One of the reasons I started Practically Perfect PA back in 2011 was because I wanted to create an online community for assistants. A place to come, learn and realise that there was at least one other PA that felt the same way you did and was facing the same every day issues you were (and some of the triumphs too!) Jump forward nearly five years – where the heck has that time gone!??! – and things have certainly changed. Over the last few years there are plenty more online communities and in more recent times we have taken networking to a whole new level with local networks, organised by assistants, springing up all over the place. It is brilliant! Meeting other assistants who work near by, who share the same suppliers, hotels, restaurants etc. is great and obviously getting to hang out with people that understand the job – well that is invaluable. I thought it would be great if we had a little space on Practically Perfect PA dedicated to these awesome networks and I thought it would be even better if we found out a little more about the assistants who start up the groups. First up we have the Edinburgh PA Network. The networking was established by Sherien Ahmed, Sally Lloyd and Amy Smith… Here is everything you need to know….
Oh, and if you have set up your own network or you are part of a network, do get in touch I would love to have you guys on the blog (the network doesn’t just have to be in the UK either!)
The PAs behind the Network
What is your career background?
Sherien: I currently work as a PA to four directors, the Chief Executive and provide secretariat support to the Board of Trustees of a charity organisation. Previous to this I worked in such roles as Secretary to a group of Consultants, Marketing Assistant for an Architect firm, Facilities Coordinator for a construction company and Purchase Ledger for NHS Legal department just to name a few.
Sally: Since graduating, I’ve pretty much always been a PA – straight out of University I worked as the PA to the Regional Manager of the Youth Justice Board which is where my love of diary managing began! After I moved to Edinburgh in 2004, I’ve worked in a series of roles which have all involved executive support at senior level.
Amy: I am currently an Executive Assistant at Skyscanner to the CTO, Director Engineering, Director of Project Management and the Director of HR. I have been in a support role my entire working life, starting in local government almost 10 years ago.
Aside from the network, what have been your career highlights to date?
Sherien: Being awarded the PA Executive Magazine/Hays Award ‘1st runner up for the PA Newcomer of the Year’ 2013 Award was an amazing achievement for me. This then took me into the arena of public speaking and gave me the opportunity to be on the PA panel at ACES 2014.
Sally: I think when I realised that I truly loved being a PA was when I landed the role as the PA/EA to the Chief Executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society. The Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world and the role, which was created after a tricky time for the Society, was so very diverse. I really never knew what I would be doing from one day to the next and I thrived on the challenges.
Amy: My career highlight to date has to be being given the opportunity to speak at events, since taking my role at Skyscanner. I recently spoke at the Assist Conference in September 2015, and at Skyscanner’s Company Presentation in December to around 300 people. Public speaking was not something I ever thought I’d do, and was an excellent challenge and achievement for me.
What piece of advice would you give assistants coming into the profession today?
Sherien: The only advice I would give is to stay current. Make sure you are up to speed with all the new office programmes, apps, social media and technology and use this to your advantage.
Sally: Never ever be rude to anyone – you just never know when you might end up meeting them again – or heaven forbid need a favour or help!
Amy: I agree with Sherien; you can’t know too much. The more you know and the more you develop yourself, the more of an asset you are to a company, an executive and a team.
What piece of advice would you give your younger self at the beginning of your career?
Sherien: The advice I would give my younger self would be to have more confidence and self-belief. To never doubt my ability and stay focused on my goals.
Sally: I would PA my life from the start! I’m so proud of the work I do to help others, but sometimes my personal organising is much to be desired. If I had started applying the tips I learnt in work at home sooner, my life could be much more in control.
Amy: To not doubt the importance of the value that a PA can add, or the expertise that they have. If you have an idea, then you should absolutely voice it, it might just make a difference!
What piece of technology or app can you not live without?
Sherien: I am sure I am with the millions when I say I can’t live without my phone. I actually don’t have a laptop at home and conduct all my organising, social media and emailing through my iPhone.
Sally: I’m a recent convert to the project management/list making tool called Trello – I use it for every job that I have and so many things at home. You create your own teams with Trello and it’s a great application to help visualise your workload and what your to-do list is looking like.
Amy: I am a OneNote advocate! I have everything in my OneNote. Blogs I’m penning, personal notes (I’m a recipe hoarder!), notes about work (travel arrangements and preferences for my charges, “rules” I have for each of them, team notes, etc.). I love it, I use it on everyday on my laptop and my phone and it all syncs up – I even teach the class at Skyscanner, and a lot of the business use it too!
About the network…
What made you decide to set up the network?
The original Edinburgh PA network was originally set up by a PA at Standard Life, Emer Tilson. Emer then decided to move outside the PA world and changed roles. She asked four of us, Sherien Ahmed, Sally Lloyd, Amy Smith and April Spallin (April subsequently relocated to London in August) if we wanted to take over and we all jumped at the chance.
We decided to develop the network because we realised that there was nothing in Edinburgh for PAs and by PAs. There are events that PAs can attend, but PAs tend to be the product rather than the customer and we wanted to create something that was tailored to the PA in Edinburgh, something that would mean PAs could meet each other rather than Sales people and also a chance to learn something new.
What are the objectives of the network?
To network PAs, EAs in Edinburgh with each other and to provide professional support as well as a structure for career development.
What was the initial reaction and what does the network look like today?
We’ve only really been going as team for a year and it’s been a steep learning curve. We want to make each event, not just with a great location and chance to meet new people, a chance to learn something new. Our first event together had a LinkedIn session with the Director of Stripe Communications and we still get people asking for her to come back with a follow up! Towards the end of the year our attendance dropped a bit but this year we plan on continuing our teaching and learning events as well as growing the network to an even bigger number. Today we are more focussed, energised and we engage with our members to get their input on what they’d like to see us organising.
How did you promote the network?
We have a Twitter account @edinburghpa and a Facebook page, which is mostly run by Sherien and we also have a private LinkedIn group. We make sure every PA we come across is aware of the network and we also have a mailing list to keep everyone informed. We are also really lucky to be working with Conference Care Scotland who work with a lot of PAs across Scotland and spread the word that way. We are looking at developing our numbers through word of mouth and are looking into ways to incentivise members to tell others and bring them to our events.
Do you have advisor’s / board members / mentors that have helped with the network? Who are they and what did they contribute?
We do not have any of the above but the Network group itself is run by a committee consisting of Sherien Ahmed, Sally Lloyd and Amy Smith. We all come from different sectors with different working backgrounds and this diversity lends itself to creating the events. We all have different talents, contacts which makes for a dynamic team.
How do you engage with your members?
Our main way of communicating our events is through our mailing list on Mailchimp but we also share info through Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. We are in the process of setting up our own website where we will introduce a blog and we hope to use LinkedIn more to increase numbers and engagement. We try to make sure that every PA we meet knows about the network and what it can do for them.
What challenges do you think assistants within your network face and how do you think the network helps?
The main challenge these days is still lack of confidence. We all despair when we hear someone say I’m “just” a PA! The work that a PA does is intrinsic to the success of any business and most of our managers just wouldn’t know what to do without the professional executive support they receive on a daily basis. Yet, there’s still a lack of confidence that this role is important, and you don’t have to be a PA to a Chief Executive to know it! PAs and Assistants can often be the only one in their role at a company and we want all people who provide PA support to know that they can keep learning and developing in their role. The network is about PAs meeting each other to share experiences with someone external to their own workplace and knowing that they are not alone! It’s also about giving confidence to each and every member.
Have you personally met any challenges with running the network?
There are many challenges involved in running the network – we are all full time workers and are busy with lots of things like children (Sherien is a new mum) studying (Amy is currently gaining Microsoft Office qualifications), and volunteer work (Sally is on the Regional Board of EPAA and the Secretary of her local community council). This means we have to keep on top of things all the time, we have a Trello Board, a Whatsapp group and of course email to keep in touch. We try to meet regularly too.
The other challenges are to do with developing the network both in terms of numbers – we know there must be hundreds if not thousands of PAs in Edinburgh – and event content – making sure it is always fresh and useful.
This work is all worth it when we get good numbers and then great feedback from our events.
Our main strategy for this year is to make sure as many people know about us as possible so they can decide if they want to play their part.
What has been the highlight for the network so far?
We didn’t know each other very well when we inherited the network so it was at our first event in January 2015 that we really got to know each other and know how we worked. It was amazing to see so many lovely PAs in attendance which made the event a great success but it was even better knowing that we, as a team, got along so well and worked together with ease.
At our second event in May event we secured an amazing speaker, Cordelia Ditton, from VoiceBusiness who did a session on How to Network – it was pretty life changing. It was amazing to see everyone, using the techniques they had just seen, at the end of the evening. It was truly apparent how well the session had gone!
Any other details you would like to share with the readers?
If you’re a PA/EA/Secretary or Office Manager in Edinburgh we would love to hear from you! Drop us an email firstname.lastname@example.org or Tweet Us!