My first interview with someone who inspires me got a great reaction, so here’s number 2. My subject is the wonderful Eli Barbary, who set up Barbary Solutions around 6 months ago, providing virtual assistant services, personal concierge and business/marketing support to creative professionals. She’s been going great guns ever since, despite having to battle with severe health issues which would have made a lesser mortal give up and stay at home feeling sorry for herself, but Eli’s made of sterner stuff than that and one of the things I find inspiring about her is that, once she’s decided on a course of action, she goes for it heart and soul, as you’ll see…
So Eli, what made you want to set up your own business in the first place?
Essentially it was a desire not to work for anybody else. I’ve always been a very independent person and I always wanted to run my own business, but never really pinned down exactly what I wanted to do. Once I found out about the ‘virtual assistant’ thing, which is a relatively new concept, it struck me that with my background and my experience that would be the perfect thing for me to do.
What kind of preparation did you do?
Not a great deal! I did a couple of months of research and finding out what other people were doing and then I just launched myself into it! I’ve always been an advocate of the ‘learn to fly the plane once you’re in the air’ school of thought, and it works for me. So, I just got stuck in and I’ve made a few mistakes along the way, but mostly it’s been very positive.
You said that you’d heard about the virtual assistant thing, and you thought it would suit you. What was it about it that interested you?
My background is largely in administration and marketing and I’ve worked a lot with creative people in the past (my target market is creative professionals), and I come from a creative family. When I found out about virtual assistance I felt I’d found a way to do what I had always done, the organisation and all that sort of thing, and that there was a name for it. That never really occurred to me before, I just thought ‘I do this stuff for people; how could I actually make that into a business?’ The virtual assistant thing helped me to put a label on it and find a direction.
What was your Vision for your business when you first began?
I always find that a very tricky question to answer. I know this sounds silly, but I’d like to be in very much the same state I’m in now! I’m blissfully happy with what I’m doing. So, I think it’s just a case of building up a bigger client base, establishing my reputation and continuing to grow the business.
Fantastic, and how long have you been going?
About six months.
So you’re where you want to be already, in six months?
Well, I was where I wanted to be as soon as I quit my job and started my business! Everything else is just a bonus.
So for you it’s about that independence and being master of your own destiny?
Absolutely! I feel a bit silly for not having goals and objectives and things to strive for, but actually I’m just really enjoying what I’m doing, it’s moving forward rapidly and I just want more of the same.
Fantastic! Why strive for things that aren’t necessarily going to make you any happier than you already are?
That’s kind of my thinking…
Well, there’s something very powerful about being completely ‘in the now’ and knowing what you’ve got and appreciating what you’ve got, isn’t there?
Yes. That’s what I think, anyway.
What’s your Mission, i.e. what is it that you’re aiming to do for your clients?
I want to help people do fantastic things and I want to be a part of people discovering their own vision and making it happen. Helping them turn their dreams into reality, that sort of thing!
What strengths do you bring to your business?
I’m very organised, I’m very good at organising other people, more so than myself! I understand the creative process and the creative mindset, I think that’s my strongest area. There’s a huge difference between the accepted left-brain way of doing things and the more other-worldly, creative right-brain way of doing things. It’s about working out the differences and understanding that you can still be organised, you can still have good time-management, you can still get things done and achieve things; you just have to do it in a different way from the traditional ways of scheduling and organisation. That’s a really key thing that I can bring to the table.
Can you say a bit more about that? About the different ways that you work to enable creative people to be a bit more organised.
Absolutely, it’s about a different way of looking at things. For example, with filing systems, a lot of creative people struggle with putting things away in folders and files, because once it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind, and they worry about forgetting about things and it just doesn’t work for them. So they have lots of files and folders, which are generally empty or abandoned, and then massive piles all over their desk, all over the floor around their desk…
You’re describing my office!
… But creative right-brain people need to be able to see things, they need to be able to cover them up quickly if necessary. There’s a technique I use called horizontal filing, which is where you work horizontally, in in-trays or pigeonholes, rather than vertically, in files and folders. So everything is available, it’s to hand and you can see it but it’s still organised.
So it’s organised chaos?
Exactly, but you can find everything. You aren’t embarrassed when you have visitors, you don’t worry about looking disorganised and unprofessional. It’s neat and tidy, and you’re not tripping over piles on the floor, but it’s still essentially the same principle. So, there are lots of little things like that. Tricks and techniques that people just don’t know about, but when they do find out about them, it’s like a huge weight has been lifted from their shoulders and they realize that they’re not broken, their system is.
Absolutely! Actually it’s a great comfort when somebody tells you that you don’t have to conform to how most of the rest of the world insists that you should do things.
I’m feeling the weight drop off me as I look at my piles and think to myself ‘yes, but I know what’s in that pile, even if nobody else does!’
It’s just your system.
Yes. Now, you said at the start that you just knew you wanted to have a business and you didn’t do an awful lot of preparation, you went in and learnt as you went along. So what do you know now that you’d wish you’d known at the start?
I think a lot of it is stuff that I couldn’t possibly have known from the start. There’s lots of stuff like pricing structure and client relations which is just a constant learning process. There’s an element of evolution in any business, and lots of things have changed. I actually started with a personal concierge business, and the admin stuff was just an add-on, and that has now developed. I do very little of the personal concierge stuff and most of my job is the virtual assistance. I think the main thing I wish I’d known is that I didn’t need to be scared, and I should have started years and years ago!
Do you know what it was you were scared of?
Loss of security, fear of the unknown, the usual stuff
We’re doing this interview because you’re someone who inspires me, Eli, but who inspires you?
My mum – she is a hugely inspirational person. She’s been to hell and back on more than one occasion and she always comes back fighting and positive and ready for the next thing. She’s a great source of inspiration for me.
I’m also a huge fan of an American woman called Barbara Winter. She wrote a book called Making a Living Without a Job, which was given to me by my mum when I told her that I wanted to give up my job and do something else. It is one of the most inspirational books I have ever read and I go back to it frequently. I’ve bought about 15-20 copies of it to hand out to friends and family as well! It’s a fantastic book. It’s all about being ‘joyfully jobless’, as she calls it, and how anything that you love to do can make money for you, and it gives you practical ways to do that. That has been a huge source of inspiration to me.
Well, I’m right off to Amazon now, then! So what’s your next challenge?
I’m currently doing a big review of all my business practices and looking at where I am at the moment. One of the things that has come out of that process, that I’d really like to do is to start creating some content. So, I want to start writing some articles, I want to set up a blog, do some slideshows and presentations, start a newsletter – all that sort of thing to beef up the business. I’d also like to start packaging my ideas as products and investigating ways of creating passive income. That’s my next big step.
When do you see that coming to fruition?
I’m hoping to have something up and running within the next three months. It’s obviously going to be an ongoing thing but I’d like to have regular blog posts, regular articles and to have at least one product on the website ready for purchase.
How exciting! One last question. What would you say to someone who was in your position a while back? Someone who would like to run their own business but, for whatever reason, thinks it’s not something they could do.
DO IT! That’s my only piece of advice. If it’s something you want to do, just do it. I strongly believe that jobs are bad. Working for other people and using all your creative energies to make money for other people is a bad idea. Everyone is good at something, and everything can be made into a profitable business with a bit of imagination. Why waste your time in a job that you dislike or find unsatisfying, when you could be doing something every single day that you passionately love to do? It’s a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned.
I feel very lucky that Eli sees me as one of the Creative Professionals she wants to work with, and she’s made a huge difference to how I operate already, in the short time we’ve been working together.
If you liked this post, you might be interested in these too: