How I learned you can succeed by being yourself

Emily Alexander runs Pair of Hands, a freelance agency providing ad hoc support for businesses.

Emily Alexander, Pair of Hands

Emily Alexander runs Pair of Hands, a freelance agency helping business owners access specialist skills when they aren’t ready to take on an employee. She helps with a range of tasks including recruitment, admin, networking events and operations.

With a huge wealth of experience after working in several industries during her twenties, it was in her early thirties that Emily decided to go out on her own. She created a service to help busy business owners with the essential things they often don’t have time for.

Here Emily explains how Pair of Hands was born, and how she realised that the key to success is being yourself.

A safe pair of hands

“I’ve been running Pair of Hands business service for just over a year,” Emily said. “I’m a freelance operations executive.

“I help small businesses with recruiting for the first time, events and other ad hoc support for small business owners. I’ve worked in HR, Property Management, Hospitality, admin and recruitment.”

Read more: Why quitting my ‘dream job’ made me happier

Emily was working on traineeships and apprenticeships when the idea for Pair of Hands first came about.

“Initially, it was through working with young people at career fairs and STEM fairs in Portsmouth,” she said. “You’d see people sitting behind the desks and they don’t know how to talk to the young people. So I started out wanting to help businesses with careers events.”

It was the face-to-face aspect of these events that sparked the idea for Emily. She knew she was good at communicating with others, so why couldn’t she help other businesses make connections with young people at events like these?

And after working in HR, recruitment, training and the property sector, Emily realised she could help with far more than just careers fairs.

A passion for helping people

What really drives Emily is helping people to achieve their dreams, whether it’s linking up young people with apprenticeships or helping business owners with networking. She also mentors for The Girls Network, which links girls up with women to help guide them in their careers.

“My passion is helping people,” Emily said.

That’s why she’s also set up a redundancy support group on Facebook and Instagram, to help those who have lost their job during the Covid-19 pandemic and economic downturn.

Overcoming obstacles

But although Emily has found ways to follow her passion for helping others, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing.

Emily attended an all-girls grammar school, and although she loved acting and performing, there was much more of a focus on academic subjects.

“We were told, ‘If you want to earn money and succeed this is the right path to go down’. Everyone was a straight-A student.

“The problem I faced was not fitting in with people and I suffered from bad depression and anxiety. I was competing to be a success all the time. A lot of my peers are now doctors or lawyers. It was very high pressure.”

Shifting focus

That pressure didn’t disappear when Emily left the school and went off to university. She had always worked hard, whether it was a part-time job in a book shop or working for a letting agency while she was doing her degree.

“I always wanted to have my own house, that was the focus. I was thinking ‘I must have a job, I must earn money, I must be career-focused’. That was the last ten years.

“But we are human beings, not human doings.”

Being yourself

Emily has since come to realise ‘you can make a difference by being yourself’.

“It was my last role [in the apprenticeship team] that I realised I was more confident meeting people and representing a business as myself, rather than sitting behind a desk all day.”

Now Emily does a job she loves and can call the shots as she’s running her own business. She can offer her skills and passions to businesses on a freelance basis, and she always makes sure she’s the right fit for her clients. Plus, working with lots of different businesses on an ad hoc basis means no day is ever the same.

“The variety keeps it interesting,” Emily said.

Ask questions and love what you do

After going out on her own and following her passion, Emily has the following advice for those embarking on their career.

“If you’re not sure about something, find people who do it and ask questions,” she said. “Most of the time they will be happy to give you the answers.”

And on what she’s learned from her own career journey, Emily said: “Enjoying what you do is much more important than the paycheck.”

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