Episode Twelve: Puichi Hau, EA at Our Future Health

Episode Twenty-One: Claire Houston and Paula Kokare, Founders of Houston & Ko

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Episode description

We are thrilled to have two guests with us this week. Claire Houston and Paula Kokare are the Founders of Houston & Ko, a business that helps entrepreneurs, startups, and small businesses focus on what matters most for their growth by delegating the most tedious and time-draining tasks. Claire and Paula share their insights on what it takes for Assistants to move from a corporate into a freelancing role, what Entrepreneurs and startups are looking for in an Assistant role and how Assistants can define what they can offer and where they add value.

Show notes


Nicky Christmas 00:00
Hi, everyone, and welcome to the next episode of the AAA campus Podcast. Today. I'm so excited because we have two guests with us today, which is our first time. So I'd really like to introduce you to Claire Houston, and Paolo kokkari. Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

Claire Houston 00:19
Thanks for having us. Nikki,

Nicky Christmas 00:20
why don't we start with you? Can you tell us a little bit about your career to date?

Paula Kokare 00:26
Sure, rather boring start of the career, I would say I was brought up professionally speaking in corporate environment and very much finance, project. management focused and yeah, my field, I'd say focus has been m&a. So mergers and acquisitions. And I was in consulting and corporates, few corporates here. They're mostly in Switzerland. And I was always doing me to have my own business and was lucky enough to meet someone like Claire, and we had similar dreams. So that's where we are today building our company, Houston. Co.

Claire Houston 01:04

That's my short story.

Nicky Christmas 01:07
That's great. succinct.

Claire Houston 01:11
Yeah, so Nikki, sometimes Paula and I do large corporations, first of all, in Coca Cola, and then in the Adecco group. So also in the area of kind of staffing and recruiting and a slightly different area from powder in terms of I was working in kind of project management and digital transformation. And again, same thing, I only knew corporate and corporate life until I was lucky enough to bump into Paola. And of course, yeah, that's, I guess where we are today. So why don't you tell

Nicky Christmas 01:40
us a little bit about where you are today. So you have a assistant company called Houston? And how long has it been running? How did it start? And what kind of VA services do

Claire Houston 01:50
you offer? Yeah, sure. Carla, and I started the business made 2019. And we decided that our services would be totally rubber. So our team ourselves, we kind of made that decision in Yeah, the summer of 2019. And decision to make, we didn't know at the time, we can't claim psychic abilities. But yeah, we started at a time where remote work. And the idea of working with somebody that you haven't really looked in the eyes was still a very alien concept. And then of course, we have no idea what was coming like anyone else towards the end of the year. And really, that's mature the markets in terms of how comfortable I guess clients are working with individuals that don't sit in the same physical location. And at the same time, it came with a huge amount of freelancers, and assistants making a transition from their physical jobs, kind of looking to take their services online. So it just happened that these two things kind of collided together, and not AI nearly three years on, we have a business, we have a team of around 30 to 35. And we serve clients across Switzerland and the border market as well helping to match really high quality, freelancers and virtual assistants with those clients that are looking for their services.

Nicky Christmas 03:15
It's been a must have been quite a journey over the last few years in terms of setting up a business. As you said it being remote and the explosion of remote working over the last few years. I think for a lot of virtual assistants, who are looking to maybe expand their business or their managing other virtual assistants. I feel like there's a lot we're gonna cover for that group of our listeners at the moment. I want to get a sense of what life is like for you both outside of the career as well. So why don't we start right at the beginning and Paola will come to you. So how do you start your day, if I know we're on a podcast, but if anybody could see where paler is currently positioned? It looks absolutely stunning. So why don't you tell us a little bit about how you start your day.

Thanks. Thank you for that question. That's actually yeah, the fun part of our lives, I think when Claire every day is, is quite different than the other ones. So there is very little of routine. Definitely. And let's say from my side, it's very important that I get my more kind of early on there were times when I started at 630. But I have now come down to like 630 and that starts with a run for sure. And good breakfast, smoothies and stuff like that. And really, yeah, how they write in the books how you should start your day. That's really important for me.

Nicky Christmas 04:39
It sounds lovely. And I would imagine when you don't start your days like that they're not as productive as the days that you are you do start on a good footing.

Don't mention that. Likely? That's very much true. Yeah. Yeah,

Nicky Christmas 04:53
I always hear that from people who have fantastic morning routines or days they don't their day doesn't it doesn't quite look good. Though I guess because you both work remote, then you do have that opportunity to decide what your mornings and your day look like Claire for you, how do you manage the rest of your day? Do you take regular breaks? Or are you the type of person that just works straight through?

Claire Houston 05:15
Yeah, so I think this is probably where, where Paola and I similarities diverge, while Tala is the kind of very structured and disciplined one. And I think probably things are a bit more more kind of chaotic and maybe feeling for me. So again, that kind of that mid pretty early riser. But one of the things that I love to kind of embrace by the flexible nature of the work is for me, I'd love to get up and maybe get a couple of hours work done, know that things are moving, then there's kind of no fires that need putting out a set. And then kind of later morning, I love to do some sports or over lunch. Also, when we're mixing the time zones, it can be really helpful. So for example, if I'm assuming Ireland's, which is where I am at the minute, then I know that the European market gets started a little bit ahead of me, once I know things are under control, then kind of take some time for myself. So I would say it really depends in a bit on where we are. But then then I have to say we follow pretty much the standard day loves get out lunchtime to do some sports, love to get out again in the evening, if possible. That's also a little bit weather dependent, which is, of course led me to the physical location as well. Yeah, to be honest, I take the day as it comes to me, which is sometimes very productive, and sometimes were non productive. And I guess that's part of the ebbs and flows of work. And it sounds

Nicky Christmas 06:35
like you both have really embraced remote working, which is really great to hear, because there are so many huge benefits, not the least being able to structure your day how you want to and how that fits in with your work. And I know there are many assistants who will be listening, but have had that flexibility that they wouldn't have had pre pandemic. So I know that there'll be a lot of listeners nodding away with you there. I don't take it back to the business. Because when we both when you both spoke about your careers to date, neither of you mentioned that there was an assistant background that you'd worked as assistants before. So I wonder what drew you I don't know which one wants to pick this up, or what drew you to establishing a business, where you will predominantly be working with assistants and virtual assistants. And within that space,

I think this idea very much came from our own pain point. One idea that we had in mind is we want to run a business like little teenagers excited about their whole idea of entrepreneurship and just want to get our hands dirty and everything. And so we tried a couple of ideas, and some of them really silly ones. And we very soon bumped into the fact that you always needed good people to support you, like people who would help you with website, people would help you to research things, find things around. And it was very difficult actually to get and find good people that will be Yeah, also affordable, they will be structure you can rely on them, they wouldn't just disappear and stuff like that until we realise that. And we also heard from people around us them having similar issues. And and then there was one gentleman in Claire's live that actually made big impact, especially on this idea saying like, I think this is a field you should look into. And so the idea actually was born. Yes. Let's look at the administrative field. Like how can we bring the right virtual assistants on board for companies for entrepreneur first, and really tried to match them both on hard and soft skill topics. But very soon, we expanded also, in broader field, like other types of freelancers, I'd say when it comes to marketing topics, project management finance topics. So that's where we actually operate nowadays. Yes, virtual assistant is one big field of our business. But it's actually the whole idea is that we are trying to bring the right freelance talent on board for other companies. And also, of course, make this as a fulfilling experience to the freelancer. So really trying to trying to make both parties happy.

Nicky Christmas 09:14
And clouds come over to you how were you starting? Or how do you how are you looking at finding clients? And what was the have you gone down a particular niche with the type of clients that you'd like to work with?

Claire Houston 09:24
Yeah, so I think anywhere, Carla, and I really see our role as bringing together the right freelance talent with the right companies, which means as much as we're vetting the freelancers to find those good individuals. We're also in some sense vetting the companies. So we're looking for individuals that understand what expertise and executive assistants that has become a virtual assistant can bring to their business and it's much more we look for those individuals that have value in a car Collaboration as opposed to a kind of operational executional model. So we work with really companies across the board, we have some kind of part of the companies that we're working with, they're pretty well established startups. They cover a myriad of different topics from cannabis to finance. So we have really a kind of broad spectrum there. And then we're starting to work with larger organisations who see the value less to me, contractually higher, bring this person into my organisation. But what really matters is it I have the opportunity to work together with this person's knowledge and no client experience. And I value what they bring to my business as opposed to pie when we're where they bring it with us, so the clients are spread across the board, but we can really vet them to make sure that they're going to be great clients, for our teams work with.

Nicky Christmas 10:58
Yeah, because I think one of the things that you probably realised early on is that relationship between I guess freelancers in general, but very specifically, between assistants and the people that they're working with, it's a special relationship. And as you said, it does take vetting because the relationship isn't working, the rapport is not there, it makes it really difficult to work together. Because the amount of trust that's required between the owner of the business or the executive, whatever it happens to be, and the assistant, so it's good to hear that you've thought that through is always I think important. It doesn't matter if it's an executive assistant sitting outside somebody's office and a virtual remote assistant, that partnership is certainly needs to be it's an important aspect for sure. I know that there are challenging parts of running any business. So I wonder what some of the challenging aspects of running your business, Paulo, anything that's challenging for you,

I think, smiling because we had funny discussion with Claire, when we were preparing for this question. What's the biggest challenge? But I think it is a interesting that every day is it's like a very much a learning experience for us. Because every day you have all these interesting conversations going on our business is very much people's business. So we're bringing both two parties together, right? So you have clients, and we're talking with founders of amazing entrepreneurs, we're talking with high level executive CMOS, and so on, mostly with CMOS or CFOs, who needs support. Very inspiring and motivated, ambitious individuals. So you have there a lot of interesting conversations, a lot of challenging conversations, where people might be having challenges with team member or trying to achieve challenging goals that we need to help them to achieve. And so all these conversations that yeah, there's really everything. And also on deep side, the same thing, right? We meet amazing people, creatives, people who are more structured and so on, and have different strengths and prefer to work in one or different environments. If we do not such a good match. There's always a challenging conversation. But there's always a solution for a challenging conversations. So it's also it's a really, yeah, it's a very inspiring, interesting and learning point everyday from these work doesn't sound like you,

Nicky Christmas 13:25
you match people up and then just back off. People do it. So yeah, absolutely. You're getting it from both sides. She's like, and as you said, personality wise, everybody is so different. So yeah, I can absolutely appreciate that. And Claire, what's the most enjoyable aspects of your day? So I

Claire Houston 13:43
think one of the one of the shared frustrations maybe Paula and I have a very realistic view on what it's like to do the move from corporate to entrepreneurship, and it's not lying about it in board shorts in your flip flops on a beanbag don't compete. And you have, yeah, you have different challenges and different frustrations and things that you'd like and things that you don't like. And one of the things that goes Powell and I have come to love. And I say have come to that because it's not necessarily something that you will hear and think, oh, yeah, I would love that. But it's really having the ability to take decision making an impact on the business and how the business runs. So it's not those are not always easy decisions to make. But one of the one of the things that kind of becoming a business owner or being freelance or self employed comes with is that you really have the ability to change the things that you're frustrated with. And you make the decisions. And you really feel the impact of those very personally. And I think that's something that at the start can be quite daunting and quite heavy emotionally to really feel that you have this responsibility, but I think not a three years old On Kelowna, I have a kind of a few more miles behind us in the business. And we don't always make the right decision. But we at least appreciate that we have the opportunity to influence the type of business that we have, we think is important. And it's something that you absolutely don't have in that in a kind of larger corporation is really that ability to make fast, agile decisions that you think are really the best way to progress forward. So I think the most enjoyable part of our role is being able to influence the type of business that we have. And with that type of experience that fills our day.

Nicky Christmas 15:40
Yeah, that's one of the things I absolutely love about running my own business as well. It is all on you, which is scary. And that with that becomes with that comes a lot of responsibility. But it's you making your own money, you making the decisions. And as you said, sometimes things don't work out as you were expecting, but then there tend to be very good opportunities to learn and grow. Yeah, I completely agree with you. It's really exciting. It gives you a reason to get up every morning, I think, exactly,

Claire Houston 16:09
yeah, you have to find joy in the process somehow. Because regardless of whether you find joy in it or not, it's left to you, isn't it, if you can enjoy that part of it, it makes things much nicer, I really like

Nicky Christmas 16:20
to get on to talking about the executive assistant role, because I think what's really exciting to talk into the two of you is that you're coming at it with quite a fresh perspective. And I really like that you haven't got the you find with a lot of virtual assistants, they've had that working in a corporate background, they've been in EA, and for whatever reason, they've decided that they want to step away from that and go and start their own business and start a new journey. But they whenever you talk to a VA, they always quite often refer back to their time working in a corporate environment, it never leaves you. I'm quite excited to get your perspective on what it's been like working with assistants with the careers that you've had, one of the questions that we tend to start with is one of a piece of advice you give to assistants who are just starting out. Hello, if we start with you, is there any advice that you'd give to assistants who are new in the role?

Yeah, thank you so much. It's great. Great to that you asked this question because we always we Claire, we are basically have the two conversations, like I mentioned before, everyday, right, with clients and with virtual assistants. And so we speak, let's say, would five assistants per day or something like that, right? depends a little bit on intensity, but we very much see the differences between them. And we see what clients look for, and what clients like, and who is more successful from virtual assistant perspective, who are kind of Yeah, achieving more results. And we have come to see that word is very well regarded as, for example, when virtual assistants are proactive, and when they are, yeah, when you start everything, all the conversations are trying to understand the other side, when you try to understand what the client needs. What is he looking for, what his business is, in which stage his business is? What is really? Yeah, what is the bigger picture? And then try to see where can you add value, instead of coming with your portfolio of set services. And this is me, take it or leave it, but really trying where the help is needed? And how can you bring yourself into there? What is the bigger theme? So productivity? Yeah, trying to understand. And also another one is, is trying to seek for information yourself, trying to be curious and research things. And instead of asking the client to give and provide you everything, but I guess it goes very much in direction of productivity. Claire, anything that you would mention additionally? Yeah,

Claire Houston 18:58
I think just a really concrete example that we see quite often is, as Carla mentioned, we talk to you systems every day. And usually the first interaction we have is like 30 minutes, we have a chat, we find out a bit more about them. And if we hit the 20 minutes, Mark, and we haven't had a question yet, or we might actually not even have had a word yet, Helen, I kind of start to think, okay, you know, this is is a real indication of what Powell has said there is kind of saying, here's all of my skill sets. Let me bring it to you. Whereas we find that the most successful virtual assistants start their introductions with asking a bit more about the clients. Why is it that you're here? What is it have you used a virtual assistant before but they find out a little bit more and then they respond in a more tailored way. So you really have two approaches to that conversation. You can ask palisade say, serve it all out on the plate, and you're 20 minutes into your conversation and the other person doesn't go The divided, or you can approach it very differently. And as Pamela said, try to find out some information and provide tailored even just at an introductory level, tailored introduction. So that's really where we see like a very concrete example of how this plays out. And we know that that conversation is gonna be replicated with him. So this is something that we really look for and are kind of given each other eyes 20 minutes in thinking like, this isn't a good sign.

Nicky Christmas 20:29
It's so true. That's absolute music to my ears. And the same goes for executive assistants or personal assistants who are listening that are thinking about leaving where they are currently and starting a new job search. And then actually, once they're in the organisation how to operate because productivity, I think it's something I've said for a number of years is the most important skill and assistant can have very quickly followed up by curiosity, and a willingness to learn by going out and finding the answers for yourself. Because executives, whether they're running their own business, or they're in a, an organisation are so busy, and really, any help is so appreciated and not being one of the things I say to assistants is you've got to ask questions, because you've got to find out things so that you know the information and then you can go out and find it. But if you can, before you ask the question, if you can go and do some research around the question, that's perfect. Just having that confidence to go out and explore and be proactive as much as you can, is, oh, it's worth its weight in gold. It really is. Especially I have this with the VA that I have. She's constantly asking me if she can do things. Can I pick that up? Can I do that? And it's so helpful. So yes, I completely agree with you, though. It's

Claire Houston 21:49
so helpful. And I think I think you're right what you said there it comes forwardly. Sometimes it comes from a place that you're unsure about how deep to get involved in somebody else's business, where you kind of lack that confidence to say, Hey, I could take that for you. And we kind of what we hear a lot from compliance that come to you are looking for an executive assistant, which is somebody to coach me to take my hands and tell me, what is what how can we work together best? What things can you take? And if you see me taking something that doesn't make sense, you don't step in and tell me. So I see that's been a real shift, right. And it's really welcome. Because as an assistant, or as any type of skilled individuals to have somebody coming to you and saying, hey, help me use your expertise best is is an absolute gift.

Nicky Christmas 22:41
Because one of the things, the things I think particularly business owners have is a real lack of skill, I guess, is the nice way to put it around delegating, because I'm sure the two of you completely understand this is your baby, and you were the START WITH YOU were the admin person, you were the finance person, you were the HR person. So to start delegating, that is really tough. I'm completely speaking from experience. So having somebody coming in and saying I can take that give that to me, again, is as you said, it's a coaching point, which I think is really valuable. So some of the other questions around being an executive assistant that I love to ask is pushing boundaries. Because I think with any assistant role, there's always some stereotype there. And I wonder, I guess my first question is whether or not you're seeing this at the moment because you three years into your business and I think times have changed particularly over the pandemic. So whether it festival whether or not you see any stereotypes around the role, and if that's less of the case with virtual assistants, Paulo, if you'd like to start that bum yet

sure, yes, I guess, we can confirm that that we have seen the stereotypes. In fact, we also try not to use a wording virtual assistant because we get the feel that a lot of people have a different meaning to it at the different meanings. And I think the overall shift what we are seeing and it's coming from the usual work setup, right, the typical models employer employee, and what the current economy or the current changes, what are happening to them shifting towards this freelance portfolio career type of setup where people come in as independent contributors. And of course as being in this business, we absolutely love it, we stand for it and we want to see it grow and enrols us it's a slow process. We have seen the shifts and from this freelancing being a relatively small part of the work world. In the past, it has been more transactional one and where we are trying to play the role and that's where we are having this matching on both sides. soft and hard skills, that we we want to bring this smart model as a more sustainable way of collaboration between the clients and freelancers that these are actually, you have to be careful with all the legal terms. It's not a team member, blah, blah, blah. But we want this to be much closer collaboration between the client and freelancer, that it's not just dropping tasks, and ticking off the boxes, but that the Freelancer comes in and becomes more part of the team. And he is part of how you build your business and how you bring your ideas to the market and so on. And so we are just to summarise, let's say, we've seen a lot of this transactional nature, and we're really trying to play our role to bring this to develop in a more sustainable way and relationship because it, of course, brings so much more value both to freelancers and the clients, right when you have this kind of long term relationship in mind, instead of just executional role.

Claire Houston 26:06
Yeah. And

Nicky Christmas 26:08
what are the some of the conversations that you're having with the assistants that are coming to you? Are they first of all, are they already established virtual assistants, or are they assistants who are working in a corporate office thinking about making that move into a kind of freelancing space? Yeah,

Claire Houston 26:26
so we have individuals that come to us at all different stages, kind of throughout their journey, nearly all of them have had experience as an AE before kind of in the more traditional sense, and have picked up those skills, kind of that through that traditional model. And then they've come to your point in their careers. And it could be for a number of different things. Sometimes it's because they're, they love to surf, and they want to work 80% And then they want to spend the weekends and the remaining 20%, surfing in Bali. So they say, Okay, we move from Ireland, or the UK, we go somewhere Sunny, or it's nice, when we have that kind of lifestyle integration, then it could be for example, we also get a lot of mothers that are have had their kids and want a more blended work life balance, right to bring kind of the those two identities a little bit closer together, so that they have the flexibility to do the school runs or have dinner together or whatever it is. So we have also those individuals that kind of are in our in that part of their lives. And then we have individuals that are further drawn at the end of their careers are kind of coming to bath and they say, Hey, I've done my time living in the city, I actually want to work a little bit less and more under my terms individuals come to us from some of them have been directly have left their office jobs and have worked with us at the start others have been an EA for six years. So really, we don't get we don't know that's fine, we really look for individuals that have the right skills, experience and attitude and say, hey, the rest of this, yes, there's a learning curve when it comes to taking your skill set and offering that up as a as a virtual service, but nothing that that we can help you along the way. And so it's not a barrier at all. So we really speak to assistants that are very start of their journey. Some haven't even left full time employment yet, but are really on that precipice. And others that are like, Hey, I was a virtual assistant before, or anybody even said that it was in the dictionary. So we really work with a variety of individuals.

Nicky Christmas 28:35
And then just in terms of how you're I love what you said there paler about really looking at the skills and how they work with the individuals that you're that are your clients. So are you looking at their CVs and their experience and pulling out individual skills that would match a particular client? Or do you look at more the whole? I'm just my question, I guess is frames, is it the potential that assistants can look at themselves as being freelancers in different areas? Because we know the assistants roles are so varied and they do so many different things. I don't know where my questionnaire is in that just thinking about it. If that made sense. Yeah, I

think we are of course, let's say like this, at the moment, we are still in the kind of phase of our business where we can have very individualised approach to each and every client and team member and we have spoken to each and every person individually and we have heard their stories and we establish a good sense of like, good understanding of where this individual would fit what will be their desired environment. Well we did desired field of business type of people type of team and type. Even industry level can happen right and we try to match that based on what we have discussed with this person, right so it can go very much in detail. Yeah, there's a lot of qualitative information analysis that goes into this aspect of matching. Yeah, if I managed to answer your question

Nicky Christmas 30:12
is interesting. I just, I was thinking about what you said there about the sort of high hyphen method of working now. And people being able to put on lots of different skills, and then building a career around lots of different things that they enjoy doing. And I just was thinking how well placed our assistants in that kind of framework of a career because we say we are talking about assistants, we do so much and do so many different things, events marketed sometimes touching on finance, HR, there's so much potential for assistance. But we don't often talk about that. So I think that it's really interesting place that the Caribbean asst can go, especially as there are so many that want to take on, as you were saying, Claire, have more freedom and flexibility.

Claire Houston 30:55
Yeah, and we do see palette, quite often we see a kind of an executive assistant that has come from that background, then it has a particular interest in social media, something that we see quite often they've maybe done some, yes, social profile management for their, their bosses or whatever before. And they say, Hey, I really enjoyed that. Or we're also in the era of finance, if they've worked for a CFO, or a head of legal or something like that. And they have specific interests in that area. We also, as Paula said, that's one of the things that we really asked, we said, what's the stuff that you love to do? Right, and what's the stuff that you don't? And Nikki, I think you're absolutely right, that executive assistants are typically really can be very, very, but also very well rounded profiles that have experienced in a lot of different departments. And part of the benefits, I guess, of kind of taking your services online is, it's a bit of an opportunity to really define what it is that you say, actually, yes, I have this general skill set. But I would really like to focus on this part and this part, or whatever, and kind of shift that as you go. So yeah, you're absolutely right, the potential is there to also use this shift to lean into the areas of EA work that you really love. And actively saying no to those parts that you don't. Yeah, yeah. Which is great. I love that, because there are so many parts of the robot that are better than others.

Nicky Christmas 32:30
So you don't have to do the bits that you don't like

Claire Houston 32:32
Paul and I are happy to do what we do every day. And we'd love it. If we've got somebody that we can make a match with. It says, Hey, I told you, I love doing social media, and, you know, 80% of what I'm doing the social media, and that's fantastic for me. So that's also something that's really important to talk about, and say like, Hey, if you've got the opportunity to work on the stuff that you'd love to do, then ask for that time,

Nicky Christmas 32:55
what you want. Yeah, ask for what you want. Yeah. Which leads me really nicely on to my next question, which is clay, if we come back to you how you think assistants can think more creatively about their role. So for those that are either working as virtual assistants, or in a corporate setting, is there any advice you can give there?

Claire Houston 33:17
Yeah, I think one of the things, again, Link links back to what Powell said about that curiosity, is to really challenge your own assumptions about what your role is, and what it could be. But some of those questions could open up those areas that you're really interested to do. And I think one of the most limiting factors is to have an idea of the rule that you do and kind of project that into an opportunity, as opposed to really go into each opportunity, as it is ask questions and feel about it and see kind of what that looks like. So I think, often, rather than sometimes said, Yeah, we have a match. And we say, Yeah, this individual is actually really interested in graphic design. And the client says, I'm really glad you said that, because actually, I could really help. But I could really, that would be a fantastic skill for me, or we have at the time. So sometimes we say, oh, yeah, this individuals in ballet, and they see perfect, they can get all of my work done in the morning. And then it's free. So I think that's one of the key things is that it's rarely the opportunity, actually, or sometimes even the client, it's limiting what the role looks like, but more the individuals assumption about what they should be doing. And again, Nikki comes back to kind of what you said there to summarise the last point, which is really ask for what you want. And sometimes it's going to be yes, sometimes it's going to be no and you have to judge them that situation where your boundary is, but I think that's really one of the keys to challenging yourself is to actually start with your own assumptions about what you're capable of and what role you can play in this angle.

Nicky Christmas 34:59
Maybe Are there any skills that your clients are asking for? That you're not necessarily able to find or struggling to find within the executive assistant or virtual assistant space? Are there any areas that may be people that are listening? Who think, Okay, that seems to be a key skill at the moment that maybe I can go by and learn more

Claire Houston 35:19

Oh, that's a challenging question. We typically, were to believe we can do everything. Absolutely, yeah. But it's also, I guess, as we grow as well, it's amazing to come across with individuals that have just so wide range of different skills, right, including languages, including software's and functions and so on. So the more diverse you are like, if you have been very broad, or let's say, focusing on legal support, or in supply chain management support or whatever, right, that that is really cool. Because, yeah, I mean, if I think how this message can add value to the virtual assistant, is there are people that need exactly your support, it might be challenging for you to find exactly those people. Right. So joining some kind of bigger network where you see these opportunities is a good idea. But I've heard some people saying, Look, I am I'm very specialised, I'm thinking I should become more generalistic. And that always is a little bit of sign of kind of a red flags. And like, don't be worried that you are amazing in that one specific field, go for it right, keep going that direction. Don't become like generalist that you will ever reach in everything. Yeah. And I guess with those specialist skills, try to join different platforms, networks, and where you get exposure to those people that need exactly those kinds of skills that you have.

Nicky Christmas 36:56
Yeah, they do say the riches are in the niches don't they? And I think that seems to be the case from definitely more of what I'm seeing in the virtual assistant space. Is that exactly as you said, you might think that you're quite a specialist, but there is going to be somebody out there that needs your very specialist skills. And when they find you, if it is, if it is a niche area, then you are going to be very much in demand. Yeah, don't shy away from that. And I think that's true across the board for assistance is something that you should really shout about cloud. I wonder if there are any changes or changes, you'd like to see now that you've been working a few years with assistance, if there's anything that you think or it would be good if we moved on in this or that particular area?

Claire Houston 37:38
Yeah, I think the key one for us is that I think it's going to go this way, because the competition for talent is so high. But I guess one of the things that I think Powell and I both hope to see is that some of the redundant criteria, whether that's bias, whether it's location, whether it's age, whether it's what university, you went to, that some of these more redundant job, criterias, slip away. And companies really start to double down on finding the right individuals, and then asking them how they want to bring their skills to the organisation. So I think that's maybe we've already seen a bit of kind of a power shift in a way through your COVID in terms of talent and organisations looking for talent. And I think really, that next level is for organisations to, because I'm sure you see it as well, with all of bas that you interact with. Everybody is an individual, everybody is motivated by something different that they want from that type of relationship. So I think, yeah, for us, it would definitely be kind of moving away from some of that traditional criteria that actually serves no purpose to either party particularly well. And to move to a place where they say, look, what matters to us is the expertise and the knowledge that you have you tell me what matters to you in terms of how you would like this relationship to work and what works for you. Maybe that's a bit of a pipe dream. But what we hope for is

Nicky Christmas 39:09
there's such a lovely answer, because yeah, I think what a difference that would make, because it's particularly again, going back to the assistant role, it's an I said earlier, it's so much of it's based on soft skills and personality fit and the skills can be learned. There's so many opportunities out there for assistants to learn. And again, if the organisation understands the assistance required training, then as you said, That's get away with those unnecessary boundaries that are going to stop you finding the perfect person for you that's going to support you in moving your career forward. So yeah, I completely agree with that. I think there is a shift as you said, particularly around location, which I guess for you guys is one of the most important factors I would imagine. Yeah.

Yeah. What on one point that maybe I would like to add is also this shift away from this transactional type of collaboration model that I and we are also seeing that. And it comes again, going back to the same old point, this employment set up right, where it was a very much employer driven relationship. And now, with people becoming more independent, and willing and able to choose opportunities where they want to contribute as freelancers or also, as employees, then like, really, I'm really looking forward this relationship to become more fulfilling for both sides. And instead of just executive being just executive, but actually part of what is required an integral part or to drive businesses.

Nicky Christmas 40:51
Yeah. And I think particularly when it it's a business owner and a virtual assistants, and again, this is from experience, I've really relied on the virtual assistant I have, because she also runs her own business. So she's got a huge amount of skills and confidence around running a business that equals mine. So it's great that it is a collaboration is not just me saying, Can you do this? Can you do that? It's her coming to the table very much with her own thoughts on how I should run my business, which is fantastic. It's a real sounding board, which is lovely. It's a real shift, I think. Yeah.

And this is especially you can see that with freelancers, right, because freelancers are entrepreneurs, they, all of them, right, they need to be hunting new clients, they need to be selling themselves, they need to be doing excellent work in order to keep their clients. So you have much more entrepreneurial mindset. And that's what you get if you work with a good virtual system, good Freelancer together. So that's, it's really cool to hear and hear that you have these amazing experiences.

Nicky Christmas 41:52
Yeah, absolutely I do. I'm very lucky and organised, which is great. I can't finish speaking to you both without touching on technology, because you both work remotely, you run your businesses online. So I wonder if you can just give us some examples of the technology that you rely on in your business and what helps keep you organised Hey, why don't we start with you?

Claire Houston 42:14
So I think you'll McHale is answer will be more tech focused. But part of the problem here is that I've been saying here, so for us, I have to say that we're I mean, we're using so many different rates, software's platforms. I mean, there's so much out there to kind of really support your business and build a kind of pseudo IT architecture right off the shelf platform. So I'm a real tech geek. I love it. But I honestly think with that, one of the most underused pieces of technology is the phone to make a phone call and email to send WhatsApp and things get maybe have to add as added this bit Mickey things get shitty over WhatsApp they can over email.

Nicky Christmas 42:59
Be honest, you all speaking my language, Claire, you are speaking please ask me all the time phone me just phone me

Claire Houston 43:07
pick up the phone designed for before they were designed for viewing materials on the toilet. They were designed for fooling people? Yeah, I think that's one of the things actually that we see. Like we use technology as an enabler. But one of the things that we're so cautious about is leaning on technology for things that require human interaction to use technology for the parts in our business, where we need automation, where it doesn't add value to have somebody there. But when it comes to things like speaking to our team, speaking to your clients having the awkward conversations, Paul and I are constant, a constant reminder to each other that you should pick up the phone, you know, the exact conversation that makes you so uncomfortable that you want to send a text or an email, or WhatsApp should be the trigger for you to say actually, that conversation is important enough, and it should be done. On a video call on a phone call whatever way you choose to do, I'm sorry, I'm gonna give you a really nice, exciting answer.

Nicky Christmas 44:05
And it's a great answer and audio files don't count. dropping me an audio message is not the second thing. It's picking up the phone and powder over to you if there's anything you'd like to add

on that one. I think I think the God of our lives is Mr. technology called Internet. We just can't live without that. It's impossible. And it challenges us every day. And if we don't have that, that's a big issue, right? Because, yeah, if you have virtual business, that's really something that you need to think about start even with the first impression where you have a call with someone introduction call and if your internet's unstable, or you have Yeah, just that's like a basic need that needs to be there. Even if you travel and rehab these things, right. So we travel a lot and you have to make sure you have your 4g connection If you're not in a place where which has Wi Fi? Yeah.

Claire Houston 45:07
We were talking to one of our EAS he was on a boat. And he was working from the boat, and she had crystal clear connection. And we're like, cool, great. This really gives you the feeling for our clients as well. You can have cabana in the background, you can have whatever you want in the background. And if you are able to show with something as simple as a really good Internet connection that you have serious or those first impressions, those first calls, they really kind of so that's great

Nicky Christmas 45:35
advice. Thank you both so much for joining us on the EAA campus podcast. It's been a really interesting perspective. How can people get in touch with you if they want to follow up after listening? I

think the easiest is just going in on our website and there's a way to book a call with us or reaching out on LinkedIn. We both there Claire Hillstone and me Paola Calcutta, you will always find us their email.

Nicky Christmas 46:04
That's fantastic. It sounds like the business is going swimmingly, but good luck with it for the future. And I know that people will be in touch because it sounds like you've got such a great way of approaching approaching the role and partnering people together. So thank you for being so considerate about that. It's always lovely to hear. I'm sure we'll speak again but for now. Thank you so much for joining us. Thank you, Nikki.

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