This week I’m talking to Kelly McGookin from Kelly’s Virtual Solutions about life during an NI lockdown.
Kelly has never been a morning person.
And, fortunately, she doesn’t need to be; she can dictate her work hours around her body clock.
She wakes up at 9:00 am, and like most people, she enjoys a cup of tea.
After powering up her laptop, she checks her business emails for important messages and updates from current and prospective clients.
Her go-to apps are ClickUp, a cloud-based collaboration and project management tool, and Trello, a similar piece of software that organises your projects into boards.
And then she starts her work, providing virtual assistance for the next seven or eight hours to a range of small businesses throughout the UK and Ireland.
There have been peaks and troughs in Kelly’s fledgeling business, due in no small part to the global pandemic.
And like most Northern Ireland business owners, there hasn’t been much to smile about in the last twelve months.
Kelly remains positive and has an enormous amount of pride in starting her first business just eight weeks into the pandemic.
The Marie Kondo of business, Kelly describes herself as a “crazy organiser, gin-enthusiast, and dog lover.”
If she had her own Netflix series, it might be called ‘Kelly Kan-Do’.
She’s also the person everyone refers to as their “go-to” – because she gets things done.
Kelly has been freelancing on the side for three years.
But after she was furloughed from her full-time job, she decided to control her future and launched Kelly’s Virtual Solutions.
And the key to her success is that she’s a great all-rounder and “loves the work that others might consider ‘boring’.”
Since the first NI lockdown in May 2020, Kelly has supported numerous small business owners with their daily admin needs.
“My most popular services so far have been emailing and calendar management, proofreading, social media scheduling, formatting docs, and database maintenance,” she explains.
Kelly threw herself into her new business, and within months, she gained Approved Status from the Society of Virtual Assistants.
Not one to rest on her laurels, Kelly was then announced as runner up in the 2020 VA of the Year NI Awards.
Reflecting on a hectic and challenging twelve months, Kelly says, “It’s been a fantastic journey so far.
“And, if you asked me one year ago where I would be, I never would have imagined I’d be where I am today.
“I’m still struggling a little bit with imposter-syndrome but, when I compare myself now to this time last year, I’m so proud of how far I’ve come.
“I never believed I would get this far, so I’m so grateful,” she adds.
Kelly is an Aries woman.
And she feels her star sign closely aligns with her personality.
“I need to be busy and challenged all the time,” she admits.
“Freelancing the past few years has not only kept me busy – while also working full-time – but it has made me realise what my passion is.
“I love helping other people,” she elaborates.
“When I was furloughed from my full-time role in 2020, it finally gave me the time to pursue my passion, and that’s why Kelly’s Virtual Solutions was born.”
Kelly’s Virtual Solutions offers five primary services to busy small business owners: Personal Assistance, Business Admin, Fleet Admin, Event Management, and Lifestyle Management.
And she loves interacting with a variety of people in a diverse range of industries.
“It gives me a kick knowing I’m giving small business owners more time to do what they love,” she adds.
A handful of lockdowns and other government-imposed restrictions have had a well-documented impact on many Northern Ireland businesses in 2020 and 2021.
Professionally speaking, though, for Kelly, she was thankful she could remotely carry out all of her work.
“I reached full capacity within a few months of launching, and it was all going really well – I couldn’t believe it,” she reminisces.
Then, when lockdown hit again in November – particularly in England – Kelly says she lost a few contracts.
“And that’s when business slowed way down,” she remembers.
“I lost my full-time job, so I didn’t have any furlough to fall back on, and my partner was made redundant.
“It’s been tough, but the business has picked up again thankfully,” she adds.
Kelly says that while she’s enjoyed her first year in business, she believes those in the House on the Hill – Stormont – have not made it easy for local companies during each NI lockdown.
“My biggest frustration has been how the government has handled the pandemic,” she sighs.
“I’m not massively into politics, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that they’ve been going about things the wrong way.
“They have not provided enough support to the country in terms of funding and mental health resources.
“It’s their fault we’re in the position we are now and why there are so many people struggling.
“Our country has a long way to go, and it’s frustrating not being able to be the decision-maker, the person who can make things right.”
Kelly is a self-confessed ambivert; someone who exhibits qualities of both introversion and extroversion, and can flip into either depending on their mood, context, and goals.
“I love socialising and going out, but not as much as I love my own company,” she smiles.
“However, the last few months have definitely been more difficult.
“I got myself into the mindset that this was never going to end.
“And I was never going to be able to go on holidays again, or go out for dinner, or go for drinks in Belfast.
“But I think a lot of us have been in this same situation; it’s been a rollercoaster,” she says.
“At the start, I got into the rut of staying up late, eating junk, and just not having any routine,” Kelly says.
“I felt like I had no real purpose.
“Then, I went on a health kick and went back to the gym and started seeing a lovely life coach, but then the gyms closed.
“I lost a couple of contracts, and I honestly fell back into the rut I was in at the beginning.
“Now, I think I would say I’m balanced.
“I’m making sure only to work my set hours so that I have a routine.
“My mindset has improved the last few weeks dramatically, and that’s definitely because of my business picking up again; it’s gratifying when I sign a new client.
“I also remind myself every day that there are other people in much more difficult situations than me.
“And I have a lot to be grateful for,” she adds.
Acknowledging that Covid-19 has taken her down an unplanned-for career path, Kelly notes, “The pandemic created my business.”
Her passion for running her own business is evident.
And her quick-fire answer to why she loves being her own boss reveals why.
“No commute. Or micro-managers. And no office politics.
“I can pick my own hours, and I can work from anywhere.
“Oh, and I can work in my comfies,” she beams.
But owning a remote business can get lonely, she says.
“I would say the biggest challenges are the lack of camaraderie.”
“But,” she laughs, “I have my tarantula to keep me company!”
She lists three main challenges with carrying out her virtual role.
“Being unable to truly switch off, not getting paid when I take time off, and the fact my earnings depend on my clients.
“It’s so easy to put all your eggs in one basket, but that’s not the right way to do business.
“I made that mistake when I first started freelancing.
“It’s important to have a few streams of income, so you don’t lose it all when you lose one client,” Kelly concedes.
Managing a decent work-life balance and avoiding professional life blurring into personal life, Kelly says she’s “better at it now” – after initially struggling with finding the right balance.
“I have a dedicated workspace in my home so I can close the door and separate myself from my work when I want to.
“I also work set hours that I try my best to stick to.
“And I’m making a point of going for a walk every single day – even if it’s just for 15 minutes.
“Also, I try not to respond to business enquiries outside of my working hours.”
There are no boot camps for preparing to run your own business.
And for most entrepreneurs, it’s a case of diving in and hoping for the best.
“Nothing can prepare you for how difficult it is,” she recalls.
“I knew it would be hard.
“But it’s been much tougher than I ever could have imagined.”
And for readers of this blog, Kelly offers these recommendations.
“My biggest bit of advice is to prepare in advance – don’t just wing it.
“Have a plan and have a budget.
“Have a goal and get all the legalities in place before launching.”
Kelly has big plans for the future, but like most business owners in Northern Ireland, tries to take each day as it comes.
“If anything, this pandemic has shown us that we need to live in the moment and not plan too far ahead,” she reasons.
“Ideally, I’d like to have my own agency for Virtual Assistants.
“But I’m just going to take it day by day and try my best to get there, whatever the world throws at me next.”
The last twelve months have taught Kelly a lot about herself – and her business.
“I’m a lot more resilient than I thought I was,” she says.
And if one funny story sums up Kelly’s last twelve months, she says it’s this one.
“I ordered a white radiator cover from Wayfair and got sent two black bedside tables.”
Kelly expected one thing but ended up with something completely different, perhaps a fitting metaphor for the last year of her life.
Find out more about Kelly’s business by clicking here.
Would you like to be featured in our Lockdown Legends series? Email Paul: firstname.lastname@example.org
Do you need content for your website or blog? Email me today.