Alicia Fairclough is Executive Assistant to Asher Ismail, Co-Founder of Uncapped. She is also the Founder of EA How To.
In this episode, Alicia shares her story of becoming an executive assistant, why she started EA How To, the power of community, and how to remain productive while working from home.
It is not fair to ask of others what you are not willing to do yourself.
– Eleanor Roosevelt
CONNECT WITH ALICIA
Alicia Fairclough is Executive Assistant to Asher Ismail, Co-Founder of Uncapped. She is also the Founder of EA How To, a global community of assistants providing free and affordable learning opportunities for assistants at every stage of their career. Alicia is on a mission to bring top level assistants together from around the globe so they can learn from and support one another.
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Alicia Fairclough 0:00
Hi, I’m Alicia Fairclough and today’s leadership quote comes from Eleanor Roosevelt. It’s not fair to ask of others what you are not willing to do yourself.
Podcast Intro 0:11
The Leader Assistant Podcast exists to encourage and challenge assistants to become confident, Game Changing leader assistant.
Jeremy Burrows 0:22
The Leader Assistant Podcast is brought to you by goody. If you send business gifts to employees, clients or sales prospects, goodie is a game changer. You can send one gift or hundreds at a time without ever worrying about shipping details. With goody your gift recipients provide all their shipping info. And they can even swap out your gift for another option if they prefer. It’s free to start gifting and you can get a $20 credit when you sign up. Oh, and if you mentioned you heard about goody from The Leader, Assistant Podcast, goody will add an extra $10 credit to your account. So go to leaderassistant.com/goody. That’s g o o d y To start gifting today. Again, that’s leaderassistant.com/goody. Hey, friends, thanks for tuning in to The Leader Assistant Podcast. It’s your host, Jeremy Burrows. And today I’m very excited to be speaking with Alicia Fairclough. This is episode 161. And you can check out the show notes at leaderassistant.com/161. Alicia, how’s it going? And where are you in the world?
Alicia Fairclough 1:41
I’m really well thank you. Right now I’m in London. I just got back from a trip to Australia visiting my family for the first time since the whole pandemic began. And yeah, now settling back into London.
Jeremy Burrows 1:55
Awesome. I was actually supposed to go to London. Right, like, right as the pandemic started. So I’m sad because I still haven’t been able to make it out there. But hopefully someday,
Alicia Fairclough 2:06
hopefully soon, we’ll be waiting for you.
Jeremy Burrows 2:08
Yes, yes. So tell us a little bit about little backstory about your career and maybe what your first real job was, and then how you ended up in the assistant profession?
Alicia Fairclough 2:22
Well, that’s a really fun, far more challenging question that it should be normally but I was basically a school teacher who didn’t want to be a school teacher. So my degree, I had a double degree in teaching and arts, and realized in my final year that I actually did not want to be a teacher. I decided to finish that degree because I wasn’t sure what I did want to do. I went traveling on cruise ships. So I did make use of my degree, I was a teen Activities Coordinator for piano cruisers, and then Princess Cruises. And that was probably the most fun job in the entire world galavanting around the world for a while on ships, before moving back to I was in Vancouver, BC for four years, where I ran my own business there, and eventually went back to Australia and then came to the UK where I’m now permanently based. But all of those different things and about 20 different jobs in between led me to the assistant world and I finally what I think once I found the assistant world, I felt like I had found my place. It took me a long time to figure out what I wanted to do. But once I did, I knew it was right.
Jeremy Burrows 3:40
So when you you said once you got in there, you knew it was right. When did you see it as a career? Like when did you think oh, this isn’t just a fun job for a while or a good challenge. This is actually a career.
Alicia Fairclough 3:54
It wasn’t until I moved to London that I saw it as a career. It had been suggested to me before. And I’m not proud to say that when it was initially suggested to me many, many years ago, that I thought it was sort of a weird thing to suggest like that I would be somebody’s assistant for my life. I used to think like I’m going to have an assistant Don’t be an assistant, what are you talking about? Like, that’s not a career path. That’s something that you do, you know, on your way somewhere else. And that just shows that I was completely naive about what executive assistants really do and their role in businesses all over the world. But I didn’t really see it as a career path until I moved to London. So I came to London at the end of 2017. And I was going through a lot of changes in my life. Obviously changing countries is a really big one. And that sort of prompted me to reevaluate where I was and what I was going to do moving forward. And I had a really great boss in London who kind of really showed me The various paths to what could be what it could look like to be a career assistant. That was will McKinley, South square barristers chambers I was working out. And it really snowballed from there and AI how to came a little bit later. But I think will was probably the first person to make me say that this was something that I could actually do for a really long time.
Jeremy Burrows 5:25
What is your favorite part about being an assistant?
Alicia Fairclough 5:29
I really like that. No day is ever the same. I like the variety, I really like being able to get my hands dirty in different parts of the business. So I think one of the best things about being an EAA is that you have a lot of oversight over the entire company. And so there might be, whether it’s a project that you’re passionate about, or something that you really want to learn about, you know, I love doing events and planning those kinds of things. And so I’m always welcome to go and get as involved in company events, whether it’s corporate events or internal events, you can do that if you’re really interested in health and well being it’s a really good opportunity to go and just pick an area that you’re interested in and lead the way. If you’re finance minded, there’s loads you can do there. So I think it’s a really great job in terms of being able to just pick things you’re passionate about, and lead projects.
Jeremy Burrows 6:29
Yeah. Yeah, like that. There’s never a dull moment. That’s one of my favorite things about it. So tell us about your current role, executive assistant to the co founder of uncapped, is that right?
Alicia Fairclough 6:42
Yeah, sure. uncapped is a scale up at this stage. They’re a little over two years old. And I was really fortunate that at the time that I was looking for my next role, I was able to take my time and really look for something that I genuinely wanted to do. And it wasn’t because I was in a position where I really quickly needed to find a job or anything like that. So it was a time where I was able to really think about what did I want this next role to look like? What kind of company did I want to work with? What kind of exact did I want to work with, and the stars aligned, and Asher and uncut, really, were exactly what I was looking for. It’s interesting, because the company is fully remote, and they will always fully remote, they had never intended to have an office anywhere in the world. And I personally love that. So we happen to both live in London, so I do get to see him. But it’s because if we want to see each other and spend time working together for a day, it’s not because we have to. I’d say it’s a really varied role. It’s interesting, because there’s two co founders, and each co founder has an EA and a chief of staff. So looking after different parts of the business, but it’s a really nice company to be part of.
Jeremy Burrows 8:11
So how does that work with the relationship with the chief of staff? It’s Yes, a lot of work to write,
Alicia Fairclough 8:21
you know? Yeah, so I report directly to Asha. And that chief of staff also reports directly to Asha. So it’s, we have completely different roles. And one thing that I’ve kind of been talking quite a bit about on LinkedIn is, I get a little bit of frustration, sometimes that so many EA roles are being called chief of staff, as if it’s just the same job but a title change because they don’t really know where to go with an EA once I’ve been there for a certain amount of time. And in reality, I think a real chief of staff role and a real EA role are two completely different roles. And you know, you could transition from one end to the other, but it’s not necessarily once you’ve been in EA for a certain amount of time, really the only place to go from there is to become of chief of staff, I don’t really agree with that they’re different jobs. So I work with Asher on a lot of the day to day running of his life, how to make things easier for him at work. The chief of staff is very into the finance side of the business, the data and analytics side of the business. So I guess one of the best ways to explain how we would work together is I might be putting information in board decks, but I’m getting that information from Matthew, the chief of staff. So I’m not necessarily the person who is going and leading the sales meeting and getting the sales trading data. I’m getting that from him and then I’m collating it and putting it together and understanding it so I can communicate that information to the board.
Jeremy Burrows 10:00
So what’s what’s one other example of what you’ve seen to be the difference between your role and the chief of staff role?
Alicia Fairclough 10:11
I think a big difference is that I, I catch up with our show multiple times a day. So most days, we’ll talk at least twice, once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and then we’re on chat together all day. And I’m firing off all of Alex’s emails, as if I am Asha, so that he can be in a meeting and I’m doing all of that communication on his behalf. Matthew is taking meetings as if he is Asha, as well. So it’s kind of like we’re both ones the left hand and one’s the right hand of Asher. So Asha can be three people, essentially. And we all work together on different aspects of the same goal.
Jeremy Burrows 10:55
Yeah, that’s really that’s a really clear and practical example. Thanks for Thanks for sharing. That’s helpful.
Alicia Fairclough 11:03
No worries at all.
Jeremy Burrows 11:04
So let’s talk about remote work for a second. I also work fully remote, and I love it. And I don’t ever want to go into the office if I don’t have to. So what what’s your maybe top two tips on being productive and strategic with your executive while working remote?
Alicia Fairclough 11:30
I’m not sure how different it is to when I was in the office other than I certainly feel I am more productive. It’s much easier to schedule time because there’s no sort of wondering what conference room is he going to be in? Is he going to have to be at an in person meeting because it’s pretty rare, even with our board and clients, it’s pretty rare for them to do in person meetings. So it’s quite easy to insert myself into the schedule and just say, you know, we need 10 minutes here, we need 15 minutes there. I think there’s an obvious amount of discipline that you need to have to be disciplined with your time at home, I have very flexible work hours. But I probably don’t take advantage of flexible work hours as much because I generally like working fairly normal hours these days, it’s nice to know I have the flexibility. So if I have an appointment or something, I don’t need to take a half day off just to be able to make that work. But as far as tips go, I think all of the usual things apply, you need to be organized, you need to make use of the tools that are at your disposal, you need to have your own way of managing your time and your execs time and stay in touch constantly.
Jeremy Burrows 12:49
Yeah, I agree with the statement that things haven’t really changed or things aren’t really that different. I think people, some some organizations, and some executives tend to make it a big deal and say, Oh, well, there’s, there’s, you’re gonna lose so much by not being in the office. And there are some things that I think you can lose like that. watercooler talk or, you know, walking your executive to the next meeting and kind of catching up in between those kinds of things that that I do miss occasionally. But I think I, you know, to your point about being more productive, I think I make make up for it. With more productivity, more focus, less distractions, and then just the ability to, you know, be home, when my kids get home from school or Yeah, after a run, take them to the doctor or whatever, you know, it’s like, it’s just so much easier to do that. And, yeah, I’m definitely a remote work fan.
Alicia Fairclough 13:55
Yeah, me too. And, you know, there’s the obvious things like being able to go to the gym or throw a load of laundry in while you’re like between meetings or on a lunch break or something and just not having those hours out of your life taken with a commute. I think one of the other things that’s really interesting about working remote, certainly at unkept is the idea that we don’t try to replicate what it would look like to be in an office. I think one of the biggest mistakes a lot of companies made was trying to replicate online, how you would communicate and how you would work in the office and what uncap figured out fairly early on, and based on a lot of research that they did into how to be, you know, the best most productive remote working company we could be, is understanding that a lot of the rules that applied to an office actually don’t apply to us and you do need to find other ways of working. So you need to get used to principles like we have a written first principle. So writing things documenting them so that the whole company You can see them not trying to emulate the same way we would socialize in the office. We still have plenty of social time. We have company wide socials, we have team socials, we, Asha certainly calls me in between his meetings, which would be the equivalent, I guess, of walking somebody to a meeting, he’ll just do what we call a huddle on Slack. And, you know, if I’m not available for the huddle, because I’m doing something then Soviet, but usually I’m at my desk. And so we have that quick chat, when he’s got, say, three minutes between meetings, and he’ll say, Look, just a really quick recap of what happened in the previous meeting. Here’s action that I need you to do. And I’ll be doing that while he’s in his next meeting.
Jeremy Burrows 15:45
Yeah. So tell us about EA how to? When did you launch it? Why did you launch it? What is it all that fun stuff?
Alicia Fairclough 15:54
Yeah, how to was a really interesting project. Because what it started as and what it became a two very different things as to how to start it as a way for me to boost my profile as an executive assistant in London, it was around the time where I had had this kind of realization that there is definitely an extremely good career to be had in being an executive assistant, that the market was great in London, and that I really needed to be able to market myself. Because if people Googled me, what they would find is all of these other things that I had done in the past. And I genuinely wanted some of these great EA roles that I could see being advertised. So as a way to do that, having had in a previous life, a full time YouTube channel, I decided that YouTube was a really good way to be able to do that, and EA how to start it with just me uploading short videos that were tips on EA type things. So whether it was a tip on how to format things in Microsoft Word, or what the difference is between an EA and a PA or interview tips. It was really just a way for me to build my profile so that when people Googled Alesia Fackler that they would find Elisa Fackler, London executive assistant. That’s how it started. What it turned into, is this incredible community of about now 42,000 assistants from all over the world. And that really kicked off when I went on to LinkedIn. So my partner encouraged me to get on LinkedIn I wasn’t previously on there, I set up the company page. And I spent a lot of time putting out the kind of content that I thought would be useful to EAS and certainly what I felt would be useful to me. And a lot of it was just as I learned things, I’ve put them up there. Then I’d always had an idea for a group that I’d wanted to have that was exclusively for EAS and pas and VAs assistants at various stages of their career. But I didn’t previously have the time to commit to doing it and making it what I knew it could be. Suddenly we were at found ourselves in a pandemic. And I did have that time. One day I posted on LinkedIn saying, hey, you know, would this be useful to you this kind of group, and within two hours, I had over 800 people message me and say yes, so I took that as a cue to go. Just that afternoon, I set up the group and went okay, well, now I’ve done it. So here it is, come on in. And it’s grown from there. So now it’s 1000s of assistants. It’s a lot of webinars, training sessions. You know, tonight, we have one of our TAs doing a training session on minute taking. We have guest speakers come in. And it’s basically now all about free and affordable learning opportunities for assistance at every stage of their career, and support, because I really recognize that the AAA PA or VA life can be a bit of an isolating one, you don’t always have a team in the same way that other colleagues do. And so it’s kind of your virtual water cooler, a place where you can get advice and support, you can ask anonymous, anonymous advice if you you know, maybe have an exec that is being a bit of a nightmare. And you are in an awkward situation that you don’t know what to do. You can post anonymously in there or you can just post helpful things you found something helpful. Other people will find it helpful.
Jeremy Burrows 19:30
Yeah, that’s great. I’m actually looking, looking up your LinkedIn and your YouTube and everything is pretty, pretty impressive. How do you how do you keep up with like consistently providing and producing helpful tips?
Alicia Fairclough 19:48
The short answer is that I don’t always keep at the moment I’m really behind on videos because I just haven’t had the capacity to do it. I’m starting recording again next week. And a lot lot of that is just, I was settling into a new job and I still have a full time job, I am a full time career EAA. And so there are times where it just has to slow down, I do try to schedule guests to fill in those gaps. So when I know I can’t be doing sessions myself, that’s when I’m trying to schedule guest speakers. And I’m fortunate to have a lot of really good people who are willing and able to present. So we have maybe people like Henrietta Barker, she did a series of three really great sessions on the first one was on the EAC V, and you know how to present the best CV possible. The second one was on a mastering the EAA interview. And the third one was on negotiation, so negotiating tips and how to negotiate when you’re going into a role or for a salary increase and things like that. So it’s a huge variety of topics that you can cover, I take a cue a lot from the questions that I see in the group. So if I see people struggling with things, that’s a pretty good indication to me that if one person’s asking the question, there will be more people who are also wondering, and yeah, so trying to reach out to people, but I keep up as much as I can. But sometimes I just don’t.
Jeremy Burrows 21:15
What is your, what is your executive? Think of it? Or did you have that conversation when you’re in the interview process of like, Hey, I have a little bit of a side gig. Yeah. What was that?
Alicia Fairclough 21:28
He loved it. So uncap, uncapped, work with founders. And so he liked somebody who had a kind of founders mindset, he wanted somebody who had an entrepreneurial mindset. And I think it helps because it means that in a way, I can think like a founder, and that’s what he wanted was somebody who could think, okay, if I were Asher, what would I want to do? If I were the founder of this company? What would I want to see happening? And as somebody who has founded a business before this and founded EA how to, I think it does help you think, in that way, it helps you anticipate needs, it helps you think about, you know, things that might be coming up, or things that other people maybe haven’t thought of? So he really liked it? And the obvious question has always been not every interview I’ve been in, not everyone has liked it a lot of the time. The concern is, how do you have the time to do all of these things? You know, will you be trying to do this in your work time? And my answer to that is, you know, some people play rugby, some people knit, some people swim, I don’t do those things. My life outside of work, as sad as that may sound is doing a lot of AAA how to stuff and, you know, I have a social life the same as everyone else. But you know, I manage my time appropriately. And so I think lots of people have side hustles these days, or lots of people have hobbies and sports and things that they participate in. This just happens to be mine. And I was really fortunate to find a company that embraced that. And so and Zara has a really good opportunity to work with someone who they felt okay, well, if she’s doing these things, she clearly likes to stay on top of what’s current, and it has that kind of growth mindset.
Jeremy Burrows 23:10
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it’s, it’s kind of becoming more and more accepted over overall, but there’s still some hesitancy with some companies. I know, some of the major tech companies even have policies of like, you can’t, you can’t really have any sort of side hustle. But yeah, my philosophy is, listen, it doesn’t matter. Like it’s not it’s none of my day jobs business, whether I watch Netflix on Friday night or record podcast interviews.
Alicia Fairclough 23:46
Yeah, exactly. And, yeah, I do think it’s sort of a, it’s an odd attitude that some companies have towards it, because I think it should be seen as something that is positive. Unfortunately, I now work for a company and did previously as well, truphone we’re really excited about that. I’ve never had a company, certainly not in the UK who had a problem with me spending my time doing this, but I have interviewed with companies where I didn’t get the job. And they were certainly concerned about it and that you know what, it’s just not the right company for me because I don’t want to work somewhere. That would have a problem with that. That doesn’t understand that people have a life outside of their day job.
Jeremy Burrows 24:25
Yeah, exactly. Well, what what’s your what’s your vision for AAA how to like, are you You know, maybe your three to five year plan. What do you want to do with it? Are you wanting to do it full time someday, are you You know, what? Yeah. What do you what do you want to do with your life?
Alicia Fairclough 24:48
That’s such a small question during my life. You know what? That changes daily? I, the honest answer is I don’t really know I genuinely enjoy being an AE, I have worked for myself in the past. And what I will say about that is it’s really, really hard. It’s isolating, and it’s certainly difficult. You know, you are, you are the talent, you are the customer service team, you are the producer, you are the complaints department, you are the finance department, you’re everything you’re marketing. And it’s hugely challenging. And so I really enjoy the security of having a job and having this as something that I keep it something I enjoy as a hobby, and I’m not sure I would get the same amount of joy out of it. If I did do it full time. I think it could happen in the future. It’s not something I’m actively trying to do right now. It’s something that I’m, you know, just constantly growing. And I just look at it as how can I provide value and be of service and do it in a sustainable way where I can still keep my job. And if it hits a point where I can no longer do that, then we’ll blow up that bridge when we get to it. But at the moment, I use a great VA. So Fiona is a virtual assistant who was a member of it, who is a member of EAA, how to she started her own VA business, and she doesn’t VA work for me, which helps ease some of the burden of it. But you know, sometimes I just have to back off and say, I just don’t have as much time and I’ve, I’m always keeping an eye on it. But I put in the time when I have it. And I don’t want I don’t. And long term, it remains to be seen. It’s certainly not a goal anytime soon for me to quit my day job and run EA how to full time. And I think part of one of the places where I get the most inspiration for what to do for EA how to is in my day job,
Jeremy Burrows 26:47
right? Yeah, same here. I you know, I love my my current EA role. And my executive is great. And, you know, I was hired number one at the startup. And now we have 95 people five years in and it’s just, it’s just a fun adventure. And I’m like, why would I want to leave this? Great gig? Yeah, soon? I don’t want to so. But yeah, I love like, you’ve got a VA to help you. I’ve done a lot of automation, like use a lot automation tools so that I can, you know, spend the little time that I do have on The Leader Assistant, Podcast, doing, you know, more trainings are more engaging interactive things with members and less manual tasks that can be done with automated tools.
Alicia Fairclough 27:40
Yeah, and those automated tools, then also, you know, using those apply to your day job as well. And I think there’s just a lot of crossover, I learned things when I’m doing EA how to that I apply to uncut and I learned things that uncapped that I apply to EA how to Yeah,
Jeremy Burrows 27:55
definitely. Well, Lisa, thank you so much for being on the show. Let’s wrap it up with my final question for you today. What makes an assistant a leader?
Alicia Fairclough 28:09
Oh, that is such a tricky one, you could have given me a heads up about what makes an assistant a leader. You know, when you asked me for a leadership, quote, I had two in mind and one of them is that you don’t need a title to be a leader. That was the other one that is not at the start of the podcast. And I think that’s really important that leadership is in your actions. It’s in your mindset, it’s in the way you carry yourself. It’s in the example that you show it’s not in your title. So an assistant being a leader is initiative. It’s an understanding of the company and the people you work with and how to achieve a goal and how to lead by example and not being afraid to speak up and do those things. Not waiting, sitting back and waiting for somebody to ask you all the time. I think that’s what makes an assistant a leader.
Jeremy Burrows 29:05
Well said I couldn’t have put it better myself. How can people reach out to you and find out about you say hi and yeah, connect with EA how to view etc.
Speaker 1 29:20
EAhowto.com is probably the best place to go because it links to LinkedIn and Facebook and my email emails Hi@EAhowto.com So do feel free to say hi, or press virgin on the website as you can. But yeah, eahowto.com You’ll find links to all my various social so if you’re into LinkedIn, you’ll find me there if you’re into Facebook, you can find me there. Find me anywhere.
Jeremy Burrows 29:45
Perfect. Yeah, you’ve you’ve done a lot of work to make it easy to find. Just like you’re saying how you got into Yeah, how to so thanks again for being on the show. Good luck to you and your day job and your side hustle and if for Those are listening. You can check out the show notes at leaderassistant.com/161 Leaderassistant.com/161 and I’ll link to at least use LinkedIn and EA how to website and all that fun stuff. So, thanks again.
Alicia Fairclough 30:16
Thank you so much for your time
Podcast Intro 30:31
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