NextAdvisor Victoria Arnold: "Whatever You're Thinking, Think Bigger!"

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, is Victoria's dream mentorVictoria Arnold is one of the NextAdvisors signed up to advise our community in our Business Advice Programme.

Victoria, is the founder of Homestayfriend and Desk Union, two UK-based businesses with global connections, which she set up in her twenties.

Victoria’s first start-up was Homestayfriend which received the accolade of “Best Young Business 2012” from the Association of Scottish Businesswomen. Homestayfriend is a service offering short-term homestay accommodation for international students, interns and those travelling on business.

Desk Union, Victoria’s second online venture, allows commercial landlords and corporates to register their property details on a platform where growth businesses can browse and book workspace. Desk Union is primarily aimed at small businesses, freelancers, consultants and independent professionals looking for cost-effective workspace.

Victoria is ready to start advising you on your business. For more details on The Business Advice Programme and to sign up, click here

At the end of 2013, Victoria announced the launch of Hubcreate, an exciting collaboration designed to create, manage and market the transformation of workspace for businesses of all sizes. Combining business and technological elements, Hubcreate offers a turnkey solution for workspace development.

Victoria is also a mentor for the Power of Youth Scotland. The Power of Youth bridges the gap between the entrepreneurs of the present and the entrepreneurs of the future.

TNW: Tell us about your current role/venture. What’s at the top of your mind with regard to your business?

VA: I am the founder and CEO of two growing UK-based businesses, Desk Union and Homestayfriend.

With any business, sales are key and are certainly at the forefront of my mind with both businesses.  I am constantly trying to keep up the momentum and ensure the sales pipeline is healthy. For example, on a daily basis my team and I are looking to recruit new language schools in key locations, with which we can partner Homestayfriend. At the same time, we are going after some really big opportunities for Desk Union at the moment which involves us targeting large corporate clients. With these kind of clients, lead times can be long; a slow burner if you like, so it is vital that I keep on top of my relationships, nurturing them and keeping in regular communication with the decision makers.

I have found that during prosperous periods of significant growth, it is all too easy to become complacent. You never know what’s around the corner.

The challenge lies in continuing to push yourself forward even when everything seems to be going so well.

TNW: Which business topics are you most interested in providing advice on?

VA: I think I can bring the best value to young, enthusiastic entrepreneurs. I began my journey at Entrepreneurial Spark, an intensive five month business accelerator programme, so I can certainly relate to the everyday trials and tribulations that come with entrepreneurship. Business growing pains can be tough, I know all too well! 

I am also interested in providing advice around workspace and commercial real estate. Although I am a co-working enthusiast myself, I completely accept that some businesses need to begin at home, or even in the evenings once that 9-5 is out of the way. I set up Homestayfriend whilst still in full-time employment, so I know what it’s like working from the kitchen table whilst having very little free time!

Time management becomes particularly relevant when running multiple businesses and I will put my hands up and admit that this is something I struggled with initially. Now I understand the importance of spreading time equally across businesses, as well as the value of ‘me time’.

Building effective teams is also an area of expertise. In fact, we are just hiring again. I am lucky enough to have an amazing team across both businesses, a team that I trust wholeheartedly. For example, last week I flew to Washington DC for four days and left both businesses in their capable hands.

Sometimes it is hard to let go but if you have the right team by your side it makes it a lot easier to sleep at night!  

TNW: How should a NextAdvisee approach their relationship with you, to get the best out of you?

VA: I conduct a lot of my meetings via Skype so I would suggest video calls will help us to develop a connection as quickly as possible. From an initial call I suggest setting goals and then catching up on a regular basis – be that weekly or monthly. I am based in Edinburgh and I work in London frequently so face to face meetings might sometimes be possible, depending on where the advisee is based. I like to keep it friendly and casual.

TNW: What do you see as the benefits of an advice relationship, for the advisor?

VA: Being an advisor benefits me a great deal.

I feel at my most inspired and enthusiastic when I hear about other people’s aspirations and goals.

It allows me to take a step back from my businesses and adopt a different perspective. There have been times in the past where I have come away from a mentoring session with a completely new take on a problem I was faced with, even though it wasn’t spoken about. 

I also think it is really important to keep connected with that start up energy. It is a vibe like no other!

‘Paying it forward’ is a life philosophy of mine and I really believe that you get out of life what you put in. There is always something to learn from every experience whether you’re the mentor or mentee.

TNW: Do you currently have a mentor?

VA: I have a number of mentors who help with different business areas.  When I first set up, I struggled for a while to find a strong, powerful woman to mentor me. It takes time to find the right person for you. I learnt that just because someone is accomplished, it doesn’t mean they will fit in with your ethos, so it is worth taking the time to make sure it’s the right fit.

A mentor doesn’t necessarily have to be in the same industry as the mentee. It is more important that there is a mutual understanding and a connection on the right level. I think you have found the right mentor for you if you feel you could go for a drink with them on a Friday night after a long week!

TNW: Which business matters have you most needed advice on during your career?

VA: I have actually found personal development advice to be more valuable than specific business development advice. Sometimes you just need someone to talk with and get things off your mind. It can be so reassuring to know that others have been where you are, have felt the same things you do and have come out stronger.

Mentors are also fantastic for introductions which help create those all important networking circles.

TNW: What is the most useful lesson you have learned from a mentor?

VA: I was once advised that sometimes the best thing you can do is take a day off. When going through a period of stress or facing big decisions, sometimes the best thing you can do is nothing. Taking a step away from the situation allows you to see things from a fresh perspective.

TNW: Who would be your dream mentor in a fantasy world (they can be living or a historical figure?)

VA: I think this changes over time but right now it’s Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos. His ethos and focus on company culture is like no other I have come across. He’s not only an extremely accomplished and passionate entrepreneur but someone who values experiences over material things. He measures things in ROC (Return on community) instead of ROI.

On my last trip to the USA, I took a few extra days to visit The Downtown Project in Las Vegas where Tony has invested $350million of his on personal wealth to create a community-focused city. I was completely blown away! He’s inspiring on all levels. We were shown around his apartment and even walked through a teleconference meeting with him and his staff (he holds all his meetings in his apartment). It’s like he’s re-created a grown-up’s college campus. Now that’s the kind of place I want to live and work.

We even have one of his quotes on the wall in our office, “Whatever you’re thinking, think bigger”. I think that says it all.

TNW: Is there anything we haven’t asked you, but you would like to share with our community?

VA: Although mentors can become invaluable, it is also about surrounding yourself with like-minded people on a daily basis. Developing a peer network is vital for success and a healthy outlook.

Victoria is ready to start advising you on your business. For more details on The Business Advice Programme and to sign up, click here

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