It’s okay to have bad days, but sometimes it’s just a bad five minutes. When you’re in business for yourself, you will experience a lot of highs, lows, and everything in between — sometimes on the very same day! I would read some inspirational quote and wonder, “Why am I the only one who has bad days?” Of course, that’s not true. But it felt that way. Then my business coach urged me to evaluate if it was a bad day or a bad five minutes.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Melissa Smith, Founder & CEO of Association of Virtual Assistants and The PVA (Personal Virtual Assistant), a virtual assistant matchmaking and training firm. Melissa founded the AVA in March of 2017 and The PVA four years ago and has since written two Amazon best sellers, hosted the Admin to VA Summit, Virtual Business Summit, created an online course, traveled the world in 2017 (16 countries in 12 months), and became location independent.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”? I grew up wanting to be a secretary (back when that’s what we were called). My mother was a secretary, and I wanted to be just like her.
I went to secretary school as planned and was an executive assistant for over 15 years. Then after my husband passed away seven years ago, things changed. We were living in Georgia at the time, but a year after he passed away, I moved back to my hometown in California. I had an amazing job there and was surrounded by family and friends. However, things weren’t going well for my daughter.
The best solution was to move back to Georgia. I approached my boss and told him I had to quit. He said the company didn’t want to lose me. So he asked what he could do to keep me. I told him I didn’t need to be in the office. I could do most of my work virtually. He said, “Okay, let’s do that.” So I started as a remote employee. Then a few months later when new contracts were issued, I felt like this was a “now or never” moment. I decided to leave the company, and I did something I said I would never do — I started my own business.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?
The most interesting stories are about the most interesting people I’ve met. Oftentimes I’ll be at an event or on vacation and I’ll strike up a conversation with a stranger only to make a new friend — something I never did before starting my own company.
Right after my first book came out, I took my dream vacation to Nice, France, for the Monaco Grand Prix. Two days before the race, I was walking around Monaco and went into the Hotel de Paris just to have a look. There was a woman on the phone speaking English. I could tell she was an American planning a big event and something was wrong.
At the time there was a transportation strike and a gas shortage. Having planned large-scale events in my previous jobs as an assistant, my heart went out to her. After she got off the phone, I approached her and asked if there was anything I could do to assist her. She asked me to come to her party! She needed me to be a seat filler.
I went and had the most amazing time and met incredible people from all over the world. Including country leaders, ambassadors, opera singers, artists, business people, and even an American CEO who had just fired his executive assistant and needed help finding a new one. Suddenly, a new client had unexpectedly stepped into my life. You just can’t make this stuff up!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The thing that makes the Association of Virtual Assistants stand out is it transparent and creates a win-win situation for the VAs and the clients. There is a lot of training and professional development that takes place in real time. We support one another in a private Slack community. I’ve always believed in creating companies with personal attention and care. It doesn’t end after someone joins or I match a client to a new assistant. Me and my team continue to support my clients’ businesses in any way I can. In many cases, we become friends.
The best moments are when I watch my clients succeed in a goal or a project they have been working on. I can’t share all the details because I don’t want to ruin the surprise for possible future clients, but some of my greatest moments are when my clients receive their yearly gifts. (I send gifts to ALL of my clients, both past and present, each year). One year I sent out leather journals with a card that simply read, “Your Words Matter.”
This idea came to me after visiting the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin with my son in July 2017. We read letters, cards, and notes written by people, some children, on their way to be murdered, and I was in disbelief. While I hope none of us ever have to write such words again, it goes to show that you never know when what you put out in the world will have a profound impact long after you’re gone. Words of the murdered were literally thrown out of buses, trucks, and trains with the hope those words would make it back to their loved ones. I’m sure none of those people knew then that their words would become memorialized for millions of people to read each year. After our visit to this memorial, I was profoundly impacted as I considered the importance of our words.
The journal gift was extremely well received by my clients, and that gift meant as much to my clients as it did to me. The only bad part was that many of my clients said the journal was “too beautiful” to write in!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
You’re right. In fact, my business tagline is “Because you can’t do it all yourself…” I am grateful for numerous people. One of the biggest contributors to my business success has been Dorie Clark. Through her books, online course, and the most A-MAZ-ING Facebook group you can imagine, I have met business partners, coaches, clients, friends, and became part of a mastermind group. One of the members of my online class was Dr. Aviva Legatt. She formed an amazing mastermind group for several of us. We joked that our mastermind group was on steroids. Dr. Legatt introduced me to you.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
From volunteering to donating to charities around the world, I want to make a difference. I also want others to achieve success and be able to have a lifestyle that is a legacy. That is why I wrote, Become A Successful Virtual Assistant: Learn the Business Side & Ditch 9 to 5. I want to be a part of helping someone else’s dreams come true. From the reviews for my book, I think I’m on the right track.
One thing I try not to lose sight of is that every person matters. You never know who you are going touch at the exact moment they need it. So while I give and volunteer with large structured organizations to make a large impact, I never underestimate the power of one. This was something my parents taught me, and it’s something I teach my own children.
The legacy of goodness I plan to leave behind will not simply be what I have done. The biggest legacy I could leave behind will come from teaching others to enjoy giving back as well.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I launched my Start-Up” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. It’s okay to have bad days, but sometimes it’s just a bad five minutes. When you’re in business for yourself, you will experience a lot of highs, lows, and everything in between — sometimes on the very same day! I would read some inspirational quote and wonder, “Why am I the only one who has bad days?” Of course, that’s not true. But it felt that way. Then my business coach urged me to evaluate if it was a bad day or a bad five minutes.
If you let five bad minutes take over your entire day, you will gloss over everything else and even neglect to celebrate your successes. While I was talking to my coach about my “bad day,” I told him that I had just signed a new contract. He stopped me and asked if there was something bad about the contract. I replied, “Oh, no. I’m really excited about it.” Then he reminded me that I couldn’t be having a bad day. I needed to figure out what I was not happy about and then let it go. I had to stop letting it ruin the entire day.
2. Niching is freeing not frightening. When I hired my first business coach, she told me that my first task was to niche my business. I didn’t understand niching at all, and I admit that I fought her on it. Every time I got to a certain place, she would say I needed to go further. Finally, I got so frustrated and asked her, “How many people do you want me to eliminate?” Her response was, “Everyone who is not going to value you and pay you what you’re worth.” That’s the moment when I realized that niching wasn’t about eliminating potential clients. It’s all about attracting the right potential clients.
3. Being passionate about what you do doesn’t make you money; charging for the value you provide does. I love what I do so much that in the beginning, I was basically working for free. I would make excuses for the people who said they couldn’t afford me. But after I met someone who had a thriving business doing something he cared nothing about, I finally made the mental switch.
I remember hearing his story — he was making a killing, but he didn’t enjoy it and wouldn’t get out of bed unless someone paid his premium rate. I couldn’t believe it! His love and passion for the service he was providing meant nothing. The value was everything. Immediately I knew I had to value what I do as much as I love it.
4. Sometimes getting angry is a good thing. I don’t deal with anger very well. When I get angry in business, I often think I need to immediately change my attitude. However, it has been in the moments of anger that I actually saw things most clearly. It’s how I decided to start matchmaking and why I founded the Association of Virtual Assistants.
I got so frustrated that I was constantly meeting everyone else’s ideal client and not my own. That’s when it hit me. They were my clients first. I simply wasn’t charging anything because I took what I was doing for granted. I only had myself to be angry with, which is a good place to be. I’m exactly the person who can change the situation, and that’s what I did. For the AVA I got just as angry that many clients weren’t valuing VAs and that many VAs weren’t supporting their clients well and giving us all a bad name. I decided there needed to be trusted space for both parties.
5. The path to your success is not linear. I didn’t learn this until much later in my career, and it was extremely frustrating. Coming from an executive assistant background, we do everything in steps, and we don’t skip steps. Ever. When I first started my business, I had a vision for how things would go, how they would look. If it didn’t happen the way I envisioned, I didn’t accept it.
This kind of thinking is detrimental when opportunities are presented. Opportunities rarely show up in flashing neon signs to grab your attention. Sometimes it means doing things out of the order you planned, going down an unpaved road, and yes, even skipping steps. That’s how I came to write my first book. If I had waited to complete all the steps before beginning to write, I still wouldn’t have completed a book, let alone three!
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
The CEO of Robert Half International, Harold M. Messmer Jr. They are a clear trusted source for hiring and their salary guide for admins of all kinds in spot on. However, they aren’t yet addressing the future of work — the virtual assistant. I have created the Association of Virtual Assistants dedicated to the same industry standards, pricing, hiring, and matching for the right client fit with the future of work in mind.
Over lunch I’d love to learn more about their processes for keeping current and continuing to build trust. It’s not an easy thing but they make it look easy! Plus, I’d love to discuss when they might start including virtual assistants.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!