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Virtually Yours

PUBLISHED: 12:10 17 December 2010 | UPDATED: 15:09 20 February 2013

Lynette Carstens

Lynette Carstens

Thought you couldn't afford your own personal assistant? Think again

Once it was only boardroom hotshots who could afford the cache of a personal assistant by their side, now this service is available and affordable to all, if you don't mind it being virtual.

Available for a day, a week or forever, depending on your needs and your budget, welcome to the world of the Virtual Assistant.

This is bespoke professional support: A personal assistant to do your bidding, from their office or yours, or by your side where and when you want them, but not necessarily 9 to 5, not in your office and not on the payroll.

A massive boon for big and small businesses or the self-employed entrepreneur then? Virtual Assistant Lynette Carstens thinks so. She has just set up her own business as a virtual assistant after a career as an executive assistant in the diplomatic service and more recently for Anne Wood, the founder and creative director of TV production company, Ragdoll (Teletubbies, Brum, In the Night Garden).

Lynette is a freelance PA. Working mainly from her own office in the Cotswolds, her services range from traditional PA support to co-ordinating projects, events and conference management, even lifestyle assistance if required.

She says: "I always wanted to run my own business and about five years' ago I read an article about a PA who set up as a virtual assistant after her first child was born to allow her more time with her family. That was the first time I had come across the term VA, and the first time I twigged that all my years' experience as an executive assistant in the diplomatic service and the UK TV industry could be the key to having my own business"

For Lynette, the draw of her new career is the fact that she can achieve a better work/life balance, and without children or family ties, she can be very flexible.

"I loved my job at Ragdoll and my association with them continues as I still do work for them from time to time. Working for someone like Anne Wood with her passion and vision was a privilege and a big reason why it took a while for me to go freelance. We worked well together and one of the greatest compliments she ever paid me was to say that having me as her PA felt like having a second brain."

During her last three years at Ragdoll, Lynette combined her role as Anne's PA with that of Assistant to the Producers, working with Anne and Andrew Davenport on the successful pre-school show for the BBC, In the Night Garden.

The job of a virtual assistant is definitely one for an experienced PA, according to another established VA, Hilary McDermott, who runs Stroud-based 'At Your Virtual Service'.

Hilary set up her business over a decade ago after the threat of redundancy made her want to take control of her own life. Now she's got a long list of clients on her books, from accountancy practices and journalists to the BBC.

"You need at least five years working in a corporate or office environment before you can think of going out as a self employed VA," she says. "You need to know how business and office life works, understand and be able to use a wide range of computer software and to be able to interpret your client's needs and requirements. "

Lynette agrees. "I worked on a huge number of projects at Ragdoll, so I've got a really broad range of experience which will be invaluable to my clients."

As technology has revolutionised the way we all work, a virtual assistant can help anyone, anywhere in the world. Perhaps the only things they can't do are making the bosses' tea or do their filing.

So who makes a good virtual assistant? According to The International Association of Virtual Assistants (yes, there really is one, check their website at, it's someone with good experience, who has a lively and enquiring mind, is self-motivated and enjoys the challenge of working with a range of companies.

Jacky Workman, the organisation's marketing manager, has herself been a VA for more than ten years. With clients in Australia, Denmark and London, her nearest client is 50 miles away. The only thing she says she misses about corporate life is the Christmas party.

"For those wanting to employ a virtual assistant, the benefits are obvious. No administrative overheads, no employee costs, agency fees and you only pay for the time your VA works for you - on a long term project or for ad hoc work," she points out.

According to Lynette, even PAs in full-time employment could benefit from the support of a VA. "Bosses and their PAs often dread the time when the PA has to be away and must hand over to a temp? A VA will work alongside your PA, an additional resource to call on in times of need: someone who will get to know you, your business and clients, and will take away the pain of your PA being away on holiday or off sick. For the PA, there's no need to dread what she might find on her return to the office. I take the pain away from busy individuals and help them be more productive. My job is to find the solution to their problem."

For Lynette, living and working in the Cotswold feels like having her cake and eating it too.

"This is the most beautiful part of England to live in, yet still within striking distance of London and other major cities."

The National VA Conference & Awards Ceremony takes place in Milton Keynes on 19th April 2008.


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