traders and contributed to healthy mental wellness during unprecedented circumstances. 

As the restrictions are set to continue for some time, I intend to review official documents within my business, such as Terms and Conditions and GDPR and will use the FSB templates to complete this exercise.   

Using the services and resources provided by the FSB will help my business survive and provide a solid foundation to continue operating on the other side of this current pandemic. 

How did Covid-19 impact your business?

I had completed a nine-month, full time contract with a client in December 2019 and was in the process of rolling out my 2020 Marketing Strategy when Covid 19 became a world pandemic.    

My initial concern was “how will my business survive”, I quickly embarked upon other methods of raising awareness of SP Solutions throughout Northern Ireland and further afield by improving my networking skills (which were nil at this point). 

My biggest learning curve was overcoming my fear of networking and developing this essential skill for the current ‘new normal’.  I had little experience of Networking and walking into a room full of strangers filled me with dread. 

 

I decided to jump into the deep end and eventually found my confidence (with the comfort of my own environment being my security blanket), I continued to improve my online communications skills, picking up hints and tips along the way. 

I am now embarking upon a ‘Host’ role of Bizmerang, a new networking platform specifically for the Northern Ireland small business community.  I believe this will help my business and will prepare me for any future lockdowns. 

What is single greatest challenge for any SME at the minute?

The single greatest challenge for any SME at the minute is how they can adapt their business model to benefit from the current crisis and survive financially.  While some businesses have easily made this transition, for example, restaurants offering take away, it has not been so easy for others to make the shift. 

More specifically, relating to my own business it has become extremely difficult to turn leads into clients.  Firstly, there has been a significant rise in Virtual Assistants over the last few months as a lot of office workers who have been placed on furlough, or have been made redundant, are turning to the VA profession to earn extra cash and make ends meet.  This sudden rise in competition brings its own challenges. 

Pair this with the number of SMEs tightening their purse strings due to the uncertainty of the current situation, it makes it doubly difficult to secure new business. Many VAs specialise in certain areas i.e. Website Design, Bookkeeping, Streamlining Processes etc. 

 

I have had to adapt my services to cater to the current situation by identifying a gap in the market.  With most networking being conducted on zoom (or other online networking platform) I have drawn on my experience as an Executive Assistant to offer “Visual Presentations” as a niche service in my business model.  This could be an educator requiring ‘Study Material’ prepared or it could be a refurbishment business using ‘Before & After’ photographs to showcase their expertise.  Either way, I can prepare a presentation to show the clients business in its best, professional light. 

What are the opportunities and positives for SMEs at the minute and how are you embracing recovery?

The current climate of change has given SMEs an opportunity to look at their business model and identify areas where they can diversify, offering new services or introducing new products. 

On a more internal viewpoint, this is the perfect time to review current contracts (T&Cs), policies (Privacy & GDPR), procedures and any manuals (such as employee handbooks, etc) and bring them up to date, revise them and show clients and employees that you are embracing an uncertain time in a positive way. 

This is also a time to look at ongoing expenses such as insurances and marketing costs, research better deals and make savings on costs that are not working for your business.  Employee training is another opportunity arising out of Covid.  Many small businesses (including myself) have taken this time to look at all the above and retrain in something that will benefit the business positively on the road to recovery. 

The most obvious opportunity coming out of Covid, is the ability to Network online.  Zoom has become the new normal for communication.  I, for one, dreaded face to face Networking, it was one of the things in business that was completely new to me and nobody teaches you how to do it correctly.  However, with Zoom, I feel that I have had the opportunity to learn how to network from the comfort of my own environment.  I am now Hosting a Local – North Down Networking group as part of Bizmerang (a platform created specifically for Northern Ireland businesses). 

Of FSB’s key campaign issues at the minute. Which is most important to you and your business at present and why?

I guess I have been one of the lucky ones, in that the nature of my micro-business means I do not have to worry about other employees and as I work from home, my business expenses are very minimal. 

 

FSB’s Post Covid Recovery, webinars and networking events have been a lifeline in my business and have added value throughout Lockdown and will help with recovery when we come out the other side of Covid. 

Joining FSB has been invaluable in not feeling so isolated in this, being a part of an organisation that is fighting the corner of the small businessperson has been comforting and reassuring.  It is also beneficial as they offer an abundance of resources that are invaluable to any business. 

Have you any words of advice to anyone starting a small business?

My advice to anyone starting in business now would be to join the FSB from the outset.  Although membership may feel like a large expense in the beginning, it will save a lot of time and effort in the long run, as it provides all the resources you need to get started ‘under one roof’ as well as access to professional individuals in every field. 

I enquired about joining the FSB when I started and chose not to, thinking it was a bit too expensive when my business was only launching.  This proved to be an initial error in judgement.  The time and money I spent getting all my ‘ducks in a row’ to start trading could have been avoided by joining FSB right at the very start.