Launched in 2020, SpareMyTime is the UK’s fastest-growing Virtual Assistant agency. that provides a wide range of practical, virtual assistance solutions to help alleviate the stresses of modern life. Since its first year, it has quickly grown into a team of 20 talented Virtual Assistant professionals who are predominantly based across the UK with members of staff able to enjoy the flexibility of working from other countries when it suits them.
The company offers support with virtual admin, virtual bookkeeping, and virtual digital and social media marketing. SpareMyTime has seen 2x year-on-year revenue growth to date, and it has increased its staff count by 150% since 2020.
Following the birth of her children company founder Melissa realised that her high-flying job in investment banking couldn’t fit around her family life. Speaking to other working parents Melissa realised that many talented individuals were leaving employment because they couldn’t find a flexible job. Being dyslexic, Melissa realised that for her and many other neurodiverse individuals, a traditional workplace can be difficult so she is passionate about supporting talented working parents and neurodiverse individuals to continue working.
Melissa made some time in her busy schedule to talk to SMEToday and answer some questions on the how she built the business and her working day.
How did you start the business?
I left the City in 2016 when life with small children and a full-time career started to clash. I spent the next 3 years founding an online platform connecting homeowners with local business providers. I began to realise how overwhelming starting a business was.
- stress from lack of time, funding and skills
- constant learning curve
- doing everything myself
- not knowing what can be outsourced, when and to whom
- terrified of wasting precious funds
I was meeting other founders struggling with similar issues: how to find flexibility, additional capacity and skills for their businesses. Simultaneously, my children went to school and I was shocked by how many talented parents are excluded from working due to childcare.
This developed a passion to build solutions for both sides. A supportive flexible working environment with career opportunities whilst providing reliable, high-calibre support to businesses and individuals looking to achieve more productivity and peace of mind.
SpareMyTime was born!
How do you evaluate the past ups/downs of your business?
Starting a business is a rollercoaster. There are 2 defining features that I’ve noticed in successful founders
1) the ability to make the most of the lows as well as the highs and
2) the resilience needed to keep on going when something hasn’t gone according to plan. Most successful founders are those who can keep going despite all that is thrown at them.
Inevitably we’ve had successes and failures. In fact, I’m sure we’ve tried and failed at more things than we’ve succeeded! However, with every failure we learn. We look at what has worked, we evaluate what elements we should maintain and which elements we should get rid of. We then focus our energies on those elements that work. This ethos is reflected around the team – I’d prefer us all to give it a go and learn from the mistakes, rather than not try at all.
What is a typical day like for you?
I get up at 6 am and wrangle the children through the various stages of getting ready for school. They get on the school bus at 7.50. I always plan to do some kind of exercise at 8 am but I’d be lying if I said that happened as often as I’d like!
Normally I’m at my desk between 8 to 9.30 am. I’ll either work from my desk at home or from a cafe – it depends on the kind of environment I need for the day ahead. Either the vibrancy of a cafe or the calm of home – like many neurodiverse people, I find that where I work very much determines my productivity.
I try to start the day with a to-do list. To-do lists don’t come naturally to me but I’ve learnt from my team that physically writing a list helps with productivity and peace of mind. I often have 2-3 meetings a day; now that covid is over these are occasionally face-to-face which is always fun.
Lunch can be a manner of things – a grabbed snack or, my favourite when I go to meet someone or go for a walk. I love meeting other people and hearing what is important to them at that time, you can learn so much! I’m at my best when I take time away from my desk and do something active. Then it’s back to meetings or working through my to-do list.
My day has a natural hiatus when the kids’ school bus arrives back at 4.30 pm. I’ll pick them up and head on to their various extracurricular activities or homework. By 8.30 pm the kids are in bed and I’ll either pick up on work or have dinner with my husband, unwind over a glass of wine and a box set. Like many working parents, we’re pretty exhausted by the end of the day!
What are the biggest challenges to being an entrepreneur?
Confidence. You have to have so much grit and determination to keep going as an entrepreneur. Any doubt in yourself trickles down through your business and before you know it the business’ performance will reflect your negative state of mind.
How do you handle the stress that comes with responsibility?
You certainly have to be okay with responsibility and decision-making as soon as you start a business. They never tell you that!
Luckily I’m relatively okay with it so it tends not to stress me out. However, when I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed, getting outside always helps. There’s something about nature that is amazingly calming. Trees in particular are an inspiration. I’d love to have a bigger garden or an allotment – having the space to garden would be my perfect way to zone out.
How do you take care of your own and the mental health of your workforce?
We’re really focused on mental health at SpareMyTime.
Supporting mental health has to start at the foundations – the ethos of the business, the beliefs of the founder and the attention given to the team. There are certainly many boxes you can tick to give the illusion that you care as a business however I believe that you have to have a deep-founded desire to make sure your workforce is okay in order for it to be more than superficial.
A lot of our team come to us post having children, low in confidence and juggling many competing elements in their life. Our first and foremost priority is inclusivity and acceptance. If anyone needs support, they know they are surrounded by those who genuinely care about their well-being.
From the start, everyone is comfortable in their role. That they have the skill set and the level of responsibility that they can cope with. Feeling comfortable in your role is so important. As is the ability to exceed expectations. Building confidence leads to outperformance.
I’m a big believer in openness – I’m very transparent about how I’m feeling, my own challenges and my own mental health. I believe if you lead by example it normalises communication and the team can feel secure in their own transparency.
Ultimately, I want my team to feel that their work is a pleasure and something they can be proud of.
What’s your definition of success?
Making a change for good in the world around you. There are so many injustices out there, if we all took a moment to change what we can for the better, the world would be an amazing place.
How did you win over your first customers? First investors? First business partners?
By being myself – I think it’s impossible to win over anyone by being the person they want you to be. If you’re proudly yourself then you attract those who share your beliefs and buy into what you are creating. The net result is that everyone you work with shares your core values. It makes life a lot easier!
What’s your most satisfying entrepreneur moment so far?
So many it’s hard to choose one – The difference you can make to other people’s lives. Because we’re such a transparent business and culture, our clients often send spontaneous messages of thanks. That’s always glorious. Having that impact. Making their lives easier, and their businesses more successful.
We also share that feedback with the rest of the team. Our comms channel will light up as the team supports one another’s success. It’s like everyone has their own personal cheerleading squad behind them. That will never get boring.
I did have an amazing moment the other day. I was about to present at a conference when someone came up to me to ask for a photo to be taken. She was so inspired by what we’ve done at SpareMyTime that she’d started to believe and expect more from her own career. She realised that she had the power to be in control. It was really an amazing moment. That you can inspire others just by doing what you believe in. I felt like a rock star!
Have you ever felt unsure of a decision you made?
Often! I think if you’re making big decisions, there’s always a time when you worry if you’ve made the right one. The key is to learn from those decisions, particularly the wrong ones, and make sure you make the most of the consequences.
What are your daily habits for connecting with your team?
As we work virtually, we use a lot of the various tech available to help us with communications. The team seems to prefer WhatsApp for ongoing comms so we have an active group chat for daily informal comms. We certainly have a ‘no comment is stupid’ rule with a no judgement policy. I love this chat group – it’s collaborative, fun and supportive – dog photos are a favourite!
Apart from that we obviously have formal structures in place for communicating. However, the key to all of our comms is transparency. Everything is two-way. Everyone’s voice matters.
How do you build trust with your employees?
Communication, transparency and performance. Nothing builds trust like being clear about what you’re going to do, and then actually doing it to the best of your ability.
How do you keep your team motivated?
I really believe in trust and delegation. It’s the best way to motivate people. Telling your team that you know they are capable, trusting them to take ownership and then acknowledging when they’ve performed well. My ambition is to make sure all my teammates feel proud of their contribution to the success of the business as a whole.
What is and how do you encourage company culture?
Company culture is different for every business. And 100% driven from the top. For smaller businesses, the culture reflects the nature of the founder. It’s incredibly important that as a founder you reflect, believe and embody the culture you’d like your business to have.
At SpareMyTime our company culture is based on trust, encouragement, performance and inclusivity. Many of our team have joined the business with low confidence in their abilities due to the clash of motherhood and corporate culture. We work hard to make sure that everyone’s achievements are celebrated no matter how big or small and encourage the rest of the team to do the same. It makes for a very inclusive working environment.
How do you plan on growing your business?
We have so many opportunities it’s often hard to know which to focus on first. However in general I’m a big believer in letting things develop organically. I always say opportunities are like having horses on a race track. You have a number of horses that are great at racing, however, those that keep winning get the extra portion of oats.