Yay! I finally had the opportunity to profile an amazing woman. She is an entrepreneur, a best-selling author, a photographer - and all while raising a family in the wilds of Australia! Alright, she doesn't quite live in the Outback but she still has had plenty of adventures! Meet my friend Kathie Thomas!
1. Kathie, tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Kathie Thomas. I am married to Graham and we live in the Dandenong Ranges, Victoria, Australia, on a 2 acre property. It's very beautiful here. We love it. We have four grown daughters, all married, and two young grandsons.
2. Tell us about your business.
I began my business “A Clayton’s Secretary” in March 1994. I’d been in government and large corporate jobs before then. Winning Secretary of the Year, sponsored by Microsoft in 1993, gave me the impetus to do something I’d been wanting to do for some time and that is run my own business.
3. Why did you start your own business?
To be home for my family. We had five young daughters, all in primary school, and life was really crazy. Graham had a job that was often sending him away places and he worked long hours. I needed to be home for the children but still needed to earn an income. It was the obvious thing to do. This was early 1994.
4. How did you choose this particular niche?
Because that’s where my skills and abilities lay. Some would say that having five kids meant I had to have good organizational skills!
5. You’ve written several books. Why did you decide to become an author in addition to being an entrepreneur?
Being a published author is something I dreamt about as a kid. My first poem was published in a major newspaper when I was only about 13. I was sold once I saw my name in print. For years I wrote articles for magazines but was not paid for this. I always enjoyed the thrill of getting in print. I tried to write fictional stories but could never bring them to a conclusion. Then I began discovering that experiences I had, in which God had taught me things, were also things others needed to hear. It was really a natural progression and being in business has taught me how to get things happening. Plus I met people who could guide me.
6. What do you like most and least about being your own boss?
I love being able to choose what I do, who I work with and where I work. I love that my office is set up how I want it and what software I want on my computer and so on. I love learning new things and trying things out and using those skills and knowledge for my clients. And I love my clients, I have some great ones.
What I don’t like is chasing some clients for money after the work has been completed, but it seems that is something I sometimes have to do. The clients do pay but not always on time. And this isn’t all clients, just a small number. I don’t like having to update software all the time – a necessary expense in business.
7. What personality traits and skills are needed to run a business?
You need to have initiative, be self-motivated, plan ahead and be able to action those plans, have good people skills and good organizational skills. To add to that, a lot of self-belief. Not everyone out there, including family, will always support what you’re doing, especially if they can’t see the bigger picture, or if it doesn’t benefit them. Family are often afraid you’ll fail and they don’t want to see you get hurt.
8. What has been the most difficult part of being an entrepreneur?
That changes as the years go by. Initially it was letting people know I exist. Today it’s keeping ahead of the competition. Many people do what I do now and it’s not always easy to get your voice heard in the crowd. And many put their own slant on what they think the Virtual Assistant industry is, partly because they don’t understand it. This confuses clients and I’m always having to educate them the difference between a virtual employee and a Virtual Assistant. But there are a lot of clients out there and I make sure I spend time networking and marketing on a regular basis. This should never be let up.
9. Do you have any resources that you have used to build your business that you would recommend?
I’ve used a variety of software tools over the years, Microsoft Office, Dreamweaver, now WordPress. Social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter. I belong to BNI (Business Network International) and that should never be underestimated. For a long time I advertised in the printed Yellow Pages around Australia but online is a much better option these days for advertising – that and passing out business cards when meeting people. Google Alerts is a good tool also, to keep you informed on things.
10. Do you have any tips to share on promoting yourself?
Be aware of what others are doing, use Google (or your favorite search engine) to keep you informed. Stay involved, keep connecting with people, both online and offline. Don’t assume that promoting 100% online will bring in all your business, it’s important to make sure you spend time offline connecting with people face-to-face.
11. What other advice would like to share with someone starting their own business?
Find someone else who is successful at what you plan to do. Subscribe to their newsletter, blog, like their Facebook Page, follow what they do. Don’t copy them, but learn from them. And make sure they are walking their talk. It’s not good to be following someone who’s been in business if they haven’t passed that initial 5 year goal. And longer is much better. Someone who has learnt to stay in their industry despite all the changes out there and online. They might even agree to mentor you. You can always ask.
12. How can we contact you to learn more about your products and services?
My main website is vadirectory.net. This is a Virtual Assistant Network. I have others relating to training VAs and providing web hosting and design services – all interconnected with what I do as a VA. However, I do have a passion of nature photography and you can find me at Dandenong Ranges Photography also. Alternatively kathiethomas.com will point you to the various things I do.
13. Is there anything else you would like to share?
Yes. Starting out in business is a scary thing, particularly if you have no other income coming in. So make sure you are ready for it. It is very easy to give up if the dream isn’t strong enough and you have nothing to live on. Do the planning and research and start out small. You can gradually build and grow stronger as time goes by.