Archive for July, 2007

No Such Thing

Have you heard of the term “team VA?”

Well, guess what? There’s no such thing.

What there are, are virtual temp/virtual staffing services.

These models work with clients just like a temp agency would–by supplying and rotating help according to client specifications. If someone gets sick, they have someone else to fill in.

It’s a commoditized version of support without any true relationship and none of the value that goes with a true, committed right-hand relationship with a self-managed, self-directed Virtual Assistant business owner.

That’s absolutely NOT the same thing as virtual assistance, which is a one-on-one partnering relationship.

What I see is that those folks don’t understand themselves what virtual assistance is all about and how it is vastly different from secretarial services.

Secretarial services are project based models. They conduct business on a transactional basis, sort of like your local Kinko’s.

You have a project, you submit it to them, they get it done, and that’s the extent of the relationship. It’s one-off or occasional.

Sure, you might be a repeat customer. They might know your name and the name of your company. They might send referrals your way.

But they have no further meaningful role in their customers’ businesses. It’s a transaction-based model.

Virtual assistance, on the other hand, is a relationship-based model. Virtual assistance is the profession of administrative experts. Virtual assistance is about working in ongoing, relational collaboration across the board with clients–not on one specific service.

It’s inherently a solo-based model because it is fundamentally about the unique and intimate working dynamic that happens only between two people–the virtual assistant business owner and the client.

Being someone who realizes the importance of accuracy and using proper terminology, I think it’s important for us to recognize and understand these differences.

Observations on the Differences Between Professionals & Wannabes

In my position as an industry leader and mentor, I’m in daily contact with all kinds of folks in our industry and those who would like to enter our ranks.

From this vantage point, I’m afforded a very unique perspective of the vast differences between those who are qualified and those who really aren’t.

There is a chasm of difference between someone truly qualified to be in this business and do this work, and those who think all they need is a computer, fax and telephone line in order to enter the field.

People with the qualifications to be in this industry earned their knowledge and skills working in administrative capacities in the workplace, most often for many years, before starting their administrative support business.

You don’t get the same questions from qualified professionals that you do with those who have little or no administrative experience. The latter ask the most rudimentary of questions, indicating they are still learning things that are the most basic requisites for providing professional services.

When clients hire us, they aren’t looking to train us. Professionals who are in business are expected to already have a professional-level command of the services they are hired to perform.

Dear Danielle: My Business Name Was Rejected, Now What?

Dear Danielle:

I had a very hard time coming up with a business name and eventually decided on something with “on Demand” in it and was happy about it. But I got a letter of rejection when I went to register it. Apparently, it’s too general. Back to square one; now what do I do?

Obviously, naming your business is a personal process (as long as it doesn’t infringe on the existing name of a colleague, which is anyone who is in the administrative support business), but have you thought ahead to what the phrase “on demand” (as well as its variation “instant assistance”) will portray to clients?

“On demand” connotes the idea that I could just call you up and you’d be sitting there ready to take my administrative order on a transactional (instead of collaborative) basis, work on it immediately as soon as we got off the phone, and have it completed by the end of the day.

If you plan on becoming successful and working for more than one client, that is one expectation you will quickly not be able to meet. When you plan your business, it’s important to look at the big picture and plan for the long-term. There has to be room for intentional systems and processes and growth in how you operate.

Think about what your business will look like as if you were already successful. Envision the number of clients you would have.

How is that going to affect your production, work processes and work flows?

How will the “on demand” expectations that you’ve created affect your work, morale and client satisfaction?

If all your clients called on the same day and each had a project they wanted completed “on demand,” what would your work day look like? Would you be frazzled and stressed? Does it seem likely that you’d be forced to put in extra hours? How would you choose who of your clients gets to be let down when you find that it’s just impossible to treat everyone’s on-demand request equally? How happy are you going to be living life and running business like that?

Doing this, you can easily see that “on demand” services are just not realistic, and trying to meet that kind of expectation will burn you out fast and only disappoint clients. It’s set up to fail and it’s not smart business operation.

Plus, there’s a level of desperation inherent in those words. It says that the service isn’t valuable enough to stand-alone on its own merits; that you can only “sell” it to clients if you make unrealistic promises of “on demand” service. It panders to transaction-minded clients, rather than collaborative-minded ones who are seeking long-term relationships–and the former are typically the cheap-minded ones as well. 😉

Providing administrative support as a business isn’t about operating like an employee who is solely devoted to the one employer and where they are intended to instantly attend to that employer’s demands. The value of Administrative Consulting is the fact that it offers an alternative for businesspeople who don’t have the time, space or workload for in-house staff–the keyword being alternative.

It’s an alternative to, not the same thing as, employees. As a business there are inherently and legally going to be differences in how you work with clients, and you necessarily will not be available to them in the same way an employee would.

If they need someone at their beck-and-call, they need to hire an employee. That’s just the law. And as an independent business owner and independent professional, you will never be able to sustain that level of turnaround once you have more than one or two clients, and will only end up disappointing everyone in the process, including yourself.

Let Your Ideal Clients See Themselves in Your Copy

One of the mistakes I see people in our industry make on their websites and in their marketing message is being very self-focused.

They will go on all day long about why they went into this field, all the joys it brings them, what they are looking for, blah, blah, blah, blah.

But that information does nothing to draw clients into your message. They aren’t looking to hear about you; they’re looking to hear about themselves — their problems, their needs, their interests and goals.

To put it very bluntly, they don’t give a rat’s behind why you went into this profession or what you want. What they’re interested in is how you can help them, and what you offer as it relates to their interests, not yours.

Now that’s not to say that what you want doesn’t have any place in your copy. It absolutely does!

Because that’s what going to weed out those you don’t want to work with and attract those who will be a fit for you.

But you want to phrase things from the reader’s viewpoint. Save the “me, myself and I” copy for your “About Me” page.

This is one of the reason’s why choosing a target market and coming up with an ideal client profile is so helpful.

Having a target market isn’t going to limit your opportunities. It will, in fact, increase them. Because the only way your message can become more clear, compelling and interesting is by focusing it to a specific audience.

By deciding who you are talking to, you help your ideal clients identify themselves in your copy. It helps you speak to their needs (while inherently serving yours in unspoken ways) from their perspective. It focuses your conversation and helps it stand apart from the same generic (and boring) rhetoric everyone else is putting out there.

But you can’t do that unless you decide who you are talking to. That’s what target marketing is all about.

Ah, Sweet Memories of the Corporate World

It seems I never have time to keep up on my blog reading anymore. I mostly follow business blogs, but I also have my recreational blogs that I simply can’t live without.

So I was catching up on one of my faves, GoFugYourself, and one of their posts reminded me of an episode from my days working for corporate.

One year, during a three-year period when our company went through a merger with a sister company, the manager I worked for went on vacation. That left the manager from the sister company, who had recently moved down to our building from Seattle with her department, in charge.

She and I did NOT get along. Mainly because she and just about every other woman in her department apparently thought it was good idea to dump whole bottles of perfume over themselves before coming to work each day.

Seriously, it was a total culture clash.

Our company was very environmentally conscious and sensitive to the health issues of its employees. We had several employees with environment-related allergies and illnesses, and I myself was desperately allergic to perfume. To this day, it gives me incapacitating migraines.

So prior to the merger, we had many people-friendly health policies such as encouraging folks not to wear perfumes and colognes to work.

Well, that manager and her department didn’t feel the need to comply and it was a constant problem. At one point, I had to ask not to come around my office if she was wearing perfume (which was every day), and after having to raise hell about it, we arrived at an uneasy truce. She stayed out of my way and I stayed out of hers.

So, when my boss went on vacation, this woman decided it would be a wonderful opportunity to abuse her authority. She began by insisting that I wear nylons to work.

Now, mind you, our department did not work with the public and our dress code had been business casual for years. Although the company manual hadn’t been updated, nylons were never enforced. I hated wearing nylons and almost no one else wore them at the office either. I was usually tan anyway, so you couldn’t even tell.

Anyway, after days of being harangued by her, she insisted on exerting her “bossness” over me. So I complied. I sure did. I came to work the next day wearing the sheerest pair of nylons I could find.

That morning, she came over to see if her will had been obeyed. She literally came charging into my office and BENT DOWN to examine my legs to see if I had nylons on, and accused me of insubordination when she wasn’t satisfied!!!

I couldn’t believe it! The gall!

So I bent down and plucked at the nylons and showed her that I had them on. I was in compliance and there wasn’t a damn thing she could do about it.

At that point I was furious and I soooo did not care what happened.

I stood up and “towered” over her (I’m only 5’4″, but she was only about 5″) and told her, Look it, I’m not some piece of cattle from your herd you can just come over and poke and prod and inspect. I don’t give a crap what happens. I’ve had it with you. I don’t report to you, and if you got a problem with me, you can take it up with MY boss when she returns. Until then, you leave me the hell alone or I will come in to work tomorrow with loudest, gaudiest Mickey Mouse-themed tights I can find.”

Her jaw literally dropped. I was actually pretty stunned I had let loose on her as well. But I really had absolutely had it. And when that happens, hell be damned. She didn’t bother me the rest of her tenure.

The funny thing is, later that year, she stopped wearing perfume, started showing me and everyone else a little human respect, and eventually asked me to do her resume (for which I charged her $200).

Ah, the sweet, pleasant memories of the corporate world. NOT! LOL

RANT: Virtual Assistants are Not Temps or Telecommuters!

I’m usually the first to tell Virtual Assistants not to get too frustrated or upset at business owners who approach them as if they were a temp or telecommuter or employee they don’t pay taxes on. Because frankly, this industry has done a lousy job of educating it’s own marketplace, and therefore these folks just don’t know any better.

We’ve now got bunches of business owners who think Virtual Assistants are little more than lackeys who will jump at a moment’s notice at their every beck and call for $5-8 an hour. Forget about any respect or appreciation for the work. They think any ol’ high school student can do it.

They have no understanding or concept that they are dealing with administrative professionals, independant administrative consultants with years of expertise and training behind them, who have their own operating hours, their own standards, their own policies and procedures for working with clients.

But there are days when I, too, am completely drained and fed up at having to educate yet. another. business owner. that if they want an employee, that’s exactly what they need to go hire. What is so freaking hard to understand about that?

When you want an alternative to employees, then you had better expect that there are going to be differences about how things work, how it will be priced professionally, and that it’s not necessarily going to be any cheaper.

The value that an independent Virtual Assistant pro brings to the table is that they can often do things better, faster, more efficiently and improved and thorough–without the training, management, equipment, taxes, administration and any other costs normally required with employees–and can support a small business owner administratively in as little as 15 or 20 hours a month. Much to the business owner’s success and overall cost savings.

But as self-directed and self-managed business owners, we provide that skill and expertise according to the policies, procedures and standards we have set in our own business. Just like any other independent consultant you seek services from. We aren’t telecommuters or temp agencies of flunkies, and we don’t work around the clock (every business has open and close hours).

So I’m letting off a little steam here today so that the next business owner who ignorantly and insultingly demands, “Oh, and I’ll need someone who is available sometimes at midnight on a moment’s notice,” doesn’t get the brunt of my indignation.

I guess I could always tell them, “Yeah, I can guarantee my availability 24 hours a day. My hourly fee for that is $200 an hour, with a minimum of 160 hours a month. And since I wouldn’t be able to take on any other clients due to the fact that you might need me at a moment’s notice, you will also need to deduct, pay and report for my SS, Medicare and unemployment taxes. Now, I am just a human being. I will occasionally get sick, and I’ll need a week off here and there to refresh, so we should probably throw in some of those benefits as well. And while we’re at it, I have my future to think about. If I’m necessarily working exclusively for you, my income potential is going to be limited so I’ll also need some kind of retirement plan…”

Oh, but wait… All that would make me an employee. And that’s what you didn’t want, right? ; )

Dear Danielle: Should I Take on a Partner in My Business?

Dear Danielle:

I’m thinking about going into partnership with a colleague. What do you think? -AV

You don’t mention why you are thinking about this. That’s what I want to know. Why?

What purpose does taking on a business partner serve? What are you expecting?

Are you ready to give up full control and split the ownership and profits in half with someone else? Do you even make enough money that you can afford to split your earnings down the middle right now?

What do you think you are going to get by having a partner that you can’t do on your own? What happens if/when they don’t pull their own weight, have the same passion and work ethic, or otherwise don’t live up to your expectations?

I have yet to see a partnership in any business that really works.

It’s like a marriage, and too often people fail to ask certain questions before entering into it and find themselves with clashing goals and values, and sometimes incompatible workstyles and temperaments.

Sad to say, but most of the partnerships I’ve seen have ended disastrously.

I’m not saying it can’t be done, but I think a truly happy, successful partnership is a very rare thing which requires a great deal of due diligence, planning and foresight upfront, and proper care and feeding afterward.

Plus, you understand that a partnership is a legal business entity, right? If your relationship goes south, your partner has a legal say and stake in how the business, monies and clients are divvied up.

(Note: Simply telling people that this person is your business partner makes it official; there doesn’t even need to be paperwork. And trust me, you will always feel a teeny bit more entitled to ownership of the business and how it’s run when it’s you who started it. But that makes no difference in the eyes of the law. You can’t fire a business partner when you decide it wasn’t the bed of roses you expected.)

There are ways to work with colleagues that don’t require you taking them on as a business partner and offer far more possibilities and opportunities of mutual benefit and allow each of you to maintain control and ownership of your own separate businesses.

You don’t need a partner to get help and advise in your business. If you are growing and need your own administrative support, simply hire a colleague as your own Administrative Consultant.

For Those Asking for My Personal Guidance and Advice

At least five times a week, I get a phone call or email from someone new looking for some personal guidance in starting her administrative support business.

As much as I want to see newcomers to the industry get the right help, I am only one person.

Between my own business and clients, the organization I run, and my own personal life, the demands for my attention anymore are great. I simply don’t have the personal time to share with strangers that I used to.

That is one of the reasons the started the Administrative Consultants Association. It’s through this organization that I give back to the community.

Much of the information provided on our web pages is intended to guide newcomers in gaining a deeper, more sophisticated understanding of the industry, it’s history and its true value proposition.

We offer free monthly teleseminars which are open to all (you don’t have to be a member to attend).

Our forum is where I give of my personal coaching and mentoring time to members.

And the Success Store offers all the administrative support business forms, templates, processes and guides you need to start your own business.

The website is offered as a do-it-yourself resource. You can avail yourself of all it offers by investing in some reading time.

Beyond that, if you need my personal help there are two ways to get that:

  1. Submit a Dear Danielle question to my blog (this is free, but comes with some guidelines and there is no guarantee your question will be used if it doesn’t fit the criteria).
  2. Schedule a laser session (I charge a fee for this as you are asking for my private, personal one-on-one guidance and advice, which is considerable. My time, experience and expertise come at a premium.)

For those of you who have called or written to me, please don’t take it personal if you don’t hear from me. Please do avail yourself of the information and resources on the Administrative Consultants Association website.

To your success!

Dear Danielle: How Do I Start Building a Client Base?

Dear Danielle:

Here’s the deal… I have a growing and successful business that is two-fold. The career services side has been up and running for about 1.5 years, and now I would like to concentrate more on the business services side. I also work part time as a “jack of all trades” administrative assistant. The job is great and I even get free (yes, free!) office space. My boss really supports entrepreneurship and growing a business. So how do I start building a client base? My main expertise is in Excel, QuickBooks, Publisher, Access, Word, and research. I do a lot of other things but these areas are the ones I excel in. I guess landing the first big clients would be great, but how do you know what type businesses would benefit from an Administrative Consultant? And do they come to you or you to them? — BA

That’s a big question, one that you aren’t going to get the answer to in one fell swoop from one blog post.

Starting any business is a big endeavor, and it’s going to be an ongoing journey and process.

I can see that perhaps one of the first things you want to get clear about is what an Administrative Consultant is and what kind of business you want to start.

Ours is a profession of administrative experts. They aren’t telecommuters or virtual temps. They are folks running actual businesses providing ongoing administrative support to clients, not employers.

Getting clear about that is important because your perspective and understanding about those things is going to make all the difference in the world as to what kind of clients you attract to your business.

If you’re still thinking like an employee, and go about setting up, operating and marketing your business like an employee, you will get clients who think they are “bosses,” will treat you like an employee, and who want to pay peanuts.

Change your thinking and your message, and you will instead attract folks who approach you as clients instead of employers, and who value and respect the work and you as a professional and business owner.

As far as getting clients, again, this is going to be a process.

There is no quick or simple trick. It’s going to require an ongoing, deliberate, intentioned, conscious effort.

You will need to choose a target market (a target market is simply an industry/field/profession you cater your administrative support and marketing message to). You will need to learn all you can about your chosen target market, learn to speak their language, find out what their common goals, pains and challenges are and what resonates with them. You will be constantly honing your message.

You may even change target markets several times in the life of your business. Your research and learning should never stop.

One of the biggest efforts you will make in the this business is networking and nurturing relationships.

Investing your energy there will yield you the biggest returns.

People work with those they know, like and trust. Participating in the arenas where your target market hangs out will get your name out there, people will become familiar with you, familiarity breeds trust and credibility, and when you make friends, you are the person they the refer clients to.

That should give you a very basic start. But do keep doing your homework and research–there’s so much more to learn, and the more you learn, the deeper your understanding about the profession and being in business.

Shameless Plug:  All of your marketing and networking requires a central hub to direct people to. That is your business website. But your website then needs to be an active participate and tool in converting your site visitors and prospects into actual clients. To do that, I’ve written you a guide that gives you a crash-course in inbound marketing and my proprietary conversion system and how to implement it on your own website, along with a systematic plug-n-play tool that basically writes your website copy for you. Check it out: Build a Website that WORKS: 1-2-3 Plug-n-Play System for Building your Website and Crafting Your Unique, Irresistible, Education-Based Marketing Message that Attracts Well-Paying Clients Who Can’t Wait to Work with You (GDE-40)