Samantha Clooney set up The Virtual Office in 2006 and is celebrating her 5th anniversary of trading on Monday 28th November. Having a solid educational start and the drive to make it work no matter what was thrown at her, The Virtual Office has gone from strength to strength with Samantha recently winning Entrepreneur of the Month.
In this interview Samantha explains the idea behind the business, her networking prowess and what happens next for The Virtual Office.
What gave you the idea to set up The Virtual Office?
I had some family members and friends who had their own business but they could never afford to take on full time or part time staff. They always seemed to be struggling with the day to day stuff that had to be done.
I remember a good friend declaring that she was closing her business because she couldn’t get on top of things and it really became too much for her to handle. I offered to help her out and got her organised and put a good system in place. From then on she would always ask me to help her out when she needed it.
As I got talking to a lot more of her customers, other business owners, I realised there was a trend amongst small business owners of not enough hours in the day, but not enough money in the kitty to take someone on.
What did you do before setting up your own business?
I was working full time in a good job at the time, but the job was under threat because of the economic situation. I did a lot of research into Virtual Offices and bit the bullet and took a year leave of absence to see if I could make my own business work. I had a degree in business and a degree in computers so I had a good base to offer higher end services than most other Virtual offices on the market.
The first year was tough but a great learning experience. I took the plunge and decided I could make this business work so I informed the company that I wouldn’t be coming back. I think it was the most empowered I’ve ever felt!
A year ago you were affected badly by client companies closing down – what happened and how did you turn it around?
Yes, back in January 2011, I came back after the Christmas holidays to find that over 50% of my clients had decided that their businesses were no longer viable in the current economic climate and had taken the decision to close their doors permanently. It was a very hard time for me as it forced me to question whether I could continue with my own business or not.
I sat down and looked long and hard at my own business and decided I’d put too much time and effort into it to just give up now! I used the last bit of money I had in my pocket and joined an international marketing forum which included Simon Woodroffe, Chris Cardell and Dan Kennedy. This forum really helped me to implement new ideas and keep the business going.
Tell me about being named Entrepreneur of the month?
Having successfully used the marketing forum to turn the business around, I received an email from the forum asking for people to show how they had successfully implemented the suggestions that were given. We answered the email and within one day I received a call to say that they loved our story and had chosen us to be their March International Entrepreneur of the Month.
We were interviewed for their Business Breakthrough magazine which gave us a 3 page spread that went to thousands of businesses all over the world. We then had a lot of requests from people internationally who were thinking of setting up business in Europe and wanted to use Ireland as a base of operations. Over the following few months we helped several international companies set up in Ireland and create jobs. This amounted to a lot more PR nationally which has really escalated The Virtual Office profile.
You are an active networker in Waterford – do you find this brings in a lot of business?
Yes definitely. I’ve been on the committee for Network Waterford for the last five years, and was President in 2010. I can’t stress enough to business owners how important networking is to their business. It’s so important to get out there and meet other business owners as you never know where your next big customer could come from.
How much does Social Media help with attracting new business?
Again, I can’t stress enough the importance of social media marketing to our business. We have a Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn account and they work well for us. If you look at the principle of Six degrees of separation it refers to the idea that everyone is on average approximately six steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person on the planet.
Just think what this means for businesses. If six contacts can get you connected around the world surely we can get connected to numerous new customers!
What’s next on the agenda for The Virtual Office?
Our agenda over the coming 2 – 3 years is growth. In 2011 we have established new virtual addresses in Dublin and Cork and we are currently in talks to get new offices established in London, Manchester and Birmingham. This will help Irish customers to extend their service offerings to a wider market again.
Thanks for the interview Samantha. Sounds like it’s all looking good for The Virtual Office and much bigger and better things to come. Happy 5th Anniversary and good luck for the future.