Melissa Smith, Founder & CEO, Association of Virtual Assistants

In the third decade of the 21st century, we are faced with the technological revolution. What used to be an in-office job or a job that required a single set of skills has become murky waters. Today, with the help of the internet, everything seems possible. Working from home was only for those who couldn’t go out to work or for specific companies that allowed it. Though one is equipped in one field, it doesn’t stop them from picking up skills through online courses. The narrative has changed. Many companies have opted to allow employees to work from home. Many companies have encouraged employees to pick up new skills and even pay for their classes online.

Melissa Smith, the founder and CEO of the Association of Virtual Assistants (AVA), understands this vision for the future. Initially, Melissa didn’t start her business to form an association nor did she know all the possibilities in store for her. She simply wanted more freedom and flexibility that could come from being a virtual assistant. Along the way Melissa realised that many people do not know how to work effectively with a virtual assistant, let alone be an effective virtual assistant while maintaining freedom and flexibility. She made it her mission to educate clients and VAs alike.

As a young girl, Melissa always knew she wanted to be an administrative assistant like her mother. While attending school to be an administrative professional she knew for sure it was her calling.  Melissa didn’t excel in school, but always excelled at being an assistant. Her industry, continuously evolving, ushered in the era of virtual assistants and Melissa quickly embraced it. However, many people didn’t understand what virtual assistants do and how working with one was possible. In 2016, Melissa went on to write an excellent book about it, where she shares her expertise in matching clients to the right virtual assistant. “After my first book was released, my business catapulted, and then another interesting thing happened, virtual assistants started reaching out to me. I had no idea a VA would read a book intended for the client, but they did, and they loved it,” shares Melissa. She started writing blogs and worked on a second book for VAs, then coaching and consulting as well. “My mission is to ensure anyone who wants to hire the right VA has the opportunity to do so whether they choose to work with me or not. This includes the VA understanding who their ideal client is and how to attract them,” she adds.

The Exemplar of Leadership

“I didn’t set out to be a leader. However, I’ve always been very intentional about my work and whom I would consider working for. Working with great leaders was definitely a contributing factor. It was also more motivating to seek guidance from people you respect versus trying not to be like a leader you don’t look up to,” Melissa says. As she entered the workforce, she consumed information in a way that her peers were not used to, finding it as an opportunity to learn more and not as a way of being tasked more. She thought of every boss as a mentor and a resource to learn from. This approach has become a part of her virtual assistant business.  “Each time I learned something, found a gap, or saw an opportunity to share, I made a note of it. I had no intention of becoming an educator, but it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me either. Most of my career was spent in higher education. Now here I am, with my book in colleges, I am now teaching and educating others as my great passion,” Melissa explains.

Today, as the founder and CEO of such an established organisation, Melissa feels that the challenge is always meeting people where they are. There is so much educating to be done, but the person has to be ready to receive. To do this, she stays involved and spends a lot of time listening, and created an advisory board for the AVA to be another set of eyes and ears. To be able to gain more perspective. It took Melissa years to finally consider herself a leader but not for the reasons many define leadership. She defines leadership as creating more leaders, great leaders. Leaders who may surpass her in business. “I saw this modelled in business and in sports. I think about Jack Welch, Dorie Clark, Dale Carnegie, and Dan Gable. What these individuals accomplished was great, but when you think about how they were able to force multiply their ability to lead, that becomes an even greater legacy which lives on,” she informs. The number of VAs she has coached and the number of clients she matched with great success is what inspires others to join the AVA. She shares, “Leadership isn’t about me; it’s always about the person I’m leading.”

Melissa started out in a role that matched clients to the right VA based on communication strategy and ideal client fit. As she gained years of experience, she understood the dynamics, perfected it and went on to write an interactive book about the detailed process. “My successful match rate of 98% is not an accident. I put as much into my VA searches as some might into an executive search because I have selected to work in high quality, not quantity. The turnaround time of my searches reflects the high level of service to meet the client’s needs,” Melissa explains.

At AVA, making a difference in the lives of others is what it’s all about. Following and staying in touch with virtual assistants helps the AVA understand their needs. Each time they reach a new milestone, the AVA celebrates with them. Other significant milestones that AVA recognises are when their work has been identified, be it through a feature in the list of business owners/entrepreneurs, Melissa receiving the Top Virtual Assistant Consultant of the Year award, or having Melissa’s books chosen to be a part of a college curriculum. As a business owner, she learned early on that recognition is essential and keeps burnout at bay.

Maintaining a Sterling Work Ethic

Melissa believes that job satisfaction is very important. “I don’t have a typical day as much as a typical week. Putting too much emphasis on a single day of the week can actually backfire. I see this all the time with my clients. Whenever I schedule anything, I look at my entire week. I intentionally create a life and do work that I don’t need a vacation from,” she explains. Keeping adequate free space on her calendar allows her to reset throughout the day if needed, giving room for opportunities and things to look forward to on one’s calendar.

Being a minimalist at heart, Melissa loves simplicity. “Anytime I can eliminate the need to make a decision that consumes energy but isn’t important, I’ve done myself a great favour. Unplugging from work is easy for me…now. I used to put so many more demands on myself. I’ve adopted the mindset that less is not only more, but it’s also better,” she says. Instead of merely scheduling appointments, Melissa truly thinks about how to schedule for success – this includes unplugging. Putting activities on her calendar naturally allows her time to unplug. When there is a lot to do, with a time of introspection, Melissa finds a way to get work done efficiently, taking lesser resources and time and getting it done to perfection.

The PVA, Melissa’s matchmaking company, sets itself apart from other companies with the level of service they provide, under the guidance of Melissa. “Since the beginning, I knew I wanted to focus on quality and stay clear of high volume. There is nothing wrong with a high volume business. It’s not what I’m attracted to, nor does it fit my lifestyle and business goals. I serve clients who not only appreciate a high level of care and service but are willing to pay for it. You can’t expect the Ritz services at Holiday Inn prices,” she explains.

Sharing Knowledge

Having written two books on Virtual Assistants, Melissa shares that it was a challenging process. Though research came quickly to Melissa, she was terrified of the release and readers’ reaction. She had been writing articles and blogs on the topic for months, turning every client conversation into a study, searching for common questions, themes, doubts, and concerns. Eventually, all this information became an article or blog and finally, it was compiled for her first book, ‘Hire the Right Virtual Assistant’. “Writing was so easy back then. I actually miss that time in my business. Now that my business has grown and expanded, I don’t write every day. On the plus side, I’m no longer terrified to share what I write. Nor do I flee the country when a new book is released,” Melissa reminisces.

Soon enough, the book became popular among aspiring VAs, who reached out to her to thank her for her book. They were using it as a study guide with their clients. “Most of the books on hiring a VA are written by people who have never been a VA. It’s all business and no art. Certainly, they are not resonating with VAs. Being a voice for the virtual assistant industry as an assistant myself is an incredible honour,” Melissa shares. After releasing ‘Become A Successful Virtual Assistant’, Melissa was pleasantly surprised by how current VAs were levelling up their businesses. She intentionally wrote it for the new VA and was thrilled that VAs have been able to apply the business principles at every stage of their career. “The response of both have been great, and both were bestsellers. I still get messages and emails from readers, and I cherish each one,” she adds.

A Woman in Business

Being compared to men who were dominant in business, especially in the VA field and had far-reaching reputations that surpassed Melissa’s own was and is real. “It’s also severely frustrating knowing how much more experience and knowledge I have in this area compared to them. However, I never focused on that because I didn’t want to lead from a place of frustration or anger. I have put the blinders on more than once, and it served me well,” she shares. To young women, she says, “Just remember you are always leading, and someone is always watching – even if you don’t know it.”

Currently, Melissa is working on updating Become A Successful Virtual Assistant and creating some online courses to take soft skills and make them into power skills. “I’ve been asked to do on-demand online courses for years but had no interest in them. My coaching is extremely bespoke, and I don’t enjoy online courses myself. I wouldn’t sell anyone anything I wouldn’t or haven’t bought. These will be different from what’s out there because the focus isn’t on me. The focus will be on the student.  The world doesn’t need another version of me. The world needs the best version of every unique person, and that’s what I’ll be teaching,” Melissa shares.

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