Freelancer Story: “Be prepared to learn a lot of software packages!”

Meet Allison, a PPH Top Cert freelance PA/VA working either from her fully equipped London office or from clients’ premises. 

Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get into freelancing?

I moved from Glasgow to London in 1999 and worked as an admin assistant in a small company in SE London. They were acquired by a large global company and I got promoted twice in very quick succession ending up as PA to 2 Board Directors before I turned 21!  I was made redundant from that position but with a very generous payout and this allowed me to pursue my dream of working in the music industry which I did, and loved for a number of years.  I then worked in football, and whilst working full time, I was being asked to consult on a number of music projects – the main one being for Nokia where I ran a stage at 4 major UK festivals for a few years. This was on top of the full-time job and it was all getting a bit much to cope with and so 10 years ago I decided to take the plunge and go it alone.  I walked out of my job with only one client confirmed and enough savings to pay for 3 months rent!  I initially set up as a freelance PA specialising in the music industry and had a great time working for many sessions musicians, a number 1 selling platinum artist, and touring with some bands as their PA/ tour manager. This niche was great – but quite restrictive and so I expanded my client base to work with a number of start ups, entrepreneurs, and creative companies – and this is still primarily the sorts of clients who approach me today.

Eventually, after getting a lot of positive reviews on PPH I got a message from the founder Xenios who was looking for assistance with the CS team who were then based in London.  I went in to help out for a week, but ended up working for Xenios on and off for over 2 years as his PA as well as working with CS, payments and organising PPHs events and freelancer meet ups.  This was great to get to know people in the PPH community and I have always tried to help out newer sellers to the platform.

I just started as a Crowd Expert for PPH, this means I am a freelancer who not only uses the site myself but also can offer dedicated support and advice to those who need it. I was hand-picked by PPH and invited to join their customer support team.

What was your previous job before deciding to go freelance?

Prior to going full-time freelance I was PA to the Commercial Director of the Football League and prior to this I was a music industry professional and had worked as a PA for Warner Music International, Universal Music, Concorde Artists and the Really Useful Group to name a few.  I had always had a lot of projects to juggle, and I temped often so liked not having to go to the same place every day and do repetitive work, so freelancing was the next logical step.

being competent in many different software packages makes a freelancer more valuable

How did you come across PPH?

I had been looking for freelance positions on the web and saw a few great jobs come up on PPH and I registered right away.  I have seen the site go through so many changes in the last 10 years and I am always getting people to join up to the community.

What was your first job like on PPH?

My very first job on PPH was quite soon after joining.  A business owner who lived near me was looking for assistance preparing complex tender documentation for tenders within the oil and gas world.  As the work was extremely confidential, and he liked to change things around every few minutes he preferred someone to work on site to cope with his ever changing demands, and as I was relatively local I think this really helped me to win the work.  It was quite a high pressured environment, but was a great first job via the site and got me a great review which opened the door to other clients via PPH.

What is a typical day like for you?

As I am sure most freelancers would agree, there really isn’t any such thing a typical day and certainly, in my world this is often the case as my job as a PA requires me to be extremely reactive as well as proactive!  I usually get up and check emails to make sure nothing urgent has occurred overnight with any of my clients (some of my clients are based in different time zones) and make a plan for anything unforeseen.  I then head to my office which is about a 20 mins bus journey from my house.  I did work at home for many years but last year I started renting an office which has allowed me to expand and get way more organised. I didn’t know how much I would benefit from it until I did it!

I then spend the first hour of the day responding to and clearing emails and then head onto my plan for the day.  Today for example I have booked a client’s flights to a conference, tried to set up a partnership webinar for another client, re-confirmed one clients’ meetings for tomorrow, raised some invoices on Xero for another client, booked my travel for an event I am running in Liverpool in September, sorted out a clients Christmas party and have watched some video training for the Digital Business Academy as I am just about to take over the social media accounts for my main client, which isn’t something I have specialised in before.  Every day is very different and I constantly have to switch over different ‘hats’ depending on who I am talking to when.  On any given day I can be working for 10 different clients, so it’s a challenge to keep all the plates spinning.  It’s not for the faint hearted!

What benefits have you found by using PPH?

PPH has been great for me.  As I have such a long history on the site, I have built up a great reputation and great references which means that clients often find and approach me via the site, without me having to submit a large number of bids so it’s a fantastic resource for me that clients generally already know a bit about me and have seen my history of capability before we even speak.  The fact they can look through all my positive feedback removes that barrier to entry that some buyers have, especially if they are using the site for the first time.  It puts their mind at ease that they have seen the sort of projects I have already successfully completed.  I have met some really interesting clients via PPH and worked on some really interesting projects.

Allison M - freelamce VA/PA

What does your future hold? Where would you like to take this?

I recently took on an assistant who comes in and works with me one day a week and I am hoping to expand this soon to a few more days to enable me to take on some other projects and still provide the best possible experience for clients.  I actually have managed to take a few days off recently knowing work was still being done in my absence and that was a real eye opener for me!

What are your top 5 tips for freelancers who are new to PPH?

  1. Send a tailored proposal.  As well as being a seller on the site I am also a buyer.  If I get a generic response to a detailed job posting I immediately reject that person.  It’s important to demonstrate to the seller that you have read and fully understand their posting and why you feel you would be the best person to help them with their project.
  2. Do what you can to win your first job.  It takes a great deal of patience to win your first job on the site but don’t give up.  That first job, done well, will be worth it as the feedback you receive will means jobs 2, 3 and in my case, three hundred and something will be much easier.
  3. This sounds obvious but only bid for projects that you are more than qualified for.  It’s not worth taking a chance bidding for something you only know a little about.  You want to deliver a 5-star service, so be certain that you can do the job, and wow the client.
  4. Offer solutions to potential clients.  Often I will see a client saying ‘I need this’ when really I think they probably need something else.  As long as you are not rude about it, it’s your job as an expert in your field, to help buyers who might not be as experienced as you to enable them to get the right solution to their problem.
  5. Deliver what you say you are going to when you said you were going to.  If there are unforeseen issues then communication is key!   This will help you to build up trust with your buyer and hopefully win repeat business

What are your top 5 tips for your particular role?

  1. As a PA who mainly works virtually (I hate the term VA), you can sometimes be out of sight, out of mind so it’s imperative to have great communications with your clients – pick up the phone when you can.  Ask them how their week has been.   My clients see me as an essential part of their team, not as someone who sits out of sight just doing admin and this is purely down to the fact I take great pride in my ability to quickly build relationships.
  2. Be realistic with deadlines.  I think we’ve all been there, trying to people please everyone and saying yes to everyone.  If there is one thing I have learned in my 10 years of self-employment is that doing this will eventually wear you down.  When my clients give me a deadline that I feel may be tricky, I speak to them, try and understand how imperative it is and then agree on the final delivery date together.  My clients much prefer me to say ‘ok how about I get this milestone done by Friday, and then the rest of the project by the following Tuesday’.  Again communication is key.
  3. Be prepared to learn a lot of software packages.  Nearly all of my clients use different packages.  So far today I have already used Infusionsoft, Active Campaign, Trello, Asana, Zendesk, Xero, Receipt Bank, Acello, Slack, Google Calendar, Google Mail, Outlook, Powerpoint, Excel, Word, GoToMeeting, Zoom and Dropbox.  It’s important to be aware of new technologies and have a willingness to learn.  I am not an expert in there but I take time out of my own schedule to watch the tutorials and learn the basics to at least enable me to assist my clients.  Enjoying learning new things is a definite plus point for being a PA!
  4. Make a plan, but be prepared to rip it up with no notice!  A lot of my job is effective planning, I have many client projects happening simultaneously and it’s my job to keep on top of deadlines and milestones so I make daily and weekly plans of deliverables.  However, as a PA it’s also my job to be reactive to emergencies and changing deadlines (like last week when a client’s laptop was stolen out of his car on his way to an important presentation).  I couldn’t have said to that client, “sorry I will fit this in in 2 days”, so you have to be meticulous with your planning but also have the tenacity to change things on the go with short notice as and when problems occur.
  5. Have fun!  I am at a really lucky stage in my freelancing life where I can be selective about the clients I work with.  I choose clients whose values I agree with, and who are the sort of people I would be happy to go for a drink with after work.  This means I want to go the extra mile for them and them for me.

What web browser do you use?

Google Chrome – I am a G-suite girl at heart!

If you were an animal, which one would you be and why?

Most probably an Octopus – I could do with a spare pair of hands for all the things I have to do simultaneously so another 3 pairs would definitely help!

What do you think of Allison’s story? Please leave messages of support for Allison in our comments box below!

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Allison offers traditional PA services such as presentation creation, word processing, data entry, transcription and audio typing, meeting organisation, minute taking, travel planning and booking.

London, UK

Overview: Allison has worked at Board Level as a PA at a number of companies and has office management and recruitment experience.

HIRE Allison


Kelly Jane
Kelly Jane
Kelly is PeoplePerHour marketing expert. She has a wealth of experience in digital and social media marketing. As a freelancer, she has been committed in helping small businesses grow by offering them agile and result-driven marketing services.
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