Last year, when Alicia Cowan and I put on one of our now famous “Social Media – Can you afford to ignore it” seminars (with the hashtag #dontignoreit) we had 2 very lovely ladies come along. They are now bringing us to Brighton to do our next seminar in May. Since they are so fantastic, I thought it would be a good idea to interview them about their business and their story – so you can get to know them – hence the Q+A session below:
Who are you? How did you two meet / start working together?
I am Emma de Polnay and my business partner is Esme Lynch and we are Directors of My Special PA – Bespoke PA Services for Creative Professionals.
I started the company solo in 2009, building up from one client to approx. 6 within 7-8 months. I always imagined I would expand but wasn’t sure exactly when or exactly how that would happen.
In February 2011 I needed to go overseas for a friends wedding. I’d prepared well and made provisions for all my existing clients to make sure their requirements were taken care of whilst I was absent. At the last minute, however a very important contact approached me to help him with a project. With just a few days to spare, I had to think fast to find someone smart and adaptable with the right sales and CRM (Contact Relation Management) experience who understood me and the My Special PA brand.
Cue Esme Lynch….
Esme Lynch has over 10 years experience in the interior design industry; she has a great eye for design, brilliant business acumen and first class sales skills. She is also my oldest and best friend. Esme settled in instantly and took excellent care of the project whilst I was away. Our client was really pleased with the service and provided a glowing testimonial.
From there, I invited Esme to become the first team member and 1 year later, she is now my co-director.
Esme and I have known each other since we were very small. Our mothers have always been close, so we were thrown together practically from birth. Fortunately we became firm friends and both adored art and design from a young age.
We remember sitting at my mother’s kitchen table as little girls, creating weird and wonderful fashion designs and declaring that one day we would have our own business.
Well, we seem to have manifested that and Esme has been an amazing asset to My Special PA. We’re well aware that it’s considered very risky adding business to a friendship, but we’ve always had an amazing culture of honesty as friends. This culture feeds into our working relationship as we grow the company together.
What does your company do?
My Special PA is a business service for creative professionals, run by creative professionals with business and administration skills. We offer freelance (ad-hoc) specialist PA and VA services to artists, designers, media professionals and other creative business owners, including business development, supplier liaison and marketing.
Who do you work with?
We work with a broad range of individuals and SME’s (Small-Medium Enterprise) within the Creative Industries: –
- Arts (cross discipline)
- Designers (cross industry)
- MarComms, PR and Events
- Performing Arts
- Alternative lifestyle
- Teachers and trainers
How do you market your business?
Networking, Social Media Marketing inc. Twitter, Facebook & Blogging. We’ve also just added a newsletter sign-up and we’re about to start using email newsletters to promote our services, our clients and their work. We have been very lucky as we work with a very niche market and 70% of our business has come from client referrals.
What one thing do you find most of your clients struggle with? And how do you help them
Our clients have very different challenges depending on their professions, the one thing they all struggle with is actually keeping focussed on their creative work. As with all business, there’s a continuous flow of other demands that need to be attended to to make creative work profitable. ‘Leapfrogging’ from invoicing and business development to finishing a painting, creating an inspired new brand design or working on concepts for a pitch can prove almost impossible at times. Without the right support, certain areas of a business will get neglected which can stunt success.
Our core proposition is to liberate our clients from their administrative and commercial tasks, taking away the distractions and hassle so they can remain focussed.
We have experienced many of our clients’ challenges so we have considerable insight into how to help them. Our services are always tailored to the clients specific needs. We have some more senior clients who hate computers, so they delegate most of their desk based work to us and ‘rush’ back to their studios / workshops. Some clients are already highly organised but find they spend all their time at a computer and dealing with clients – if this is the case, they may hire us to look for new business opportunities, write proposals and attend networking events on their behalf.
Tell us about your most unusual task you have had to do for a client
I work frequently and very closely for one of my clients, a fine artist called Bella Pieroni. I help Bella deliver specialist life drawing workshops in different parts of the UK. I do all the administration, the schedule etc but on one occasion I even did some life modelling. It was a blast from my old art school days and it was quite fun. Bella’s drawings of me were really great.
Esme set off for a clients house one day all geared up to work on a specific project. On arrival the client was in a bit of a spin about her daughters 2nd birthday, which was taking place the next afternoon. They ended up spending the day decorating cakes and cookies and hanging bunting. We just adapt to whatever our clients most need help with.
How do you see your business in 2-3 years time?
Expanded to a core team of 5-6. Working with existing and new clients on larger, longer running projects, workshops and events.
What is a common misconception about the work you do – and how would you help people understand the truth better?
That we can just walk in, know exactly what’s going on and ‘quick fix’ everything. I realised very early on that it’s all very Jerry MacGuire – ‘Help us to Help You’. So we are very clear with our potential and existing clients that the only way for us to be truly effective at supporting them, is for them to take time out (no matter how busy they are) to write ‘To Do’ lists and supply us with essential information (contacts, briefing, documents). If that’s done, we can land with our feet running, be proactive and become an invaluable asset to them. Our most successful and long standing client relationships are based on this crucial sharing of information from the outset.
What makes you stand out?
Each team member is a specialist with a unique combination of creative, business and commercial skills and experience. Creativity is invariably paired with feelings. Our clients definitely have their ‘moments’ both professionally and personally and in a support role we have to help them as best we can. Sometimes they just need to talk things through. We pride ourselves on understanding the creative temperament and providing a level of support that is adaptable and truly caring, whilst very professional.