An award-winning Warwickshire-based businesswoman hopes to use her most recent award win to highlight that having a child with additional needs doesn’t necessarily rule out having a successful career.
Rachel Hands is mother to two young children, six-year-old Connor and four-year-old Ella. Ella has Down Syndrome and is due to start reception at a mainstream primary school in Warwickshire this September.
Earlier this month, Rachel was crowned as the West Midlands’ Virtual Assistant of the Year in the UK VA Awards at an awards ceremony held at the Midland Business Expo at Aston Villa FC. The awards, which have been running for over ten years, are widely regarded as the leading recognition of professional excellence within the industry. They aim to recognise those individuals who demonstrate industry-leading best practice in the field of professional administration.
Out of a record number of entries, the judging panel, which is made up of 15 senior industry representatives, chose Rachel as the regional winner, congratulating her for her passion, vision, purpose and values, and her successful business model. Rachel will now go forward to the final for England VA of the Year 2019 in November 2019 at The Business Show, ExCeL, London.
Rachel set up her virtual assistant business in 2013 while on maternity leave with Connor. Over the past six years Rachel has built up her business and now has a loyal client base of sole traders, SMEs and multinational businesses across the Midlands and further afield. The support she offers clients is very varied and can include anything from preparing presentations and training support materials, to organising events, undertaking research and helping with recruitment.
Commenting on the award win, Rachel said: “I was completely overwhelmed when my name was announced as the winner of the West Midlands’ Virtual Assistant of the Year. To receive this industry recognition is fantastic and makes me feel very proud of what I’ve achieved. When we found out that Ella had Down Syndrome, like many other parents faced with a similar situation, I just assumed that caring for her would mean putting my business on hold indefinitely, but actually it’s been the opposite. I’ve been able to continue working and building my business and, now that Ella is at pre-school and starting reception in September, I’m able to work school hours every day and again in the evening where required.
“For many, finding out that their child has Down Syndrome, or another condition that requires additional support, might make them think their career is over. But I hope that by sharing my own story I can reassure those parents – and the wider public – that that’s not the case. In fact, Ella is a huge driver behind my business’ success. Doing what I do enables me to support her and ensure she gets the right support. Being a VA gives me the freedom and flexibility to not only be in control of my own business and career, but also to be there for my family and their needs. I’ve also been lucky that I can manage my diary to allow me to volunteer with the Leamington-based charity, The Ups of Downs and have just taken over as their Training & Schools Coordinator. It’s a juggling act, but being in business is a juggle anyway, and along the way Ella has also taught me about tact, coercion, sales and marketing!”
Rachel has also won a Networking Mummies UK Business Recognition Award in 2014 and was runner up in the Midlands VA of the Year 2016, runner up East of England VA of the Year 2015 and shortlisted for Best Newcomer VA 2014.