Getting to know Kara

Kara Birrell is a commercially savvy problem solver with a true passion for profit. In all previous roles, she has been responsible for business operations and driving income and results. Grab a coffee and take a couple of moments to get to know her better. Kara joined The Passionate PA in August 2022 and is based in Southampton.

Getting to know Kara

Alarm goes off at:
7am in the winter, 6am in the summer, all depends on the daylight available. I don’t really like walking my dogs in the dark, I can’t see the rabbits and deer that they could end up chasing!

Start the day with:
Cup of tea whilst catching up on emails and social media, then horsey chores and out for a dog walk.

Where do you do most of your work?
An ideal week comprises of 3 days in my clients’ offices or out and about with them, and the other 2 days working from home.  I like to work face to face with clients on ‘the shop floor’ to get a full picture of how their business works so I have a full understanding when I head back to work from home of what is needed to help them achieve their goals.

What sectors do your clients operate within?
A selection of creative and highly skilled sectors, as well as consultancy services too.

Best part of your work:
I treat all businesses that I work with as if they were my own.  I am passionate about helping turn clients’ passion into profit and I get a real buzz from assisting with a business’s growth, both in terms of turnover, but more importantly, their bottom line.

Worst part of your work:
Not being able to stop. I can be like a dog with a bone when I take on a new challenge, I won’t stop until I find a solution!

Clients you add most value to:
Sole traders whose passion turned into their growing business. Often these business owners are uber talented in what they do, but lack the time, or skills, to focus on the essentials in the background of their business. That’s where I come in to create really valuable partnerships.

After work you’ll be:
Walking my dogs or horse riding out in the New Forest with friends, which may include a stop at the ice cream van, pub, or both on a summer’s evening!

Why a franchise with The Passionate PA and not go it alone?
I have done similar work alone in the past, but I missed the camaraderie of working in a team. I have always been a people person and enjoy being able to share the highs and lows with understanding colleagues. It is also great to be part of a growing business and having the chance to learn all the time. When you work on your own, you can be guilty of becoming somewhat stagnant without having the drive to move with the times, which is essential in business.

The Passionate PA really struck a cord with me with their similar ethos of wanting to go above and beyond expectations when it comes to helping businesses… but of course always with that commercial eye on our own operations too.

What did you do before:
I had a long career in hospitality, reaching the pinnacle at Head of Operations for a hotel chain. This career gave me a wide range of skills that are easily transferrable to all sectors. With hotels struggling to reach a mere 4% net profit, it has given me a real figure focused view on business, finding the fine line between making a healthy profit without losing the quality.

Favourite drink:
Bubbles, ideally a chilled bottle of Veuve Cliquot, but any Champagne or Prosecco is still good with me.

Favourite location for a business meeting:
Probably on the terrace at The Balmer Lawn Hotel. This is a hotel that I used to manage and one that I am still very fond of, plus it’s great to have the chance to catch up with some of my ex-colleagues whilst I am there.

What are you reading?
I struggle to read unless I have unlimited time to finish the book from the moment that I started it. This means that books are usually only a holiday treat for me, I almost read a full library during lockdown!

Your guilty pleasure:
Rock music. I have always had a very eclectic taste in music, anything from opera to hard rock. As I’ve got older, I seem to have become more of a rock chick, I love going to live music gigs, surrounded by fans that are more than half my age, with a fellow rock chick friend (not my partner, he really doesn’t share this guilty pleasure!).

Favourite hobby/past time:
Dog walking and horse riding, getting out in the beautiful New Forest. As much as house prices in the New Forest are somewhat out of my reach, this beautiful National Park is only a very short car drive away (I could actually walk there if I felt inclined!). I feel blessed to live where I do and take every opportunity that I can to be out there to enjoy it, rain or shine.

Most inspirational/influential person in your career:
I think this has to be a previous boss and hotel owner, Chris Wilson. He always seemed to have more faith in my capabilities than I had at the time. He always filled me with the confidence I needed to take on the many daily challenges I faced whilst managing his hotel.

Although, I think that I may have now found a new ‘most inspirational person’ in Kate with her endless positivity.  I thought that this was a trait of mine, my glass is always half full (unless it’s a Champagne glass, then there is always room for a top up), but I think Kate may well challenge me on this!

Favourite animal and why:
It’s a close one between horses and dogs for me, but I think dogs win for the supply of the endless unconditional love that they offer. They are always so pleased to see you! Horses, on the other hand, are only really pleased to see you when you have a bucket of feed in your hand. I currently have 3 rescue dogs, 2 from Italy. I found one of them whilst on holiday and after a Prosecco or two, I made the crazy decision to bring her back to the UK, bearing in mind she was heavily pregnant at the time! That was a logistical challenge to say the least, but 3 months later she arrived on my doorstep, 4 of her puppies arrived a month later and now all have fabulous homes with my friends across the UK.

Greatest contact/supplier that deserves a plug:
Peter Holding, All Parties and Events. I have worked with Peter over the past 10+ years at different venues that I have managed. I have watched his business evolve into more than being just a DJ as he took on supplying photobooths, event AV and much more. He is always great to speak to for advice on all things music and lighting in all areas of events and properties. He has always been very generous in supplying his services free of charge for charity events, along with my birthday parties too!

Your business plan for the coming year:
To find a base of clients who have a real passion for their business, who would benefit from the addition of my ‘passion for profit’ to help their business thrive.

You can find out more about Kara by clicking here! Or, give her a call – she does love a natter!

Further blogs from The Passionate PA: 

From humble beginnings to Business Owner

Kara is our Passionate PA based in Southampton. She joined us in August 2022 and, after her first 6 months in business, has decided to share her story in the hope it may inspire others. With a 30 year career in Hospitality, Kara wondered whether there would ever be life beyond the sector for her and whether a franchise really was the springboard she needed…

Grab a cuppa, in this blog Kara shares her personal story in her own words.

From humble beginnings to Business Owner

My World of Work

My career started early, at the age of 14, washing dishes at a local hotel. Not long after starting this role, I was promoted to a weekend waitress which was when my love for hospitality started.

I went to university to study Hotel Management, where I learnt the fundamentals of running a business where success is dependent on hitting margins.

Throughout my career, I learnt far more than my university qualification covered though; the complexities of recruitment and HR, marketing, rate strategies, property management and compliance, to name but a few.

I worked my way through the ranks to eventually become a Hotel General Manager, and finally, the pinnacle of my career as Head of Operations for a group of hotels. If I am honest, my love of hospitality dwindled towards the end. I was running out of challenges, something that I thrive on. I was earning a good salary, but had no experience in any other industry, how could I find another career, with similar earnings, with such a specialised CV?


Seeking New Challenges

I had looked at franchises in the past, but none appeared to offer the challenge I was seeking or offered a comparable take home pay. They looked to me like they were recruiting for another ‘number’ – I have too big a personality for that sort of role!

A post from The Passionate PA popped up in my social media and sparked my interest, so I took a further look. The bespoke services offered, along with the ethos to ‘go above and beyond’, really struck a chord with me.

I booked a Discovery Call but, unfortunately, it was at a time when my team at the hotel needed me the most. Sounds crazy, I know, but my team were like family to me. We were in the process of adjusting to a post-Brexit/mid-Covid world and the ship needed a captain!

I cancelled that call with Kate to stay where I was needed.

A year later, and the time had finally come for the career change I had been craving. The Passionate PA had remained in the back of my mind. I am a people person, but I wanted to be self-employed. I didn’t want to ‘go it alone’, especially in a business I had no experience in, I wanted to be able to share my highs and lows with understanding colleagues. More importantly, I still wanted to learn, especially now that we live in an ever-evolving digitalised world with so many remote and hybrid options.


Getting The Full Picture

After further research into The Passionate PA, I sent another enquiry to Kate for more details. What I really appreciated was how there was no quick sell, quite the opposite in fact. She tells me now, she got very excited as she’d remembered my CV from a year earlier – but I didn’t know that at the time!

My Discovery Call with Kate finally took place, and she gave me a clear picture of what taking on this franchise would entail – both as a business owner but also on a personal level. I loved how easy Kate was to talk to, down to earth but incredibly informative. I felt I would be in very safe hands!

Kate suggested I researched other options and that I spoke to her Franchise Advisor, Ian Bradley too. He also suggested I be thorough in my research not just about this particular franchise, but about what becoming a franchisee would entail.

At Kate’s invitation, I also spoke to a couple of existing Passionate PA – the longest standing one and the newest, a great mix for honest feedback. The longest standing franchisee had a similar start to her career as I did. She assured me that my skills in hospitality management were easily transferable to this new career… she has since been proven right!

The ‘recruitment process’ was reassuringly thorough, it wasn’t just about whether I wanted to join this franchise, it was also about Kate learning about me to be 100% sure we could work together to build the business I desired.

This was a huge leap for me, I understandably had reservations and endless questions, all of which were answered fully and promptly by Kate.

We then met in person for lunch and it was like I had known Kate all my life! I imagine it was almost an interview process, but it felt far from that. We talked and ate yummy food. We even hugged at the end!


The Awaited Offer & Starting Training

A few days later, I was delighted to receive a franchise offer – I was going to join THE team of savvy business professionals! Woohooo! And what a relief it was to receive this news as I had already made my mind up that this was definitely the right move for me.

Once I was signed up, the online training started. This was broken down into easily digestible modules, with weekly Zoom calls with Kate to discuss any questions I might have.

The highlight of my onboarding was my Launch Retreat at a beautiful AirBnB. As much as this involved many 121 masterclasses and a professional photoshoot, it certainly didn’t feel like ‘work’ as it was fabulous to get to know Kate better, sample her delicious cooking and I got to meet a few of the other Passionate PAs too as they joined us for a training day.


Time For Clients

And then it was down to business! Getting started in my new career was nerve wracking, I was worried that I wouldn’t find clients quickly enough and I even considered getting a weekend job. But Kate assured me that I didn’t need to worry… “hold your nerve” she used to say, and she was right!

There were soon enquiries from potential new clients, and Kate initially joined me on my introductory Zoom meetings for reassurance. It wasn’t long before I was at capacity with Kate drip feeding me leads over the next few weeks.

Kate quietly let me learn to fly solo, but she continues to be there when needed, always checking whether I need more clients, whether I need any support, along with listening and advising on my journey as my current clients develop. I actually call her my Fairy Godmother – she’s just ‘there’ whenever I need her and always seems to have the right answer or question for me.


Team Spirit

I really enjoy our monthly ‘Biz Dev’ team calls, seeing the full team together, hearing how they are getting on, along with our continual training from Kate. I also love the special face to face masterclasses with overnight stays – the team spirit is just wonderful. Such a fun bunch of ladies to socialise with, and learn with, I feel truly honoured to a part of this team!

It is fabulous that we all have our own individual skill sets and personalities, which Kate fully appreciates when dealing with client enquiries. Her role is to match the client enquiry with the right Passionate PA. But, she also relishes the opportunity to really help each Passionate PA create their own version of success too. I, for example, want a full-time business with project work in the financial arena. Other Passionate PAs want part-time, others focus on completely different skill sets to me. That’s what makes The Passionate PA so unique for clients and for franchisees – there is no one size fits all.


Looking Back

I genuinely thought I would miss my previous career, it had been my life for over 30 years but, I honestly haven’t once looked back. I have a thriving business, clients that challenge me every day (in a good way!) and I’m earning more than I was in my last employed role – with scope for more as my business grows and develops.

I am eternally grateful that Kate has given me this opportunity, I never thought work could excite me this much… oh how wrong I was!

You can find out more about Kara by clicking here!



Further blogs from The Passionate PA: 

Making numbers simple for business owners

Kara Birrell is our Passionate PA based in Southampton. She joined us in August 2022 after a 20+ year career in Operations Management and Hospitality.

Kara has always had a passion for numbers… more specifically, profit! In all her previous roles, she has been responsible for margins and, in the hospitality sector where margins are notoriously tight, Kara relished the challenge of not just knowing the numbers herself but inspiring those around her to care about them too.

In this blog, Kara shares her top three tools for making the numbers in your small business simple and meaningful.


Making numbers simple

Everybody knows it’s vital to have a handle on their business’s numbers, but why? How can a small business owner with responsibility for everything from service delivery to marketing, IT to strategy planning, be expected to know one end of a P&L from another?

I get it. And here’s the truth… a lot of people do not understand their numbers.

However, getting a handle on them at an early stage will be the difference between a profitable business that allows you to live the life you desire, and a self-employed “job” where you become trapped.

In my many years of working in hotels and restaurants, and running my own hospitality consultancy, it was very common to find business owners who ran their business finances from their bank account. But this is just a daily snapshot of where your business is, it doesn’t give you a full picture or a forecast for what’s to come.

It is vital that all small business owners have their finger on the financial pulse to:

  1. ensure that they can afford to pay their bills when they are due
  2. ensure they can pay staff and freelancers for the value they are adding to the business, and
  3. (most importantly) ensure the business is actually making a healthy profit.

As a small business owner or sole trader, you might well be thinking I don’t need big profit margins – just enough to pay yourself is plenty?

But, hold up… what about planning for your future and the growth of the business, paying taxes and saving for a rainy day – that will require investment and nobody wants to be a busy fool!

As much as financial reporting may well be seen as ‘over kill’ for a small business, it can be a doddle. I promise 😉

Here’s a simple guide to a few basic financial reports that are easy to produce in excel yet essential for the success of your business.

TOOL #1: Sales Forecasts

This is a simple projection of what business you currently have secured on your books or in your sales pipeline, and then what further sales you hope to make.

‘Secured’ means deposit paid, full amount paid or purchase order received.

‘Hope’ means exactly that; you think it’s going to happen based on an intelligent estimate, but there is absolutely no guarantee yet.

A simple excel spreadsheet with the months listed at the top, and then your projected sales figure underneath is all you need. All your figures should be excluding VAT, if this is applicable to your business.

Top Tip: It’s great to look back on your forecast at the end of the month to see how close your forecast was. This review, which should only take a few moments, will give you a good guide as to how much you understand your sales pipeline. If both figures are very similar, you’ve nailed it!

TOOL #2: Cashflow Forecast

Simply put, your cashflow forecast will give you an indication of how much you should have in your bank at the time when bills need to be paid.

Again, a simple excel spreadsheet will suffice with your outgoings and actual/anticipated income in different columns.

Top Tips: Your sales forecast will help with your income figures, but you also need to take into account the following:

  • If you don’t take payment at the time of the service/sale, put in strict credit control procedures and make sure that your customers are fully aware of your payment terms before the service/sale is agreed. Make sure you have a procedure for chasing payment when it’s overdue!
  • Negotiate good supplier terms. Make sure there is no big difference from when you pay your suppliers, to when your customers pay you.
  • If you need to hold stock, it is vital that this is tightly controlled with regular stock takes. Cash in the bank is far better than products in your stock room. It’s a fine balance to get stock in at the right time, at the right price, while avoiding having cash tied up in it.

TOOL #3: Profit and Loss Account

You can easily produce a basic monthly profit and loss account for your business. The point of this is to understand your profit margin. In simple terms, it is your turnover less all your expenses and you want it to be as high as possible otherwise your business may not be viable.

A simple guide:

Once you have the above reports in place, it should give you a far better understanding of how your business is performing on a weekly or monthly basis. Doing this review yourself also means there are no nasty surprises at the end of the year from your accountant.

Making margins matter

Now that you have a way to track your numbers, you can ask yourself whether your margins (gross and net profit as a percentage of turnover) are close to your industry’s recommended margins.

A quick Google search will tell you roughly what these are, but a great accountant will also be able to advise.

If your margins are far higher or far lower than your industry’s recommended figures, then it’s time to dig a little deeper into your numbers…

  • Can you control your spending?
  • Can you cut supplier costs?
  • Is it time for an efficiency review?
  • Can you increase your selling price, without over pricing yourself against your competitors?

Numbers are the life blood of any business. People only really find them boring when they haven’t fully understood their importance. It is essential for any successful business owner to know where their numbers are likely to be at any given time and these tools should help you do that.

If you would like help in setting up these financial reports for your business, or digging deeper into the numbers to determine what they really mean for you, then please get in touch. Profit is my passion so I would love to help!

You can find out more about Kara by clicking here!

Further blogs from The Passionate PA: