Black History Month & Virtual Assistants – Celebrating Tara Spencer
A seasoned pioneer in the VA industry, Tara Spencer has been an Executive Virtual Assistant for over eight years. Tara has kept a full client roster for many years, with most being long-term clients. She is sought out for not only her abilities, but also the manner in which she runs her business. After reading Tara’s interview you’ll understand why she is the epitome of professionalism and what many VAs aspire to be.
Q. Please share some of your background so our readers can get to know you better.
a. I began my VA journey in November of 2012. I left my position with the American Psychiatric Association to be a stay-at-home mother. I wanted to supplement my family’s income and still have the flexibility to be with my children physically. I partner with entrepreneurs, thought-leaders, c-suite executives, and consultants to provide them executive-level assistance. I have over 20 years of administrative experience; and have worked with executives at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, American Psychiatric Association, and the United Negro College Fund.
I’m originally from Southern California. I lived in the DC and Northern VA area for 18 years. I currently live just outside of Atlanta, GA with my family.
Q. Why is Black History Month important to you?
a. I absolutely LOVE Black History Month! I plan weekly events for my children to ensure that they are aware of how unique our ancestors were, and how proud they should be of their heritage. For the past two years, I’ve also assisted in planning a special event day at our church to honor our African American heritage. We have special guests and show our pride by wearing African garb.
It fills my heart with joy to see all of the highlighted imagery from great historical figures during the month of February. Saluting Black excellence at any time is wonderful, but this is not just a month for African Americans to acknowledge historical figures and accomplishments. We must also see this time as an opportunity to recognize the deep-seated racial issues that continue to plague our nation. There is an immense amount of atonement, and change that needs to be done in order to achieve true equality for everyone who calls America home.
As a nation, we must never become disengaged from this month of celebration and reflection. African American history should be pushed and accessible to a wider audience. My ancestors have played such a vital role in the larger narrative of America. If we are a diverse nation as we proclaim, we should all be having conversations about African American history, no matter how painful or uncomfortable. We should all be celebrating black excellence, and the triumphs we have made through the struggles of my people because it is a major component of our American history.
Q. Is this year’s Black History Month more significant to you? If so, why?
a. Yes, it is extremely important now as America’s willingness to acknowledge and repair centuries-old injustices and inequalities such as the growing racial wealth gap, police brutality, access to affordable housing and healthcare, and discrimination in the workplace and higher education is ripe.
In 2020, Americans experienced a racial awakening, reaching a crisis point where even those who in the past could have called themselves unaware or were complacent can no longer feign ignorance to systemic racism and injustice. Socially and politically, African Americans are seeing our ancestor’s dreams realized. However, we also watched very vividly as the lives of African Americans, children, men, and women continued to be taken unjustly. The cost and burdens for all Americans was magnified last year.
It’s vital that we transfuse the history of African Americans into all Americans, inclusive of the history that began before slavery. It’s crucial that we recognize the vast array of contributions from African Americans to this country and all over the world, as much as possible.
Our African ancestry, customs, were all kept from us, purposefully. That is unlike any other American experience. The loss and ramifications of such are much more profound than we have time for in this interview, but I believe now more than ever Americans are open to actually digesting where we are as a country with race relations and moving towards tangible solutions.
Q. Why is Black History Month important for all Americans?
a. Black history is American history. I would challenge those not of African descent to ask themselves, “What else don’t you know about the hidden truths of African Americans in history?” It’s important that they seek out knowledge on their own. Yes, ask questions, but there is a wealth of knowledge available on how African Americans have affected our nation, and also how those in positions of privilege have a duty to speak up and enact meaningful change for those who have been oppressed for so long. Black History Month can be viewed as superficial, or it can be a catalyst for enlightenment and the improvement of the American experience.
Q. What or who inspired you to become a Virtual Assistant?
a. When I began searching for options to bring additional income to my family in 2012, I was unaware of the virtual assisting profession. I had not met another virtual assistant. It wouldn’t be until two years later that I became connected with other VAs. During my time at APA, I participated in a new telework program they developed and was one of the first to jump in. I learned from that experience that I performed at an even higher level working from home, without distractions, and found that I preferred working virtually. I don’t think that I could return to working in a traditional work setting. The flexibility to work whenever and wherever I want is a freedom that’s indescribable. It’s a true blessing that I’ve been successful for the past nine years supporting my family on my own terms.
Q. What steps did you take to start your business?
a. It’s comical because I would never recommend this to a VA starting a business now, but I placed my first marketing piece on Craigslist in 2013 and contracted with my first client, who I still work with today.
Q. What has been your best strategy for getting clients?
a. Referrals, and word of mouth go farther than any other marketing strategy, funnel or website. I have not had to market myself, because my clients share their experiences with colleagues and friends. As a VA, it’s extremely rewarding to know that you are valued and that your clients would recommend services to others looking for assistance.
Q. Tell us about your services and what kinds of clients you enjoy working with.
a. I offer remote executive assistance. Most of the tasks under the administrative umbrella are what I enjoy. I am at my best when I can find ways to partner with clients. Yes, they need assistance, but they also need personal support, guidance on best practices and I have found the ability to offer that type of connection very fulfilling.
Q. When it comes to the VA industry, do you feel you are provided the same opportunities as others? Why or why not?
a. Discrimination does exist in our industry, just as it does in every other profession. It begins before an interview or hiring consideration. It’s very likely that I was overlooked while a potential client viewed my profile image or LinkedIn profile; identified that I was African American and that I attended a Historically Black College or University (HBCU). Discriminatory practices touch on every aspect of our lives, many times they aren’t easily identifiable.
Q. What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?
a. That is difficult. I’ve been very blessed with the best clients! They are very kind, respectful, and generous. No challenges there at all. One of the biggest challenges personally and one that I’ve recently begun to tackle is the lack of physical activity that comes with working virtually. Many people assume that because you work virtually that you have loads of free time. Exercising and getting outside for vitamin D just haven’t been a priority over growing my business and now also my duties as a virtual learning mascot for my children. I joined the AVA fitness accountability group and have started several healthier fitness and wellness practices. The group was a really great motivator to help me start on this journey to better health. We have all been supporting each other and it’s been fantastic.
Q. How can VAs individually encourage inclusion and cultural diversity throughout the year with clients and within their communities?
a. Scheduling virtual events throughout the year to ensure inclusivity at your organization, church, or social clubs where there are diverse topics and speakers come in and engage in courageous conversations.
When coordinating these events, be sure to do an assessment of what the goal is for the event? Will this talk or event truly affect change in my organization or my community? How so? When will we be able to show change?
Q. How has the AVA made you feel welcome or how did you know you belong and are valued in the AVA?
a. I felt the value of joining AVA instantly! There are frequent check-ins, not only to share our expertise but to provide free training. That is extremely valuable to me. Everyone on the AVA team that I’ve personally encountered has been very welcoming, responsive, and helpful. The offer to participate in this interview was a wonderful opportunity. It shows a commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Q. How do you want to be remembered in history?
a. I want to be remembered for who I am as an individual. I wear many hats, as a loving mother, a kingdom woman, and an assistant. My hope is that I am honored by my descendants as a woman that approached life with positivity, resilience, grace, and a youthful spirit.
Inspired and encouraged by Tara’s commitment to honoring the triumphs and struggles of African Americans throughout history, culture, and excellence? Want more of her thought leadership? Even if you’re not a member of the AVA you can still connect with Tara.
The Association of Virtual Assistants’ mission is to become the most trusted source of information in the VA industry. We provide resources, education, and training for virtual assistants at every stage of their career, and for clients as well in a like-minded community.