Your Consultation Will Make You or Break You

Your Consultation Will Make You or Break You

Without a proper consultation process in place, you’re going to lose more clients than you get.

A proper consultation process is one of the ways you demonstrate your competence and professionalism to clients.

When everyone else is lamely giving 15-30 minute consults, a thorough consultation system turns you into a standout and gives you competitive advantage over everyone else.

Plus, if you want more monthly retained clients (where you get paid a higher fee for your ongoing monthly support), you simply must have a much longer, deeper conversation; 15-30 minutes just doesn’t cut it.

A good consultation system helps you set the proper tone for the business relationship moving forward so that clients take you and your business seriously and understand that they’re dealing with a business, not an employee.

It’s also going to instill greater trust and confidence in them by virtue of seeing that you conduct things in a proper business manner. It shows them that you know exactly how to expertly glean from them the info you need to determine how to best help them and where to start. This reassures them that they are dealing with a competent business professional who is going to handle the relationship and work you do for them just as professionally.

A thorough consultation helps you better identify how you can help each potential client and helps you get more of your ideal clients.

So, if you don’t have a consultation system in place, if you’re not sure of yourself when it comes to conducting consultations, if you’ve been lacking confidence and want to walk potential clients more assertively through that initial conversation, be sure to check out my client consultation guide:

Breaking the Ice: Your Complete Step-by-Step System for Confidently Leading the Consultation Conversation and Turning Prospects into Well-Paying Monthly Clients Who Can’t Wait to Work with You.

This is my own proprietary system I’ve developed and honed over 20 years in this business.

In this guide, I’ve packaged my entire step-by-step process for you in an encouraging, easy to follow plan that tells you exactly how to structure the entire process — before, during and after.

My success rate with this system has been out of every 10 clients who go through my consultation process, I have my pick of 8-9 of them wanting to work with me.

And colleagues who have followed my process often tell me how impressed their prospective clients were and how it made all the difference in those clients choosing to work with them.

Knowing how to do something is half the battle. This guide will help increase your confidence ten-fold and take all those nervous jitters that come with not really knowing how to proceed with this all-important conversation.

Accepting Electronic Payments with Viewpost

Last year, Intuit discontinued its Intuit Payment Network (IPN), which was a convenient way to collect payments from clients inexpensively (only 50 cents per transaction).

Plus, even though it was a great option for receiving payment electronically from clients, there were some minimum financial benchmarks to meet in order to qualify for the service so it didn’t work for everyone.

Paypal is a handy, extremely easy-to-use backup and while any fees you pay are a business write-off (so I don’t sweat them), it still would be nice to have another IPN alternative.

So I was definitely interested when I received an email from my bank about a third party service called Viewpost.

I haven’t used it yet, but I have signed up, which was very easy to do. Here’s what I can tell you so far:

  1. It works with any bank in the U.S.
  2. There are no minimum financial qualifications or balances to meet to sign up and use the service.
  3. You can invoice anyone for free using the ViewPost invoice service. (Aside: I prefer my own custom, fully branded business invoices inside Quickbooks so I won’t be using this feature. I consider invoicing both an accounting and marketing function, and I’m VERY particular about how all of that is done and looks. While you can upload your own logo in Viewpost, their invoicing isn’t very sophisticated or customizable beyond that so it’s a no-go for me. However, I was informed that the service is compatible with Quickbooks if you like to automate the bookkeeping portion of it.)
  4. Clients can pay with bank account or credit card (all my clients prefer credit card because their payments to me earn them a significant amount of travel miles, hotel and cashback rewards). During the sign-up process in Viewpost, you’ll also have the option to sign up with Stripe which is the service that will give you the additional functionality of accepting credit card payments. If you sign up for Viewpost only, payment will only be bank account to bank account.
  5. You are not charged for any payments you receive through the service.
  6. For clients to pay you through the service, they will also need to set up an account. However, this is a one-time process and they can then use that account with other vendors as well as for themselves and their own clients if they so choose.

CAVEAT: While you pay no fees for any payments submitted to you, the client is charged 50 cents per transaction. Of course, 50 cents in the scheme of things is nothing; however, on principle, I don’t feel my clients should be charged any kind of fee to pay me. This is a pretty important standard to me so I don’t like this part whatsoever. I would prefer to be the one paying the 50 cents as I feel any fees charged are my business cost to bear. I consider my practice to be an upscale service and would never dream of charging or passing on chintzy fees like that to clients. I’m sure there’s some work-around I can figure out (e.g., reducing my invoice by 50 cents perhaps), though, knowing my clients, they aren’t going to care about paying an extra 50 cents. (But I care!)

All said and done, it’s still worth trying out as it would be nice to keep more of my own well-earned payments myself.

Check them out here: Viewpost

And their pricing page: Viewpost Pricing Info

Better yet, ask your bank if they already partner with Viewpost and ask for their special link/sign-up page as there might be some special advantage to doing that. I received my invite via my bank and there is a special $25 Amazon gift card sign-up bonus right now.

Have you used Viewpost before? What was your experience with it? Any other Viewpost info or tips you can share with us?

Do you know of a similar service that only charges 50 cents per payment transaction?

Let us know!

UPDATE 2/22/17:

Well, this has turned out to be a bit of a no-go for me. It occurred to me to ask about accepting credit card payments. I have most of my clients on auto-pay (where they sign an agreement and I process their payments to me automatically each month), and most of them prefer paying by credit card because they want the airline/travel/hotel/cashback points and rewards. I was informed that you can only accept credit card payments by using Stripe (which the Viewpost sign-up process has you sign up for as well) and their regular merchant account processing fees  (I think they said it was roughly 2.9%). I was also told that it would take anywhere from 2 – 7 days for those payments to actual process and be available to me. And while the bank-to-bank account payments through Viewpost, even though they would only cost 50 cents to the client who is paying, those would also not resolve for 2 days and could take as long as 10 days to finalize.

So that was all a deal breaker for me. Why would I switch to a new system that creates more work and rigamarole (for me and my clients) and no cost savings when I can already have a system in place with the ease and convenience of instant payment with Paypal? Sure, I might pay the same fees to PayPal, but you’re going to pay the same (or more) to any merchant account service and the ease and convenience and instant availability of my funds is worth it to me. Plus, any fees you pay are a business write-off so I’m not worried about them. They help reduce my taxes.

Still, as with anything, there’s always a positive side. Now I know more about this particular service and even though it’s not right for me and my clients currently, there still might be some odd occasion where it can be handy, either for me or for one of my clients.

That’s Not How This Works, That’s Not How ANY of This Works

That's Not How This Works, That's Not How ANY of This Works

You know, we always see these articles constantly telling clients who want to get help from those of us in the administrative support business that they need to instruct us on this, tell us how to do that, yada yada yada… as if how the consultation will proceed, how our businesses and processes work, what we do and don’t do and how we do it are all up to them — like they were hiring an employee.

And all I can do is shake my head as I read these confounded articles and think:

“Um, no. That’s not how this works. That’s not how ANY of this works.”

First of all, clients aren’t (or at least shouldn’t be thinking they are) hiring a trained monkey.

Second of all, if a client is talking to anyone who doesn’t have the faintest idea of her own processes in her own business, that is not someone any client should be engaging with.

The client will be pulling her hair out before the month is out trying to elicit any form of independent thought or critical thinking from the person who is waiting to be told what to do every step of the way.

That’s no help to clients in the least little way.

Figuring it all out or having to tell you how to do everything isn’t a burden clients should need to bear.

That’s YOUR job as an independent administrative expert and business owner: to have your own consultation process that you lead clients through that works to elicit the information YOU need to form a picture of the client and their business, develop a plan of support, and guide, recommend and advise clients on where and how you can help them and the best place to start.

Of course, I should clarify that these articles are always written about “virtual assistants,” not Administrative Consultants.

That’s because people only understand the word “assistant” one way: employee.

So it’s no wonder they are confused.

But this is business — not employment — so they need to be disabused of the notion that they’re running things.

One way you do that is by not calling yourself an assistant in the first place.

They’re the client, not the dictator of how our businesses and processes work. It’s not up to them to tell you how things will proceed.

It’s their place to contact you to inquire whether you might be able to help them, and for you to inform them what the next step is in your process of finding that out and then leading them competently through your systems (as any independent business owner would).

Yet another example of why smart people in the administrative support business do not call themselves assistants. 😉

Best Email Closing to Get a Response

Best Email Closing to Get a Response

Came across this article on Lifehacker that says (among other things) the most effective way to end an email so that you get a response is with “Thanks in advance.”

Very interesting! I wouldn’t have thought that. I always have written simply “thank you.” Will have to experiment with this.

PS: Be sure to follow our Biz: Communication board on Pinterest where I stockpile all kinds of useful best practices articles like this on the topic of communication.

What’s your experience been with your closings? Add your thoughts to the rest of the comments below.

Reminder to Clients: People Are Not Vending Machines

Reminder to Clients: People Are Not Vending Machines

People need human kindness and appreciation. Remember their dates. Don’t grunt requests at them, as if they aren’t worthy of the extra two seconds of time it takes to speak to them in complete sentences. Say “please” and “thank you.” Human beings are not vending machines.

These thoughts arose from a situation in my personal life, but it’s a good reminder for clients as well.

If you find yourself with a client who exhibits any of these disrespectful behaviors, it’s an indication that they may not understand their role in the relationship (namely, that of client, not employer).

Make sure you don’t leave them any room for misunderstanding that. It’s too important to your success in working together and your own personal happiness in your business.

You set the tone for that by marketing yourself as a strategic support partner and administrative expert, not their assistant.

Happy 20th Anniversary to Me!

Celebrating 20 years in business!

I just realized that this month marks my 20th year in business. Wow!

1997 was the year I officially took out a business license to formalize the work I’d been doing on the side for many years.

My husband had passed away a couple years earlier, leaving me a young widow to raise our daughter alone.

Untimely deaths like that make you acutely aware of how short life is, and I knew I didn’t want to spend the rest of mine punching someone else’s clock.

I wanted to earn an honest living using my skills and talents doing good and helping others in their businesses, but I also wanted to have more control over my own life, to be more self-directed. That’s when I set my path toward business ownership.

I’ve always believed that while work can be a great source of pride, fulfillment and purpose, it shouldn’t require you to compromise your priorities or sacrifice what’s most important in life.

My motto is that your business should support and enrich your life, not suck the life from you.

I engineered my business around this standard by being selective about clients so I can be happy and appreciated in my work and setting the policies and systems that give me more breathing room and the freedom and flexibility to enjoy life while taking great care of my clients.

Since 2004, it’s also been my privilege to be a mentor-at-large to the industry, helping others start their own administrative support businesses and shape those businesses in ways that give them more time for life and joy and happiness in their work.

My daughter has now entered her 30s (what?!), around the same age that I started my business. I love that she got to grow up watching — and helping — me build the business and seeing entrepreneurial spirit in action. I’m so proud to see the values of passion, hard work and living life on your own terms instilled in her at a young age.

Happy business birthday to me! Here’s to another 20!

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Get a Free Gravatar to Improve Your Networking and Personal Brand Recognition

Get a Free Gravatar to Improve Your Networking and Personal Brand Recognition

Do you have a Gravatar yet? If not, I highly encourage you to get one right now.

What is Gravatar?

Gravatar (which stands for Globally Recognized Avatar) is a play on the word “avatar” which is a photo, image or other representation of you online. This free service allows you to upload a photo that it then automatically associates with whatever email address(es) you tell it to.

Once you set your account up, your Gravatar will display your photo beside your name whenever you comment or post on a blog, publish articles, set up profiles… a whole host of things.

This helps instantly and automatically identify your online articles, comments and posts on blogs, forums, websites, etc.

This is super helpful to you in your business because it puts a face with a name which makes you more memorable to people (any of whom could be your next potential clients).

By visually branding all your online content with your face, you stick out more. The more your face keeps popping up, the more people start to notice and recognize you wherever they go online.

This helps grow the “know, like and trust” factor exponentially; the more they see your face, the more they feel like they know you and can trust you.

You can upload any image you like; however, I suggest you avoid logos and caricatures. These do nothing to humanize your business.

Stick with a nice headshot. Your image packs a more powerful punch in creating rapport.

And there is no one you-er than you so it’s the utmost in unique and memorable “branding.”

That’s because first and foremost, people do business with people. They notice and look at photos of other people far more than any other kind of image.

It doesn’t even need to be by a pro as long as it’s clear and pleasant: fix your hair, wear something presentable and smile warmly. This will suffice until you are able to get some pro shots taken.

Setting your Gravatar up is quick and easy. You can add as many email addresses as you want and swap out your photo anytime. You can learn about more of its uses and how to do things on their support page.

And, like I said, it’s free, so there’s really no reason not to take advantage of this very handy marketing tool.

Go set your Gravatar up now, then post a comment below to see how it looks!

It’s Not Enough to Love What You Do to Do Great Work

It's Not Enough to Love What You Do to Do Great Work

This is unquestionably sage advice.

If you don’t love what you do, you aren’t going to do great work.

And you’re going to hate doing it.

You can’t do right by your clients or live your best life that way.

But there are two important important ideas missing here:

  1. You can’t take great care of others unless you first take great care of yourself.
  2. You can’t do great work if you don’t set the standards and create the environment that allow you to do that.

Without setting the foundations for these things, it’s inevitable that you will come to dread your work.

In taking care of yourself first, that means pricing profitably, making sure you are charging enough so that you are earning comfortably and your business is sustainable.

You can’t take great care of your clients if you are stressed out about money or constantly preoccupied with needing to make more (because you haven’t priced properly in the first place).

Pricing profitably allows you to do your best work for clients and give them your best attention.

You also need to set the stage to do great work.

That means setting standards and having boundaries, and establishing policies, procedures and protocols that create the conditions to support these things.

What level of quality is important to you as well as your clients?

Breakneck speed is not a sustainable pace. You’ll need to set expectations around turn-around times that give you plenty of breathing room.

What do you need from clients to feel valued and appreciated?

Are those the kind of clients you are choosing to work with?

Are you loving what you do right now? Are you loving the way you are doing it?

What do you want to leave behind in 2016? What do you want more of this year? What do you want do differently moving forward?

Happy New Year’s Day!

Happy 2017

I spent the day cleaning yesterday.

Super exciting, right?! Woohoo! Really living it up over here, lol

Yeah, did a deep-clean of my entire house. Not that it ever gets really dirty because I’m a super organized neat freak.

But it felt good to do a deep dive, especially at this time of year.

It feels cleansing, like preparation, a setting of the stage, a clean slate, for everything I want to accomplish moving forward in the new year.

Bring it, 2017!

This morning, I briefly entertained the idea of inaugurating the new year with a good long bike trek, but it’s freaking cold out there!

I did attend our little beach community’s annual New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge. (Check out the video)

A neighbor joked, “What about the sign that says NO JUMPING FROM THE PIER?!?!” And then added, “Totally kidding, but remember: life needs some wiggle room every now and then.”

These sound like wise words indeed.

May your business allow for lots of wiggle room for life this year!

Happy New Year!

2 Days Only: Apply Your Past Product Purchases Toward Complete System Upgrade

2 Days Only: Apply Your Past Product Purchases Toward Complete System Upgrade

I want to wish you an amazing new year — only two more days until 2017! Fresh starts are always exciting!

This is also the perfect time to make those last-minute business investments to boost your tax credits and increase your expense write-offs so you can get more money back on your tax refund and/or pay less taxes.

Remember, everything you purchase from the ACA is a tax deductible business expense. That means you get to write those amounts off when you do your 2016 taxes next month in January — but only if you get your purchases in by December 31 (tomorrow).

So here’s the deal…

A lot of times, when someone has purchased some of my business-building products and tools individually, they realize it costs them a lot more that way, and they wish they would have gotten The Whole Shebang (Set-03) in the first place.

So every year around this time I give those who have purchased individual products from the ACA Success Store a last chance to apply those purchases toward The Whole Shebang (Set-03).

What that means is, if you’d like to upgrade to The Whole Shebang (Set-03) (which gives you my complete administrative support business system at a fantastic savings), I will send you a credit code for the total amount of all your purchases to far.

You then simply enter that code in the discount field when you checkout, and it will deduct that amount from your purchase.

On top of that, by upgrading, you also get the most current, updated versions of ALL the products you’ve ever purchased.

Now until midnight Dec. 31 is your last chance to do that.

Simply reply to this email and tell me you’d like to upgrade to a full set. We’ll add up your product purchases and send you a discount code for that amount.

IMPORTANT CAVEAT: This offer expires when the clock strikes midnight (January 1, 2017). After that, you will have to pay full price without any credit for previous purchases if you wish to get The Whole Shebang.

Here’s to an AH-mazing 2017!