I travelled the world while running my business: 16 countries in 12 months

1. Hey, can you please introduce yourself?

Hi! My name is Melissa Smith also known as The PVA (The Personal Virtual Assistant). I’m the Founder & CEO of the Association of Virtual Assistants and The PVA. I’ve written two books on the subject, Hire the Right Virtual Assistant and Become A Successful Virtual Assistant. 

What many people find most interesting about me is that in 2017, I travelled the world while running my business: 16 countries in 12 months. After that, is when I began “remote work consulting” – people really wanted to know how it was all possible!

Melissa Smith, Working remotely in Cabo, Jan 2019
Working remotely in Cabo, Jan 2019

2. What motivated you to choose remote working? 

My family is my motivation for everything. I wanted and needed to have a more flexible lifestyle. The perception a lot of people have is that if you’re a woman working from home you have children much younger, say toddlers. When I started working from home, my daughter was in high school and my son was in college. It didn’t mean they needed me any less. My husband had passed away two years earlier and these were crucial times in their lives.

Remote working allowed me to not only be physically present but allowed me to travel to be with my family when I needed their physical presence. All while doing the work I loved. 

Melissa Smith, Dubai, Sep 2017
Dubai, Sep 2017

3. What were your initial months like? Did it live up to your expectations? 

Initially everything was great! It surpassed my expectations and I almost felt like I was “cheating”, although I don’t know what I was cheating on :-). I had been commuting and no longer having to commute was a dream! 

The one thing that really surprised me was how I would dress for working at home. I had told myself that I would wake up each morning and get ready as if I was going to the office. This meant, complete hair and makeup too. After two days of that I quit. It was awful! My productivity was way off. Turns out, to me, it’s the equivalent of being all dressed up and nowhere to go.

Sitting around the house in clothes that I only used to wear to work made me feel anxious. I couldn’t focus. I would never have worn casual or gym clothes to the office and now I felt like I was doing the opposite. My home was still my home, but now it was also my office. I had to quickly find common ground. 

On days where I’m on camera, I’ll certainly do my hair and makeup. I even put on earrings and a necklace. I schedule work appropriate for me as well, lots of calls. Work that doesn’t require the same amount of deep focus. 

The days where I’m not on camera are what I call my “hunker down” days. I put my hair up, no makeup, jeans, or sweats and I crank out tons of quality work because the desire to go anywhere or do anything but work is completely lost, unlike when I’m dressed and made up to leave the house. 

I consider myself like a mad scientist in this way.  I do believe a lot of this mentality has to do with the work era in which I was raised. Back then it was very formal and the year I entered the workforce with my first “adult” job (1995), women were finally legally allowed to wear pants to work. 

4. How did you find remote working roles? 

The first remote working role I had, was created for me – I was the first and only employee to be remote in the company. Due to family circumstances, I was going to be moving across the country. I had been in my role for just under a year and it was my dream job. I couldn’t have ever imagined leaving, but I had to do what was best for my family.

When I went to give my notice to my boss, he said, “We don’t want to lose you. How can we keep you?”. I told him I didn’t need to be in the office to do what I do, I could do it remotely. He replied, “Okay, let’s do that!”. I had to present how it would work to the rest of the office & the people I supported indirectly, and they agreed it could work.

A few months later, contracts for the upcoming year were sent out to be signed. With no business plan and no idea of what I was doing, I decided to start my own virtual assistant business. 

The first year was a joke I can only laugh about now, but things got better when I hired a business coach. I learned about my real value, not just the work I do, and who my ideal clients are. 

I grew my business in the beginning by working with past employers as a contracted VA. After that, I started writing a lot and finding clients on LinkedIn. Once my first book was released, it was a turning point for new opportunities, clients, and ways to grow my business. 

5. What have been the best, good and worst aspects of remote working for you? 

Easily, the best is the freedom and flexibility. It’s important to note that not all remote roles offer the same type of freedom and flexibility, but I would never work for a company or person that micromanages me or my time. 

During my “lunch” time, I took a yoga class or went running. I could go to the grocery store in the middle of the day. I was there when my daughter left for school each morning and I was there when she walked through the door after school.

The worst was the loneliness. I’m not an extrovert but I do love people and missed people. This was what drove my decision to travel the world with a group of other remote workers.

6. What tools do you swear by while working remotely? 

You must have a calendar, video chat, and real time messaging tool.

The amount of time wasted in exchanging emails to schedule a meeting is awful. Particularly if your calendar changes by the minute. I use ScheduleOnce as my calendar tool. Most people don’t need something as robust, especially when they are first starting out. A free calendar tool like Calendy is fine. Remember that you aren’t just saving time on the front end, you are saving time because automatic email/text reminders are being sent as well. The links and documents are included and it places the meeting on the other person’s calendar. All crucial steps.

Video chat is a must. Like most people, I use Zoom. I originally went with Zoom and stay with it because its reliability is second to none. Other platforms have stepped up their game, but when I started they were very unreliable. I would go through the process of scheduling a meeting, just to have it go poorly due to an “unstable” connection. That was unacceptable!

Real-time messaging products like Slack is much better than email. It feels more like texting and you don’t have to worry about the formalities of an email. Additionally, people tend to write more in an email unnecessarily. Email was originally intended to take the place of memos. It was information to be shared and distributed, not necessarily to carry out conversations. That is why real-time messaging is more effective. It’s more natural for the majority of us.

7. Your most exciting/ hilarious experience since you started working remotely. 

Hands down, traveling the world. It was an eye opening experience, not to mention life changing. It certainly helped me in business as well. I made lifelong friends. I had my perceptions challenged. I experienced what others will only read about in books. It’s not for everyone and I’m not one to say that you must be nomadic or location independent if you are remote working. That’s the great thing about remote working, you have options and choices!

8. What is your golden advice to a new remote worker?

Don’t be afraid to do what you’ve never done before. The office routine you had may not suit you at home or on the road. That’s okay! Experiment and find your new style. 

I do suggest keeping a routine which includes when to STOP working. When you have the ability to take your work anywhere you go it can be easy to always be working. Don’t fall into this trap! Don’t procrastinate because you don’t have an office to go into and can do it later. You may not be hurting the company but you will be hurting yourself.

9. How do you see your career shaping up and your goals? 

Wonderfully! I’m very goal oriented and ambitious, and always hit my goals. I don’t always have the outcomes I work for which can be difficult but it’s all a learning experience. If nothing else I’ve learned what not to do. 

Before I started my own business I thought goals automatically equaled the outcomes I wanted. Turns out you can meet a goal and not have the outcome you desire. That can be a difficult thing. Earlier this year I hosted the Virtual Business Summit. I put so much work into it, as well as money. I got in front of some pretty amazing people and they agreed to make time to be interviewed by me. The content was incredible. However, the marketing was all wrong. 

I had met the goal of interviewing high profile individuals, having the content created in multiple streams, getting the backend setup, and launching the summit on time. The outcome of reaching an audience I could assist, recouping my funds, and having it be a “huge success” was not met. In fact, it was a huge failure and I lost money. More than that, I was saddened by all the content I knew was really good (it didn’t come from me. It came from really incredible people!) and yet I didn’t get it out to the right audience.

Around the same time I founded the Association of Virtual Assistants and hit my goal. A goal that took me almost five years to achieve. The outcome was more than I could have expected. We had people trying to join before we were officially accepting members! That was an incredible feeling.

I’m very excited about the workforce of the future, which will be remote. I’m not sure what predictions will actually come true. I’m more excited for what we don’t know yet. It’s like a surprise waiting to happen!

10. How do you expect remote working to evolve in the future?

I expect that it will be more widely adopted by “unlikely” industries. I hear people often say, “My role could never be remote”, to which I usually give an example of where it already has been or maybe there is a beta testing in the works. 

I also believe it’s a great opportunity to educate people. These are exciting times and it saddens me that so many are afraid. They are afraid because they don’t see opportunities, rather observing only losses. I am excited to share how remote working is an opportunity and the positive effects it can have on their lives.

11. Where can we follow you on?

Twitter: https://twitter.com/thepva

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/melissasmiththepva/

FB: https://www.facebook.com/thepersonalvirtualassistant/

IG: https://www.instagram.com/melissasmithva/

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