'Planning, processes, and trust saved my business': The story of Miss Make It Happen

'Planning, processes, and trust saved my business': The story of Miss Make It Happen
Dee Atkins
Dee AtkinsMiss Make It Happen

Posted: Fri 15th Jul 2022

Dee Atkins is the founder of virtual assistant services company Miss Make It Happen (MMIH).

Following a successful career in recruitment, a period of ill health prompted the entrepreneur to re-evaluate her life and she decided to start her own business.

In April 2020, Dee caught COVID-19 and she couldn’t work for several weeks. Due to the strong relationships she had built with her clients and the processes she had put in place, the business survived.

Dee shares the inspiring story behind her company and how the Amazon Small Business Accelerator has boosted her entrepreneurial skills.

The free Amazon Small Business Accelerator e-learning programme is advice from more than 30 business experts in over 200 bitesize videos.

If you're already an Enterprise Nation member, log in to your learning dashboard. If you're not an Enterprise Nation member, you can join the Amazon Small Business Accelerator for free here.

How did you come up with your business idea?

“I was in the recruitment industry for almost 15 years. I started as an office junior and worked my way up to eventually owning a recruitment agency. In my early 20s I was diagnosed with a couple of auto-immune diseases. Part of my treatment included a form of chemotherapy. This really got me thinking about what was important in life and ultimately, I lost the love of the industry. Life is too short to be so cutthroat and I needed to find a work life balance that suited my health and lifestyle.

“A friend pointed out that I was very good at fixing problems and working events, so I started my own virtual assistant business, initially specialising in administrative tasks and event management. It was an overnight success. I had spent years networking around the UK and people I knew were looking for someone they trusted to help them in their business. Miss Make It Happen was born.

“It took a while to find my feet and not to mention my brand. But I was good at what I did, and I knew with hard work, the business would not only help me find the work/life balance I dreamt of but for my clients too.”

What start-up challenges have you faced?

“Working alone at the beginning is hard and finding new clients in an industry that you've never worked in is also time consuming, but my reputation helped in a big way.

“Before starting my current business, I travelled the UK meeting other business owners as part of my networking. This proved to be invaluable. If you’ve got time to build your network, then I thoroughly recommend doing so. Join networks around the UK, network through online channels such as social media and e-networks. You don’t even have to leave the house, but it is great when you finally get to meet your connections face-to-face. I’m an introvert by nature, so I’m happier indoors but making the effort to go out, attend meetings, go to socials can really give your business a boost when it needs it in the beginning.

“Another challenge I came across is that people are always cautious when using a start-up. Will the product be good enough? Will the service be unsatisfactory through lack of experience? This is less of an obstacle and more of your time to shine. Get people on a call or face-to-face, explain to them how you have transferable skills from your last jobs or businesses and that their business (and ultimately money) is in safe hands. Explain in fine detail how you plan to make working together a success. Show them how passionate you are about who you are and what you do. Build trust, and don’t break it.

“When I started MMIH people told me to find a niche and stick to that industry such as working with all coaches, or companies in a specific sector. I went against the grain and it’s something I encourage my clients to do today. My niche is people. I don’t care what hat you wear, what industry you dance in, or what products you sell. I learnt very quickly that a niche can minimise the amount of people you work with, and you don’t need that against you at any time in your business, let alone when you’re just starting out.”

How did the COVID-19 pandemic impact on your business?

“The pandemic hit me and the business hard. I was taken into hospital on 1 April 2020, and I woke up four days later. I’d had COVID-19 the 10 days previously and it had continued to get worse until I collapsed and had several serious seizures. Luckily, my clients were all aware of the situation, we had processes in place and the show went on.

“I had to take two solid weeks off after coming out of hospital, then two weeks after that on light duties. I was lucky that my clients knew and trusted me enough to stick around. It was so important that I’d build that relationship with them so that they saw me as a human and not ‘just’ a service provider. My client retention through that period was almost 100% and after I was able to work properly again my business grew with new clients.

“Planning, processes, and trust ultimately saved my business. Giving up smoking in 2018 ultimately saved my life!”

How has the Amazon Small Business Accelerator inspired you?

“I loved the Amazon Small Business Accelerator Bootcamp for service-based businesses. The information was easy to understand and helpful for what I wanted to learn. The Bootcamps are worth taking part in and I can now show off my certificate for being a fully-fledged online business.

“For the e-learning programme, I really appreciate the way the videos are in bite sized chunks. Everyone’s lives are so busy these days but it’s easy to watch short videos on the bus or train and between meetings.

“I specifically like the fact that so many areas are covered from starting a business to hiring a team. Most tutorials and learning facilities offer the start-up part but forget about mentioning the recruitment of your first employee.

“The modules on social media are extremely powerful. Although most people are using social media on a daily (if not hourly) basis, many people don’t realise that using social media for a business is a whole different kind of beast. I especially liked the reminder to complete your profile on all social media platforms and keep them matching, where possible. It seems simple but branding and continuity is easily overlooked when you are setting up and it can be a lot harder to change later down the line.

“I personally don’t need to understand how to look after my inventory, how to ship goods, or pitch to retailers but the videos on those subjects gave me a great insight into how other companies work. It helped me sign a client in the fashion industry as I already had a deeper understanding of what their business does. They don’t just ‘sell clothes’. There are so many stages to a product-based business that needs to be learnt before and after the actual selling stage.

“The funding and money management modules are also very helpful. I believe this stuff should be taught in schools and Amazon should help roll it out through the curriculum! It could help so many budding entrepreneurs better understand money management.”

What are your plans for the future of your business?

“I would like to continue the growth and take on a couple more VAs to work in my team. Unlike many founders, I don’t dream of expanding to a huge business with hundreds of employees or contractors. I did that as part of my work in the recruitment industry and it doesn’t appeal to me anymore. Miss Make It Happen is a perfectly crafted business capable of making me happy and has the skills to help my clients get what they need.

“My aim is to help people within their businesses so they can achieve their goals. I like to set out long plans and strategies with my clients and help them build and grow.”

Dee Atkins

What's your strategy for getting new clients?

“Prospecting is just as important as your sales funnel. I recently attended a training course where we discovered all the things that need to be done even before you start to tell people about your product or service. The pre-sale.

“I will continue to network on and offline, as this has a proven record for working for me for many years.

“I will also continue to be the best VA I can be for my clients, so they continue to refer their connections to me. People often overlook this as a source of obtaining new clients. I think it’s one of the easiest and cheapest ways to get new clients.”

What are your tips for maintaining an effective service for clients?

“Always be honest with your clients. Listen to them and their needs. Make them a priority but always ensure your boundaries are in place so you have a happy working relationship, and everyone knows their place and each other’s limits. Regular communications to ensure everyone is happy is also a great thing to do. Quarterly is enough. It doesn’t need to be every week.

“Continue to learn. The world moves so quickly, and things change. We need to make sure we are on top of our game because even the best people in the world have competition. “There is always someone else who can do what you do for a lower rate. Be sure that your service or product is good enough to keep your clients and building trust and loyalty will also ensure your client retention stays high.”

Which other entrepreneurs inspire you and why?

“If I’m honest, I’m less inspired by big baller entrepreneurs and more inspired by people who are happy and passionate about what they do. I like the underdog, the people who started with nothing, the people willing to help others. I like people who stay humble and remember where they come from.

“If I had to pick someone that inspires me now, it would be motivational speaker and extreme athlete Wim Hof. He’s a big name but he has kept it real. The spotlights haven’t gone to his head and his sole mission in life is to help others. That, to me, is the true meaning of an inspirational entrepreneur.”

What are your top tips for business success?

“Be honest with people. If you mess up, can’t do something, or will miss a deadline, just be honest. You are human and when you’re honest you’re able to fix things quicker and without so much stress.

Continue learning. I’m a bookworm and I love to read. I’m always enrolling on a course or reading a book about something or other. The world changes so fast and waits for no (wo)man.

Help others where possible. Along the way, I’ve been helped by lots of people around the world. Some are complete strangers, and some have become good friends. I now offer ‘Hippo Hugs’ to those in need. They are quick hourly sessions where I find out someone’s problem and try to fix it. Hippo Hugs were born when COVID-19 hit, and people suddenly needed to be online, and they didn’t know where to start. I’ve decided to continue them as a way of giving back.

Trust is earned. Be cautious of people offering shiny objects, they’re not all your friends. But at the same time, you also need to earn the trust of other people. This is why networking and getting to know people on a business and social level can be so important.

Be ready to work hard. I’ll be honest here. Most people don’t land their big client straight away, you’ll probably do things you don’t always enjoy (like filing taxes), and most successes don’t happen overnight. You need to work long hours and going self-employed can feel like having two jobs at first. You’ll work IN the business all day and at night you’ll work ON the business. But with the right planning, systems, outsourcing (when the time comes), and dedication, anyone can have the business that they dream of.

Remember that people are just like you. We’re all the same. We’re all humans.”

How are you dealing with challenges caused by the cost of living crisis?

“During the pandemic I took the time to re-evaluate my finances. I paid off any debts and removed any unnecessary costs from my outgoings. I understood very early on that the country was headed for a massive financial hit in the next few years, so I prepared for it. I made sure that, not only were my taxes kept aside, I also started to save for the business and for myself personally.

“The cost of living has become crippling for so many people but as a family we’ve come together and made changes. Rather than spending £50 a week going out for dinner, my best friend and I now spend £30 a month and go to the gym. Rather than cinema and ‘date nights’ my fiancé and I cycle together and have picnics.

“In regard to the business, I took a long hard look at the outgoings. I stayed loyal to my existing suppliers who I knew were also small businesses, but I shopped around when it came to insurance companies, tech providers, and suppliers who had zero human connection or below par customer service. I did what I had to and so far, I have been more than fortunate.

“Changing my mindset from my wants to my needs also helped massively. We all want nice things but what I needed was more important; basics. Making your life and requirements simpler is very important and I can say it has helped me keep a positive mental attitude.”

The free Amazon Small Business Accelerator e-learning programme is advice from more than 30 business experts in over 200 bitesize videos.

If you're already an Enterprise Nation member, log in to your learning dashboard. If you're not an Enterprise Nation member, you can join the Amazon Small Business Accelerator for free here.

Dee Atkins
Dee AtkinsMiss Make It Happen
I spent almost 15 years in the recruitment industry and every day I had to put my reputation in someone else’s hands. I had to hope they were going to do a good job so that I knew I had done a good job. 100s of people a day, working under my name. Argh! This was one of the reasons why, when I started MMIH, I wanted to make it easy on YOU, my client. This wasn’t about me anymore. It’s about you, your business and how we can work together to make your business not only run seamlessly but also have the potential for growth. Let me be honest here, I never started out planning to help businesses grow. I had no intention on implementing systems and building procedures that push people forward. It’s something I fell in to and it turned out that it’s something I’m good at. I have no intention on growing my business to be some multi-level, multimillion-pound business. I like what I am, and I love my team. BUT I also love helping people grow their businesses. So, yes, MMIH can help you with your day to day tasks, admin, scheduling, researching and virtual filing but we can also help you grow. Me personally, I'm a introvert with a passion for books and being outside in nature. I'm a bit of a nerd when it comes to learning and i'm unbeatable at the rubix cude board game. I've been epileptic since birth and was dignosed with Ankylosing Spondilitis, Psoriatic Arthritis, and Rheumatoid Arthritis in my early 20's. I was told by the time I was 35 I would be in a wheelchair. Since then I've made it my lifes mission to prove all the doctors wrong.I'm now rocking on 40 and I'm not doing too badly.  I've completed marathons, climbed mountains alone, completed a couple of Tough Mudders and I continue to baffled the medical world, one appointment at a time.  Fun fact - I need a special certificate to leave this country and enter another due to my medications.  Nothing gets in my way, just like a hippo.

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