From retail buyer to having multiple franchises, this working mum is helping other businesses scale with Get Ahead VA
Most people would worry about leaving a successful career to launch something new and unknown. However, that didn’t stop Rebecca Newenham from becoming the founder of Get Ahead VA, the virtual assistance franchise that’s rapidly growing across the UK.
Before embarking on her new role as a franchisor, Newenham worked as a retail buyer and was in control of a very large budget for stores like Sainsbury’s and Superdrug. But when she had three daughters she decided to take a break from her professional life. It wasn’t until eight years later when her youngest child was ready to start school that she considered going back to work. However, retail had lost its shine and she felt it was time to do something new. “I thought to myself ‘this is my time now to really focus on doing something for myself and for my family,’” Newenham explains.
She didn’t have to look far for inspiration. “When I was growing up my mum ran what was then called a tutorial agency [and] she had something that was flexible and allowed her to be around for us when we were all growing up so that’s what inspired me,” she says. Drawing motivation from her mother, Newenham began looking for something that would provide her a similar work-life balance. Before too long she began thinking of launching a virtual assistance business. “I did some research and realised that in the US they’re ten years ahead of us in a virtual assistance capacity,” Newenham reveals. Since this gave her an opportunity to have flexible work and be around for her kids, she knew virtual assistance was the way forward.
Encouraged by her research, she embarked on her journey towards making Get Ahead VA a reality. “I’ve set up [what was then called] Get Ahead Your Virtual Assistant and at that stage I was concentrating primarily on providing business services, being a PA but virtually.” And luckily, she didn’t need to reach deep into her pocket to realise it. With an office in her home all she needed was a laptop and a little course to get started. “We began by introducing phone-answering as a virtual resource until I realised that our clients needed some extra help,” Newenham says. This extra help turned out to be a lot of help. Nowadays, Get Ahead VA can assist with everything from administration and accounting services to PR and social media management.
But no business can survive without customers. Fortunately, it didn’t take long before she found some. “My first ever client came through a friend’s recommendation and they were an all-woman networking group,” she says. Get Ahead VA started by overseeing basic tasks for the group, since managing duties like diary planning and note taking can already make a huge difference to a busy client. “We supported them by giving them virtual admin support,” she continues. Having proven her chops, Get Ahead VA rapidly built its customer base.
And as the business grew, so did her staff. “The team grew very quickly as I realised that there is a lot of demand to the services we provide,” Newenham says. But as demand rose, she recognised that there was a limit to how much a person can get out and about around the country. “I realised that in order to scale and keep the momentum going we were going to need to open regional offices to get that exposure,” she says. Having always been a huge believer in networking in her local community, Newenham recognised that if she wanted to transform Get Ahead VA into a national powerhouse, then franchising would be the way forward.
Eager to ensure she built her franchise model the right way, she sought out experts in the field. “I worked with some franchise consultants to make sure that our proposition was viable for franchising,” she says. “I spent a lot of time and money putting together the operation manual and making sure everything listed from business startup setup right to how to network as well as getting all the finances in place.”
With the model designed, Newenham set out to find her first franchisee. Luckily, she didn’t have to look far to find the perfect candidate. After presenting the franchise opportunity to her team there was one person who expressed her interest in actually owning a franchise. “Carrie [Jones] was already a member of my freelance team,” she says. Indeed, while the company’s marketing and branding specialist had only worked there for six months, she was very eager to take advantage of the opportunity. It didn’t take long before she’d opened up her franchise in Reading just shortly after the company started franchising in 2017.
Before long, more Get Ahead VA franchises began opening their doors around the UK. The franchise now has four franchises in total with locations in Reading, Bristol, Leeds, Newcastle and a head office in Guildford.
While she’s been overjoyed to see the network scale, Newenham has been careful to only recruit the cream of the crop when it comes to franchisees. “I’m super-precious [about] the brand and the people representing it have to be right,” she says. With that being said, Newenham is also aware that far from everyone is suited to be a Get Ahead VA franchisee. “Obviously I need to feel confident that person has the cash to invest in it, that they’re realistic it takes time to develop their franchise and that they understand what’s involved to get out and promote it,” she continues.
Furthermore, to ensure her franchisees can provide the same high-quality service as herself, Get Ahead VA gives new members of the network all the necessary training and support they could possibly need. “They have a two-day induction when they sign up with us, then we have monthly calls and following that we’ll have a quarterly meet-up,” she says.
But the support doesn’t end once the franchisees have launched their businesses. Not only does she have quarterly check-ups with each member of her network but Newenham is also available on hand whenever they may need her to be. “For example, I went to Bristol the other month to help my franchisee there do his first business exhibition,” she says. “I took out all the equipment, helped him set up and then supported him on the day there so I very much do the face-to-face bit.” And she’s not taking her foot off the accelerator anytime soon. “I’d love to get a new franchise open every quarter – I think that’s a very sensible number to train up” she says.
Her efforts have certainly paid off. Over the years Get Ahead VA has won the mumandworking Flexible Business of the Year Award and was highly commended in the Woman in Business award for Enlightened Employer this year. “To realise people can see what I’m creating is really rewarding,” Newenham says.
Having said that, it has proven to be a challenge with her kids often accusing her of being glued to her phone. Still, Newenham is more around than she would be in a corporate life and always assures she can be there for her kids as much as she can. “I never felt embarrassed of saying I can’t make a breakfast meeting because of the school run,” she adds.
Given her business has provided her the chance to be there for her children, it shouldn’t come as a shock that she definitely recommends it to other parents. Indeed, Newenham is even looking for more people to join her adventure. “I’m keen to find future franchisees,” she concludes. So who knows, your next franchise opportunity might only be a phone call away.