I loved being a virtual assistant so much that I started my own franchise for others. Here's how I did it.

I loved being a virtual assistant so much that I started my own franchise for others. Here's how I did it.
Rebecca Newenham.Get Ahead
  • Rebecca Newenham, 50, didn't want to return to the corporate world and became a virtual assistant.
  • She expanded and now has 50 virtual assistants in Britain and Spain.

This as-told-to essay is based on a transcribed conversation with Rebecca Newenham, the founder of the virtual-assistant franchise Get Ahead. It has been edited for length and clarity.

In 2010, after an eight-year career break to have children, I decided to go back to work.

I had been a buyer for Superdrug and Sainsbury's but never particularly felt at home in a corporate environment. I craved more flexibility.

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My mum ran a tutorial agency when I was younger and used to work from home. She inspired me to look at what other roles were out there that could give me the same flexibility. I did a lot of research, and when someone mentioned I should consider being a virtual assistant, it immediately appealed to me.

I loved the entrepreneurial spirit, and I liked the idea of being my own boss. The VA industry was already well established in the US, but the term was still relatively new to the UK. I found a one-day training course in London on how to set up as a virtual assistant.


Over eight hours we learned about the breadth of support you can offer, how to find clients, how you can work with clients, and the best ways to market yourself.

By September 2010 I'd launched Get Ahead

I'd seen that some people were using their own name as their company name, but thanks to my marketing background I knew from the start I needed to create a brand.

I started the company with a secondhand laptop, a printer, and a handful of cash I could use for networking. I turned my spare room into an office and painted my logo on the wall.

I used word of mouth to advertise. A friend of a mum from my children's school introduced me to someone who ran a networking group. It morphed into my first proper paid client. I provided admin services for them.

Then an online business asked if I could do some link building. I remember sitting at a small desk by the window, wrapped in a cardigan, as it was really chilly, but feeling really satisfied I was running my own business while my daughters were at school.


For the first couple of years I worked on my own, as I needed to understand what the role entailed, but I knew that if I wanted the business to scale quickly, I needed to move from delivery to sales. By March 2011 I started to hire virtual assistants to support me. I initially operated a telephone-answering service for clients in-house, but by January 2015 I outsourced this to a phone-answering company in Glasgow.

The VAs I contracted specialized in diary management. Then I took on experts in Excel and social media. Our social-media department grew dramatically, as this is where clients needed a lot of help. They were on the wrong platform for their business or struggling with consistency.

We hired both male and female VAs, but the majority were mums seeking flexibility. Clients pay from £30 to £35 an hour for their assistance.

By 2015 we had clients based all over the UK, and I started to look at how we could grow the business even more. As I was the person in charge of generating sales, I now needed someone to support me.

I found a woman in Bristol on Twitter who was looking for freelance work. A former marketing person herself, she was keen to trial the company for me in her region.


She took our business cards and leaflets and started promoting Get Ahead.

Around the same time, I'd gone to an exhibition and won a session with a franchise consultant.

The consultant showed me that Get Ahead had a framework which could be franchised

We were established and had shown there was demand for our support elsewhere in the UK. It took 18 months to do the legal work and create a go-to manual for franchisees that discussed everything from how to manage clients to what the Get Ahead office needed to look like.

My first franchisee was one of our VAs in Hampshire who wanted to take on her own business. We now have nine regional hubs across the UK. The majority are based in the UK, but we also have a VA in Spain, and in September 2021 we sold our first franchise in Australia.

Unlike our competitors, our franchisees don't do any delivery — they match the client to our database of 50 VAs.


We helped our clients switch to a virtual world in 2020

When the pandemic hit, we developed a Zoom-facilitation service for those who were running conferences, and one of our VAs who works with a team of actuaries helped them transition from their central London office to working from home.

She has become so valuable to them that it looks as if they're now going to employ her. It's not unusual for clients to want to hire our VAs. I'm always sad to lose amazing staff, but I take pride when it happens in some ways.

We've proved to someone they've got that need, and we've also proved we have got the ability to find the right person.

My role now is to grow the Get Ahead brand. When I'm not meeting franchisees or attending networking groups or workshops for brand or my own personal development, I am accepting invitations to take part in podcasts and talk about Get Ahead.

I love spreading the word of flexible working and empowering people to have a second or third career.


I probably work more hours now than when I was in a corporate role. When I was in a corporate role, I could switch my computer off at the end of the day.

Now I don't totally switch off. But it's much more positive; I don't mind thinking about work. However, I try to make sure I don't work in the evening — at 7 p.m., I am in my boxing class.