Exceptional EA showcases Real Careers, in which administrators from around the globe generously share the benefit of their experience. We’ve made virtual trips to Belgium, Brazil, Canada, England, Germany, Mauritius, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, the USA and Wales, and now make our way to Leeds, England to visit with Marion Lowrence.
Tea, Music and No Commute
I am self-employed and not a morning person, but I still like to be at my desk for 9:00 a.m. (ish!). So it is a cup of tea in bed brought by my Co-director (and husband) Jon, who is an early bird and will have been up way before me! I will shower, have a light breakfast and a quick scan of email accounts for anything urgent before starting the tasks for the day ahead. Morning songs would include Billy Joel, George Michael and my son’s songs. He is a singer and song writer, and he makes me feel good with his inspirational songs. Check him out on YouTube – Matt Montez. The advantage of working from home means no commute and I certainly don’t miss it!
At the (Home) Office
Morning Routines: Checking the calendar is paramount – we have a lot of business meetings in different cities so I re-check travel, tickets, directions and content for the meetings. In fact, I do pretty much what I used to do for my boss but now it is for Jon and I. I also work on other PA projects for other companies so I check all the relevant in boxes and respond to those first. I then will do a social media scan as we have two Facebook pages, two Twitter accounts and our LinkedIn group. Hootsuite is my time saver to manage this.
Primary Responsibilities: Some is pretty much what I did in my PA role previously, so that has been handy to have that knowledge with admin, booking meetings and travel, social media management, accounts, negotiating contracts and having many business meetings. In addition, I have to work on collaborating with the PAs, the venues, PA industry partners and the businesses who sponsor us or exhibit. Planning ahead and being organised is paramount.
We organise 20 scheduled PA Hub events a year (there will be 30 when Liverpool launches) plus extra ones such as our Venue Showcase and our new PA Awards. I also do public speaking at various PA events and organise PA days in association with the Conference and Hospitality Show in Leeds, The Meetings Show in London and The Venue Expo in Liverpool. I am currently working with the fabulous Executive Secretary Magazine team and assisting with coordinating the Executive Secretary Live conference in Johannesburg, South Africa next year. Jon deals with all the finance and accounts, the membership in each city, the exhibitors and sponsorship, the general queries and various other projects but, if either of us are busy elsewhere, we cover each other’s roles too.
There is definitely no typical day. One day it is all admin, one day can be all about finance, another writing presentations for my talks and another organising a conference day for a client. I might be organising the diary for meetings or booking travel and accommodation for out of the region conferences. Last month we were in Paris, and this was a last minute speaker engagement – so, to enable the Paris trip, so I had to re-arrange my own meetings just like I used to do for my boss! I do hotel inspecting for one client and, as mentioned, I am working with Executive Secretary Magazine on the Executive Secretary LIVE South Africa conference so I am writing to speakers or delegates who are based thousands of miles away. It certainly doesn’t get boring, and I love what I do.
What might be a typical lunch? Where do you eat? If I am out of the office l may have a sandwich if I have time, but at home it could be anything. It can be as simple as a cup-a-soup, some fruit, a sandwich or salad, or maybe a jacket potato. I do get to eat at some nice restaurants on venue visits, and there are always canapés at the events we either run or attend – which is not good for the waist line!
How long is your work day? I start at about 9:00 a.m. and, dependent on diary and what we had on during the day, I have been known to work until midnight and beyond! I am actually trying to change this and working on plans to have a good work-life balance! Part of that is to start earlier and log off by 6:00 p.m. When you are self-employed, this can be really difficult when you have deadlines. If you don’t meet them, you don’t get paid! But I am a firm believer that if it is all work and no play you don’t deliver to the same level and one day you will break! So watch this space …
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? Juggling the different aspects of a business. Not only are you the admin – you are the finance department, the HR and Payroll, the IT, the Marketing and PR departments, with no one to assist. With no support, it can be challenging at times.
Slow down, and believe in yourself
What do you most enjoy about your career? Nothing beats being able to inspire others, and I still get surprised when someone says I have helped them. I mentor six PAs in the UK, and I really enjoy this part of my role. It motivates me to see them shine. They are all exceptional.
On Saying “No”
In business, you have to say no when necessary; otherwise you would not grow the business. It was hard at first, but you do get used to it the more you do it. I think the biggest tip is how you say it. Be assertive but not aggressive. Don’t give excuses – give a valid reason.
For me, I may say, “I cannot do that this week as I need to focus on a contract deadline for the business.” As a PA, when people try to pass things on to you, you could say, “I cannot do that work as I am working on a piece of work for the CEO. Would you like me to check with the CEO that I should do yours instead? Is it a priority?” They usually turn on their heels and ask someone else!
I was born in Leeds in Yorkshire and I now live in the middle of the busy Leeds city centre. I am now a city dweller and don’t think I could go back to out-of-city living. There is a great community in the city centre and it is where we work, too.
I like a nice glass of wine, the theatre and karaoke, and I love seeing live music. My son is a singer and I love to see him doing a gig. I don’t have much time on my hands, with the business, but we do like a holiday with lots of relaxation and sunshine when we can.
What song or two are we likely to find you singing along to when driving, or if no one’s listening? I like country: Dr. Hook’s Years from Now, Kenny Rogers’ Lucille and Dolly Parton’s Jolene – that one needs to be sung very, very loudly! So much fun!
How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? Play music and just relax (probably with a chilled glass of white wine).
A dream holiday or travel adventure? A white sandy beach with my lovely husband. Good weather and great food.
Education and Professional Development
Education: Although I don’t have a degree, I do encourage education and continuous development. I continue to learn every day. Running a business has many learning curves, so I am working my way through a lot of business advice.
Listen to people who have been there and done it
Peer and Professional Associations: I have been a member of different organisations such as Forward Ladies and IPA and APA before they closed. I am a member of Yorkshire Mafia – one of the biggest networking groups in our region and a great way to keep in touch with businesses. I am also very much looking forward to Victoria Darragh’s new national association, EPAA.
Preferred form(s) of social media? Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. I love social media! Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? LinkedIn and Kindle and, believe it or not, the apps for my banking – they make accounting much easier.
Awards and Recognition
- Yorkshire PA of the Year 2011
- Executive PA Magazine Runner up PA of the Year 2011
- Pitman Super Achievers PA of the Year 2012
- Finalist in Yorkshire Woman of Achievement Awards 2014
- Finalist in Leeds City Business Awards for Best Social Media Presence for a Business 2015
- I have just been shortlisted for Emerging SME Business of the Year in Yorkshire and the North East in the Forward Ladies Woman in Business Awards 2015
Style and Substance
What one or two cosmetics would your purse or travel bag be empty without? Lipstick and bronzer
Heels or flats in the office? Heels. For your commute? Flats. Favourite brands of shoes, whether you wear them or they’re on your wish list? Kurt Geiger
Preferred scent: Gucci Rush by day and Victor & Rolf Flowerbomb by night
What might we find in your desk drawer? I don’t have one! We have a home office and decided not to have drawers – it stops you keeping things you will never need! In my old office, you would find anything from cup-a-soups to WD40 and screwdriver sets! I decided to abandon this habit.
Travel or travel planning advice? I put the links to the hotel, map and directions in the calendar entry with the contact details in the notes. Then it is all in one place. I have a brief for the trip on one sheet of A4, too, in case the iPhone is not working – and for emergency use, with numbers and addresses and reference numbers of hotels, flights, etc.
Inspirational reads? Vanessa Vallely inspired me with Heels of Steel, especially as I run a network business, and I love the book Who Moved My Cheese? Both books were given to me by my mentor Victoria Darragh and Who Moved My Cheese? really helped me look at change differently. Victoria has been fundamental in my development as a PA and beyond.
Work smart and look for opportunities that no one else is already doing
Role models or mentors? I have had many mentors over the years. Currently for the business: my business mentor Andy McMenemy (http://www.andymcmenemy.co.uk/) is fantastic, and helps us grow the business and think strategically in a way we didn’t see ourselves. The advice he has shared with us has been fundamental in business success. I also have a fantastic PA mentor, Victoria Darragh, who has been there for me for about four years. Her advice and belief in me have been invaluable and she helped me achieve the career path I had dreamed of. I also am in awe of Lucy Brazier at Executive Secretary Magazine – she does so much for the PA profession and is incredibly helpful to everyone. She is definitely a huge role model to me.
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. Knowing the fantastic feeling of winning PA Awards myself in the past, I am particularly proud of the recent PA Hub Awards which have enabled others to achieve. I still pinch myself that I run my own business, and have enjoyed every second of setting up The PA Hub and more recently getting on the Entrepreneurial Spark programme. Finding out I have been shortlisted for the Forward Ladies Women in Business Awards has been another huge career accomplishment.
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? Setting up in Liverpool is new for the business, and we would like to provide this service to other UK cities over the next five years. I also want to keep learning and be able to improve my own personal development along the way. Improving the business is very important to me, so to keep learning is vital.
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Slow down, believe in yourself and listen to the people who have been there and done it!
Be on time; if you are late, you could be missing out on opportunities that you will never know about
Your most effective time management strategy? If you are late, you could be missing out on opportunities that you will never know about! So be on time (my Nana taught me that saying.) I use my diary and tasks in Outlook, and try to stick to the tasks for the day. I always have a notepad in my handbag to make notes when I remember things when away from the office, and then put them into Outlook on my return. I have an electronic filing system and very little paper files, so most of my work is available electronically on the move meaning I can make the most of travel time, too.
Advice for a new mother working to the workplace? Take your time in re-adjusting to the work place. Finish on time and make the most of your child’s youth – they grow up so quickly – find a work-life balance. Attend sports day – book annual leave in advance and have those special times. Those memories will keep you going at work.
Have a conversation with your executive; find out what does and doesn’t work for that particular person
Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: Tell your assistant what you liked about your previous PAs and, more importantly, what you didn’t like. Tell your assistant what works for you and what doesn’t. However, do accept that new systems by your PA could work better once you are used to them; so listen to your PA – s/he may have a solution or a short cut to make your working life better. Have regular catch ups, and I mean at least weekly and preferably have an additional 10 minute catch up daily – it will help the days run smoothly, your meetings be what you actually need them to be and you will have a happier PA by just listening and discussing the day ahead at those catch ups!
On saying no: Be assertive but not aggressive
For those interested in promotion: Work smart and look for opportunities that no one else is already doing. Attend as many networking events as you can. Find a mentor. Start your own internal PA network. Make time to learn – this is the priority for growth. Learning comes in many forms – seminars, webinars, articles, journals, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, connecting with people, attending courses, networking events and listening to the experts.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Marion referenced may be interested in checking the following links. To explore a range of resources recommended by readers, click here for Exceptional EA’s Resources Page, here to see all professional associations and networks recommended by peers, or here for a list of assorted blogs and websites.
- EPAA / PA Power With Victoria Darragh
- Executive Secretary Magazine – Lucy Brazier
- The PA Hub
- Heels of Steel: Surviving & Thriving in the Corporate World – Vanessa Vallely
- Who Moved My Cheese? – Spencer Johnson