Personal assistants enter the sharing economy

How has SmartPA disrupted the way in which personal assistants and secretarial staff work and are recruited?

When we entered the market ten years ago, it was all about education. We knew it wasn’t going to be a quick change. Nothing ever is; you only need to look at how the mobile phone was dismissed by all of the major telecommunication conglomerates when it first entered the market in the 80s. We weren’t naive and took a long-term view, knowing the SmartPA journey would take a number of years. We wanted to create the workforce and talent pool first, and then build quality from within.

The first step was to set up our training team and online academy, focusing our energies around building that talent pool.

Today, as a business, we have more than 200 partners worldwide and are in growth mode in Europe, Africa and the United States. By the end of 2018, we will have more than 500 partners worldwide and a 75,000-strong roster, made up of predominantly females, 35 to 55, from a middle management-plus background, who have ambition and a desire to succeed, but want a better work-life balance and the flexibility of home-working.

Our roster is catching the eye of corporate clients who are talking about moving into our shared economy, which is exciting. They have been especially impressed by the range of services we offer along with our business advisory piece.

How is your model different to other businesses providing outsourcing PA services?

Outsourcing professional services is now commonplace across industry, with administration following the trends of sectors such as IT and manufacturing. Our model is completely different to our competitors in that we’re not just building a vast group of people and services; instead our focus is quality, training and our bespoke technologies. Our success comes from continuous learning and mentoring programmes.

SmartPA’s focus is quality, training and bespoke technologies. Our success comes from continuous learning and mentoring programmes

Our talent force continues to grow exponentially; it’s quite a phenomenon. We’ll have more than 500,000 on our roster by 2020. These are really powerful numbers that even the largest resource companies would struggle to compete with. We support thousands of businesses worldwide, so our SmartPAs aren’t just sitting in one organisation supporting one ethos, they’re managing multiple businesses across multiple sectors. For this reason, our intelligence, training and continuous learning are pivotal going forward. Ultimately, this is what sets us apart as market leaders in the provision of virtual personal assistants and business support services.

Has a sharing economy always been part of your vision?

Simply put, yes. The working trends of today are changing so dramatically. For example, only a few years ago, one of our large corporate clients based in America wouldn’t allow its employees to work from home and actually had to adapt its policy to accommodate the introduction of SmartPA. Since then we’ve seen even more significant changes in the global workplace, with home-working and the telecommute becoming much more prevalent. This really lends itself to SmartPA’s sharing-economy model.

But even before the emergence of these trends, we identified a need and built our business strategies, growth plans and investments accordingly.

Much like the mobile phone, SmartPA was laughed out of court by investors who didn’t buy into our vision. It was a space that was continuously ignored, with a whole gap of learning, development and technology which SmartPA has now plugged. It’s great for us to now witness our vision come to fruition.

Businesses of all sizes, from one-man bands to large global corporations, are tapping into our sharing economy and our full spectrum of administrative and business support services alongside some of our more specialist offerings, such as translation, book-keeping, marketing and social media management, with packages starting from as little as £500 a month for full-time support.

Issues relating to women in the workplace, including equal pay and representation, have been in the spotlight recently. With more than 90 per cent of your talent pool female, how important are these issues to you?

We care passionately about getting women back to work and fighting for equal pay. We see how unfairly women are treated when re-entering the marketplace after a period of absence, and how their advancement is sadly still restricted in certain industries and organisations. Women struggle more than men to get back to their pre-break level and have to fight so much harder for something that is simply right and fair.

This year we’re providing nearly £2 million-worth of free training to women in less fortunate places across the world. By the end of 2018, we will have helped support more than 500 women worldwide back to work, around 80 per cent of whom will be earning more money than when they were working full-time and commuting into cities. As the sharing economy continues to grow, this number will turn into thousands. We’re really proud of that.