Emma Mills

Name: Emma Mills
Company: Mi-PA
Role: Managing Director

Brief Biography

After leaving university, I worked as a PA for just over seven years. I loved my time as a PA, which I consider a much undervalued and misunderstood role in business. You’d think the leap between PA and business owner would be a big one, but it’s really not. Good PAs display high levels of enterprise and organisation – both of which are essential for running a business. I’ve always been entrepreneurial and saw a good opportunity that I threw myself into with both feet first!

What is MI-PA?

Primarily MI-PA helps SMEs outsource their organisational backbone in the form of a PA. As the pressures of business grow, more and more consultants, small business owners and company directors are using Mi PA. Buying our time means they get more of their time back. Our clients find our PAs an essential frontline support service.

We offer high-class PAs – not secretaries or typists. Our PAs offer a first point of contact, help nurture relationships, contribute a range of skills, can integrate quickly into teams, and offer initiative and reliability.

What’s MI-PA’s proudest achievement?

Being selected to front the national and government-led Business is Great campaign. It is pleasing to be selected amongst an elite group of innovative growth businesses [follow the link for more details: https://www.greatbusiness.gov.uk/more-bandwidth-better-growth]

Being part of the campaign has been great for promotion. I was invited to speak on Capital Radio and there is even a huge billboard in the centre of London promoting MI-PA. It’s perfect for helping MI-PA build our customer base outside of Manchester.

What do you see as the pitfalls when running a small creative enterprise?

I think entrepreneurs and people running new business find it difficult to understand why people who work for you don’t see everything like you do, or share the same level of ambition or commitment. There is no reason why they should – of course staff should show good levels of commitment and engagement – but entrepreneurs can be quite demanding.

Understanding that different people have different personalities also takes some time. It’s a great learning curve but difficult to acclimatise to when you’ve spend so long being so single-minded.

Do entrepreneurs make good managers?

There is a difference between the two. Entrepreneurs make good leaders because of the passion and vision they bring to the business. Managers need organisation and a great deal of people-skills. I’m fortunate because I’ve worked for many years as a PA, which has allowed me to develop my organisational skills. However, it is important for me to have the rights people around me to help balance out the enterprise drive with managerial calm.

How have you achieved strong staff retention?

Two things:

  • Passion for the business. This is not meant to come across as conceited but I notice an increase in activity and energy whenever I am in office. I am so enamoured by MI-PA and the good things we do, I like to think my enthusiasm is infectious. As the business grows, this invigoration doubles and adds to the sense of real, positive momentum. Thankfully my team is very ambitious and react fantastically.
  • Targets. My team are all set targets and KPIs which help keep them focused on their job, understand the importance of their contribution, as well as signal when success is achieved. It’s a great way to instil accountability and motivate employees.

You claim to have an intensive interview process: what makes a good PA?

The definition of a good PA cannot be reduced to simple technical skills. There is a big difference between a secretary and a PA. A good PA is a ‘can do’ person who offers solutions. They think outside the box and always offer a quality service. Essentially a good PA is an extension of the boss or CEO, although the role often doesn’t get recognition it deserves

The interview process is intensive and rigorous because it is critical that we get in the right person who possesses all the attributes mentioned above. We speak with the candidate on the phone in the first instance. Successful candidates move through to a 2nd interview, which is face-to-face. Rather than asking a list of questions and judging the response, we like to use the time to set a scenario that requires the candidate to apply their skills and knowledge. This way we get to judge them in action – albeit simulated.

What are your plans for the future?

Continue to grow the business, including championing both the necessity of a PA to businesses and the importance of the role in general. It’s high time the old fashioned stereotype is eradicated and in its place rises the concept of a solution-driven, hard working, innovative, forward thinking asset.

I also want to keep developing the positive working culture at MI-PA and overall staff engagement

Do you find it challenging to implement HR activities when you are busy chasing business?

Yes I do, but more so at the start when I was completely self-reliant. Now I try to seek out advice form experienced business leaders who act as my informal mentors. Networking events are a good opportunity to develop and nurture a supportive business network. It is crucial that we ensure our policies are up-to-date with legislation.

What keeps/makes you optimistic?

I really love my business. There is an emotional attachment that is near impossible to separate from. It’s much more than just a job. Possessing an entrepreneurial spirit is also a big bonus as it helps me ride through the ups and downs without losing my commitment or getting distracted. Running a business is a scary prospect: there is no blueprint and lots of risk. Yet there is also a sense of immeasurable satisfaction when things go right. Accepting that you are constantly learning – that you never have all the answers – is also a big stress reducer.