Maya Vertigans grew up in the Aberdeenshire town of Stonehaven and returned to the region after graduating from the University of Edinburgh with a degree in Sociology. Having initially founded a sustainable gifting service, she landed a freelance role as a Virtual Assistant (VA), fell in love with it and started her own VA business full-time. With three team members, she has ambitious plans to become the go-to virtual assistant service for sustainable and ethical businesses in the UK.
Having shared her story with pupils at her former secondary school, Mackie Academy, DYW North East asked Maya to take to the blogging hot seat and share her experiences more widely.
When did you first get an inkling that working for yourself might be right for you?
I think I knew from pretty early on that I wanted to run my own business (or be a lawyer, that was another option I considered). When I was in my third year at secondary school, I did my work experience at a local farm shop, to see how a local business was run. The experience was pretty full on and I learnt that I definitely did not want to open a shop (!), but I was undeterred and maintained the ambition of running my own business.
While still at school, I also sold Avon beauty products under my Mum's name, because I was too young to officially be an Avon rep. Again, door-to-door sales wasn’t necessarily the business model I wanted to pursue but it gave me a taste of running my own business.
When I finished school I was only 17 and I started having doubts about whether I still wanted to have my own business and what type of business that would be, perhaps partly due to the pressure that leaving school puts on you. In the end, I decided to go to University to study a subject that I knew I would enjoy, to give myself a back up plan and some time before committing to what I really wanted to do with my life.
Can you explain how you got started through to where you are today?
I absolutely loved University; it was such a valuable life experience, so it was definitely the right choice - it gave me the time and headspace to decide what I wanted to pursue at the end of the four years. As I entered my final year at University, I was committed to the goal of running my own business once I graduated. I began working with Edinburgh Innovations (a service that supports students starting businesses).
Initially, I was going to start a travel business but that idea didn’t last long. Next, I started a sustainable gifting business which I worked on for about a year, until I found a part-time position working as a Virtual Assistant. I saw the huge opportunity this presented and pivoted to focus on the Virtual Assistant business full-time.
Over the last two years the business has grown; we are now a team of three and have supported more than 35 businesses with their marketing, which is incredible.
What type of challenges did you experience along the way?
One of the biggest challenges I have experienced is doubting myself and feeling like I am an imposter in the business world. I think this partly comes from being a young entrepreneur (and also a young female entrepreneur), which means I am often the youngest person in the room. As a result, I sometimes feel out of place and am concerned that people are doubting me because I am a young woman and do not have as much experience.
I would like to say that this is a challenge that I have completely overcome now. But honestly, although my confidence has grown, it is something I continue to work on.
And what help was available?
Business Gateway provided a massive amount of support. I was lucky enough to be granted a place on the funded Business Boost programme, which provided me with support developing my business and leadership skills, which in turn helped to increase my confidence.
I also work with a business and mindset coach, who provides support and guidance to help me if feelings of imposter syndrome creep back in.
As part of my continued effort to work on this, I also attended the Elevator Challenge Weekend in June this year. The Challenge Weekend is an outdoors team building style weekend for entrepreneurs and it was really outside my comfort zone. But I surprised myself and had a great time. I learnt I am capable of much more than I realise and pushing myself did wonders for my confidence.
Which top three skills – or qualities – would you say serve you best as an entrepreneur?
Determination The willingness and commitment to keep going, no matter how many setbacks you experience.
Being friendly and approachable People buy from people, so getting on with others and being able to build genuine connections are valuable skills to have.
A strong work ethic Despite what TikTok tells us, running your own business doesn’t always mean working from your laptop in Bali. Holidays and having freedom to work when you want is part of it, but another part is hard work. You have to be willing to put the hours and the work into growing the business and making it a success. If you don’t, nobody else will.
What do you enjoy most about working for yourself?
I recently went to Lisbon for a month-long working holiday and continued to grow my business whilst sightseeing and learning to surf, which was pretty amazing. Working for myself gives me the freedom to work when I want and from anywhere in the world. For me, this is absolutely what it is all about.
How can we get more young people to consider self-employment/entrepreneurship as a pathway?
I think we need to be providing positive role models to pupils in schools, to promote entrepreneurship. It might not be the traditional route but that does not make it a less valid one. In the six years I was at secondary school, I think we only had one workshop/talk from somebody who ran their own business. I know this is changing (partly with the help of DYW) but there is still more to do.
What are your top tips/words of advice for any budding young entrepreneurs?
As you can see, my journey to creating a successful business was far from linear. My first business idea didn’t just instantly succeed, I had to try different things before I got to this point. One of my biggest learnings from this journey is that you don’t have to get it right the first time because nothing has to be permanent if you don’t want it to be. A big part of entrepreneurship is being willing to take risks, try new things and also know that if something isn’t working, it is okay to pivot to focus on another opportunity.
So, if you want to start a business, go for it. Give it a try and see what happens. If it doesn’t work, go back to the drawing board and try again. You don’t need to have it all figured out (I definitely don’t). Just take it one step at a time and ask for help if you need it.
Planner Bee VA Services supports sustainable and ethical businesses to create a buzz with their digital marketing. Founded by Maya Vertigans, the company is now a four-strong team who work with more than 35 businesses, from solopreneurs to larger organisations with 60+ employees.
Could you inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs? Get in touch with DYW North East today.