Ballyclare entrepreneur chosen to feature in UK-wide Small Biz 100

A Ballyclare-based virtual assistance business has been named as one of the UK’s most inspiring small businesses.

Gayle Alexander set up AVA Alexander Virtual Assistance (AVA) in 2017 to manage social media and video services for clients including female entrepreneurs, conference organisers, clubs and charities.

AVA has been chosen to feature in this year’s Small Biz 100, a UK-wide campaign which highlights small business success and encourages consumers to shop local and support small businesses in their communities.

Marking 100 days building up to Small Business Saturday on December 4, the campaign aims to support and celebrate a vibrant range of small, community driven businesses across the UK by featuring a different one each day on social media.

Gayle Alexander set up AVA Alexander Virtual Assistance

Gayle, whose business will be the focus for Small Biz 100 on Friday, October 15, said: “I’m excited to have been selected as one of the UK’s most inspiring businesses, and about showcasing what other small businesses can do with some simple video tips. On my social pages, I’ll be streaming online video tutorials and interviews with other video experts, on how female entrepreneurs, clubs, charities, and small businesses can use video to help raise their visibility.”

Gayle said that being made redundant from her job as a cartographer researcher and geographic information system analyst shortly after returning from her second maternity leave in 2016 was a big shock, after having worked in the industry for 15 years.

She explained: “I felt totally lost and wasn’t sure what I was going to do next. I was so worried about being able to get another job with the same salary and flexibility.”

Gayle found that becoming involved in local groups including Lean In Belfast and taking part in Women in Business NI’s Connect Programme helped her feel more confident and supported to start learning new skills in videography and social media.

Gayle Alexander set up AVA Alexander Virtual Assistance

She continued: “Retraining has given me a new lease of life, new purpose and fulfilment. I feel that it’s something I was always meant to do, and it has been much easier than I thought. I’ve realised a career pivot doesn’t have to be hard as there are so many online courses you can do in your own time and events where you can meet people also embarking on new careers.

“Now I love working with my clients to tell their stories through filming and editing and, as part of my work in helping to raise awareness of the global virtual assistance industry, I have filmed and interviewed some amazing VAs from all around the world including South Africa, Australia, Madeira, Greece, and America.

“One of the best things about running my own business is that I have flexibility around family life which isn’t always the case in employment.”

The entrepreneur, who has also been shortlisted for an award in the VA industry, has advice for other women facing redundancy or wanting to reskill or launch their own business.

She added: “It’s so important to seek out networks in-person and online which specifically support women and to make the most of those vital connections for both education and support.

“I certainly couldn’t have launched and built up my business without the support of some other amazing women in Northern Ireland as well as people in online communities, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Often courses are funded for female returners so it’s worth investigating what is available for free.”

Now in its ninth year in the UK, Small Business Saturday is recognising the vital role of small businesses throughout the pandemic.

Michelle Ovens CBE, director of Small Business Saturday UK, said: “Throughout the crisis we have been reminded of the special role that small firms play in local areas, looking after their customers, communities and the planet. We are excited to be kicking off this year’s campaign to show our thanks to amazing small businesses like AVA Alexander Virtual Assistance. As firms recover from the challenges of the pandemic we are calling upon everyone to get behind the campaign to make it our most impactful Small Business Saturday yet.”

Small Business Saturday attracts huge attention on the day itself, with an impact that lasts all year.

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