UK VA Conference

Will Young, Tropical Climates and an Army of Virtual Assistants – UK VA Conference

UK VA Conference 2019 and the PA Show 2019

If you missed out on this year’s UK VA Conference or would just like to find out what we virtual assistants get up to when we all get together, then do read on!

I have just sat down in my office after an incredible week in London at the UK VA Conference, which took place at the PA Show.  If you ever wondered how much information you could pack into two days, the answer is a serious amount!  My brain is fit to burst with ideas, advice and information that I have gathered over the last few days.

Last year the PA Show (known back then as Office) was a bit traumatic for us to get to because the ‘Beast from the East’ had struck with a vengeance, this year was significantly easier with a 26-degree difference in temperature, so we were basking in a positively tropical 21C!  It made life much easier, I can tell you.

Gwen Backhouse

Ready to go!

Day One

We always go for two days, so on day one we can peruse the stands and take our time to have a look around.  This year, there were four trade shows under one roof, the PA Show, International Confex, the Corporate Gifting Show and the Event Production Show.

There were some very interesting stands, lots of new software and technologies that would be beneficial to the business and my clients, stationery (my weakness) and some good freebies too. I managed to win a packet of noodles at one stand too (I’m still not really sure why or how).

Will Young was also a keynote speaker at International Confex on the subject of mental health.  I missed him, sadly.

VA Dinner

VA Dinner at Pizza Express

As some of us VA’s were already in London by the Tuesday evening, we decided to have dinner together at Pizza Express.  It was a really lovely meal and a good chance to catch up, as some of us hadn’t seen each other for a year.  We chatted about what’s going on in the industry, how business was going for us all and mused over what was to come the next day.  It is always good to get together with other VA’s, to share experiences, discuss issues and just have fun.  After dinner, a couple of drinks and much silliness, we headed back to our respective hotels to prepare for the VA Conference the next day.

The UK VA Conference

This is what we came for.  A day of learning, networking, sharing and participation!

After spending the morning on an exceedingly slow packed train (I’m short, it isn’t fun!), I arrived at the VA Conference in good time for the Breakfast session.  Each session had a hashtag name, which was great for social media, and handy for remembering where you were headed!

VA Breakfast #MyVACareer

#MyVACareer.  Led by Lina Bourdon (FSB Chair for Diversity), it was a chance for the expert panel consisting of Amanda Johnson (Virtual Assistant Coaching and Training), Felicity Webb (The Virtual Assistant UK) and Catherine Gladwyn (Delegate VA), to share their personal insights as to why they decided to run their own business and become Virtual Assistants.  It is always good to hear different perspectives, and I think the quote of the session came from Amanda when she said:

“It’s not unusual to have nerves or be anxious in business, but it’s important to push yourself & put your ‘big girl pants’ on”.

It was interesting to hear how those who had battled with health problems, found that working as a VA fitted their lifestyle and enabled them to work and build a career in a way that worked for them.

#MyVAFuture  This session focussed on VA Business models, Jane Cattermole (Bay Tree VA) spoke about how she set up as a limited company, Rebecca Newenham (Get Ahead VA) talked about how she has set up a Virtual Assistant Franchise, allowing VA’s to buy ‘a business in a box’, and Joanne Munro (The VA Handbook) who works from all over the world as a Digital Nomad (which I have to say, I am incredibly jealous of after she showed us beautiful photographs of the locations she works from).  It just highlighted how many ways there were of working within the same industry.  All of these models worked well for each of them.

Between sessions, I headed down to the International Confex Show and had my photograph taken by The Headshot Guy.  I have to say the photographer bore an uncanny resemblance to Barry Gibb!

Caroline Wylie

Caroline Wylie’s Session #MyVAJourney

#MyVAJourney was the next session, and this was a talk by Caroline Wylie of the Society of Virtual Assistants.  This was a really helpful and insightful session that focused on what has been happening within the industry over the last year, and how, as a whole, we VA’s can tackle and challenge false information at its source.  This is something I feel very passionate about because as an unregulated industry ‘rogue’ trainers and self-appointed ‘experts’ are starting to pop up.  We have seen them citing false statistics, false information or rate shaming others, in order to get new virtual assistants to sign up to their products or services.  Caroline gave a very frank talk on how this can be tackled by coming together and collaborating, which let’s face it, is something us VA’s are very good at anyway.  Please check out this write up of her session and find out what you can do if you see questionable information popping up on social media, what questions you can ask and how you can know what to look for in a trainer, coach or mentor. Click here for the #MyVAJourney session

Do look out for the Virtual Assistant Survey, this is how the SVA get valid and meaningful industry statistics, and it is so important for all VA’s to fill it in! Click here to go to the VA Survey

At the end of Caroline’s talk, she told us to write down something that we needed on a sticker and to wear it for the rest of the day.  It was really nice to watch a room full of VA’s chatting to each other about how they could help each other.  A true demonstration as to why collaboration in this industry is so important.

After a short coffee break to catch our breath and rest our brains, we headed for the next session, which focused on risk.  There were three speakers on three different subjects, all of which were important for a VA to know.

Ami Copeland (Director at Institute of Certified Bookkeepers)
Ami spoke about the Money Laundering Regulations and Tax Going Digital, and what we need to do to be compliant.  This was a really helpful talk and actually clarified a lot of the rumours that have been spread about what does and doesn’t have to be done.

Henry Herbert (Lawyer at Herbert & Ball LLP)
Henry spoke about GDPR, what we needed to look for in the future, what to look out for once Brexit happens (or doesn’t) and what to expect from the ICO during the coming year.

Picnic in the sun

Janthana Kaenprakhamroy (CEO at Tapoly)
Janthana spoke about insurance and why Virtual Assistants need it, what different types of insurance are required and what they cover.  All VA’s need insurance, so this was a great talk to highlight that.

For lunch we decided to make the most of the 21-degree heat and enjoyed a picnic in the park, it may have been February, but I was starting to get slightly concerned about getting sunburnt!!!

After a quick catch up with some old and new friends in the networking area, it was back to the VA Conference Theatre for the next session.

#MyVALinkedIn  Alex Galviz, also known on LinkedIn as ‘Authentic Alex’, gave a great talk on how to get our LinkedIn profiles up to scratch, get them seen on Google, grab peoples attention and what kind of content to produce.  It was a session that produced so many ideas; my notepad was bulging by the end of it!  Alex was also a founder of LinkedIn Local in the UK, a brilliant initiative to get LinkedIn members to meet face to face and focuses on authenticity, respect and collaboration.  Well worth looking into! Find out more.

UK VA Awards

John Palmer of BeMyVA

John Palmer – UK VA Awards Session

The VA awards were slightly different this year, as there was the announcement of the new VAVA’s (Virtual Assistant Voice Awards) and the new VA Star award, as well as finding out who won Best Newcomer 2019 and Outstanding VA UK 2019.

The VAVA’s:

Best Trainer – Amanda Johnson – Virtual Assistant Coaching and Training (third year running!  Well done, Amanda!)
Most Popular Social Media Platform – LinkedIn
Most Popular Accounting Software – Xero
Most popular tool – Canva
Most Popular Book – How to Be a VA by Catherine Gladwyn

VA StarJo Howlett Virtual Assistant AwardGwen Backhouse speaking

The first ever VA Star award was posthumously given to Jo Howlett, for outstanding contribution to the virtual assistant community.  Debby Marcy, who was close to Jo wasn’t able to be at the VA Conference to accept the award, but she sent some lovely words.  I was asked to read these out and accept the award on Jo’s behalf as I knew Jo too.  It was an honour to be asked to do this for her, Jo was an inspirational VA, a kind and caring person, and most certainly was a VA Star.  She was so passionate about being a VA, and that really shone through, and along with Debby Marcy, she supported VA’s in the North West by starting the North West VA Hub, which is still running and supporting VA’s today. Sadly Jo passed away in late 2018.  The award is being sent to her family in New Zealand.

Best Newcomer VA 2019

Congratulations to the winner Sarah Szekir-Papasavva of Apt VA, and also to the runners up Helen Martin & Susan Williams Aggrandise VA, Holly Copsey of Virtually Priceless; Meg Small (Auxilia Support).

Outstanding VA 2019

Congratulations to Joanne Manville of Joanne Manville Virtual Assistant and also to the runners up Heather Greig of VPA NI, Naomi Campbell of VA Velocity and Toks Adebanjo of Toks Adebanjo Virtual Assistant.

John Palmer of BeMyVA also announced some upcoming changes to the BeMyVA directory. Find out more about that here.

Video’s of the award session and these can be found in the SVA Facebook Group.

#MyVAVision From left to right: Jo Hawkins, Gwen Backhouse, Caroline Wylie, Amanda Johnson and Jo Munro (Thank you to Felicity Webb for this picture)

This session had an expert panel, led by Joanne Hawkins (Executive VPA).  I was on the panel along with Caroline Wylie, Amanda Johnson and Jo Munro.  It was a fun session, and Jo had come up with a list of great questions for us about whether we thought future VA’s would be more inclined towards having a digital nomad model?  Do VA’s need a niche?  What does future technology mean for our industry? And much more.  We managed to get through most of them, have some fun and give lots of hints and tips to the audience.  It was a great panel, and we all had very different perspectives on things which led to some great answers and discussions.

And that was the end of the day!  It was a brilliant day, and I had so much in the way of information to bring back with me.  It demonstrated to me the importance of collaboration and the need to keep up to date with industry CPD too.  The VA industry moves forward so quickly, and if you don’t attend events such as this, you will fall behind very quickly.  Also, linking into Caroline’s #MyVAJourney talk, make sure you look out for your trainers at events like this too, they need it just as much as we do to stay up to date and relevant!

It was a shame to say “goodbye” to my friends there, knowing it may be a few months before I see them again, however, we are in the online age, and we will keep communicating until that time comes again.

I can’t wait for next year’s conference.  I would like to say a huge thank you to all who helped organise this conference and to John Palmer (BeMyVA) who works tirelessly to ensure this all goes smoothly.  I know I’m not the only one that had a good time!

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