How to Leave a Bad Client Relationship When You’re Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place

How to Leave a Bad Client Relationship When You’re Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place

This post was inspired by some recent correspondence with a colleague who shared that she was mired in an unhappy relationship with a client who is far from ideal.

She dreads hearing from this client and rushes through this client’s work to get it over with as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, she stated, she can’t afford to let this client go as it is her only source of income at the moment.

What I told her was that she couldn’t afford to NOT get out of this relationship… quick. It’s keeping her stuck and zapping her energy and morale.

What’s also important here, but not commonly talked about, is that we all have a moral duty to work with ideal clients and let go of the unideal ones.

We are not walking in integrity taking money from people we don’t care for and, thus, for whom we are not doing our best work. You’re not serving their best interests, and it’s not fair to them to keep them on.

Staying in a bad relationship also steals your life from you.

It keeps you from moving forward and opening space for the better and more ideal.

You are holding yourself hostage by letting fear rule your decisions.

I totally understand practicalities, though.

If you feel you are stuck between a rock and hard place financially, here’s what you can do strategically if you don’t feel at choice (yet) to let go of a client you are not happy working with any longer:

  1. First, take a moment to be in gratitude. Thank the universe for providing this client to you and for all the business lessons and experience you gained. You can still be grateful even while you recognize you have outgrown the relationship and that it’s time to move on.
  2. For the moment, keep doing what you’re doing with that client. Gradually, when and where you can, make changes that are more to your liking. They don’t have to be drastic. Sometimes, it’s the smallest tweaks that can have the biggest, most positive impact. And with each small success with these changes, you will feel empowered and gain courage. Always announce these changes (without asking for permission) and put them in the most positive, client-focused terms as possible. For example, “In order to better serve my clients, I am now…” “I’m doing this so that you can experience better…” Anything that improves your life and business is always in the best interests of your clients, but you don’t want to explain things from that perspective. You always want to relate that information in terms of how it better serves them, not you. Understand?
  3. Simultaneously, work your BUTT off to get new and better clients, taking them on under all your improved and heightened standards, policies, procedures and pricing, and doing everything in the way you wish you would have with that client who is no longer a fit.
  4. Once you’ve got yourself in a better position financially, you can give that unideal client an opportunity to adapt to how you are doing things now in your business. Write a formal message letting them know that you are making changes to how you are doing business and working with clients, and outline what those changes are. If the client isn’t willing to accept those changes, you can very genuinely thank them for your time together, wish them well and let them go, happier trails to everyone.
  5. Finally, be cognizant of the ways you contributed to the unhappy relationship. Many people fail to realize that bad clients are often created by a) not being discerning and choosing clients carefully in the first place, and b) spoiling them with unsustainable practices. They promise these clients the moon, work with them in ways they can’t possibly keep up with once they have more than one client and don’t set boundaries and parameters for clients to observe. In recognizing these problem areas, you can improve and avoid them in your future relationships. That’s called growing and maturing as a business owner and service provider.

Have you found yourself in an unideal situation with a client, but don’t feel free to change things or move on due to financial constraints? Please do share your story in the comments below as it is very helpful to others in the same boat. They find validation that they are not the only one going through this. And I would love to know, as well, if this information has helped you get unstuck.

Mistakes Are a Given

Mistakes Are a Given

You can’t quit and give up just because you had a bad experience.

Making mistakes in your first attempts is a given.

These are all part of the journey: the process and the experience of learning and improving.

So you picked a bad client and had to fire him. It happens. The good thing? You now know a lot better than you did before about who you want to work with, what red flags to watch out for, and how to more quickly “catch and release” should it happen again in the future.

Got burned for payment? You do things differently in the future: work with a contract so clients take you and the business seriously; require some if not full payment upfront; stop work immediately upon nonpayment, choose better clients, conduct more thorough consultations, set better parameters, etc.

The point is, don’t let failures stop you from continuing to try, learn and grow. They are actually very valuable, useful allies in that pursuit.

(NOTE: I am loathe to even use the terms “mistakes” and “failures.” I only do so here for the sake of using common language. But really, they aren’t mistakes or failures, they are merely learning experiences.)

Not Having Any Luck in this Business? Here’s What Could Be Going On

Ask Danielle

Last week I told you about asking colleagues on my mailing list why they are in this business.

I received a wonderful outpouring of responses, and I’m still working on responding personally to every one.

Several people wrote about having difficulty getting anywhere. Here’s an example from one colleague:

Unfortunately, nothing was happening with the business and then I got very discouraged and didn’t pursue it further.  I decided to put a pause on the business and change my career.”

This colleague plans to come back to the business at a later date. The thing is, though, when she does come back to it, she is likely to have the same difficulties. You aren’t going to get different results doing the same things that weren’t working in the first place.

So I probed a little further and asked her to elaborate and try to give me some more specific details about what she was experiencing. I asked if her difficulty was in finding clients. I asked if she had done a business plan. I asked if she had a target market (and if so, what was it). I asked if she had a website (because the website is a big window into the business as a whole and I can tell a whole lot just by taking a look there).

Here’s what she told me:

“I was having difficulty finding clients. I do have a website. My target market was individuals and corporations. Yes, I have done a business plan. I have networked and reached out to prospects about my company but I think the services I offer is not what popular. I’m not sure what I attribute my difficulties to, maybe marketing and the services.

There are a few things that immediately jump out at me as the cause of some of this colleague’s difficulties. I share because maybe you are in the same boat and it may help you as well:

  1. “Individuals and corporations” are not target markets, they are demographics. A target market is a single, specific industry/field/profession that you cater your administrative support and marketing message to. Saying “individuals” is your target market is like saying “people” is your target market. That could literally be anyone and mean anything. It’s the complete opposite of the definition of a target market. Because the point of having a target market is to get clarity and direction for who you are talking to (you can’t come up with any kind of compelling message unless you decide definitively who your audience is to be), what that group’s particular needs, goals, challenges and pains are, how you can help them in those things and structure your offerings in a way that will be of most interest and value to them, and where to find them. If you don’t decide who to focus on, you’re going to be all over the place talking about things in a way that can only be vague, generic and nebulous. That’s not going to have any impact on anyone.
  2. As a demographic, corporations are rarely, if ever, the best fit for what we do. That’s because they don’t need the solution Administrative Consultants are in business to offer. (And just to clarify, in the context of my conversation with this colleague, she’s using “corporations” in terms of “big business,” not literally anyone who happens to have incorporated their business.) Here’s the thing: generally speaking, big business has the kind of workloads that inherently require full-time, in-house, dedicated staff (and Administrative Consultants are not going to be able to work with any clients like that, from both a legal and practical standpoint). They also have the resources to pay for and house them. They don’t really need us. If they are even remotely interested in us, it’s only to offload non-core functions as cheaply as possible. That’s what offshoring/outsourcing is all about. They could care less about the relationship, and when there isn’t a real need, they don’t place much value on the service. And you can’t be in business to be cheap. It’s always the solopreneurs and boutique businesses that have the greatest need for what we’re in business to offer. They, therefore, place greater value in it and are more willing to pay well for it. So it’s important to understand who makes 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.
  3. When it comes to the service, you aren’t selling hammers, you’re selling what a hammer does, what it builds. My colleague states she thought she was offering services that weren’t popular. Here’s what she’s not understanding: It’s not “services” that you’re selling. As an Administrative Consultant, you are offering one thing: an ongoing relationship of administrative support. What that support is comprised of depends on the target market. This is why you need a target market. Once you decide specifically who to cater your support to, you can determine what body of tasks, functions and roles will be most helpful and compelling to that group. That’s when you’ll find the “popularity” you were lacking before.
  4. People don’t want to hear about your company, they want to hear about what your company can do for them. Read that two or three times and let it sink in. This makes a critical difference in how you are approaching people. But here’s the other thing, when you don’t know who you’re aiming for (because you’re just aiming at anyone and everyone), you don’t know anything about them and therefore don’t know how to talk to these people or what to talk about, you automatically default to talking about yourself and your company. If you had a target market, you would know specifically who you are aiming for, know what their common needs, goals, challenges and pains are in their industry, and you have something to talk about with them. My philosophy about networking is don’t do it. Instead, go to help, be of service, learn more about the people you meet and simply make friends. You’re going to have a lot better results that way. (For further insight when it comes to in-person networking, read this post: Are Business Cards Dead?)

For anyone out there who hasn’t yet decided on a target market, please do download the free ACA guide on “How to Choose Your Target Market.” It will help you TONS!

How about you? Have you had similar difficulty in your business? Do you find this information I’ve shared helpful?

On Ageism and Business

On Ageism and Business

I emailed a question to my subscribers yesterday, and I’ve been getting such wonderful, inspiring, fascinating responses!

(Thank you so much to everyone who has responded! I’m slowly going through everyone’s emails and writing back.)

Basically, I wanted to know: Why are you in this business?

And not the obligatory, politically correct, goody-two-shoes reasons (a la “I just love my clients and helping people!”).

I wanted to know the real, down-to-earth, self-related reasons they chose to be in the administrative support business, what they are hoping to gain, to achieve in business; what they want their business to do for their life.

I was also curious about their money goals and what kinds of aspirations and feelings they have around money. I’m always curious about this because I notice a big element of guilt in this industry when it comes to money.

Among others, one theme I’ve been hearing a lot in these responses is related to age.

We already know that a lot of the younger women enter this business because they want to be around more in their children’s lives and be home to raise them while also nurturing themselves through professional pursuits and contributing to the household income.

(And guys, too; I’m not trying to exclude them. We just happen to be predominately women in this industry and we have different, perhaps even more, challenges than men in business so these conversations tend to be geared more toward women. Just FYI.)

But I’ve also been hearing from women in their 40s, 50s and 60s who basically encountered age discrimination in the world of employment at this stage of their lives. Many have shared a similar story about finding themselves being laid off and having difficulty finding work again, all the jobs seemingly going to younger people.

They state that they started this business because they were seeing no other options, felt they had no alternatives.

You can definitely detect a hint of dejection about these experiences in many of the responses. But what I see and hear in them is a resourcefulness and determination of spirit that says, “I am of value and I have something to contribute!”

I love this!

So getting older and how that is experienced while being in business is what what I’m curious about today… because I’m no spring chicken anymore and I’m going through a journey of coming to grips with that myself.

Does this relate to you? How have you been experiencing getting older in your life? Has it affected your professional life in any way (and if so, how)?

Have you ever encountered ageism/age discrimination in the workplace? Did that contribute to you starting your own business? Do you feel business ownership is more resistant to age-ism (why or why not)?

Do you feel (like me) that business ownership keeps your mind youthful and vital? Have you ever worked with clients much younger than yourself? What was your experience with that?

Would love to hear your thoughts and feelings and any other interesting anecdotes you have on this subject!

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.

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.

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.