Rant: We All Have to Pay Our Way in this World

Rant: We All Have to Pay for Our Own Way in this World

A colleague forwarded a comment to me from some listserv where apparently people had recommended me/my products to someone and her comment back was, “Lot’s of great ideas. Push seems to be to join/purchase.”

WTF?

What a ridiculous thing to say.

This is a business community and professional association. Of course there are things that you (gasp) have to actually purchase. What, do you walk through life holding out a tin cup to everyone you meet like some kind of panhandler on a street corner?

First of all, we don’t charge a membership fee to join, so I don’t know what she’s talking about there.

But more importantly, what on earth does that even mean? That I should give away everything for free? That she shouldn’t expect to pay for knowledge and training that was earned through experience and paid for with my own blood, sweat, tears… and money?

What a fricking freeloader/welfare/loser mentality.

And it’s exactly why so many in our industry struggle financially, never get ahead and close their businesses left and right: they expect everyone else to give everything away to them for free.

I would ask her: Do YOU work for free?

Do you go to the grocery store and say, “Well, all this food looks delicious, but the push seems to be to PURCHASE it.”

How would you feel if a client said to you, “Seems really great and highly skilled. But push seems to be she actually wants to be paid… in money…”

(You know, because food and clothes and utilities and rent/mortgages aren’t free and don’t pay themselves.)

I have my own practice to run. And all the free stuff that I do give away (which is a LOT) cost something… they cost me time, energy, attention and real money.

The sales of my business products, coaching and occasional classes are what fund all that so that I can continue helping the hundreds of people who turn to me in this industry.

I charge for those things also because I honor and respect my own value. And because it’s a proper business example. I wouldn’t be worth my salt as a mentor if I modeled anything else.

She’s obviously not my target market, whoever this was (because I work with success-minded women). I post this more as an example of what not to be like in business.

Her kind of attitude—the poverty/welfare mentality—is what will hold you back and keep you poor.

It’s one thing if you don’t have the money. There’s no shame in that. We all start somewhere and maybe you just have to save up and work extra hard to get the things that will bring you success.

But don’t devalue others and criticize them because they charge for the value of their time and expertise and the knowledge and guidance that will help you get somewhere in your business.

Pay for your way in this world. Everyone else has to.

And when you are given something for free—which is a gift, not a self-entitled right—have the good breeding to say thank you and show some manners and appreciation.

Picking an Email Name: Personal vs. Generic

Picking an Email Name: Personal vs Generic

I saw that someone asked about picking an email name, and I thought it was a great question.

Here’s my advice:

When choosing between your name (e.g. firstname@yourdomain.com or first.last@yourdomain.com) or something generic (e.g., admin@yourdomain.com or service@yourdomain.com), go with your name.

First, it’s more personable.

People do business with people. An email address with your name will create far more personal connection and rapport than something generic.

Those sending a message will feel more warm and fuzzy about you because they know they are reaching a real, live human being with name, not a cold, nameless, faceless entity.

Who wants to shake hands with a robot after all? (Wait, nerds, don’t answer that, lol.)

Second, generic emails are spam triggers. Many spam filtering algorithms see these as being sent by robots and and will often sort them into the spam/junk mail folder.

If you want to make sure your message gets through while also nurturing personal connections with your prospects and clients, use your name.

And since we’re on the topic, always use an email on your own domain.

Burner account emails (i.e., Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail) do nothing to help market your business.

For example, let’s say a contact refers your email to a potential client. Without your domain name on there, they have no clue what your website is where they may want to go find out more about your first.

In this day and age, a service or provider without a website is one that gets dismissed out of hand. They may or may not try to Google your name to see if something comes up.

On the other hand, they may not, especially when they have another service provider’s email on their own domain where they can instantly see where to go to learn more.

Make it easier for your prospects, because you never know when, where or how they might learn of you simply because they came across your email address.

How to Have Clients Help Promote Your Business

How to Have Clients Help Promote Your Business

Does everyone you come in contact with in the course of your work on behalf of clients know that you are running a business (and might be able to help them or someone they know as well)?

If the answer is no, that’s a problem.

It doesn’t help to promote your business by allowing clients to view you as their personal assistant and introduce you as such to others.

When you call yourself an assistant, clients don’t tend to introduce you as an independent business owner. They will say things like “This is my assistant, Carolyn” without any further reference to your business.

This doesn’t make clear that you are in business and providing a service independent of that client.

Those you are introduced to may never “get” that because when they hear “assistant,” they automatically assume you’re simply part of that client’s business.

It misses an opportunity for possible new business connections.

It doesn’t do you any good to have clients who aren’t helping you in your business (i.e., making proper business introductions and actively promoting and referring you) as much as you are helping them in theirs.

And this isn’t about “bad” clients.

Clients only do what we allow them to. Most will happily comply with our standards if we only insist upon them and tell them what they are.

So, you want to examine your business practices and standards:

  • Always set proper expectations and use terminology that sets and promotes those expectations and proper understandings.
  • That means, never call yourself an assistant and don’t allow clients to call you “their assistant.” As a business owner, you are never anyone’s assistant–legally and practically speaking.
  • Always use your own business email address so that anyone you are in contact with always knows they are dealing with an independent business and can contact you directly if they should need administrative support themselves (or know of someone who does). Your email address on your own domain with a proper business signature with active link to your website is one of the ways to always be marketing and promoting your business.
  • Tell clients exactly how to introduce you to others. For example: This is my fabulous Administrative Consultant, [YOUR NAME]. She runs [YOUR BUSINESS NAME] providing administrative support and expertise to business owners like us. I wouldn’t have a business without her support and guidance.

There are several things you can do, right now, to reset expectations and understandings and have clients help you in your efforts to get new business:

  1. Put together a formal letter or email to all your current clients letting them know how to introduce you. It could start out something like this: Your recommendations, referrals and introductions are an important way for me to connect with new clients. And then give them the script (see my example above) you’d like them to use to introduce you with to others.
  2. Repurpose that email/letter into your next blog post and/or ezine article that goes out to your mailing list. Be sure you share it on your social networks.
  3. Add a section for this topic in your Client Guide that informs clients exactly what to call you, how to refer to you and how to introduce you to others.
  4. Include this topic in your new client orientations.
  5. While you’re at all this, tell friends and family members how to refer your business as well. For example: This is my [RELATIONSHIP], [YOUR NAME]. She runs a business called [YOUR BUSINESS NAME] that provides administrative support and expertise to [YOUR TARGET MARKET]. If you know of someone who could use her support, tell them to check out her amazing website!

Remember, you are not the “hired help.”

You’re running a business, and if you want to stick around for years to come, able to continue supporting the clients you love, promoting your business and keeping your roster full are vital to succeeding in that intention.

As always, I love hearing from you so let me know in the comments if this struck a chord with you. All my best!

How I Chose My Target Market

How I Chose My Target Market

One of our members on the ACA LinkedIn Discussion Group asked, “How did all of you decide on your niche?”

Good question! Because choosing a target market is something it seems a lot of people struggle with.

I will say that a lot of it is just self-created angst.

They are either resistent to the idea or they spend too much time and anxiety wanting to make the perfect choice.

But business is not a perfect science. You will always be course correcting as you learn and grow.

Ultimately, it boils down to just deciding!

That said, there are criteria that are important to consider when choosing a target market (i.e., industry/field/profession) on which to cater your admin support in order for it to be viable:

  • It must have a need for the solution you’re in business to offer.
  • It must be able to afford you. Meaning, for example, it can’t be a dying industry or one where the people are commonly not earning well.
  • It must be easy to find. That is, it should be large enough that you can easily find people in this target market congregating in large numbers, both online and off. If it’s such an obscure or esoteric industry that just finding them is inordinately difficult, that might not be such a good choice.
  • If you already have a background and knowledge about an industry, it could be a suitable match because you’ll already have some insights into how it ticks and where to find them, making your marketing and message a lot easier.
  • It’s important that you enjoy the industry you choose to cater to and the work involved in supporting it. Otherwise, you’ll never really be able to serve it well. You want your work to be joyful and rewarding, not a chore that you are only doing for the money.

In answer to my colleague’s question, here’s how I chose my target market…

When I first started I really had no conscious knowledge or understanding about having a niche (AKA target market). It was just “get clients, any clients.”

And because I had no clarity or consciousness about WHO my clients were or should be (e.g., who I wanted to work with, what kind of clients made for the best fit), I spent a lot of years just flailing around, having very little marketing impact and not making much money.

Eventually I ended up with an accidental target market of local retail type businesses: clubs, venues, restaurants, hair salons, florists, gift shops, etc. I got those kind of clients because once I got those initial few, they would refer me to others.

The problem with this accidental target market was that it wasn’t one I intentionally chose. It was more like it just “happened” to me.

And the types of clients this market was made up of predominately had all kinds of issues.

First, the nature of local small retail business is very volatile. It was always feast or famine. These businesses would open and close constantly (seemingly overnight sometimes). Money was always tight. A lot of the business owners were not very business savvy. Many of them turned out to be downright dishonest and unethical. And I had to constantly chase after my money.

The good thing about this period in my early business years was that it was what got me thinking about what I really wanted from my business and who I wanted to work with.

The whole reason I started my business was to live a different kind of lifestyle, on my own terms, and the way my business was at that time, it was anything but that.

I didn’t like who I was working with and wasn’t making the kind of money I needed to live and thrive.

Eventually I decided that I really wanted to work with attorneys.

The reason I chose them was that:

  1. I had a paralegal background;
  2. Three of my uncles at the time were attorneys (one has since passed);
  3. I’d always worked around the legal field in some capacity (District Court, Sheriff’s department, private investigator, legal assistant to the VP/General Counsel of a U.S. based international company as well as a few other government agencies).
  4. I’ve always had an affinity for the legal field. I love the work and find the law and dealing with legal matters endlessly fascinating.

Once I decided who I wanted to work with, I let go of all my clients at that time and started everything over from scratch.

It was the best move I ever made.

Of course, “attorneys” was still too broad because the work and operations involved in serving one practice area are often completely different from another. To write any kind of compelling message that would be meaningful, I had to focus on a specific type of attorney.

Plus, there are certain practice areas in the legal field I had no interest or enjoyment in supporting (e.g., personal injury, immigration, bankruptcy).

So, eventually I narrowed my target market of “attorneys” down further to those in the specific practice areas of intellectual property, entertainment law and business.

I hope this is helpful to you if you are someone still trying to figure out who to focus on.

And if you have already chosen a target market, please share with us in the comments how you chose yours.

Download the Latest Version of the ACA Income & Pricing Calculator

Get the Free ACA Income & Pricing Calculator

Do you ever have one of those d’ops moments when you realize you’ve made a big huge blunder that’s gone unnoticed for months?

Yeah, that’s me this week.

I just realized recently that everyone who has been downloading our free ACA Income & Pricing Calculator has been getting an outdated copy that is several versions old (by like a year or more).

Oy vey!

Here’s what happened…

With the admirable, but ill-advised, intention of making it more quick and convenient to download (i.e., fewer steps), I decided to attach it to the download message instead of having people go through our shoppingcart.

The problem? After awhile I forgot that it had been uploaded as an attachment, which means whenever it was updated and improved upon, the old version was never getting replaced with the current version.

I share this with you because it’s another excellent example of why adhering to our systems and standards is so important. They’re what make things simple and consistent and help us avoid mistakes.

By deviating from my usual standard and process of having ALL our downloads managed by the shoppingcart (so that the most current version of any product was always delivered), I introduced an additional, unnecessary step that ended up falling through the cracks.

So….

Getting clear and conscious about your numbers in business is one of the very first important steps to your financial well-being. I want you to have the best and this is such an invaluable tool.

Click over to our Free Resources page and sign up for the ACA Income & Pricing Calculator. I promise you’ll get the most current version now, lol.

PS: As a token of my appreciation for your understanding, please use coupon code THANKS10 for 10% off your next purchase from the ACA Success Store.

Another Reason to Stick to Your Standards

Another Reason to Stick to Your Standards

Something reminded me the other day about why you should always do things according to your standards in your business and not to go below them just because a client asks or wants you to.

Many of the biggest, most valuable (but painful) business lessons I learned came unfortunately by working with a good friend of 10 years.

When she was starting up her business, besides setting up all her systems, doing her bookkeeping and providing her with administrative support, I created many marketing pieces for her.

Normally, I would have done these pieces according to my usual and proper design business standards using the appropriate design tools and software (i.e., Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, etc.)

However, because she constantly had changes and didn’t want to have to wait for me to make them (rushing me, being impatient), she wanted to have them done in programs that she herself had (e.g., Word) so she could make textual updates/changes herself.

I made the mistake of accommodating her. And let me tell you, it was an impressive feat to integrate design imagery into a Word document.

There are many reasons why you don’t do this as a designer.

First of all, it is not common business practice to hand over native files to clients. That’s YOUR intellectual property that you earn your living from.

What that means is the files and ownership of the creative piece hold a completely separate value from simply being engaged to create a work for a client.

This is why people are charged separately for those things (or not allowed to purchase rights at all, simply giving them license to use the work).

But in my business adolescence, I did a lot of stupid things.

And that act of “being nice” and accommodating my so-called friend came back to haunt me (or tried to anyway) because later when I had to sue her for the thousands of dollars she owed me, one of the things she tried to use against me was the very fact that these pieces weren’t in professional standard format (i.e., in Word instead of InDesign or Photoshop, etc.).

She failed in this attempt and in the end I got my money, but it was still galling to have done a favor for a client (a friend, no less), gone against my own standards and boundaries to accommodate her wishes and then to have it thrown back in my face.

So next time a client tries to rush you, overstep your processes and standards, have you do sub-par, below-standard, second-rate work, or wants you to ignore details and slide things by, or do anything that goes against your personal and professional standards and ethics, think twice about allowing that.

It won’t sit well with you and it could come back to bite you in the butt in ways you’d never imagine in the present.

Excellence in service and being of service should never come at the cost of your own standards, well-being and self-interests.

Ideal clients are those who allow you to do your best work and respect your standards and boundaries. Anyone else is not a fit.

Don’t Confuse Quantity with Quality

This post came about from a great conversation I was having over on our ACA LinkedIn Discussion Group with a colleague who was struggling with her target market.

I see a lot of people in our industry erroneously thinking that the only clients who can afford them are large companies.

But the size of a business (i.e., the number of people involved) has nothing to do with how much money it makes.

There are hundreds of thousands of solos and boutique business owners earning multiple six and seven figure incomes while there are millions of bigger companies that are barely scraping by.

What people fail to understand is that big companies don’t need us. They have the kind and level of workloads that simply require in-house, dedicated staff.

Even if they are remotely interested in our type of solution, it’s typically only to get it as cheaply as possible. And you can’t afford to be in business to be broke.

So there is a fundamental mismatch of values and priorities and needs.

Being a solopreneur/boutique business owner is a lifestyle choice. It has no bearing on how much those businesses can and do make so don’t make the mistake of focusing on the wrong market.

If you do, you are missing out on finding the RIGHT fit with those who actually VALUE what we do because they have more need for it, value the one-on-one relationship and, thus, are far more ready, willing and able to PAY WELL for it.

Are Professional Headshots Necessary?

Are Professional Headshots Necessary?

A colleague asked this in our ACA LinkedIn Discussion Group the other day.

I thought it was a great question that would make for a perfect blog post!

So here’s my advice:

IF you have the ability and opportunity to get professional shots, by all means get them. Once you start looking for a good photographer, I think you will be pleasantly surprised at just how affordable this is. It’s a good investment AND a business expense write-off.

BUT if you don’t at the moment have the financial ability, use whatever means you have to take the best photos you can. Have a friend with a good eye take some shots of you. You can even pose yourself with instant feedback using your webcam or cellphone camera.

What’s important is that prospective clients and site visitors have A picture of you.

And that’s because people connect with people. It’s why dating sites always say that profiles with photos outrank those that don’t 10 to 1.

When people consult me for my help with their website, I recommend they provide a mix of photos:

  1. A good, close-up headshot wearing professional attire, smiling into the camera, looking friendly and approachable. Studies show that the bigger the eyes, the better. That is, the closer the shot, the larger and more close-up your eyes will be to theirs; that’s the important thing. By all means, let your personality and style show through. At the same time, simple patterns (or solid colors) and jewelry translate better in this kind of photography.
  2. A business casual/action shot. This one could be slightly more relaxed business attire, perhaps of you at a networking event or talking with a client, something like that.
  3. What I call a “lifestyle” shot where it’s you being a regular person wearing more casual, everyday clothing (i.e., non business/professional clothing, but not sloppy, lounging clothes either; you still want to project the image of professional and sloppy does not convey the idea that you are competent, energetic, professional and that you respect them and take their business seriously). Maybe it’s a shot of you with your family or a pet. Or maybe it’s you engaging in one of your hobbies (it may turn out to be an interest an ideal prospective client shares, who knows). The purpose here is to show yourself as a real person (not a robot).
  4. An intro video. It’s the next best thing to being there because they get even more of a sense of who you are as a person, how you speak, your gestures and mannerisms. Doesn’t have to be fancy; you can even use your webcam. Clean up your background (if you use a laptop cam, you have more ability to move around to find the most pleasant/interesting spot in your house or maybe even go outside as long as there are not any sound distractions). Put some nice clothes on and do your hair and makeup. You don’t have to dress to the hilt; something simple, nice and business casual is just fine. The idea here is to record a video of yourself talking directly to your site visitor/ideal client. Welcome them to your site, give them a quick overview of what they’ll learn there and/or how to navigate the site, thank them for stopping by and give them a call to action (e.g., “If getting support in your business sounds wonderful to you, click on the link to schedule a consultation. I look forward to talking with you!”. This is worth a thousand photos!
  5. A shot of your office. If you have a nicely decorated, professional looking office space set up, that can be a great picture to include as well so people can see where you work and that you have a professional/efficient set-up. Of course, if your “office” right now is more of a corner on the kitchen table, then that’s maybe not what you want to focus/emphasize for the time being. When I first started, we were remodeling our cabin and my computer was moved from corner to nook to cranny constantly, lol. We also had a second home where I had a more official set up, but since our main house was on literally ON the water (we lived in an exclusive waterfront community where all the homes were built on pilings over the saltwater Sound), I had a picture of my view on my website as that’s what my “office” was and it was interesting and unique and a good conversation starter. Once I got a more “official” looking space set up in our other home, I used that photo of what I light-heatedly called my “command center” to illustrate that I had things set up very professionally and competently and that they were dealing with a real business that did real work and was expertly set up and organized to do so.

A couple caveats:

  1. No glamour shots. These are not business appropriate photos.
  2. No old photos. If you’re in your 50s and the photo you’re using is one of you in your 20s, it’s time for a new photo. You want to be current and you want to show people the real you, out loud and proud, girlfriend!

Studies show that people LOVE pictures of other people. When there is a photo of a person, that’s where their eyes go first and they engage for far longer on websites that have one.

When you provide photos of yourself (at least ONE), it makes you infinitely more relatable to your site visitors and prospects.

No one cares whether it’s the most perfect professional shot or that you have the most expensive clothes or if you’re good-looking or not.

They just want to see/know WHO it is they are dealing with. It creates instant rapport and helps bond them to you.

If you want to get more consultations and clients, a photo (if not several) are EXTREMELY helpful (dare I say, a MUST even) to have on your website.

The Simpletons Can’t Help You

It’s not difficult whatsoever to get clients when you charge peanuts.

The problem and real difficulty (extremely so) is dealing with the KIND of clients you get when you charge peanuts and being able to achieve a sustainable, profitable business, one that you can actually earn a healthy living from (as in, not just hand-to-mouth).

To be able to charge (and earn) more and get better clients requires more in-depth learning and understanding about marketing and human behavior and psychology.

And you aren’t going to get that from the simpletons and copycats.

Because if it were as easy and simple as they would have you believe (because that’s how they get into your pockets), everyone would already be millionaires (or at least earning well into six figures).

And we all know that’s not the case.

Dear Danielle: What Do You Think of Odesk and Elance?

Dear Danielle: What Do You Think of Odesk and Elance?

Hello Danielle!

Hope you are having a great day. What do you think of Odesk and Elance as starting places for an Administrative Consultant? I currently am just starting out, just had a baby three months ago so I was thinking of starting out with these sites? Thoughts?  Thank you so much for all you do! —Maekeshia Smith, eOffice Business Solutions, LLC

Hi Maekeshia :)

It depends on what your motivations and intentions are.

If you’re just looking to make some pocket money on the side, then those places might serve your interests.

If you are looking to start a real business making real money (i.e., money you can actually live and operate profitably and sustainably on), oDesk, Elance and the like are no places for Administrative Consultants to be wasting their time.

That said, if you are not still working and need the funding, the little jobs you get here and there in those places could be a way to fund yourself and purchase necessary products, tools and training to grow your real business.

But don’t confuse that work with building your real business, because the kind of clients you need for the latter are not the kind you’re going to find on Odesk, Elance, etc.

Of course, whenever I say that, inevitably someone pipes up to exclaim how they got a great client from those places.

What I say to that is:

a) They are the exception, not the rule, and exceptions do not make for immutable laws of business. If you shop yourself amongst cheapskates, people who want to pay pennies and expect something for nothing (else why on earth would they be shopping for REAL professionals in those places), that’s exactly who you’re going to get. The odds of you finding that diamond client in what amounts to a yard sale are not in your favor. Has it ever happened at any time in the history of the world? Of course. But I would no more tell you to buy lottery tickets to build your business. The ROI is just not there as would cost you more in time and energy bidding and auditioning for “jobs” than you’d earn. There are better, faster, more profitable, effective and productive ways to build a financially successful business built with clients who value what you do for them and pay well for it. Leave Odesk and Elance for the hobbyists who have no business sense and don’t know or value their worth.

b) “Great” is relative. We would have to look closer at their business, under the hood, to see if their “great” is really all that great. Is their business really profitable? How much are they earning from that client? How hard are they working, how many hours a day, only to be barely scraping by? That’s not being profitable. They might think $15, $25, even $35 an hour is “great,” but that’s only because they have no frame of reference other than it is more than they were making as an employee. They don’t understand that the economics of employment are not the same as those of business. I’ve been in this business 20 years and all it takes is a few details for me to know how a business is really doing financially. And actually, their “great” doesn’t have any bearing on what your great is. So first order of business, so we can get real about what kind of money YOU need to earn and what kind of revenues your business needs to survive and be profitable, is to download the free ACA Income & Pricing Calculator.

Bottom line is the only kind of clients you’ll find in those places are cheapskates looking for the cheapest bidder, not ideal clients who value what the work produces and are ready and willing to pay well for it.

Here’s another blog post you should read on this topic: Dear Danielle: Should I Market on Craigslist?

You mention that you are just starting out and that’s the right time to be getting your foundations in place. I don’t know how far along in the process you are, but here are what I recommend for your next steps:

  1. Get your starting forms, documents and contracts in place so you have them and can adjust, update and adapt as you go along. You’ll be ready then when you get that first client.
  2. Get a website up. It doesn’t matter that you aren’t sure what to put on it or what to say right now. Just get it up there! Because otherwise, you’ll just stay stuck in analysis paralysis. The simple act of getting your site up is the catalyst for those next steps. A website is THE most important marketing tool you have in your business (people distrust and wonder what is wrong with a business if it doesn’t have one). It’s an integral and indispensible part of the process of properly educating prospects so you can get those ideal clients you’re seeking. AND I have a guide for building a website that works that gives you my own conversion system that you can implement in your website. It tells you exactly what pages in what order to have on your website and all the other vital elements that are needed to convert more of your prospects into clients and consultations. It also includes my patented 1-2-3 plug-n-play system that will walk you through, step-by-step, in creating your own unique, compelling and irresistible marketing message. It makes the process of writing easy as pie, even if you don’t think you are a writer (because you don’t have to be; this stuff writes itself with my formula).
  3. Choose a target market (i.e., an industry/field/profession you cater your administrative support to). Then gear your message and solutions to that market, and go start interacting with them on their industry blogs, forums and listservs and get involved in their groups, professional associations, events, etc. Be sure to download my free guide on How to Choose Your Target Market that will help you with this process and begin identifying the places to find them.