Jessica Gardiner is CEO and Founder of The Assistant Room. A PA for many years herself, Jessica knew exactly what it felt like to be told “you’re just a PA”, when actually you are the gateway to some of the most powerful CEO’s in the world. Jessica also understood the lack of support that was available for PA’s, so created The Assistant Room as the answer.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
I grew up in Leigh on-Sea, Essex with my parents and two sisters, I was born into a family where my Dad was ex-army transitioning to owning his own steel fabrication business and my Mum was a Senior Executive Assistant at Morgan Grenfell which is now known as Deutschebank. Ultimately, I grew up in a household with leaders and a C-Suite Director and was always exposed to the realities of running your own business. At 23 I was supporting a CEO in Mayfair, and wanting a bit of a challenge I reached out to a famous influencer who I had admired for many years, I had no expectation of a response but within 48 hours we had organised a glass of wine and we agreed on the spot that we would work together.
It was whilst working with her that I saw the impact she had as a digital creator of authentic content that looked gorgeous and had a beautiful aesthetic with a contemporary and modern feel. It was at this point everything suddenly clicked and I saw a gap in the market in the global PA industry to create something similar for my fellow Personal and Executive Assistants. I created a platform where me and my team produce a wide range of bespoke support resources for individuals to access anywhere at any time, creating dramatic improvements in employee engagement, retention, productivity and profitability through The Assistant Room membership, events, podcast and now online tools. I’ve now expanded into recruitment, this was a natural development as so many people were coming to me asking for recommendations on where to find a fantastic PA, so we know also have The Assistant Room Recruitment.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
The business support industry is extremely misunderstood without much authentic representation or outside support that other working communities receive. The demand of the role and the responsibility that you hold when working so closely with management and C-Suite Directors contributes toward fast burn out and emotional exhaustion. The phrase ‘just a PA’ is commonplace and devalues the role leading to feelings of being undervalued, unimportant in the eyes of Directors/colleagues and that their contribution is overlooked.
When I set The Assistant Room up I did so as I felt I had hit the glass ceiling by the time I was 25. Working as an EA can feel like you’re giving all of your drive to someone else’s success but constantly hitting your head against a wall as your own career success is not a focus of the business. Not your exec, not HR, not your team, no one, because you’re ‘just a PA’. I wanted to create a safe space online to write and talk about the burning issues within the industry including but not limited to the above. I wanted it to be the place that I had always looked for and needed as a PA but never found – an engaging, contemporary online lifestyle platform that tackled every aspect of the role with relatable advice and guidance.
How did you achieve awareness?
I had ZERO budget for marketing when I started The Assistant Room so being creative and resourceful was critical to the success of the brand. I focused on creating instantly relatable and easily shareable content through a campaign called The PA Diaries which were short interviews with PAs from different sectors. I knew the pain points of the industry having worked as an EA for my entire career so focused on asking the questions I knew would resonate the most with the audience. Effectively I had created a free marketing tool which thrived the most on LinkedIn where professionals around the world quickly hooked on to the series and shared each article thousands of times. The business very quickly grew from there and along with many other things, I eventually created a live event series called The PA Diaries Live and transitioned the original campaign from a written series to what is now our podcast.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
I have never accepted funding with the growth of the business having been completely organic. It’s always an option but it has to be a partnership with the right person.
What are the key successes?
- In 2021 the business experienced a 287% increase in turnover in comparison to the previous year.
- Average of 12% month on month growth of new members signed up to The Assistant Room membership from across the world.
- Over 100% success rate in those we exclusively headhunt for top tier EA and PA roles with more than one EA on a shortlist often being hired due to the way we connect people – it’s not just about their skillset or their experience, it’s about matching EAs with Execs on their values, their vision, their goals and ambition for the future.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
Main challenges have stemmed from overcoming industry perception and educating Executives and businesses on the value their existing PAs and EAs can offer. It’s utterly ridiculous that those connected most closely to and who enable the senior the leaders to work effectively are rarely included in training opportunities, are not given the ability to add additional value in accordance to their strengths and skillset and who are largely forgotten about as a community. To overcome this issue I created The Assistant Room membership where bespoke resources are located to support career development, business resilience and grow leadership skills. It was an easy to understand platform, cost effective and ready to implement with immediate effect, ultimately a finished product that meant no additional work for the business but all the brownie points from a community of professionals who finally felt heard. Fast forward 18 months and we have partnered with almost 30 well known small to large corporates who support their assistants with access to the membership and who are now seeing huge changes in employee engagement, retention and a more positive workforce.
What are your plans now/for the future?
Running a business through a pandemic successfully has forced me to embrace uncertainty and the unknown. I was taught to work towards a mission, which enables you to bend and mould to factors outside of your control but keep you focused. Following this method means everything else should just fall into place and it hasn’t failed me so far. I want to constantly develop new content and material and start making companies realise the importance of ROI to their business support staff. I want to build the most incredible and effective talent acquisition/headhunting service in existence with full consultancy, to align the correct business support staff with the correct businesses based on not just current experience but their values, purpose, passions and potential.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
Just do it, take a risk and trust yourself. If it doesn’t work you can go back to work – I did and it meant I had time to refresh and start thinking of my next challenge. Overnight success is not real and as a business owner you have to get very comfortable with uncertainty and ignore the toxic idea of ‘overnight success’ – it doesn’t exist. Stop reading articles about imposter syndrome, which by the way are never targeted towards men, only women…think about that for a moment, and know that everyone has moments of self doubt.
Can you share you top tips for entrepreneurial success?
1. Prepare to become obsessed with your business and willing to prioritise not based on what you want but what you know the business needs. When building The Assistant Room I knew that building reputation before revenue had to be my priority in order to succeed in a crowded market which wasn’t taken seriously. Working towards a mission not a number will always work if you put the infrastructure in place to get to the next stage by a certain date. After 2 years of running a business during a pandemic, I would credit not only our survival but our growth and the way we have been able to outperform our competitors to that initial 9 month period where I prioritised growing an intensive brand loyalty from our customers.
2. Do not fall into the trap of putting all your eggs in one basket. The financial fall out of a displeased client or customer when things happen that affect your product or service outside of your control can be ugly, especially if you spend your life relying on that one client paying your invoice on time or a client requesting a refund. Constantly innovate, ask yourself how can this be better, how can we do better, what are we missing, who needs this? Pushing and driving your product or service forward with passion whilst embracing the unknown will open doors you never new existed.
Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?
My family – for the utter strength, determination, resilience and constant inspiration they each give to me in different ways. We are the strongest family unit I know and there isn’t a day that goes by where we aren’t cheering each other on and celebrating wins with each other. I am exceptionally lucky.
What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?
Less an inspirational quote, but an old boss saying to me – ‘how do you expect to be successful without me?’ Really motivates me! The power of someone thinking you can’t do something.
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