Most people don’t go in for a routine day of work expecting to fly in a hot air balloon. But most people don’t work directly with Richard Branson.
For 31 years, Penni Pike, of Hampshire, England, worked as the personal assistant to the founder of the Virgin Group.
Pike got her start with the company as a backroom helper at the first Virgin Megastore, located on London’s Oxford Street, in the 1970s. She told Entrepreneur she quickly progressed to become the executive personal assistant to the golden-haired entrepreneur, a job she held for 31 years.
Pike hasn’t retired, however, even after suffering a “devastating stroke” in 2008. “I refused to sit back and accept it, and I was determined to carry on with my life and career,” Pike told Entrepreneur. She joined Time etc, a 9-year-old company that provides virtual assistants to professionals in the U.S. and U.K., after meeting its founder, Barnaby Lashbrooke. He reminded her “a lot of Richard when he was younger.”
Pike acts as special advisor at the company, helping to design and shape the service it provides, as well as advising its 600 VAs on how to look after clients.
So who better to provide insights into the adventurous British entrepreneur than the woman who was by his side for three decades? We couldn’t resist asking Pike questions about her memories of Branson and the lessons she learned from him. Here’s how she responded, edited for length and clarity.
What were your daily duties for Mr. Branson? How did you help him? What specific projects/duties were your main focus?
There is no easy answer here because every day was so different. You’d go in thinking you were going to do filing or something routine and end up flying in an air balloon! Days were long, often not ending until 2 a.m.
On most days I would get there early, perhaps 7 a.m., see Richard and immediately jump into organising whatever was on the list. I would coordinate everything – for example, if Richard was traveling I would take care of every part of organising the trip – and simply hand all the documents and his passport to Richard as he headed to the airport.
Oh, and I took the call that resulted in Virgin Atlantic starting!
Are there any funny anecdotes or stories you can share about your time working closely with Mr. Branson?
One of the most memorable tasks I was given was to leap out of a helicopter carrying Richard in order to read road signs for the pilot, who had forgotten his map.
What surprised you most about Mr. Branson?
Nothing! Because almost everything was a surprise, but I never let it phase me. When you were working for Richard you just did it!
What do you want people to know most about your time working with Mr. Branson?
My time with Richard was absolutely wonderful from start to finish – and something that can never be replaced. It was the time of my life. The only reason we stopped working together is that he wanted to move to Necker and I didn’t want to work anywhere else. As a parting gift, Richard lent me his houseboat in London for seven years.
Related: Richard Branson on Embracing Failure
What did you like best about working with Mr. Branson as his assistant and why? What did you like least and why?
I loved the variety and adventure – literally no two days were the same. The only task I didn’t relish was coordinating the travel plans for the hundreds of friends and family that Richard would fly to his private island, Necker, every summer.
In those days people had to fly to New York, then down to Miami, then to an island, then take a private plane to another island and finally a boat to Necker. Organising that for 300 people was sometimes a nightmare!
What specifically did you do while working so closely with Mr. Branson that taught you how to be an effective virtual assistant? How did these things help you do what you do better?
Supporting one of the world’s most successful business owners for 31 years taught me exactly what successful people require in an executive assistant. There are many things, like learning to be always one step ahead, that you simply cannot learn any other way.
How did working closely with Mr. Branson help you develop the competitive, 10-stage selection process for Time etc virtual assistants?
Because I was lucky enough to work so closely with Richard for so many years, I know exactly what traits a good executive assistant has to have – and I’ve used that unique knowledge to help design the selection process at Time etc.
What we look for ranges from specific skills right down to softer personality traits like humbleness – a very important thing to have in this role!
What are the top specific lessons you learned about business and productivity directly from working with Mr. Branson?
I learned so much from Richard, but more than anything else:
I learned that if you look after your people, like Richard looked after me, they will happily work seven days a week and long hours without feeling like they want to stop.
He was incredible at keeping me interested and engaged, and I wouldn’t have wanted to work for anyone else.
I also learned about the value of hard work. Richard never stopped and was always on the go – always planning and starting new adventures almost constantly.
What are your top productivity tips for busy entrepreneurs struggling to “juggle it all”?
Firstly, invest the time in planning your week and your day – this is vital to making sure you get the most out of the precious time you have.
Secondly, learn to delegate – sooner or later you will have to get some help in order to grow. Delegation takes a huge amount of effort, patience and practice, but when you master it, it’s extremely powerful – just look at Richard Branson!
Finally, make sure you take the time to rest up – whether that’s once a week or a couple of times a year. Richard was always very good at making sure he took time away from the grind to spend with his family, and it’s when he had all his best ideas!
What’s the biggest productivity mistake people make and what should they do to fix it, specifically?
People often end up being busy on the wrong things – so they feel they’re being productive, but it isn’t getting their business or career anywhere.
Richard was a master at being productive only on the things that pushed Virgin forward.
What is the key to staying productive?
I believe in short cycles – doing lots of different tasks for an hour or two each helps me to stay productive. I’d really struggle if I tried to do the same thing all day every day!
What was it like to work with Mr. Branson? Are there general impressions or quirky things that stand out from working with him?
In two words: Simply incredible. One of the most amazing things in all those years [is that] Richard never lost his temper in front of me – not even once. Considering the pressure he was under – I think that’s remarkable!
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Crisis Management In A Digital Age
If you’re at a loss for how to go about jumping into the fray of social media commenting and opinions, here are a few tips to protect you, your business, and your brand’s reputation.
In business, you can’t ignore what’s being said about you online. Most importantly, you need to respond appropriately. The internet is a free-for-all of consumer commentary, inevitably, some of it can be damaging.
Crisis management comes with the Online reputation management (ORM) territory of changing negative sentiment around your brand into a positive.
It can be difficult to know how to respond, keep things positive, or change the sentiment around your brand. If you’re at a loss for how to go about jumping into the fray of social media commenting and opinions, here are a few tips to protect you, your business, and your brand’s reputation.
1. Avoid a Knee Jerk Reaction
Reading what could be perceived as negative commentary on your brand, business, products, services, or employees, can cause you to jump straight into responding by justifying yourself or trying to show that the consumer is off the mark and misinformed. These are normal reactions, but it isn’t necessarily going to help your brand or positively push your online presence.
Rule number one is not to place blame, especially on the consumer or commenter, even if the comment is negative, false, or misleading. Rule number two is never to take it personally and do not to respond emotionally or in an accository fashion.
Pay attention, think it through, then respond in a calm, professional and appropriate way. Set a clear ORM response policy around commenting and responding to comments.
2. Consider Comments as Free Research
Think of the comments you receive on social media, both good and bad, as consumer research. Keep a record of your comments and responses, tips, questions, suggestions, and key problems. You’ll find that your customer, fan, and follower will give you valuable information that you would not otherwise have.
The idea is to change negative sentiment around your brand into positive while at the same time leveraging off the information and data gained through this process. This perspective will assist you to see the value in this engagement with your brand. Online Reputation Management should be a daily task. This is all part of maintaining your online reputation and digital media presence.
3. Remember That Everyone’s Reading Your Responses
The most important reason to respond to both positive and negative comments is because everyone else on that thread is reading the banter. The amount of people reading the comments usually outweighs those actively participating in the conversation by commenting. They are all paying close attention to how the business and brand responds.
Related: How To ‘Crisis-Proof’ your Company
Appropriately responding to less negative comments presents the opportunity to demonstrate how connected the brand is with their consumer, it is the perfect platform to solve potential problems and defuse particular situations. When a business listens and responds to feedback online, in an appropriate manner, a sense of trust is created. It shows that the brand is prepared to go above and beyond. This can stretch far beyond the commenter.
4. Hire Talent To Do Your Responding
In order to fully tap into the benefits of social media you should consider getting a specialist on board to manage your social content along with the responses that this content creates. It is important to be on the same page as your marketing team. If you are looking for an agency with the experience, guts, and glory to carry your brand, then get in touch with So Interactive for your digital marketing needs.
How Entrepreneurs Can Make Good Decisions Quickly
Below are some tips on how you can do just that.
As an entrepreneur, you have to face difficult decisions on a near-daily basis. These can range from deciding on what marketing strategy suits your business best or choosing what new talent to hire for your team. Making good decisions quickly can be tricky, even more so if you are pressed for time. However, there are methods you can use to do this.
Decision-making is an intrinsic part of being an entrepreneur, and once you know the answer to “What is decision-making?” you will be better able to make good decisions, quickly. Below are some tips on how you can do just that.
Acknowledge what you are trying to accomplish
Making decisions can be difficult if you do not know what, exactly, you are trying to accomplish. Before you reach a decision, you will need to carefully look at what you are trying to accomplish and optimise. Once you have done this, you will be able to make the right, and quickest, decision.
An example of this is changing a marketing strategy. Are you trying to reach a new audience? Are you trying to release a new product to the public, or are you trying to change your brand’s image? Once you have acknowledged what you are trying to accomplish, you can decide on what options best suit the situation. This process might take time at first, but, once you have done it a few times, it will become second nature.
Use available data
Having evidence or data to help with a decision can be highly useful for any entrepreneur. And in today’s online world, you will be able to find enough of both to help you make any decision, whether it is big or small.
Using data and evidence, you will be able to see how your company is currently performing and make a business decision based on this data. The key to making good decisions in the shortest amount of time possible is having the right evidence and information available. You will need to be sure that you understand the data and evidence in order to use it as part of your decision making.
Give yourself a deadline
It is important to set deadlines for decisions. This way, you will be able to make them quickly, effectively and before any problems become bigger than they need to be. For example, set a deadline for deciding on a new employee a week from their interview date. This gives you time to examine their strengths and weaknesses in depth before deciding.
Having a deadline creates a sense of urgency, meaning that you will spend less time procrastinating and more time on the actual decision-making. It will keep things moving forward and you will avoid “paralysis by analysis”, a common occurrence in entrepreneurs and business owners. Deadlines help to keep the goal in sight, allowing you to make a decision quickly and easily without overthinking it.
Get an outside opinion
Even the Khaleesi in Game of Thrones has an advisor to help her make decisions. And if she has one, it makes sense that a business owner or entrepreneur should too. It is a good idea to get an outside opinion, especially if you have been thinking about a decision for a long time.
An objective voice can help you to reach a final decision, as they can help you consider points that you might not have thought of. You could ask your friends or your colleagues for help, but be sure that they do not have any attachment to the decision. This can make it difficult for them to give objective advice. If you have a mentor, this is the best person to ask for advice.
Reframe the problem
Step back from the problem or decision you are facing and look at it from another angle. Often, reframing a problem or situation can help you to reach a speedy conclusion, especially in terms of business.
Try to see the issue from as many perspectives as possible, as this will help you to ensure that you are not emphasising one aspect and neglecting another. This is all a part of the answer to “what is decision making?” as seeing a problem from another perspective can help you to see the bigger picture. You should try to think of at least three different ways to see the problem and work from there.
One of the most important ways to make good decisions quickly is to keep calm. By keeping your emotions in check, you will better be able to make a decision that is smart and objective. The steps in decision-making include knowing what you want to accomplish, using the data available to you, giving yourself a deadline and asking for an outside opinion. Once you have taken all of these steps, you will be able to make efficient and effective business decisions.
Simple Ways To Make Your Small Business More Professional
If you are looking to boost your business success and look more professional to clients, read on for some top tips on how to do so.
Owning and operating a small business can be tough, time-consuming and at times, frustrating. There is always a business out there that is more efficient, funky or more professional than you. But you can get an edge on the competition if you strive to be better.
One way to bring in more professionalism is to send your staff on office administration courses so that they are able to perform administrative tasks to improve efficiency, or you could hire a professional administrative assistant to do the job. If you are looking to boost your business success and look more professional to clients, read on for some top tips on how to do so.
Create a modern website
In today’s modern, digital age, the very first thing that people see when looking for your business is your website. And, having an unprofessional, outdated and badly designed one will send potential clients running for the hills before they even contact you to find out about your products or services.
It is not enough to have a Facebook Business Page, you will need to have a professional, modern website that tells clients exactly who you are, what you do and (most importantly) what you can do for them. You will also need to include your contact details, office address and business hours, so that your clients can reach you when they need you. A modern website will entice customers to find out more about your company, too.
Always use a business email
You might think that creating another email address is tedious, but think about how embarrassing it would be to email clients from your current one that you might have created in high school (BarbiePrincess89@hotmail.com is hardly going to impress anyone).
If you already have a business website, then setting up a business email is quick, simple and more often than not, free. You can use Google My Business or other similar tools to create a business email that reads YourName@yourbusiness.com, which is much more professional and will send the right message to your clients. A business email also makes it easier for you to answer work emails quickly and efficiently, as you will not be scrolling through your personal inbox, trying to find them.
Have someone to answer your phones
If you have employees for your small business, you should look into sending someone on office administration courses so that they are able to answer your office phone quickly, effectively and in a professional manner.
Having a receptionist or office administrator to answer your phones immediately makes your small business seem more professional. And it will allow you to focus on more important tasks, rather than having to answer a ringing phone all day. Your office administrator will be able to forward calls to you, take messages and answer any queries that clients may have. This will give clients a positive experience when dealing with your business too.
Avoid formal titles on your business cards
If you are a “one-man-band”, so to speak, it can be tempting to call yourself the CEO of your business, or a similarly formal title. After all, you are the one putting in all the work, right? However, clients will not be impressed by this title and it could backfire rather than work in your favour.
More often than not, calling yourself the CEO of a one-person company will make you look unprofessional and appear to be a “small-time” operation, especially as the CEO is the one chasing up clients and running around doing all the grunt work. It is best to simply leave it at your name and the name of your business. You do not need a title to prove that you are good at your job, rather let your products and/or services speak for you.
Lease a professional office space
If you are just starting out or your small business has not yet taken off, you may not have a professional office address or space. While it can help to cut costs to operate out of your home, it will not help to raise your level of professionalism in the eyes of your clients.
You could look into leasing a workspace in a coworking space such as No 80 Hout Street in Cape Town or Worq in Pietermaritzburg. Having a professional space to meet with clients and to conduct your business will increase your success and will help you to stand out against the competition. Coworking spaces are highly popular among young entrepreneurs and you might even meet like-minded people who you can collaborate with on projects for clients.
Professionalism is in the eye of the beholder
Going on office administration courses, having a modern website created for you, creating a business email and hiring someone to answer your phones are all highly effective ways to make your small business more professional. Clients will appreciate the effort that you have put into crafting a professional presence, no matter if you have one employee or ten.
Lessons Learnt1 week ago
Lessons From The Rich And Famous: Manage Your Money Like Oprah To Avoid Going Into Debt Like Nicholas Cage
Snapshots2 weeks ago
Vuyo Tofile Of EntBanc Group Talks About Finding Solutions And Partnering To Offer The Most Value
Snapshots2 weeks ago
Mike Sharman Talks About Retroviral’s Successful Campaigns And The Importance Of Social Media In Marketing
Snapshots2 weeks ago
Eben Uys Shares His Concept Behind Mad Giant Brewery And How You Can Make Your Business Stand Out In A Crowd
Personal Finance2 weeks ago
14 Ways To Make Quick Cash On The Side
How to Guides1 week ago
The 10 Most Reliable Ways To Fund A Start-up
Increase Profitability6 hours ago
Leon Meyer GM At Westin Cape Town Shares 4 Experience-Driven Tips On How To Keep Your Team Productive
Hiring Employees2 weeks ago
4 Benefits Of Business Process Outsourcing For Small Businesses