Archive for April, 2007

Dear Danielle: Oh, No! There’s Two of Us in My Town

Dear Danielle:

I just discovered there’s someone else in the same business in my town! I’m afraid she might not like having competition in the same area. She’s apparently very active in the business community, and I’m really worried that this could put a damper on my own networking possibilities. What should I do? —NC

Actually, I view this as a positive because having more than one person in our industry in the same area can lend credibility to what we do in the eyes of the business community.

Having colleagues in your local area can also be an advantage because you can combine your efforts in raising awareness of the industry in your local business community and collaborate together in educating them.

It just might prove to be very fruitful for you to bring your local colleagues togetehr and talk about ways to lay that foundation and how to share efforts and costs of promoting the industry in your community (this is what’s known as co-opting advertising).

You could all put a presentation together, and shop it around to the various local business groups that offer any number of opportunities to do this. In my area, there are the Chamber of Commerce, networking groups, business associations, district associations, Toastmasters clubs, various industry groups and associations, etc.

And if you are a shy person, having colleagues to share the presenting makes it easier and you feel more confident.

By focusing on getting the information out there, it becomes education rather than advertisement.

The brilliance of this is that by making what we do as administrative experts well-known, your own personal business will benefit.

Who do think they’ll be calling when they need our brand of services (which your presentation has convinced them they need)?

Why, the people who gave them the info in the first place!

So, don’t think of colleagues as competition.

There are more work and clients to go around than you can possibly imagine. And you personally need (and can work with) only so many.

The businesses and industries we currently serve are only a fraction of those we could be helping grow. We have only begun to scratch the surface.

And one person’s non-fitting client can be the next one’s ideal client. 😉

Help! I Hate My Client

No, no, not, me personally.

I’m referring instead to those oh-so-common frustrations we in the administrative support business have with certain kinds of clients.

You know what I’m talking about:

  • Clients who think you’re their employee and want to bark out orders at you.
  • Clients who think you’re not doing anything except sitting at the end of the phone line just waiting to jump at their latest self-created emergency.
  • Clients who think you should work at any hour of the day.
  • Clients who expect skill and competence, but for some reason think those things should only cost them $5 an hour.

Well, who are we to argue? The client is always right, don’t ya know.

NOT!!!

Listen, we can complain about those things all day and night, and true, there just are some plain ol’ rotten clients out there. When they present themselves, get rid of them–quick.

But we can’t blame every bad experience working with a client on them alone. It’s important to take a good self-examination, and honestly assess what your role was in creating the dysfunctional relationship.

Doing so will point out what you’ve neglected to consciously institute in your business, and create a stronger foundation moving forward.

It’s all about managing expectations upfront.

If you have a client who is barking out orders at you and treating you like an employee instead of a business owner, examine how you are presenting yourself to prospects.

Are you submitting resumes and references, and going about the process as if you were trying to land a job? Are you allowing them to dictate the standards in your business?

If that’s the case, it doesn’t take much to see where they are getting that idea.

If your clients are demanding, but disrespectful about your rates, what have you done to command respect for your services? Are you commoditizing your services by placing the value on the line-item services instead of the overall value? When you explain the value of what you do, are you overly focusing on the individual tasks and services, or the overall value of having an admin expert to assist them in their business over the long-haul?

And speaking of rates, are you charging appropriately? What message (perceived value) is your rate conveying? Does it say “smart business cookie and competent, skilled professional worth her salt who will help me in my business” or “pushover who I can take advantage of and abuse?”

If you have clients calling you at all hours of the day and night, what have you done to disabuse them of that notion? Did you let them know your business operating hours when you began working together? What boundaries and policies for working with clients have you set for yourself and your business? How did you convey those things to clients?

Remember, we teach clients how to treat us. (Hint: doormats are never respected.)

Make sure you are teaching yours that you are an independent professional running a business with something of value to offer, and that the success of that business—and equally important, your ability to serve them well—is dependant upon running that business in a business-like way.

You will both be all the happier for it, too.

DIY Can Only Take You So Far

Some colleagues and I were having a discussion on our forum the other day.

One member had hired another member to write and distribute a press release for her.

She did a fabulous job and the other member was just pleased as punch.

She got a well-written press release, something she admitted she couldn’t have done as well and saved herself some valuable time and the angst of trying to do something she just wasn’t good at and didn’t enjoy.

This got me to thinking about all the info products sold out there in Internet-land.

Info products are geared for the do-it-yourselfer (DIY).

DIY is great for bootstrapping, and there are some things that just inherently require you to lend your own mind and personality to them in order to be get it just right and make it uniquely yours.

And even if you don’t intend to do something yourself, as a business owner, you still need to have some level of intelligent understanding of certain things in order to know what you need, hire the right pros, and get what you need done for your business.

HOWEVER, keep in mind that DIY can only take you so far, and trying to do everything all by yourself actually keeps you from moving forward in your business.

Contrary to popular belief, doing everything yourself actually wastes money and resources instead of saving them.

None of us are experts at everything so when you can, allow someone else who is better skilled and equipped to put a better spin on things that you might not have the time or ability or energy to do yourself.

In the process, you’ll get to experience what clients experience when they hire us and wonder “now why on earth didn’t I do that sooner?!”

Dear Danielle: Newspaper Wants to Do a Story on Me But I’m Not Open Yet

Dear Danielle:

I emailed a newspaper reporter asking for information regarding an article she wrote. She noticed my signature line and now wants to do a story on my business.  But I’m still working at a regular job and not quite ready to take on clients that might contact me after reading the article. What do you think? Should I do it anyway? —EA

Newspaper interest and coverage is like gold. If you aren’t quite ready in your own business, perhaps you could look at doing the story as an ambassador of the industry.

You could talk about the industry overall, explain the concept and describe all the benefits and results clients enjoy by getting our support.

Educating the community about our industry overall instead of just talking about your business makes it informational and educational, rather than advertising or selling.

It’s easier to establish rapport with an audience when that’s the case, and in the process, you have a great deal of control in creating the understandings and behaviors of the people you educate–turning them into the kind of prospective, receptive clients you want to hear from.

The bonus is that when you’re the one doing the educating, you position yourself as the expert and that’s who those folks will call first when they need our brand of support.

One last tip: I’d hate for you to miss out on such exposure. One idea you might consider is setting an official start date and include in your interview the fact that your business officially opens on X date and you are taking names for a waiting list in the meantime and here’s how prospects can contact you for more info and to get on your list.

Contractors Are Not Employees

This post is for prospective clients interested in hiring a virtual assistants.

I don’t know where this disconnect is coming from, but I have to have a little plain-speaking talk with some of you.

This is an area of growing concern, and for your sake–and our sanity–I need to educate you on the topic of hiring contractors.

Contractors, such as virtual assistants, are not your employees.

They are independent professionals, just like yourself, who run their own businesses.

They have their own policies, procedures, standards and schedules. For most Virtual Assistants, it is their pleasure to share this information with you during a consultation.

With an independent contractor such as a Virtual Assistant, you get lots of advantages, some of which include:

  • More time.
  • More energy.
  • Better focus.
  • Faster progress.
  • Less stress.
  • Easier business.
  • More resources.
  • More money.

(Check out our Client Guide article on the topic: The Benefits of Support

I could list a ton more advantages and benefits, but I think you get the idea.

You do need to understand one thing, however–hiring independent contractor is not a way to get an under-the-table substitute employee you don’t pay taxes on.

  • When you hire an independent contractor, you don’t get to tell us what you’ll pay. We determine our own professional fees based on business economics and what will sustain our businesses profitably. You have only to decide that the value is there for you or not.
  • You don’t get to tell us how to do the work that will be performed or what equipment we use. You only have a say in telling us what you want accomplished or the results you want achieved.
  • We don’t “report” to you so we will not be filling out time reports or any other kinds of “reports” for that matter, nor attending employee meetings (virtual or otherwise) because we are not your employee or part of your “team.” We perform work from our own facilities.
  • You don’t get to tell us when the work will be done or what hours you expect us to be available. We manage our own time and work according to our own business schedule. Our relationship is one of business and client. Our only concern and obligation to you is that we accomplish the work we’ve been engaged to perform in the manner and timeframe agreed upon.

If you want or need someone who is solely dedicated to your business only, who you can supervise and manage, and who you can pay employee wages to, then you need an employee or a telecommuter (a telecommuter is someone who fits the legal definition of an employee but works from home).

That also means you need to follow employment laws, which means deducting taxes and paying your share as an employer, as well as paying for the legally-defined employee’s equipment and expenses.

Keep in mind that just because you both sign an independent contractor agreement, you are not protected from liability if the relationship doesn’t meet IRS or FLSA rules that determine whether an independent contractor is really an employee.

The law does not uphold agreements that are illegal in the first place, and if the IRS determines this is the case, it is you who will be paying penalties and back taxes on those “independent contractors,” not to mention any other benefits and reimbursements they would have received as an employee in your company.

And look, since I’m speaking plainly, I realize that it hurts to part with money and paying taxes is painful.

But we’re in the same boat. We independent contractors have businesses to run just like you.

We can’t work for peanuts, and we have to ensure our profitability so we can stay in business and continue to give great service to clients.

It’s a two-way street, and business economics applies to both parties.

And frankly, if someone isn’t just innocently ignorant about these things, and is really intentionally looking to cheat Uncle Sam (and in the process, the person who should have legally been classified as an employee in the first place), my first thought is what else are they going to be shady and unethical about? I don’t want anything to do with anyone like that.

So do us and yourself a favor.

Please treat us with the same demeanor and professional respect as you would expect to be treated yourself as a business owner.

Keep in mind the dos and don’ts I’ve listed above, and you’ll very happily find yourself in a great business relationship with an independent virtual assistant contractor who can give your business great skill, value and flexibility and help it grow beyond what you could ever accomplish all by yourself.

Are You an Instant Assistant?

In my position as an industry mentor, I see lots of new people wanting to enter the profession.

I also see a lot of misunderstanding about what it is to be in business as an independent professional.

One common misconception is that we are telecommuters or freelancers.

Another is that rookies, not knowing how to market, will try to market and run what is a solo/micropreneur business as a secretarial service. Doesn’t work, and they often don’t understand the distinction.

Newbies who operate under those misunderstandings will lots of times think that the value they are trying to sell is that they are “instant” assistants or work “after-hours” or “24 hours a day.”

And maybe that is the only value they understand. But it’s not the administrative consulting value/brand proposition.

What I think goes on in their minds is that they haven’t thought the process through enough to realize they are creating expectations by sheer virtue of the words they choose in their name.

Do they really want to work 24 hours a day?

Are they really sitting at the end of a phone just waiting for that one client to call with their emergency so they can drop everything else they are doing, other clients be damned?

When they envision what their business would look like as a full practice, they start to realize, “Hey, I can’t run a solo business like that!”

They realize that everything they do and say in their business creates expectations in prospective clients and set certain precedents.

They realize that the expectations and standards they create need to be in alignment with the way they want/need to operate their business and are able to deliver—consistently, to each and every client.

They realize that in order to sustain a productive, profitable, efficient practice, they have to take their own personal and business needs, expectations and limitations into account.

As an administrative support provider, you aren’t McDonalds, and you’ll never be able to sustain the kind of pace that creating the expectation of “on-demand” and “24 hour” service entails.

(Unless you want to be a secretarial service. Which will require far more resources and labor than just one person alone can deliver. Which is also not what most people in this industry went into business to do.)

No, all it does is reduce the perceived value of your services, and serves to foster disrespect for both you and the work, and creates demanding, unappreciative clients who will also expect you to work cheaply.

Your value—and true customer service—lay in creative, intelligent, skilled administrative expertise delivered at a controlled (not emergency) pace with intentional standards set in place.

Excellent service doesn’t require you to beat the clock or work yourself into the ground. And a resentful, burnt-out Virtual Assistant who ends up avoiding clients isn’t any help to anyone.

Is Truth Important Anymore?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of truth these days.
I see so much going on in our industry that is so far removed from the truth, especially from so-called industry leaders, sometimes it really gets me down.
Is truth important to anyone anymore?What about in marketing?

Is is okay to give out falsely inflated numbers and make claims that aren’t truthful or accurate if you think it’s going to help further the industry?

Is accuracy, truth’s cousin, important at all?

More on Virtual Assistants and Employees

Dear Danielle:

There are more than enough prospective clients to go around in my target market, but not many (if any) are used to spending $40 an hour on a virtual assistant. They take one look and say they can get an employee for far less than that. How do I educate them? —MK

It’s important to help clients (and yourself) understand that employees and virtual assistants are two entirely different things–apples and oranges–and because of their differences, you can’t even compare employee wages to professional rates.

One of the reasons you have this problem is because you’re marketing like an employee, not an independent professional in the expertise of administration.

The trick is to articulate your value in terms of their business, not comparing yourself to the cost and savings over employees.

Remember, the true value we offer is not in the tasks per se, it’s in the relationship and all the ways our work improves their business (and life). That’s what they’re paying for, not the tasks.

 

Don’t waste effort trying to make square pegs fit into round holes. Your target market should be one that would most benefit from the solutions you offer.

Big companies are never our best clients. They simply don’t need us. They have the money to pay for employees and have the kind of workloads that simply require full-time, in-house staff. The only reason they look outside is to see where they can unload umimportant work for cheaper. And you can’t afford to be in business to be that. So there’s a mismatch of underlying needs, intentions and motivations right from the get-go.

Always look to the solos and boutique businesses. They are the ones who have the most real need and, thus, place greater value in our administrative support and are willing to pay well for it.

If someone doesn’t need or want our solution, don’t spend a lot of time trying to convince them otherwise. In fact, sometimes a business just needs employees, plain and simple.

And don’t set your business up for failure by trying to be “affordable.” One of my favorite quotes is “You can’t afford to work with those who can’t afford you.”

Trying to work with business owners who don’t invest in their business or who haven’t properly capitalized it to afford the services they need can’t be your problem. Focus on those who understand value, who want and need your solution, and who can afford to pay your professional rates.

Steer clear of the employee comparision at all costs in your marketing. All that does is reinforce the idea that you are some sort of substitute employee–exactly the opposite of what you intend. When people think you are some sort of substitute employee, they want to pay you like one as well. 😉