In the Spotlight
The latest of Mike Caridia’s interview series
Carmen MacDougall is interviewed by pa-assist.com
Their session encompassed a discussion around the VA Conference + Awards.
(Full interview notes can be seen here: http://www.pa-assist.com/in-the-spotlight - interview extract courtesy of pa-assist.com)
Founder of pa-assist.com, Mike Caridia (MC), talked in depth, to Carmen MacDougall (CM), the founder of the Virtual Assistant Coaching & Training Company (VACT). It was a fascinating interview in which Carmen speaks openly about the challenges and the successes she has had during her life as both a PA and a VA - and why, after 7 years, she has decided to hand over the reins of the VA Conference and Awards to our partners, BeMyVA.
One of the tangible things you are famous for is the launch of the first ever National VA Conference in 2007 and the National VA Awards. Could you tell us how this came about and how well the event and the awards were received?
I can’t take all the credit. It was a conversation with my husband who, I have to say, is one of my best mentors. He’s got a great mind and has been very successful in his own career and as a mentor to others. So, I was having this conversation with him one day, saying I felt there needed to be something to help get the awareness of the VA industry out there.
I realised there was still this question of – what is a VA?
At various PA events, there were always awards for outstanding PAs. I discussed this with my husband, he said “They’re all working from home; no one gets to see each other, and getting people together in this industry will build their confidence and the potential for strategic alliances, and networks?” This was a really great observation - he continued ”Well, go and set up a conference and awards then!” But he said it in such a way that I thought it was my idea – but actually, it was his.
When the great day came, I thought we’d probably be lucky if we got about twenty VAs to the event. We had one hundred and ten arrive at the first VA Conference in Milton Keynes in April 2007.
It just didn’t sink in at first until I realised the success of what my husband had suggested and I and my colleagues and friends had created. I went on running it for seven years.
But now you have decided to take a step back after so many years and you have recently sold on the rights of the VA Conference and Awards to BeMyVA, the leading online directory for VAs – why and do you feel that it is in safe hands?
I met John Palmer, CEO and founder of BeMyVA at the VA conference back in 2010.
BeMyVA became one of the sponsors and John is someone I have the utmost respect for as I could see what he was also doing to help boost the profile of the VA industry by helping VAs become connected to entrepreneurs. I think he has done a wonderful job in creating BeMyVA.
In April 2013, my husband had a slight setback with a complication that had arisen, so I had started to streamline my organisation.
I had a lot going on. I had launched my second VA business, I was managing my training business, the VA Conference and the VA Magazine, It just got too much for me and something was going to fail if I didn’t streamline. I gave up my partnership to the VA Magazine, and I sold my VA business.
I thought about trying to re-launch the VA Conference, it but it just wasn’t going to happen. It was a conversation with John Palmer where I asked him if he knew of anybody who could keep it going because I actually felt guilty to the VA industry that I wasn’t running it.
I thought there are people out there in the VA industry who should be recognised. I sold the rights to John and I am so delighted with what BeMyVA has done with it, taking it regionally as well as nationally, and I’m very excited about what’s going to be happening at the VA Conference this year.
So how are things progressing towards the National VA Conference and Awards in November this year?
I think it’s great that BeMyVA has been taking it regionally because there are VAs in certain areas that haven’t always had the opportunity to attend the VA Conference. The new format now gives VAs the opportunity to be recognised, in their own region, so that they stand out in their local area and not just on a national basis.
That’s actually fantastic for them from a PR point of view. PR is great for raising people’s business profile and for people and their confidence in themselves.
I have spoken to people who’ve told me they have entered into the awards or they’ve become a finalist. They’re very excited and many have said they can’t believe it. It’s just amazing.
I know that the speakers at the event will be fantastic and, again, brining VAs together from all over the country is important because everyone is working virtually. Yes, they’ll be able to network in their local areas, their own business groups, but to get VAs together, nationally, is just phenomenal.
Everyone learns from one and other. You’ll have VAs at the conference who have been in business for different periods of time. Some will have just started, some will be just thinking about it and there will be some who are the veterans of the VA industry who can inspire another.
I know it’s going to be fantastic and I’m very much looking forward to it.
… John Palmer has invited me to speak at the VA Conference this year. So, where the opportunity arises, I will continue to offer my support and continue to drive the VA industry whenever I hear of an opportunity to promote it. I will always be a fan of the industry because it has been like family to me for the last fifteen years. So do watch this space!
Thank you Carmen for making this such an interesting and rewarding interview. We all wish you the very best for the future and I’m certain that the BeMyVA team will do more than justice to the inspiring legacy they have inherited from you, and all the hard work you have done to help develop the VA profession as in the UK over the many years you’ve been associated with it. We look forward to seeing and hearing you at the VA Conference and Awards event in November this year.
(Full interview notes can be seen here: http://www.pa-assist.com/in-the-spotlight)