Embrace the opportunity
You will be working with some fantastic people who are all determined to make your new business work. You will be able to learn from some highly intelligent people – many of whom you would not normally meet in a regular job, let alone sit next to. When you work for really large companies, it’s really common to not even see the CEO. At a startup, you will be speaking and interacting with them on a day to day. Here you have the chance to be the right hand person to the CEO of a company which still has the potential to be huge. Imagine being the PA to Bill Gates back in 1975 when he launched Microsoft, or to Elon Musk when he co-founded PayPal in 1998. You have the amazing opportunity to go and ask them about anything in the business and they will probably tell you (as long as they have time!). They know that the more you know, the better you can be at your job.
Allow yourself to get involved
Whatever the job spec tells you, this is not a standard position. You will not only be involved with “typical PA tasks”. Why? Because nothing is “typical” at a startup. One day you might be arranging meetings with key stakeholders, but the next day you could be directing the recording of your videos which are to be used in the social media adverts. The opportunities to get involved in things are infinite, and this puts you in the unique position to move your career in a different direction if that’s what you choose. You might even have to hire a team assistant one day, if your team grows large enough. You could be fast-tracked to management light-years quicker
than if you were at a larger company.
The more involved you get with as much as you possibly can, the easier your job will be in a year’s time. You will know everyone, and you will know how everyone’s roles fit in with one another. You will easily understand the impact of actions by one person on another person, or department. Yes, in a year’s time you might even have departments – as hard as that is to comprehend right now as you sit in some shared office space using the complimentary wifi.
Disregard everything you know about red tape and bureaucracy
Many of us will have had to deal with the dreaded “out of policy” issues which rear their ugly heads on a regular basis. When you work for a startup, you are free to do whatever it takes for the company. Need envelopes? Pop over to the nearest stationery shop (which is absolutely unheard of for those of you who work in massive companies like Investment Banks). Need to hire someone to start work tomorrow? No problem!
Most of the company’s decision-makers are likely to be in the office a lot of the time, meaning that getting sign-off for things can happen in minutes, not years.
Be prepared to feel busier than you have ever felt before
You will live and breathe this new company. Not only do they have to function as a proper company to their external customers and clients, they are still getting
everything in place in the background. Remember that your boss is an entrepreneur – that’s why they set the company up in the first place. You will be trying to book meetings for the whole office, whilst figuring out which printing contract you need, ordering desks for the next office, and trying to find someone to fix the broken fridge. All at the same time. But you will honestly never feel more needed or essential to your company. A lot of PAs and EAs often feel like they aren’t valued or appreciated in their roles, but at a startup your role is more valuable than you can imagine and you are more important that you can probably appreciate.
Check the phone signal
If you are moving office, check what phone signal you get when you are there. When you move in, there’s a chance you could be without phone lines for a little while, and if everyone has to work off their mobile phones, people will start to get very irritated very quickly if they can’t get any signal. Check it out and buy some signal boosters if you need to.
Be prepared for change
Everything can change at the drop of a hat. The kind of change you have to deal with at a startup can involve the direction of the entire company. However with a startup you often also have the ability to make such changes. One conversation with the CEO can result in the entire fee structure of your services being revised. So when there’s a marketing announcement to all of your customers telling them of the change, you can be proud that you made that happen and that you are making a real difference in your company.
Communication is life
When things are moving along at the speed of light, communication really has to be on point. It’s a really difficult skill to master, without feeling like you are annoying everyone, but it’s so important to keep everyone in the loop. This is mainly because the impact of others at a startup is magnified compared to at an established company.
The CTO could have been informed that the computer cables being laid at the new office have been delayed and will be arriving a couple of days late. This is no issue for him, but you have already arranged for the carpet fitters to come in, followed swiftly after by the delivery of the new furniture. This delay by a couple of days will affect your plans way beyond what the CTO could have comprehended.
That’s why it’s so important to have regular meetings with the person or team you are supporting, as well as other people. Ask to join management meetings or weekly meetings that other people have (if they have them) so you at least get an idea of what is going on. What might be small and unimportant to you could have a massive impact on someone else, and when you work for a startup, it’s often difficult to predict. Another useful thing to have is writable wallpaper if you are allowed to put some up. Drawing out plans, or schedules really does help an awful lot. It also makes a good spot to have a weekly or daily stand-up meeting and you can update it there and then so everyone is on the same page.
Ask for help
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. While everyone is working flat out in the fog of a startup, it’s very easy to get caught up in everything and find yourself feeling out of your depth. That’s ok! Everyone else is feeling exactly the same way that you are – just speak to them.
Just talking to someone can make you feel a million times better. Honestly, it’s very likely that half of the things you are worrying about aren’t even that urgent – you just think they are.
Go to Networking Events
As much as these events can be super fun, they are also really useful. You will bump into all kinds of people who will be able to offer you loads of advice. You never know who has been in your position before so it’s great to chat to them and learn from them.
You will also get to meet lots of cool new suppliers. If you have worked for a larger organisation, chances are the purchasing has been done by a central team. Now is your chance to learn all about the different kinds of companies out there who could help you. You get to create your own little black book of go-to suppliers, which is so much fun! Just make sure you always get quotes from more than one company for everything you get (especially in Financial Services) because it keeps the Compliance Officer happy that you aren’t being bribed when you come back with some complimentary pens or cookies. It’s essential that you record everything you ever receive from suppliers – no matter how small – so that you can prove that there is no conflict of interest when you sign up to use any particular supplier.
You are at the start of something which has the potential to be the best thing you have ever done – be proud of everything you will go on to achieve and have fun! Enjoy it along the way. You will look back in a year and wonder how on earth your company has done what it has done, and when you try and explain it to anyone, it will feel like you are describing the impossible. Moved house in the same week as moving office? No problem. Wrote all of your company policies? In your sleep.