Military Spouse Entrepreneur Spotlight on Melissa St. Clair

Military Spouse Entrepreneur Spotlight on Melissa St. Clair

Melissa St ClairMelissa Whiteford St. Clair hails from a rural town in picturesque Harford County, Md. Melissa married her high school sweetheart, Matt, upon his graduation from Virginia Military Institute, resigned from a four-year position in a medical office, and made her first PCS move to Quantico, Va. 

Q&A with Melissa St. Clair

What’s your military story? 

My military story: I actually met my spouse in middle school! We began dating in high school, and I married my Marine right after college. We were married on a Thursday evening so we could squeeze in a proper honeymoon before reporting to the first duty station. I have owned my own Virtual Assistant (VA) business for more than 11 years and have been a military spouse even longer. 

Over the course of 29 years, we bounced on various sets of orders and nine deployments from Quantico, Va., Camp Lejeune, N.C., Norfolk, Va., and finally, Beaufort, S.C. Before I started my small business, we opted for two stints of “geo bach” life so I could continue to work. That wasn’t easy, but it worked for us. Fast forward, we are currently on the countdown to First Civ Div as Matt will retire as a colonel from the USMC next year.

Tell us about your business!  

I am the Chief Worker Bee at Paper Chaser, providing online office support for a variety of small businesses as a Virtual Assistant (VA). Paper Chaser was launched during Administrative Professionals Week in April 2006. The positions I held in my past jobs before and after marrying my servicemember were always administrative and always working directly for the CEO of a medical practice or organization. As a Virtual Assistant (VA) I am in business to support other small businesses with their administrative needs, and I work exclusively with solo entrepreneurs also known as solopreneurs, so I am still working directly for the CEO of each individual business. To date, I have moved five times with my business, and while it is chaotic for the household, it is seamless professionally. 

When were you first “bitten” by the entrepreneurial bug? 

I was inspired by the business owners I encountered while working at the Chamber of Commerce in 2006. I gave my notice before reaching my probationary period and told the Chamber President, “You may be losing an employee, but you are gaining a new Chamber member!”

What inspired you to take the plunge and start your own business? 

I wanted a flexible and portable career and with advancements in technology and paradigm shift for work styles, the Virtual Assistant (VA) industry was in its beginnings. I dove in! 

How has the military community and experience influenced your entrepreneurial journey? 

Because household moves are inevitable as a military spouse, I try to reframe the pain points to positives as moves provide opportunities to expand your network and grow your business. I remain in communication with military spouse business owners I have met along the way through social media platforms. I am inspired by military spouse entrepreneurs who blaze their own trail and take time to be involved with the military community.

What’s been the hardest part of starting your own business? 

Working as a solopreneur can sometimes feel isolating. Build and stay connected with a network of other like-minded spouses in both the military and civilian communities.

What resources and programs have you found helpful in blazing your own trail? 

Two prime resources during my small business startup were my professional network and the Small Business Center at Coastal Carolina Community College. I also got a degree in business management. I continue to tap in to local small business and military spouse focused organizations to connect and grow as small business owner. I take pride in serving as a resource for the military spouse/small business community in the role of collaborator, connector, and mentor.

Why do you think entrepreneurship is a good career opportunity for military spouses? 

Entrepreneurship is a great opportunity for military spouses who are willing to do the work, be true to themselves and their profession. The ability to shape and mold a business around your family and other obligations is second-to-none. Innovations and creative thinking serve as the building blocks for business planning. 

How has starting your business inspired growth in your professional life? 

As a small business owner, I continue to grow and learn new innovations to streamline business operations for myself and my clients.  

What’s currently on your radar? Tell us about your latest entrepreneurial project. 

I am fine-tuning a talk on a topic I will be presenting at the inaugural Expert VA Live conference Spring 2018! 

What advice would you give to other military spouses who want to start a business?  

The first step is evaluating your own mindset and skill set. Becoming your own boss sounds liberating, but deep down, you have to conclude whether owning your own business will work with your lifestyle and fit your family’s needs. 

Moving from place to place could be considered a challenge but instead look at each PCS (permanent change of station) as an opportunity to build your network and in turn, build your business. Moves afford the opportunity to meet more contacts and make new connections.

How can our readers connect with you? 

Make a beeline to Paper Chaser’s website Connect on social media using the handle @paperchaserbiz. Opt in to The Buzz newsletter