The Heartbreaking Reality for Most Businesses in Our Industry

I came across something utterly heartbreaking a few weeks ago.

I’ve been sitting on it for awhile, going back and forth about whether or not to have a conversation around it.

I never want to discourage anyone from this business or have anyone take things the wrong way. Because if you set things up right, it is an AMAZING business and lifestyle.

However, it’s a cold, hard truth that no one ever talks about in our industry.

And the problem with not talking about things that are uncomfortable, that aren’t all “rah, rah, kumbaya” all the time, is that you can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge.

What was this thing I came across? An ad for a “Virtual Assistant Business For Sale.”

And what is this cold, hard truth I speak of? It’s that most people in our industry are not profitable and not making the kind of money they can actually live on.

You see, the sad thing about this ad is that it isn’t an exception. It’s actually a very accurate example reflective of what most of the businesses in our industry look like.

Now, before I dissect this for you, I first want to make it absolutely clear: It is not that people can’t make more money in our kind of business; they absolutely can! YOU absolutely can!

It’s simply that they are being taught by the industry at large in all the worst possible ways to price, operate and market themselves (like calling yourself a “virtual assistant”). And it’s keeping them poor, overworked and overwhelmed.

The fortunate thing is that YOU always have the possibility to learn better so that your business can do better for you.

And that always benefits your clients because you can’t take good care of others if your needs aren’t taken care of first.

Here is the ad:

The Heartbreaking Reality for Most Businesses in Our Industry

Let’s examine the problematic issues here:

  1. We see that the business has been around for 11 years. Great! After that amount of time, you’d expect them to be earning really well.
  2. Yet in the first bullet we see they are only making £1900/mo (British Pound) which is $2363.98/mo USD. After that many (11) years, why are they still making that little money? Those are poverty-level wages. Did they mean perhaps that this is the average value per client?
  3. Unfortunately, no, we see in the next bullets that after 11 years they have only 1 retainer client at only £350 GBP/$435.39 USD per month. The rest of their revenues come from 15 regular (but uncommitted/non-retainer) clients and 20 ad hoc clients, which I’m interpreting to mean an average of 20 project clients each month. The problem is that at this number of clients they should be making several thousands of dollars per month! I can’t even imagine (well, actually, I can) how overwhelmed and overworked they are… and for such a paltry sum on money! To give some context/frame of reference, I make more with just one of my retainer clients than they make in an entire month from 36 clients.
  4. They also mention having relationships with two typists. This business owner is barely making ends meet at these figures, where on earth is there any margin to pay anyone else? (Answer: there isn’t.) It means that they are doing all this work at a loss! Especially at gross figures that don’t even account for expenses, operating costs, taxes, etc.
  5. This is not a profitable business in any way, shape or form. What has most likely happened is that burnout caught up to them (no wonder!) and they are now trying to unload the sinking ship. But there are no assets of any value to sell here. The clients it has are being charged such an ungodly little amount, there is almost no way in hell to ever reset those kind of expectations. They’ve branded and positioned this business as “cheap” and there is just nowhere you can go with that. It would be faster, easier and less costly for you to create a business from scratch and establish the brand based on properly set foundations and expectations and charging higher, ore profitable professional fees.

Don’t misunderstand me. This examination is in no way a denigration of the business’s owner.

Rather, it’s utterly heartbreaking to me that they have made so little money working with too many clients with basically no commitment and constant churn. I wish I’d had the opportunity to help them early on.

When we talk about these things, there are always a certain number of people who don’t understand why it’s so important to have these conversations.

But bringing this consciousness to the fore is integral to being able to improve things so you can better earn in your own business.

It’s why I’m always talking about money, how you are marketing and positioning your business and brand, how not charging profitably sets you up for failure, about how the expectations and perceptions you create in clients directly affect your ability to charge properly and earn well.

These are the topics that will make or break your business.

It’s this fundamental business education — and not the latest, greatest software or tools — that is key to creating a profitable, sustainable business where you can get, work with and keep great clients (clients worth having who value you, not cheapos looking for a free handout), make great money and that works around and enriches your life and what’s important to you (instead of the business running you).

What could this person have done differently?

  1. Business planning. Going through the exercise of business planning forces you to think through and get clear and conscious about all the important details of your business such as your needs, goals and intentions around money, what kind of clients you want to work with and are worth working with, and what business standards, policies and procedures to establish accordingly.
  2. Getting off the project work merry-go-round. A business based on project work needs a shit-ton of clients and work in order to stay alive. It’s a constant, never-ending hamster wheel of marketing, even while you already have clients and work to take care of in front of you, and you never know where your next meal is coming from. Nothing wrong with project work, but think of it as secondary income, the gravy to the meat and potatoes where you make your “real” money.
  3. Expecting a commitment. Retainer clients (clients who pay a monthly fee upfront for a plan of support) are where the real money is at. A commitment of working together each month allows you to do your best work and gives you something to actually work with to achieve a tangible, demonstrable value and results for clients. But of course, if you don’t ever expect a commitment, you’ll never get one. That’s why it’s so important to set standards in your business around what’s important to you. An expectation that clients must make a minimum commitment to be given a place on your client roster is a standard that will serve you (and your clients) well, even if some of them might not understand that at first. (You’ll have a far easier time getting commitments if you learn how to set up and navigate the whole consultation process and pricing conversation.)
  4. Get clear and conscious about the money. Charging fees based on what you see others charging (who are more often than not just as lost as everyone else) is the worst way to set your fees. It’s not about what everyone else is charging (stop looking at them!). It’s about knowing what your target market values, how you can improve their circumstances with your support and what they gain from working with you, and learning how to articulate that value to them in the context of their business and goals.
  5. Choosing a target market. This business is all over the map when it comes to who their clients are and the work they’re doing. And that is a huge part of the problem. Very simply, a target market is an industry/field/profession that you focus your administrative support on. This specialization is key to making the big bucks. That’s because when you know who it is you are focusing on, you can determine very quickly and clearly what they do in their business and what their common needs, goals, challenges, values and interests are and then develop your support solutions around those things. Your offerings will be much more interesting and compelling that way, and you’ll be able to charge more (because there will be more relevant, specific, higher perceived value) and get clients more quickly and easily.
  6. CHARGING MORE! At the poor fees this business would have to charging to account for so little monthly/annual revenue, it’s a clue that the business owner is not understanding the economics of business. You simply can’t charge rates that amount to employee wages and expect to earn well. Business is a completely different ballgame. It’s why I’m constantly reminding people, you are NOT an employee, you’re a business. There’s also this crazy, but nonetheless immutable law of business:  The more you charge, the better clients you get. And what do we mean by better clients? Client who value you and what you offer. Clients who are invested and make the commitment to working together. Clients who aren’t looking for the free buffet. Clients who are loyal to you and the good work and results you provide them with, not how little they can pay. When you have better clients who make a monthly financial commitment to working together toward established goals, you can make more money working with fewer clients and have more time for your own life in the process.
  7. Stop calling yourself an “assistant.” One of the reasons people have a hard time charging more or seeing their value in a different light (and gaining some business self-esteem and confidence) is because so many of them insist on calling themselves “virtual assistants.” This keeps them thinking of themselves as employees and seeing things through that lens instead of from an entrepreneurial/business mindset. Here’s what you need to understand: Assistant is a term of employment, not business. Terminology (just like pricing) is a part of marketing. How you price and the words and terms you use to describe yourself have a direct influence on how clients perceive you and the expectations, perceptions and understandings they come to the table with. When you call yourself an “assistant,” they don’t look at you as a business owner and advisor. You are teaching them to view you as a type of subservient employee, and what they expect to pay is based on that wrong, harmful perception. When you call yourself an “assistant,” you are predisposing them to value you less, not more.  If you want to be able to charge higher, more appropriately profitable fees, you have to create the proper context. The verbiage and terminology you use directly impacts that context.

I have a couple of complimentary (as in free) business-building tools that shed a ton more light on all of this and will help you course-correct in your own business. If you don’t have them yet, be sure to go get them now.

***

How about you? Why did you go into this business? I’m assuming a large part of it is that you love putting your administrative talents to use and helping clients and truly making a difference in their businesses and lives.

I can’t imagine that it gives anyone joy to be broke and working too hard for too little money. So over and above that, how do you want your own life enriched and improved by owning and running your own business? What are your money aspirations? What does “profitable” and “financially successful” mean to you?

This Is the Most UNhelpful Phrase on the Planet

This Is the Most UNhelpful Phrase on the Planet

It’s up to you. You can do whatever what you want.”

No sh*t, Sherlock. OF COURSE, I can do whatever I want.

What I was looking for were your opinions, advice, ideas and feedback… or I wouldn’t have bothered asking.

Duh.

When someone (particularly a client) asks for your input, they are looking for your personal thoughts, guidance and experience.

Why do you think they should (or shouldn’t) do something a certain way? What will they gain? What are the ramifications of going another route? What might be the hidden costs, issues or benefits?

Step up. You’re the expert. They’re looking for you to lead them, to help them.

It’s up to you” is a lazy cop-out.

***

It’s easy to sit back and wait to be told what to do. But those aren’t the people who create value, turn clients into raving fans — and make the big bucks.

Can you think of an example where you stepped up for a client when it would have been easier to just let them wander in circles by themselves?

Dear Danielle: I Worry About Communicating Effectively with Clients

Dear Danielle: I Worry About Communicating Effectively with Clients

Following up on a conversation I had a few weeks ago with a colleague, Sue worried that her communication skills wouldn’t be up to par.

Dear Danielle:

My background is 25 years in admin. I feel I would be good as an Administrative Consultant, but my worry is effective communication skills with possible clients as in explaining processes, etc. —“Sue

ME: Hi Sue. What kind of processes, in what context, do you worry about communicating?

SUE: Well, any process really. I sometimes have trouble verbally getting things across, so this worries me when trying to explain any processes from CRM to email systems.

ME: How about when it comes to the written word? Do you feel more at ease with that? Do you prefer one mode of communication over the other? Or is it communicating thoughts and ideas generally you feel you have trouble with?

I won’t mislead you. Excellent communication skills are extremely important in this industry. Everything we do in our work involves communication in one way or another. And you can’t be afraid of the phone or talking to clients. It’s a basic necessity for being in business.

That said, the great thing about our line of work and the way we deliver it is that we don’t necessarily have to talk to clients on the phone once we get past the initial stages of consultation and onboarding. Having a weekly telephone meeting is particularly beneficial with new retainer clients and something I strongly recommend during those first 3-6 months of working together. Beyond that, however, you can keep most or even all your communications to email if that’s what you prefer. It’s what I do in my own practice and it works just fine.

I’ve helped hundreds of colleagues over the years with this same issue. New people come into our industry, see others who are more advanced in their businesses, compare themselves unfavorably, and come to the conclusion that they must not be good communicators. They think everyone else they see is doing it so much better, that it comes much more easily to them.

But here’s the thing: with the exception of some naturally talented people, most of them didn’t come out of the gate like that. It’s the result of time spent honing, practicing and improving. Like any skill, communication is a muscle you can build and better and better at the more you practice.

In my observation and experience, nine times out of 10, it’s not that someone is a poor communicator, it’s simply that they’re unsure of themselves and lack confidence. After all, they’re doing something new that is equal parts exciting and daunting, and it’s pushing them outside their comfort zones. It’s natural to sort of trip over things when you don’t quite know what you’re doing yet and are still in the process of finding your feet.

The good news is that these are simple growing pains that everyone goes through and which can be alleviated with a helping hand and good guidance. It’s why I put together my business products and guides in the ACA Success Store. Instead of feeling your way around in the dark, these show you exactly how to proceed with consultations, what to say and do in them and when, how to set up your practice management for ease and dependability, how to price and package your support so that more clients say yes to working with you, and so forth.

Having a plan, an example, a blueprint/playbook, if you will, gives you the clarity to proceed confidently at every phase. This lends confidence to your communications. And each new interaction you have in your business with prospects and clients gives you valuable practice and you get better and better each time. In turn, your communication becomes more clear and straightforward because you don’t feel you are fumbling along doing something new.

SUE: I think that pretty much sums me up. I have always lacked confidence, and when nerves get the better of me, that’s when I stumble. I think this will help a great deal.

ME: I really feel like that’s all it is: new business jitters. Give yourself some credit! After all, you contacted me, a perfect stranger, out of the blue and didn’t have any trouble explaining yourself. Get yourself some of my guides so you have a roadmap to follow, and I think you’ll feel much more confident about how to proceed with things.

***

Are you new(er) in business? Can you relate to Sue’s situation? How did getting some guidance help you find your voice and confidence in your business?

I’m Not Anyone’s Sidekick (and Neither Are You)

I'm No Sidekick (and Neither Are You)

Words have power. They’ve been used for centuries to subjugate others and keep them in their place.

Words have kept people thinking small about themselves. With the flick of a switch, they’ve also helped them reshape their perceptions and step into their own power and sovereignty.

It’s why the feminist movement insisted on changing accepted language — they recognized that being called “girls” was a micro-aggression meant to infantilize women.

So, of course, I snorted in derision when I first heard the word “sidekick” being tossed around to describe those in the administrative support business.

I feel about anyone referencing me as a “sidekick” in relation to clients the same way this woman feels being referred to as Macklemore’s “sidekick.”

It’s fundamentally insulting as a full-grown, professional woman and business owner. It’s a condescending verbal pat on the head, a throwback to employment mentality that has no place in business in this day and age.

I’m as disdainful of the word “sidekick” in business as I am “assistant.”

That’s because using subservient words and terms of employment (such as “assistant”) to identify yourself keeps you in a subservient mindset, consciously and unconsciously.

It also causes clients to view you not so much as their valued and respected administrative expert and adviser, but as their minion and order-taker.

Would you call your doctor or attorney or accountant or designer your sidekick?

Do you think that would be a respectful way to identify and address them?

How do you think that would go over with them if you did?

Why then would you feel the need to call yourself an assistant or sidekick?

It’s a form of self-talk. What you call yourself has a way of seeping into your psyche. With a more respectful, business-appropriate term, you can raise yourself up to better lead your business and more positively affect how your prospects and clients approach the relationship with you.

If you think it doesn’t matter what you call yourself either way, then why not adopt a more respectful term that will lead to more respectful exchanges with clients and prospects?

If you are really working with clients who value you as much as you say they do, they will happily support you as you raise your standards around the business terminology you use.

And your new clients won’t know the difference because they’ll refer to you in whatever way you inform them to.

I don’t need to be Robin to serve my clients well and deliver my expertise to them. We can both be Batman in our respective businesses who value and respect each other as equals.

***

What thoughts, feelings or questions does this bring up for you? Does it spur any soul-searching? Can you think of a way in which calling yourself an assistant kept you thinking small in your business? Have you already embraced the idea that you are a business owner, not an assistant, with a valuable expertise to offer?

A Brief History of the Administrative Support Business

A Brief History of the Administrative Support BUSINESS

A while back, one of my new-at-the-time colleagues asked me this question:

I guess I’m too new to the industry so I’m lost with the concept “team VA” or “multi-team VA.” And “partnering with clients?” It sounds interesting though, could you define for the benefit of the clueless (me)? Thanks!

To understand these terms and concepts, it’s helpful to know the evolution of our industry. With that in mind, here’s a quick history of the administrative support industry.

Originally there were secretarial services. That industry had been around for decades, since at least the 40s or 50s and probably earlier.

However, secretarial services were sort of like a print shop: where someone would go, for example, to get a quick typing or desktop publishing job completed by someone on an ad hoc/incidental basis.

Think of it sort of like a drive-through typing service. It was project-based and there was no deeper role of the secretarial service in a client’s business or consistent relationship than that.

Then, in the late 80s/early 90s, the concept of administratively supporting clients remotely as a business became more formally realized. This new business model differed very distinctly from secretarial services in that the idea was to:

  1. provide a spectrum of across-the-board administrative support to clients (not simply typing or data entry), in
  2. an ongoing, collaborative, partnering relationship (as opposed to the ad hoc/incidental/occasional/sporadic/project-based nature of the secretarial service business model).

In the early 90s, a life/business coach by the name of Thomas Leonard coined the term “virtual assistant” that this new industry adopted in large part to describe this new and distinctly different kind of administrative support business.

What’s funny/interesting is that when the secretarial service industry was first introduced to this idea of an administrative support/partnering business, it was met with cold-shouldered resistance and disapproval (much as most “newfangled” things are met by people who don’t yet understand them).

After a few years, however, more and more these same secretarial services who sneered at the idea started calling themselves “virtual assistants” even while they were still operating as project-based secretarial services (clearly only adopting the term without understanding the concept).

More and more people started using the term “virtual assistant” without understanding the original business concept around it. Which is no wonder: it’s an ambiguous term and one that those in our business didn’t even coin themselves.

Then there came onto the scene people whose thinking was “I know! I’ll make money having a business where I don’t do any of the work (perhaps don’t even have the expertise or administrative background myself), I simply outsource it to third parties, preferably at cheap, third-world rates.”

At the same time, there were others who wanted to have a one-stop-shop kind of business where they had colleagues and others who did things they did not. In this way, they could say (for example) they did web design when really all they were doing is having someone else do that work.

Both of these distinct groups began calling this sub-genre a “multi-VA/team-VA” business.

The problem with this term, however is that:

  1. legally speaking, unless these people are your employees, they are not part of your team, and using that terminology will cause the IRS to think you are engaging in illegal misclassification;
  2. it’s not a collaborative/partnering relationship as defined by the administrative support business concept; and
  3. there is already a term for that kind of relationship between colleagues who are not employees of each other. It’s called “subcontracting.” 😉

In the early 2000s, there also began to be discussions around the aptness of the “virtual assistant” term. Too many people who were not running actual administrative support businesses were co-opting the term, bastardizing it for their own purposes, and confusing the marketplace.

Another problem with the term is that clients commonly do not understand the relationship. They mistakenly think it is one of employer/employee and treat it (and devalue it) accordingly.

It erroneously shapes their expectations and perceptions in negative ways that cause people in our industry problems. That’s because people only understand the word “assistant” one way: employee. Which is why calling themselves assistants was causing a whole host of misalignments in expectations and understandings.

Therefore, a large contingent of people in the administrative support industry began having a conversation around moving away from the “virtual assistant” term and adopting/coining a new term for those of us who were very specifically running ongoing administrative support businesses where we work with clients in actual collaborative partnering relationships.

That’s when our group ultimately landed on the term Administrative Consultant and the benefits have been multi-faceted:

  1. It’s a term WE chose for ourselves, not one that was foisted upon us and defined by a client (who at the time when he was working with his own VAs acted like he thought he was their employer, not their client).
  2. It more clearly denotes our BUSINESS OWNER/CONSULTANT (i.e., NOT employee) status and the fact that our business is specifically administrative in nature.
  3. It isn’t ambiguous and leaves little room for misinterpretation.
  4. It sets better expectations, understandings and perceptions in clients about the correct nature of the relationship (business-to-business, not employer/employee).
  5. In turn, this improves our consultation conversations, the demeanor with which potential clients approach us (i.e., professionally rather than like an employer seeking a worker bee), and our ability to command proper professional-level fees (not employee slave wages).

To be clear, the Administrative Consultant term was never intended to replace the “virtual assistant” term. Many of the people using that term are not running administrative support businesses so our term does not apply to them.

Our term is only meant for those who are specifically running administrative support businesses and who work with clients in true collaborative, partnering relationships. If that’s the kind of business you are running, we encourage you to use the Administrative Consultant term because it is going to help improve how clients view and understand your business and how they treat you as a fellow business owner.

Dear Danielle: What If Our Term Is Not Well-Known in My Country?

Dear Danielle: What If Our Term Is Not Well-Known in My Country?

A new colleague from the U.K (I’ll call her Sue) came to me recently with a few questions and topics, one of which I’ll address today as I think it will be helpful to many people.

Hi Danielle. I came across your ACA website and it’s given me food for thought to go from VA to Administrative Consultant. I really appreciate you taking time out to talk to me. I’m doing research about admin consultancy as I’m not sure how well known it is in the U.K.

Thanks for reaching out, Sue. 🙂

Our conversation has inspired this blog post that I think will help you (and others) greatly.

What you’re really wondering is: If people in my country have not heard of “administrative consulting,” if it’s not well-known, how viable of a business will this be for me?

It’s good to be thinking about how a new business will succeed. The problem is you’re focusing on the term instead of the solution we’re in business to offer.

What you want to ask instead is:

Are there businesses in the U.K.? Do those businesses have administrative work they must stay on top of on a regular basis in order to run smoothly?

There is your answer. 😉

Whether a term or industry name is known in the marketplace or not is not important. I wouldn’t want you to waste your time and energy in that direction as it is irrelevant and plays no part in your ability to get clients, help those clients, and earn well.

It doesn’t matter whether they’ve heard of our industry before or are familiar with the terms we use. (Your term IS important, but for other reasons that have nothing to do with getting clients. You can learn more about that in these blog posts).

The only thing that matters is that you understand them, know what their overarching need/problem is, and have a solution to fill that need and solve that problem: namely, the need for more time in their business, the need to free up mental bandwidth and creative space, and the need for an administrative expert and support partner who can help take care of their administration which in turn will free up their time to grow their business (not to mention just live and enjoy life).

EVERY business needs admin support. It’s the very backbone of every business in the world. There is absolutely no shortage of clients who could use and benefit from our support. Every country has businesses, and every business has administrative work, systems and operations that require tending to throughout the life of the business.

BUT, while every business has administration it must take care of in order to keep organized, running smoothly and moving forward, not every business is the right fit or needs the solution we’re in business to offer.

The key, and the more productive effort, therefore, is to better understand what demographic in the business world has the greatest need for what we do and how we do it (our “solution”) and will in turn place greater value on it and be more willing to pay well for it. THOSE are the businesses that are the best fit for our kind of business.

Generally speaking, big companies have the kind of workloads that inherently require full-time, in-house, dedicated staff, and they have the resources to house and pay for them. They don’t really need us.

If they are even remotely interested in us, their typical motivation is to merely offload isolated, non-core functions as cheaply as possible. They could care less about the personal relationship, which is exactly what allows us to deliver our greatest value and impact. When there isn’t a real need, they don’t place much value on the service. And you can’t afford to be cheap, not if you expect to stay in business, be profitable and earn well.

So it’s important to understand who is the best fit (who has the highest and greatest need) for what we do so that you aren’t wasting your time barking up the wrong trees and making things more difficult for yourself.

An administrative support business works and earns best (and more easily) when there is a direct, personal one-on-one ongoing relationship, what we call a “collaborative partnership,” with each client.

In our business, the demographic that best fits that bill are the solopreneur/boutique/lifestyle businesses.

These are the business owners who are commonly running their businesses from home offices (like us), who like being solo/boutique-size; who need administrative help and support (as every business does), but have no interest in “big business,” having employees or managing people; who ARE their business; who are more interested in a particular quality and unencumbered way of life while earning well.

They’re the perfect fit because we can provide that one-on-one, right-hand personal admin support remotely and without needing to be an employee; the size and model of their business benefits most and works best within this dynamic; and because they need it the most, they place a higher value on it.

Now that you understand which demographic is best suited for our solution and why, the next step is to narrow things down to a specific target market, which is simply an industry/field/profession that you cater your administrative support to.

Why do you need to do this, you probably wonder?

Because your value depends on the business/industry/field/profession you are talking to.

How you speak to one group and craft solutions for them is necessarily different from one group to the next.

By narrowing things down to a specific industry/field/profession, you can more quickly and easily identify what their common needs, interests, goals and challenges are, come up with a compelling marketing message for them, and craft your admin support offerings more meaningfully around those things in a way that more powerfully speaks to and attracts clients.

Plus, you simply can’t work with everybody, any more than you can be all things to all people. To stand out, to be attractive, to be memorable and interesting, you have to get specific.

As Seth Godin says (and I’m fond of quoting): “You can be a meandering generality or a meaningful specific.”

The other benefit for you, of course, in choosing a specific industry/field/profession to cater your admin support to is that you can more quickly and easily pinpoint where to start looking for and interacting with those clients.

None of that requires that they know what you are called or have heard of our industry before, only that you know who they are.

If you haven’t yet, be sure to download my free guide on How to Choose Your Target Market. It elaborates further on this topic and walks you through some exercises to help you narrow things down and decide.

Creating Space for a Great New Year to Happen

Creating Space for a Great New Year to Happen

I’m not much of a spring cleaner. I’m more of a fall cleaner. This time of year feels buzzy with excitement and possibility. There’s a fresh sense of renewal, energy and optimism. I find it the perfect time to start gearing for what’s coming by making physical — and mental — space for all that good juju to come to fruition.

One of the ways I prepare for success is by purging, regrouping and organizing. Below are a few activities you might to consider starting now as well.

  1. Organizing Emails. I’m an Outlook user. Personally, I like using folders to store and organize emails. The search feature fails to find mail I’m looking far too often to be a reliable method. So what I do is create folders under the Personal Folders/Saved Files section rather than in my Inbox area. The only emails I am a packrat about are those to and from clients. I give each client a folder and under each client, I create subfolders for each month. This has proven to be a lifesaver on more occasions than I can count.
  2. Deleting or Archiving Old Emails. Around the end of the year, I go through my list of folders and archive those of clients with whom I am no longer working. I keep six months of current client folders and archive the rest.
  3. Taking Stock of Your Online Documents. Do a quick run-through of your document files and folders and see where you can better organize, consolidate and purge.
  4. Cleaning Out the Supply Closet. I’m sort of an organizing freak so this is something I enjoy doing periodically. Supply areas are places where we tend to put “stuff” and forget about it. Clean out the old, recycle, give away extra or old equipment to someone who can use it, and create new space (physically and energetically) for the new year with a clean slate.
  5. Streamlining Hardcopy Files. Even with an online business where just about everything is on the computer, there is still a lot of paper in my life. I turn most of that into PDF and store online with everything else. I’ve also gone entirely electronic billing and online bill pay. However, paper is still a fact of life. There are just some things that are easier to read when they are printed out. Scanning printed materials to turn them into PDFs does create an extra job that you might not have time for, and sometimes it’s just not a practical or worthwhile effort. So for the paper that I do keep, I have five different hanging folder filing sections:|
    Green
    – Clients

    Blue – Tax, Licensing and Financial/Banking

    Red – Accounts Payable

    Yellow – Employees/Contractors/Subcontractors

    Clear – Subject files (miscellaneous). For those folders that deal with date ranges, this is a good time to add a new folder for the coming year. For example, say you have a file for bank statements and you keep these in a folder marked with the current year. Now is the time to create new folders for the coming year and stick them in the file. Then at the end of the year, when you are pulling out old files (such as old clients you no longer work with), you can also pull out all your 2016 folders for storage and you’ll already have the new 2017 folders ready to go.

  6. Add some to-dos and automated reminders for December & January to your calendar to revisit your start of the new year tasks.

Convo with a Colleague: Finding Clients Starts with This

Finding Clients Starts with This

A new colleague who was having trouble finding her first client reached out to me the other day.

Many of you coming up have the same questions and challenges so I thought it would be helpful to share our conversation. (I’ll call this colleague “Jane” to protect her anonymity.)

JANE: Do you have any posts on marketing. Specifically article marketing?

ME: Not per se, because it’s really not the most productive effort if you’re doing it in a general way. Writing articles specifically for your target market is more what I talk about. What are you trying to do or looking for with article marketing? If you can elaborate, I may be able to give you some better direction. PS: You can find all my blog categories on the right sidebar of my blog.

JANE: Target market… well I am pretty diverse in my administrative tasks that I don’t really have a target market. I suppose that currently I am a generalized admin. Would love to have a target market, just not sure what that might be right now. I am geared toward graphic design/web building, but… again that can be for anyone. 🙂

ME: Graphic design and web design are different professions/businesses. Are we talking about the administrative support business or the design business (because they aren’t the same thing)? You probably first want to get clear about what business you mean to be in. Until you do that, you’re going to struggle with finding clients. That’s because if you don’t know intentionally/consciously what business you intend to be in, you can’t expect clients to understand what you do either, and there’s no way for them to see or hear you. It also sounds like you haven’t downloaded my free guide on How to Choose Your Target Market. Deciding on a target market is one of the most important first steps in a business.

JANE: (Downloads free target market guide and comes back a little while later.) Well, let me clarify. Those are my interests, but after briefly looking at your guide, it has settled that I would like to work with realtors. Reason being, for one they can afford me. And I can still do the other computer stuff I like: working with websites and designing stuff. However, I have no experience in the field other than I know a realtor who is really successful. Any suggestions on how to break the ice on a field I am not totally familiar with?

ME: That’s great! Doesn’t matter if you have experience with them or not. You can research and learn. In fact, I always tell people, make it your goal to always be learning your chosen target market and what their business is all about and what work is involved in running it almost as if you were going into that business yourself. Because the more you know and understand them, the more you will know what their common needs, goals and challenges are, how you can best support them and how to craft your solutions and offerings geared specifically to their needs and interests.

It also doesn’t matter what your administrative skills are. General is a misnomer. Don’t use that term or terms like boring and mundane and the like in describing what you do. Words like that devalue the very vital and important work we do and in turn makes clients devalue it as well. Administrative skill and sensibility can be applied to any target market. Plus we’re all always growing and improving our skills. So that’s the the angle you want to be looking at things from. The more you learn your target market, the more you’ll know which skills will be need to be applied, honed or acquired. I have blog posts that answer all of your questions. I invite you to explore the blog and settle in for some reading. I think you’ll find it quite illuminating and helpful. Here are a few to start with:

On words to avoid in your marketing, read this category of blog posts:
Don’t Use These Words

On the difference between administrative SUPPORT and project work:
Do You Understand the Difference Between a Project-Based vs. Ongoing Administrative Support Business?

On how to research a target market you have no experience with:
Dear Danielle: How Do I Market to a Target Audience I have No Experience With Yet?

Hope this helps!

JANE: Has anyone told you how AMAZING YOU ARE!!! You are like God-sent. Thanks sooo much. I will be sure to read these.

ME: Aw, thanks. I’m glad to help. 🙂

YOU Are the Captain of Your Ship

YOU Are the Captain of Your Ship

You have to decide — specifically and clearly — what you’re in business to do.

If you fall to pieces and think you have to start over the second one uninformed client doesn’t get it or looks at you cross-eyed…

If you blow with the wind every time a client thinks you should be doing this and doing that…

If you bend over backward twisting yourself into pretzels to be anything and everything for anyone and everyone…

You are never going to get anywhere, and your life and business will be anything but your own.

You can’t please everyone.

Not everyone is going to get it.

And you can’t be in business to do everything that everyone wants.

(Originally posted July 13, 2010)

It’s Not All About the Money

It's Not All About the Money

Saw a headline the other day: Rihanna is NOT happy with people playing Pokemon Go during her concerts.

Some might say, They paid their money. Why should she care whether people are paying attention or not? She’s raking in the dough either way.

Because it’s the same for any of us who give of ourselves to people and care about our craft and what we deliver, whatever our business may be:

It’s not all about the money.

We care about our work, about connecting and helping.

We’re not mindless robots or vending machines. Each of us is a feeling person playing our heart out for clients.

We want to be valued and treated with human dignity and respect and shown some courtesy and appreciation, regardless of the money.

No amount of money is worth playing for an unappreciative audience.

We all deserve to be paid and have clients who always remember that there is a person on the other side of the computer.

(And every client would be smart to avoid the person who is just going through the motions for the money.)