I’m super excited to have Sarah-Jane Heath from Sarah-Jane Heath Business Support & Lifestyle Management.

Sarah-Jane has over 30 years’ experience as a career assistant, first working in the legal industry, and then the music business, part of which was spent as part of the management team for one of the UK’s most well-known bands. I’ll leave it to her to tell you who that was…

These days, SJ spends her time as an experienced Lifestyle Manager working with high profile clients in the creative and entertainment industries. She lists A-List Celebrities, HNWIs and Board Level Executives on her client list.

I’ve probably known SJ only for a year or so, but it honestly does feel like forever (in a very good way!) and she’s always one of the first people I turn to if I need business advice and support.

Given SJ’s experience of working with high-profile clients, I wanted to pick brain on how the tech she uses has changed over the 10 years she’s been working remotely, and also how she’s successfully built up trust with people who she hardly meets but who rely on her to run their personal and professional lives, and for some clients, their household stuff too.

And I think you’re going to love what she has to say about building trust, her references to a manual typewriter, and her thoughts on remote working more broadly.

Connect with Sarah-Jane via the links below:
sarahjaneheath.com
https://linktr.ee/sjheathva

 

Show Notes

 

Victoria

So, I’m here today with Sarah-Jane Heath. Hello.

Sarah-Jane

Hi, Victoria.

Victoria

How are you?

Sarah-Jane

I’m very good, thank you. Very excited about doing this.

Victoria

I know, tell me about it. Now, I have wanted to get you on the show for absolutely ages. And when I started thinking about doing a podcast all about remote working and particularly building trust with teams, I knew I wanted to speak with you. So, tell me about your background.

Sarah-Jane

Well, remote working, I’ve been remote working for about 11 years now. I’ve had a background in legal and music over the years.

About 10 years ago started working for the band, Take That, in their management. I know them all personally. We started working remotely really because we just didn’t need an office. We were very forward-thinking.

We were often on promotional events. So, we were out and about or we worked from home and found it worked really well. With communication and email, we just physically didn’t need to be together in an office.

That came to an end after about nine years working for the management team. They changed management teams then.

I thought, you know what, I’m going to keep this remote working because it works so well. I’m a real advocate for the fact that I just don’t feel that people need to be in an office anymore. Managing such a big brand like Take That and everything that entails, if that can work remotely than anything can work remotely.

So, I set up my business about nearly a year and a half ago, two years ago. And kept a couple of the band members working with me. And got some new clients which is great. I love it and it’s really great. Just demonstrated to people you just don’t need somebody following you around with a notepad.

Victoria

Absolutely. You and I know each other from the real world as well, which is great. And I know that you offer quite bespoke almost like lifestyle management packages as well. So, I imagine you’re working with clients who are very high profile and hugely successful in the areas that they are involved in. So, how do you build trust with people that you may not even meet or you may not meet on a regular basis?

Sarah-Jane

Yeah. I mean, I’ve got one client whom I’ve never met. And we’ve been together most of this year, so, it’s nine months. And we get on really, really well. I think one of the things we do, I have got to say, all of my clients so far have been recommended. So, they’ve already got a bit of background knowing who I’ve worked for. They’ve come from people that know me either as a friend or a colleague. So, they’ve probably already got a bit of a background, if I’m honest. But then, I’m very sociable and chat to my clients. And genuinely care about people. So, with the lady that I’ve worked for this year that we’ve never met we’ve spent a lot of time talking each week on the phone, we get to know each other, we’ve got to know about our personal lives when we talk about work as well. And then we’ve suddenly built a real, real dynamic. And real trust because these people are leaving you their credit card details or their personal information.

Specifically with the lifestyle you get to know everything about people and their lives and it is a real leap of faith I think. But I’m blatantly trustworthy. I think the recommendations help. Once you get to know me I’m very open book and I think that helps. I also think in modern times with the offices moving and changing directions, working remotely, even for offices allowing people to work from home for a set amount of time, you have to have trust in your staff because you got to trust them just as much in the office being on Facebook or being at home being on Facebook. The reality is, at home, people aren’t on Facebook because they haven’t got time, you know? I do think they’re much more productive working from a home office and get a lot done.

Victoria

I agree completely. So, you’re obviously big into the whole remote working thing. But has there ever been a time where you’ve needed to be disciplined with your working hours? How do you outline your day?

Sarah-Jane

I have got a real ethos of keeping home and work separate. So, I work here in my office. If I deviate from that and work downstairs, for example, or in my lounge or something like that I’m not as productive. So, I do shut myself off. I keep very set office hours for myself, just to keep that routine. I don’t have clients saying: You need to be available from these hours to that hours. And a lot of my work– I do out of office hours. But it’s just a good discipline for me to be able to sort of sit here, focus, get on with things and then shut the door.

I’ve got two computers here. So I just take the laptop downstairs and carry on ’cause I’m not in the office then.

Victoria

Yeah, on your phone, on the smaller Internet.

Sarah-Jane

But I do think it’s important, you were just about to say and I rudely interrupted. But I do think it’s very important to have an environment that is your work environment and to get to shut the door on that. Otherwise it does, it just melts and you’re going to have a meltdown.

Victoria

Yeah, I agree. I think it blurs the boundaries a little bit too much with your work. Personally, if I’m working downstairs or at the table or something like that, it just doesn’t work for me. And I moved into an office space earlier on in the year but obviously still support clients on a remote basis. And this is the first time where I’ve actually quite enjoyed going to work even though it’s still remote working. The fact that it’s not in my home, I have to physically leave the house and I put proper clothes on and wake up and look presentable and all of that. Having that separation has really, really helped me. And particularly over the summer holidays. So, my other half is a teacher. And my daughter was off school as well. And I know in previous years I’ve just heard like the fun and frolics and laughter that they’ve been having downstairs. And I felt so torn as a business owner sitting upstairs and hearing all of that. And in a funny kind of way having the office and going to work has meant I felt less conflicted because I don’t hear any of that. Yes, I see the photos, yes, I know what they’re doing for the day. But it does create a lot of mental and physical separation between work and life. So, yeah totally get it.

Thinking about the tech that you’ve used over the years. So, what kind of tech did you use, maybe 11 years ago, versus what you’re using now and relying on a regular basis?

Sarah-Jane

Loads, really. I mean, you know, even in my history of 30 odd years working starting on electric typewriter. It’s unbelievable how things are different now. And I love it. I’m an absolute geek. So, I love everything that’s available. I hadn’t really even understood automation ’til about a year or two ago. And then was just, wow, look at this, you can save time doing this. I’ve always been quite savvy. So, probably I’d say, I’m just trying to think back really. I mean, we were running a record label about 15 years ago. And it’s very basic what we had. I don’t even think we had instant messaging on our phones, if I’m honest. So, we’d just manage. And I think you do manage with what you’ve got. But now project management tools – I use Asana. I’ve just recently moved to ClickUp and trying that out as a project management tool. That really keeps me very structured and also I can demonstrate to clients where I’m at with their work because you’re juggling different clients, obviously, and different needs. So, I think that kind of structure is very important. And just using everything that’s available. I mean, even on the Internet.

There’s so much more information now. There’s nothing that you can’t find out very, very swiftly.

I was into the Internet when it first really came to the home about 20 years ago. So, I’ve always been very good at searching. I’ve always been known as The Oracle because I’m good at finding rubbish out for people. Or people just can’t be bothered to look up things, I don’t know.

And I think you and I are probably a little bit more advanced in what we know in our industry. And the VA industry’s very advanced because we’ve had to step out of the comfort zone of what a company provides you and says: “We work on Word and we do this in Excel and we use Outlook for our emails.” You and I probably have three or four different email programmes on the go for different clients. So, we know how to use all of these things.

We’re always looking for quicker ways to do things, time-saving ways to do things. Things that are more efficient.

I think in an office you probably get a bit lazy. You don’t do that, you just follow the path of what you’re given. So it’s nice to have that opportunity to think, “Well, actually this works better and I’m going to swap to that.” And you’ve got more flexibility. So, I love it. I love all the tech. I’m constantly looking at new things. I suddenly think I’ve maybe got enough now.

Victoria

So, you’ve mentioned Asana and ClickUp both for your task and project management systems. What other tech do you rely on on a regular basis?

Sarah-Jane

I use Harvest because I can do all of my invoicing through that. I really enjoy Harvest. I know a lot of people use Toggl which I didn’t get on with at all. So, Harvest is quite in depth. It’s got good reporting. I’ve recently, probably since starting this new business, moved completely over to Google for G Suite programmes because I love it, I love the collaboration. I love the fact that you’re not going to lose a document when you save it because it’s also saved constantly. You know, I’ve got a client who’s at a conference in Amsterdam. He’s got a constantly changing agenda. So, rather than printing him out a piece of paper like we would have done in the old days, he’s got constant access to an always-live agenda which I can just change knowing that whenever he looks in it, it’s going to be updated. So, Google Suite is huge for me. I’m a Mac user. So, I moved over from MacMail which I used to love and then found Gmail. Thought, oh look, there’s all these other things that you can do.

Victoria

And do you find there’s any benefits to using a Mac versus PC?

Sarah-Jane

Yeah, I love a Mac. I just find it, it’s so much simpler to use. And it’s intuitive. I mean, I have used a Mac now for 12 or 13 years. So, I don’t know what I’d be like in front of a PC. I remember originally sitting in front of a Mac going: “What is this for?” You know? And then it’s so user friendly and so simple. Plus the equipment lasts for years.

Victoria

Are you an iPhone user as well, so you’ve got…?

Sarah-Jane

I’ve an iPhone, iPads, I’ve got an iMac in front of me. I’ve got a iPad here, MacBook here. If I could justify a watch, I’d have a watch. Actually, I don’t want my emails pinging on my wrist all day long. I mean, I think that’s one thing that I’ve learned in past years is not to look at my inbox all the time.

Victoria

And do you do that though?

Sarah-Jane

No. Actually I do, I’m quite good.

I do see the notification and think, “Okay, well, I’m doing this now, I’ll pop and look at that.” But I’m aware of it. Whereas before, I would have just jumped straight onto it. Now I’m much more aware: “Okay, it’s there but I’ll finish what I’m doing first.” Rather than, you know, jack rabbiting all the time, between different things.

I think that’s one of this job’s skill set really is the ability to kind of focus on chunks of what you’re doing, otherwise you’ll just drive yourself nuts. You’ll miss things, not get things done and have unhappy clients really. So, I tend to just focus on a client at a time, get what they need done.

Victoria

I think you’re absolutely right. And I think for a long time multi-tasking was seen as a skill. Like it was the must-have skill you need to have in order to be successful at work.

Sarah-Jane

You wrote it in so many different ways on your CV, didn’t you, that I’m a multi-tasker and I can do lots of things. Worst thing you could do.

Victoria

Yeah, now it’s mono-tasking all the way. And like you said, you know, the way I like to think of it is that clients aren’t paying for me to check somebody else’s inbox while I’m in the zone with their work, you know. I owe it to them from an integrity and a core values perspective to be fully focused on what I’m doing for them at that time. Just on the distraction side. I know we had a conversation ages ago about different kind of social media time blocking apps.

Sarah-Jane

Yes, Freedom. I have got one, I switched it off though because it was counter-intuitive. I had one that basically swore at me if I tried to go on Facebook or anything. And then I just got so frustrated because I can switch it off you know. So, then I could go and switch it off. But, in reality, I do need to look at Facebook sometimes for, you know, research or client things or ask a question in very collaborative groups. Or even just client stuff. So, I just found that really annoying in the end. And then just thought, “Come on, be a grown up”, you know. If you can’t say to yourself, “You’re not going to look at Facebook”, then that’s a bit useless.

Victoria

I agree. That’s how I ended up cancelling, to be honest with you. I needed to access it for too many work things and it just kept on stopping me. So, no, completely get it.

Now, you just mentioned the Facebook groups. I am going to be talking a lot about combating loneliness and isolation as a remote worker because that’s something that I battled with a lot when I first started. And I personally turned to many, many different Facebook groups for that sense of collaboration. You mentioned turning to Facebook groups to ask questions. Can you tell me a little bit about the support that social media groups have given you as a remote worker?

Sarah-Jane

I think one of the things, I did get quite involved with one VA group. And posted a lot originally. I kept getting poster of the month and all this kind of thing, helping people out. And ultimately that was helping me focus on my own answers. I was getting more confidence realising that if I can answer all these other people, then I do know what I’m doing.

So, I stepped away from that now. I dip in there every now and again because I still like to make myself known. But, you know, on the flip side there’s so many great remote working sites. I mean, there’s Freelance Heroes which is fabulous.

Victoria

He’s coming on the show soon. Maybe even already depending on what time this has been aired.

Sarah-Jane

Oh, because, he’s amazing.

I think [Ed Goodman – Freelance Heroes – Episode 002] provides such good support. Nobody is trying to step on anyone’s toes. Everybody’s helpful. I think this whole way of working, the freelancing, etc, people are much more collaborative. And now you’ve got a way to collaborate.

Again, as you say, the loneliness. You’ve got people that, any time a day, you can pop in and go, “Help, I don’t know how to do this.” Someone knows the answer or someone’ll go: “I can help you.” I’ve never really known such a collaborative environment as doing this. I genuinely never feel lonely. But then I was the person that hated people talking to me at my desk. I’ll tell you, I’ve always been the head down kind of person. I used to get a bit sweary when people used to interrupt me at work. Even if a boss brought me work, that was in my law days. But actually I really enjoy just getting my head down and getting on with stuff. I’m single, so, I haven’t got a family. So, I’m on my own all the time.

Victoria

No, you’ve got a beautiful little puppy.

Sarah-Jane

I’ve got a dog. And he doesn’t talk to me a lot. I feel I achieve more this way. If I ever had to go back in an office now which I can’t ever envisage. I’ll do anything but. If I ever had to go back into an office, I do think I’d struggle. I’d struggle with the interaction. It’s not like I can’t talk or be friendly, you know. But I would struggle with constant interruption.

Victoria

Yeah.

Sarah-Jane

We both know, you’re only really going to get three hours’ productive work, roughly, from an office worker. Whereas, we’ve got our heads down much longer in a day and achieving much more. It’s really easy to see how that happens as well. I feel much more worthy of my clients this way ’round. Because I’ve spent hours, sat in video shoots or marketing events or stuff like that, doing nothing, with no laptop, sometimes have my laptop and it’s not the right environment to sit there on your laptop doing work. And in the end I used to quite often say, turn down going to video shoots, etc with the band because I knew I’d be more productive back in the office. And if their manager was going with them, I didn’t really need to go with them. I could sit and run the show behind the scenes and otherwise you’d spend so much time catching up. So, I do feel that, especially in my industry with working with celebrities and such, there is that old vision of following somebody around with a notebook. It’s such a lot of wasted time. It’s just vacuous, really. My guys would just send me stuff to do or send me an email or something like that. And I’ll just plod on and get on with it. And they know it’s done then.

Victoria

It’s the peace of mind that it brings to them knowing that you’re there and you’re taking care of things behind the scenes, isn’t it?

Sarah-Jane

Yeah. So, they think.

Victoria

Awesome. If you weren’t Sarah-Jane Heath Business Support & Lifestyle Management, what would you be doing?

Sarah-Jane

Oh, I would be running a dog centre. If I had a different life. I always wanted to be a journalist when I was younger. That was my main aim. And I used to swallow Smash Hits every week. And then I kind of got diversified. I ended up working in law. And then I got this huge opportunity to work back in music. And it was just almost really meant to be, to be honest. So, I’m somebody that feels like life finds me despite myself sometimes. Even now, I mean, as you know I started off this thinking, right I’m going to be a VA. I’d had this concept years ago. I think it was 2012 when I bought a domain. And I’m like, this is what I’m going to do after this job. And I’m going to have a load of VAs working with me in a team and stuff like that. And then we just got too busy. And I had to spend all of those years focused on other people rather than myself. And I’ve got a lot of skills to put into my own business or to other clients.

So, this opportunity doing the lifestyle manager I just suddenly realised actually it’s all come to me. I was doing it anyway but I didn’t have that title. Or I’m not somebody, I find the title really nerdy. I’m not sure that I like the “lifestyle manager”. I don’t know what else to call myself. But it kind of works right now. You still see a lot of people saying they do that. And as you know it’s a completely different thing when you’ve done it for years. And you’ve done it in level, you’ve got a black book. You’ve got the contacts that I’ve got. So, where was I going with that, Victoria? What else would I be doing? I feel that life pushes me in this direction. And all of a sudden. I mean, I said it to you one day. I actually think I should be focusing on this and you just nodded sagely, going, “Yes, as you should’ve been from the beginning”, you know. And it’s true. My niche, actually, was always there. I was too scared of finding a niche. And then suddenly it’s going, “Well, this is what your focus is.” So, I think I would have always ended up doing something like this because I love looking after people.

Victoria

But that’s a really good point, to be honest with you. Before we wrap up… because I think when we start out we are so scared of niching down, because we don’t want to turn down money, because we need the money, we need the clients, we need the testimonials. We need to feel like we’re actually making this a success. And by immediately shutting the door to a certain type of client, it fills us with fear basically, so.

Sarah-Jane

Oh, absolutely, yeah.

Victoria

So, now that you know lifestyle management is the area that you want to go in, do you wish you had niched down earlier?

Sarah-Jane

Oh, that’s a great question because I was, exactly what you’ve said, I was so scared of niching down. So scared of it because I thought, “God, I’m going to just negate all these people,” and stuff like that. But should I have started it back then? No, because I’m glad it’s found me. It’s been much more organic. It’s given me the opportunity because I’ve always with the management side of things I was very business orientated. And you know, we had a lot of business side of things, a lot of branding and marketing and stuff behind the scenes. I thought, “God, I’ve got all that experience I can give that to another client in a business form.” But actually, I like doing this. I like helping people with their lives. And I like being that person they need. I love the fact I’m constantly getting texts going “Oh God, and what would I have done without you, thank you, thank you.” And I’m somebody that really does thrive on, that reward I guess. Whether that’s healthy as a lifestyle, I don’t know. But I love it, I love people going, “You know, I’m not quite sure what I could have done”, and finding them solutions. And I think the business experience I’ve got has enabled me to think differently and a little bit, you know, much more peripheral vision. So, I always go, “Oh you could do it that way but if you do, there’s a risk of that happening.” And you just got that third eye for the client. So, it’s much more than just doing a bit of household bills or something like that. You do really offer a massive support counselling service as well, which I wasn’t going to get in business clients. You do to a certain extent, as you know. I mean, you do end up as almost a coach and mentor. And somebody that people trust. But actually I can do all of that in this circle. And, you know, I’m sort of changing the business a little bit with the niching down when I get some time. You know, do the new website, etc. I’m really going to focus on how it all works in a slightly different way. And I’m really excited about that. I mean, I love the fact that you can just go, you know what, I’m just going to change my business a bit.

Victoria

Yeah, just a bit of a pivot, it’s all good.

Sarah-Jane

You know, it’s really, really good.

Victoria

Awesome, well thank you so much for your time on today’s show. I will add your social media profiles to the show notes. And I will catch up with you soon.

Sarah-Jane

Fantastic, thanks Victoria.

So over the next few episodes, I’m going to be having some fantastic guests coming in to speak with me about all of the issues relating to building a remote working business and all of the tech issues and the tech challenges that building a team and building a trust along the way as well. So I hope you enjoy it. If you have any questions, drop me an email. It’s podcast@victoriatretis.co.uk.

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