Archive for February, 2008

Grateful for a Freedom-Filled Business

I’m so thankful for the freedom I’ve created in my life. This is something for which I’m constantly, CONSTANTLY, grateful for!

My husband passed away unexpectedly at far too young an age, leaving me a young widow and single-parent.

From that point forward, I became acutely conscious of how short life is.

I didn’t want to waste another second doing anything I didn’t truly enjoy, being robbed of precious moments that could be spent living life on my own terms instead of toiling away for others.

I set out to find a way to earn a living for myself doing work I enjoyed and found more meaningful and purposeful.

That search led me to start my own administrative support business, and I’ve never looked back.

It didn’t happen overnight and it wasn’t easy, but I’ve structured and evolved my business into something that gives me great satisfaction and freedom.

Because it’s an online business, I’m location independent and can work anywhere there is internet.

And because of that, I can also pretty much take off whenever I want to. I NEVER miss doing anything I want anymore because I’m tied to a job.

That’s not to say there aren’t times where it’s nose to the grindstone. But I love my work and clients so it never feels like work.

Most of the time, I’m chomping at the bit to dive into things first thing in the morning. However, I’ve structured my business and how things work in it in a way that I’m never tied to my desk day in, day out, 24 hours a day.

This kind of business (at least the way I’ve set mine up) requires so little overhead and administration. And I can take it with me if need be.

I’ve been on many a road trip around the state and elsewhere, and simply plug into my office via the ol’ laptop.

I am very deliberate about the clients I take on and the work that I do for them as well because I don’t want to do anything or work with anyone that inhibits my ability to live life and work exactly the way I want.

None of this would be possible if I was still stuck working as an employee on the boss’ schedule.

If You Are a Virtual Assistant, You Are Not a Staff Member

Let’s get something straight here: Virtual Assistants are not staff members.

We have an entire industry that in very large part (at least when it comes to newcomers) is under the erroneous impression that Virtual Assistants can be illegally employed as workers by clients or businesses without paying employment taxes on them.

WRONG!

Anyone who is trying to work as an employee to a client or business from home is a telecommuter which is a work-at-home employee. And employees and employers are subject to governing agency laws, taxes and reporting.

Virtual Assistants are not employees; they run their own businesses.

Know what that means?

It means they manage their own time and work according to their own business/work/project schedules.

They inform clients about their services, rates, policies, processes and standards, not the other way around.

They are in business to work with many clients, not just one.

And legally speaking, that means they are not managed, controlled, supervised, scheduled by nor required to “report” to clients in any way as an employee.

Got any questions about that? Let’s discuss.

Humble Yourself — Your Business Will Grow Because of It

Humble Yourself  — Your Business Will Grow Because of It

We are bombarded these days with the mantra “become an expert.”

We hear this left and right from business mentors, but a lot of people don’t really understand what is really meant by this.

It doesn’t mean pretending to know things you don’t.

It doesn’t mean rolling out of bed and deciding to call yourself something that actually takes years of study, training and experience to be professionally competent at.

It doesn’t mean pretending to be successful when you’re just getting by and learning the ropes like anyone else.

What it does mean is putting yourself out there and promoting the things you do know.

It means pushing past comfort zones and being in the business of continuously learning and growing.

That requires that you constantly exercise and expand your capacity for curiosity, intellectual understanding and critical thinking and asking questions.

If you never ask questions…

If you constantly pretend to know more than you do…

If you are only parroting and not truly understanding someone else’s words and only copying them…

You are going to seriously hinder your ability to actually reach an expert state in your business.

There’s no shame in being a student of business.

Embrace it — because doing so is going to help you and your business succeed and shave years off your learning curve.

Dear Danielle: My Billing Is Overwhelming Me!

Dear Danielle:

My billing is overwhelming me! Any suggestions? –PV

Well, a little more detail would have been helpful. ;)

You may as well ask me how to solve world hunger for as general as your question is, but a few thoughts do come to mind.

First thought is:  Hire someone to take care of that for you.

Administrative Consultants are business owners, after all, and every business owner should be handing off non-core, non revenue-generating duties to an employee or service provider.

So get help, sooner rather than later.

Of course, that’s the overly simplistic and obvious answer.

And even if you get help, you still need to be involved in the analysis of the process and problems, and setting things up, at least initially, with the person who takes that work on for you.

In the meantime, I have a few questions of my own.

First, I’d want to know what your business model is.

Because if you are running an administrative support business, I can’t imagine any easier kind of service to bill for than a once a month retainer fee.

However, if you are running a secretarial type service where you work primarily by task-based project, rather than a monthly retainer basis, and you bill by line-item services, you are necessarily going to have more complex billing issues and a greater administrative burden.

The other drawback to billing by line-item hours is that the faster you work, the less money you make, while none of the value and benefits the client receives from that work is reduced. That’s not fair nor profitable for you, is it? You didn’t go into business to give things away for free, right?

The other thing I’d want to know is, if you are working on retainer, how or what on earth are you billing for that is making things so complicated?

  • Do you have overly complex fee structures and/or charge different rates for different admin work?
  • Are you overly concerning yourself with reporting hours to clients?
  • Are you charging different clients different rates?
  • Are you making too many policy exceptions and creating counterproductive, unprofitable distraction for yourself in the process?

As an independent professional, and not an employee, it’s not necessary to itemize every single minute of effort and time you’ve expended on behalf of a client.

If you are doing that, you are making things a whole heck of a lot harder on yourself than need be.

It helps to remember that clients aren’t paying for line-item tasks and projects; the value they are paying for is the overall service of having a smart, competent, right-hand administrative professional to work alongside them in their business.

When that’s the case, there’s no need to bill or report all the minutiae.

It can be as easy as setting some basic parameters, creating a package based on that, and putting a single pricetag on the value of that support.

One of my main rules of profitability is keep things Simple, Simple, Simple.

Streamline. Get all your clients on the same page and bring everyone up to your current rates.

Set your policies and don’t be in the habit of making exceptions to them as that only increases your administration and reduces your profitability.

Beyond that, I really need more specific details to elaborate further.

Hope that helps a bit in the meantime.

Latest Virtual Assistant Scam Alert

There is a new scammer out there targeting Virtual Assistants.

This particular person (or persons) is currently going by the name of Larry Ellison.

He’s asking Virtual Assistants to submit short articles to him, luring them with the hope that if they are good enough, they may be hired onto his planned “barn” of Virtual Assistants.

What this guy is trying to do is:

  1. get free work done for him, and
  2. he’ll then most likely use these articles to post on what is probably hundreds of scam/spam dummy blogs he’s got set up.

The email itself may be a ploy to get people to hit reply on it (you never want to reply to spam/scam/spoof emails).

That should be your first clue to ignore this kind of request. The second clue is that this person doesn’t provide any business-like information that can be verified or checked into in any way.

Don’t be a bonehead:  If you are smart business owner and competent Virtual Assistant, you NEVER need give away your value or work product for free in order to gain a client. If that kind of client knocks on your door, tell’em “no, thank you very much.”

So, if you receive an email similar to the one below, hit delete and don’t look back:

Hi there,

I have a pretty big project that I am working on right now and need couple of Virtual Assistants who have nice creativity in writing quality articles on any topic they think they are master of. My work load will be increasing in the coming future (approx 16 hours everyday) & I am planning to have more than 10 VA’s.

Each article will be taking approx 15 minutes to jott down your thoughts and documenting it.

To choose the right Virtual Assistant for me, I have bought a plagiarism checking software so please invest 1 hour for this long term relationship and write 2 original articles of 400-500 words.

I need to make my decision later this week or early next week , so if you are interested in getting a long term contract , I look forward for your reply.

Regards,

Larry

Dear Danielle: Where Can I Get a Job Doing This Work?

Dear Danielle:

Hello. I am looking to do virtual work. Can you please share with me on how to get started in finding virtual positions please? –MA

No.

Sorry to be flip, but that’s the simple, undetailed answer to your simple, undetailed question.

Have you been paying attention at all? I’m not a staffing agent. What makes you think this site has anything to do with staffing agencies or finding people jobs?

You’re writing me so you surely you’ve read something here. I would expect you to at least know that this is not a job, it’s a business.

If you can’t be bothered to pay the slightest attention to an important detail like that, why would I or anyone else think you’ve got the competence to do this work for paying clients, much less run a business.

This is a profession and a business. It’s not a telecommuting position.

Many folks have been suckered into thinking they can “make millions from home working in your pajamas.”

Ain’t gonna happen. Especially not with as little critical thinking and effort as you’ve demonstrated in your question.

If you’re interested in starting an administrative support business, I recommend you do a bit more homework first and actually read and learn about what that is and what it isn’t, and then determine if you have a) the background and skills to offer those kind of professional services at a competent level, and b) the kind of ingenuity, determination, self-motivation and savvy to run your own business.

Look, I know it sounds like I’m being hard on you. And I am.

But trust me, this is the greatest kindness I can extend to you.

It’s one thing to reach out to others for help, but you need to be mindful of respecting peoples’ time and attention.

Part of being respectful of people’s time is doing at least some small bit of your own research to make sure your question is not misplaced, and to ask in a way that demonstrates you’ve done at least some homework, for gosh sakes.

If you aren’t inclined to exert more initiative in your thinking and research first, there aren’t going to be a whole lot of folks inclined to point you in the right direction.

Dear Danielle: How Do I Handle Prospective Client Who STILL Has Not Signed?

Dear Danielle:

I have a prospective client I’ve been talking with for about two months now. He was supposed to have signed a contract and paid his first month’s fee on the first of the year. We’re now into February and he still hasn’t done it! He keeps going back and forth, asking me to do this and that first. I’m not sure how to handle the situation at this point. What should I do? –BE

Two words: move on.

As a small business, you can’t afford to have your time and energy wasted by ditherers.

Save those precious resources for those clients who are ready to work with you.

This fellow isn’t committing because by indulging in his whims, you are giving him permission to be indecisive and thereby waste your time.

At this point, you need to get clear about how things work in your practice.

Let him know you have all the information you need, here are your support recommendations and how you can help, but in order to move forward, here is what needs to happen (and then outline those things).

Be gracious. Thank him for his interest and tell him once he makes a decision, you’d be happy to talk with him again (if that is the case).

Invite him to sign up for your newsletter or whatever other free offer you provide.

Tell him you’d be happy to stay in touch with him through your mailing list if he’d like.

Let him know, also, that you can’t guarantee there will be an open spot in your practice for him at a later date, which is the truth because your job is to fill your roster with right-fitting clients who are eager for your support and ready to work with you now.

The ball is in his court now. Time for you to stop jumping through hoops and waiting around on him.

Your best clients are right around the corner. But you make it twice as hard for them to reach when you allow the path to be blocked by not-quite-right-nor-ready clients.

Likewise, if you don’t expect a commitment, you won’t get one. Simple as that.

So don’t do that.

Learn to recognize the point at which your time is being wasted.

Save your energy and focus for your ideal clients.

It’s Called Customer Service, Not Servitude

I came across a blog post where a colleague was talking about an issue she was having with a client who wanted to do something in a certain way that she knew wasn’t the best way, and would actually cause the client more problems.

Instead of guiding this client, as an expert should, away from an outdated, unproductive or convoluted way of doing something that would neither serve the client’s purposes nor be an efficient use of her time as a service provider, she abdicated her role as the administrative expert, commenting, “But as she is the client, I do as she asks.”

People, it’s called customer SERVICE, not servitude.

If a client wants to do something that is neither productive nor helpful, and especially when it will not help them achieve the end result they are looking for, it is certainly your role to educate them and advise them otherwise.

If you don’t, you are neither serving the client nor being a useful partner to them. You are merely being a lackey who isn’t truly helping them achieve their goals.

And another thing, don’t allow client’s to spin your wheels. It’s not just the client’s business that is involved here. It’s your business as well.

In the end, the client’s business is certainly theirs to do with as they please. It’s also the client’s perogative to ignore your best counsel.

If they want to take steps backward in their business, that’s up to them.

But that doesn’t mean you should allow them to take you with them, especially if engaging in certain work or a way of doing something is counterproductive and has a detrimental impact on your business or processes.

It’s okay to say “no.”

Let them know that while you certainly respect their decision to do a thing a certain way, it’s not something you are willing to do for them as it’s an inefficient and unproductive use of resources in your business. Put in a more positive way, explain that you can accomplish X for them as long as they are willing to allow you to do things according to current industry standards and quality and here’s what they need to do or have to get started…

It’s not your “job” to do every single thing a client asks.

It’s also not your obligation to perform any work that does not fall in line with what you deem as acceptable on a professional level in your business.

It’s certainly within your rights as a business owner yourself to decline those things in which you don’t want to participate.

Grateful Mondays: On Being Unmaterialistic

Today I am grateful for not being burdened by materialism.

I was reflecting on this the other day as I was taking a little country drive. The sun was peeking through the clouds, the pastures were emerald green and glistening with a recent rain, and the hills in the distance were powdered with snow. It was so beautiful, and I was filled with delight and satisfaction.

And I thought, man oh man, I have all I need. And I really do.

I think it must be a terrible burden for those who have a constant, unquenchable thirst for “stuff.”

Don’t get me wrong… I don’t deprive myself of luxuries or things I want. But my want and desire for things and trappings is very minimal. When I indulge, I am satisfied.

I’m very grateful for not having any addiction to keeping up with the Joneses or the next new thing.

Life is good.