In November 2019, The Times newspaper did a double page spread on the strength of the franchising industry in the UK, with a lead story about how women are thriving in this arena.
Well, I guess myself and The Passionate PA are proof of that!
But, unlike the huge brands The Times talked about, such as TaxAssist Accountants, ActionCoachUK, Subway and Wiltshire Farm Foods, my journey into franchising, along with my vision for the future, is quite unique.
The Passionate PA is a labour of love for me. If you’ve taken a peek at Our Story on our website you’ll know this was not really how it was meant to be. Our founder, Sarah Howells, started The Passionate PA over 12 years ago after realising she wanted to be her own boss. She set out to change her own career because she could see small businesses would buy pockets of time and skills from her. She was well ahead of the current Virtual Assistant trend, and definitely one of the first to recognise that branding and networking really matter!
I met Sarah in 2009 when she had developed the business to a ‘busy’ point. She wanted another Passionate PA with complementary skills to hers, and so together our plan was to take Dorset by storm. She was the career PA, I was the marketing PA; we believed clients would love the double act.
I would never have jumped off my own corporate career ladder without Sarah holding my hand (insert “giving me a push!!”). But, she was proof that being a freelance PA could be rewarding, and as I was only 26 at the time, risk was something I still felt pretty comfortable with. With the support of my husband, I quit my well-paid, sensible job in marketing (which I did love to some degree), in order to experience something new. I was to be self-employed but under the wing of someone who’d been doing it for over a year, and could sell ice to Eskimos!
What could possibly go wrong…?
Cancer. Sarah lost her battle with Cancer just 16 days after I officially joined The Passionate PA in Feb 2010. So, in amongst all that grief and sadness, I was left to run, market and build a brilliant business that I felt had only really been brilliant because of Sarah and everything she was.
This was one of the lowest points in my life. I was 26, knew absolutely nothing about running my own business and knew even less about being a freelance PA; in fact, I hadn’t even had ‘PA’ as a proper job title before! Panic set in and a pretty turbulent four years followed. Throughout all the personal doubt though, I managed to find amazing clients, deliver exceptional work for them and make decent money, so something was working, it just took we a while to pin down exactly what!
Throughout those early years, freelance PAs and VAs were be-friending me all the time with the goal of getting to know what it was I was doing so differently. In honesty, I didn’t really know—I was just doing what I thought was right with a keen eye on client happiness and my own profitability. Looking back now, this was a period that shaped me and my life hugely. At the time it just felt like a constant rollercoaster ride of building a business, filling Sarah’s shoes and wondering what the hell the future had in store. But, my knowledge and confidence developed—and so did my vision.
If the early days of being a Passionate PA taught me anything, it’s that every so often, we all need someone to hold our hand. I would never have set up my own business without Sarah’s initial push and a recognised brand to hang my hopes on. I would never have continued that journey without the unwavering support of my husband and the Dorset business community.
And that, in a nutshell, is exactly why I franchised The Passionate PA. I wanted to give other people the opportunity to be brave in setting up their own business, with me holding their hand. I love helping others identify their truly valuable skills and experiences and working with them in a partnership to shape a business that empowers them and delivers financial rewards and personal fulfilment.
Franchising isn’t an easy option. It’s scary at times, can be incredibly lonely as a franchisor without a head office team, and obviously it needs pretty deep pockets to create a business worthy of investment from franchisees. But, there are so many advantages! It suits my life goal, which is not to manage people through employment, but to help them develop themselves to be the best they can be. Franchising enables me to create partnerships with each of my franchisees—and for them, there is complete clarity on what they are investing in and what they will receive in return.
All of my future growth plans revolve very much around my chosen lifestyle on Dartmoor—the house of my dreams with 2.5 acres and a life full of family, fur babies and baking. Unlike the global franchises of this world, I don’t want an empire with a huge head office team and all the associated stress and cost that goes with that. I’m committed to spending my working life helping honest, passionate and skilled individuals create businesses they love under The Passionate PA’s brand. I am building a team of freelance PAs that are unrivalled in terms of skills, outlook and team spirit. It’s that simple.
There are so many ambitious business owners out there that need/want a Passionate PA and relish the fact that we are very different from the option of employing a PA or Project Manager, or in some instances, using an alternative freelancer. The power in The Passionate PA comes from our team—together we can tackle just about ANYTHING a business owner needs, due to the variety of skills, knowledge and experience within our growing team, and our little black book of contacts full of experts in their field. That is added value and clients love it!
Being a freelance PA wasn’t what I dreamed of when I was a child, but running a business certainly was. Franchising wasn’t part of my plan when I left employment, but because it gives me and the franchisees a partnership where both are responsible for our success, it has always felt so right.
Happy clients! Happy Passionate PAs! Profitable businesses! It all makes my heart skip a beat.
Having built a great platform to franchise from, I am now committed to growing the brand and business at a pace that I am comfortable with, together with a clear focus on delivering exceptional value to the team as it grows. I will only grant franchise territories to those that share my passion and vision. It’s incredibly exciting to have finally defined what success looks like to me, and be well on the path to achieving that.
- Listen to our podcast with Kate here.