Archive for April, 2008

Business Begging Doesn’t Become You

Business Begging Doesn't Become You

I received an email today from a colleague looking for work (I feel like get a million of these every week):

“I have been in the business since 2005 and had established relationships with a number of clients in the different states. However the last few months has seen loss of clients due to their financial constraints. I’m reaching out to you for any overflow work you may have. I do not wish to steal clients; I’m simply asking if there are projects or areas of projects you need assistance with to consider my services. You would get to review whatever I do before forwarding it to your client and so you would maintain representation of your work quality and standard. Also, if a new client contacts you and you are not able to take on their project please pass on my information.”

She included her resume, and has apparently sent this message to a huge list of colleagues whose emails it appears she’s gone to great effort to harvest off the Internet.

My members and I were discussing the message, trying to decide if it was legitimate or not.

If it is legitimate, I am sorry for her predicament. However, even so, she is going about things the wrong way.

To create a successful, profitable, sustainable business, she needs to do what the members of my association do every day: Become students of business and learn how to be smarter, savvier, more knowledgeable business owners.

What does that mean?

It means learning how to:

  • Get over employee mindset (business owners don’t submit resumes and I could care less about your resume; I want to see your competence demonstrated in your communications and how you run your business);
  • Start thinking (and marketing) like a successful business owner and master of your own ship (you position yourself as a loser no one else wants if you have to beg your colleagues for scraps);
  • Charge properly and stop giving away your time, expertise and the value of your work;
  • Define a target market for greater clarity, focus and results in your marketing messages and efforts;
  • Create systematic, methodical and intentional standards, processes and policies in your business;
  • Focus on core offerings, ideal clients AND ideal work (it doesn’t pay to take on anything and everything); and
  • Gain deeper understanding of the real service you offer as an administrative support partner.

Plus, most of us are simply not going to entrust our work to strangers. We are more likely to refer or subcontract to those we have come to know, like and trust through networking and have built relationships with.

While I certainly feel sympathy for her, as a business owner, I’m not attracted to anyone who resorts to business begging or wears their desperation on their sleeve.

It’s a signal to me that there’s a high level of business sensibility missing and makes me also question their competence.

I simply would not entrust my important client work, much less my own business work, to someone who doesn’t inspire anything but the highest confidence.

Who knows; she might land a few small gigs from her email blast. But that isn’t going to tide her over for the long-haul or contribute anything to the fundamental changes that need to take place in her business so that she doesn’t find herself in this predicament again.

I wish her well, and hope that she will have the wisdom to invest the same kind of time and energy she did in harvesting our email addresses toward overhauling her business and educating herself on the points I’ve outlined here.

Her business survival will depend upon it.

Dear Danielle: What Bookkeeping Software Do You Recommend

Dear Danielle:

I am contemplating starting my own virtual assistant service run from my home office and specializing in tax preparation and bookkeeping. I have been looking at software, namely Quicken, Quickbooks and Peachtree, and I can’t decide on which one to use. Is there a popular one that is used by others in this profession? —AC

The questions I focus on in here mainly have to do with helping folks understand business concepts and principles, particularly as those things relate to the Virtual Assistance business, which is a unique model in and of itself.

However, your question does bring to light the fact that you are not understanding what Virtual Assistance is.

The business you are thinking about opening isn’t Virtual Assistant business. It’s exactly what you called it–an accounting/tax preparation/bookkeeping business. That’s not the same thing as Virtual Assistance.

True Virtual Assistants (that is, those who practice the business as the model and profession was originally conceived) do not focus on one service. What they’re “selling” isn’t line-items services nor is it one specialized kind of service such as bookkeeping or transcription for example (those would be called Bookkeeper and Transcriptionist respectively).

The specialized service that Virtual Assistants are “selling” is an ongoing, continuous, collaborative (most often retained) relationship in which they support clients in some kind of across-the-board administrative capacity. So what makes something Virtual Assistance is that the service is:

  • Administrative
  • Ongoing, continuous
  • A package of across-the-board administrative support
  • Conducted within the framework of a collaborative relationship

From a marketing standpoint, it’s very important to call yourself what you are. If your focus is on bookkeeping/accounting, then that’s what you want to call yourself. That’s how your prospective clients will find you and how they will know and understand exactly what you do.

PS: Get hooked up in the bookkeeping/accounting profession listservs, forums and organizations. Since that is the profession/specialized service you are talking about entering; they will be your best source for current industry knowledge regarding software and such. :)

Dear Danielle: What Is My Guarantee?

Dear Danielle:

I am interested in hiring an Administrative Consultant. My ideas are getting clearer, but I still haven’t completely thought through how it would work. I need to know that I can trust someone enough to give them access to my personal information and count on them to be reliable and competent enough to assign projects. My identity and reputation are at risk. What kind of references or assurances can I ask a candidate for? What can I do to safeguard myself if I do hire someone? –KP

For a relationship with an administrative support partner to work, you must first understand that this is a business-to-business relationship. I wasn’t sure from some of the terminology you used that you understood that so I feel it’s important to clarify this.

As far as know how it works, that’s the beauty of working with professionals who are in business for themselves. You don’t have to figure out how it works. That’s not your burden to shoulder. They will lead that process for you.

As business owners (not employees), we each have our own systems and processes for getting thing started with a new client.

One of the first things we do with any prospective client is have a conversation with you (i.e., consultation) where we ask you questions to learn more about you, your business and your challenges and goals in growing your business.

From there we make our support plan recommendations and together decide where the best place is to start supporting you.

If we decide to begin working together, we then give you the information you need to know about how our business works and what our policies and procedures are for communicating and submitting work requests.

As you consult with people in our industry to find the one who is right for you, they will explain how these things work in their own particular business, and how they can help you get started with their service.

As far as what assurances or guarantees you can expect, much of that is going to depend on how you go about your selection process.

Each person is an independent business owner. That means, you are going to need to do your homework, review websites and then talk with those who pique your interest and present themselves as the best qualified to meet your needs and the best match in terms of personality and chemistry.

None of us ever has any foolproof, 100% guarantee that we won’t have any problems with a service provider we select.

As consumers, all any of us can do is try to make the most educated choice based on value, quality, competence and fit.

That requires us to do our homework. Beyond that, there simply will need to be a minimum level of trust extended or else there is no basis for the business relationship.

Of course, I don’t advise any client to hand over vital, secure personal or business information right off the bat.

Keep in mind that this is an ongoing, collaborative relationship. As you continue to work together, your relationship and trust level evolves. If at some point it makes sense to give your administrative support partner access to certain security information in order to conduct work on your behalf, that’s something you can decide at any point along the way.

To help you select a qualified, competent and professional Administrative Consultant, I wrote a guide to help business owners know what to look for and why: How to Choose an Administrative Consultant

Are You a Cheapskate?

No, I’m serious…

When you make decisions about your business, are you constantly looking for the free ride?

How do you choose your vendors and service providers? Is your initial inclination to weigh and examine quality, benefits, advantages and results? Or is “cheaper/cheapest” and “free” your primary criteria?

If it’s the latter, you’re killing your business.

And not for the reasons you think.

While there absolutely is truth in the adage “you need to spend money to make money,” I’m not talking about that.

I’m referring to something that’s far more insidious and damaging to your business. And that’s poverty mentality.

If you are a laws of attraction/abundance type person, or more of an intentions person like me, you are familiar with some form of the saying “you attract what you put out.”

If you are operating with a cheapskate’s mindset, guess who that’s going to attract to your business?

Yup, you got it—cheapskate clients. And that’s because your own mindset will permeate the current of your written and verbal communications.

Be honest, how many times have you complained to yourself or commiserated with colleagues about cheapo clients who want everything for nothing, who think you’re in business to work for free?

Now think about this:  How many times have you operated the very same way when you purchased services or products from others?

If you want to be approached by clients who respect and value you as professional, you have to be that way yourself. That means, you have to stop trying to nickel and dime your fellow professionals. Stop expecting everything to be free and “cheap.”

I’m not saying that you have to spend what you don’t have (although something worth having is worth saving for or moving mountains to get if need be), nor that the highest priced product or service is necessarily always the best and what you should choose every time.

That’s not what I mean at all.

It’s all in how you think and choose, regardless of whether the best is the most expensive, the least expensive, or somewhere in between.

When you stop being a cheapskate yourself and instead make your purchasing decisions based first on quality, skill and ROI, you are putting out into the world that which is going to come back to you.

When you start operating in that manner, you will consciously and unconsciously begin to understand and attract clients who base their purchasing decisions and how they choose their service providers the same way.

Because when your mindset shifts in this manner, something even more important happens: you begin to better understand your own value.

In turn, new ways for articulating that value will come to you, almost by magic it will seem.

And transformation is magical.

But then again, it’s not—it’s all about intention and consciousness. 😉

Do You Know What Business You’re Really In?

If you’re in the Administrative Consultant business, you’re in the collaborative administrative support business, right?

But do you understand the real business you are in?

If you are an Administrative Consultant, you’re really in the convenience business.

Why?

Because you provide a convenient alternative to employees for businesses that don’t have the time, space or large enough workload for employees.

If you are an Administrative Consultant, you’re also in the business of creating time.

By leveraging your time, talents and administrative expertise, your clients increase the hours they have at their disposal to to focus on their business.

If you are an Administrative Consultant, your service is so much more than the administrative support you provide.

A skilled, qualified, competent and thinking Administrative Consultant allows clients to grow their business faster.

You help clients accomplish goals and projects they never would have been able to on their own.

Your masterful skills deliver higher quality, which makes them look more polished and professional to their clients.

You allow them to operate more efficiently, thus profitably.

Your relationship with them helps them create the business of their dreams and the life they want to live.

You afford them the “space” to be and think and create.

As an Administrative Consultant, you come value-added, and that, in turn, allows your clients’ businesses run better and look better to their clients and customers.

Remember that in your marketing message.

It’s the difference between being merely a secretarial service doing drive-by work here and there and an actual administrative expert and partner for clients.

Client aren’t going to get that with project-based, transactional tasks because it’s absent the ongoing, collaborative dynamic that is inherent in your service delivery.

The Result of Our Industry’s Poor Marketing Message

Reason number 151 to ditch the virtual assistant term.

Came across a horrible press release about our industry (and of course, it’s written by some bozo who’s not even in our industry).

Here’s what the quote box said:

“Virtual assistants are the low-cost, low-commitment way to start getting some of that suffocating, time-sucking work off the desk, and into the hands of a professional who is trained to get it done correctly in the least amount of time.”

In the one breath, this guy says we’re “low-cost, low-commitment” while at the same time calling us professionals.

If someone is a professional who is “trained to get the job done correctly,” guess what? That’s going to cost something.

And working with clients who don’t make a commitment is one of the quickest ways to kill your business.

I don’t know about you, but I save my efforts for those who understand that a commitment is necessary for our work together. They are the most profitable clients to work with, and the most gratifying.

Sorry, Charlie. You got that completely backwards.

No way, no how, am I low-cost, low-commitment.

This industry has GOT to get off the pricing conversation.

Every single time you focus your marketing message on how “cheap” you are, on how much money clients will save over employees, you are focusing them on money.

Look how that message has educated this fellow.

And now he — an industry outsider — is in turn teaching your marketplace to expect you to be cheap and expect no commitment.

Is that really your message? Is that really all your solution has to offer? Is that the only value your work has for clients — a cheap way out? Is bribing people the only way you can get clients? Seriously?!

If you focus your message on “cheap” and “low-cost” and “low commitment,” guess what kind of clients you’re going to attract? You’ll get exactly what you asked for. 😉

You think you’re gonna grow a profitable, sustainable business and be able to make a real living that way? If you believe that, I’ve got oceanfront property for you in Sedona.

This industry really needs to change the conversation it has with our marketplace.

Here’s a shocking revelation for you:  You don’t need to talk about cost whatsoever in your message.

Instead, start thinking about what your services do for clients:

  • What results does your working together bring to their business?
  • How might their business growth and profits be positively affected?
  • What do they gain from working with you?
  • What does all that positively affect their life?

That’s the conversation you want to focus on.

Grateful to Be a Business Owner

I am unendingly thankful for making the decision so long ago to go into business for myself.

Creating, growing and running a business has expanded my mind and added to my life in so many ways.

Being a business owner has made me a more conscious person, not just in business, but in life.

The experience has taught me so much about relationships, about myself, even what life is about.

It’s allowed me to live and feel and experience life more fully and vibrantly.

Self-determination is the epitome of freedom, and I’m so grateful to live in a country and be in a business that allows me to have that freedom.

A Quick Thought About Focus

A quick thought for all you in the administrative support business struggling to gain balance and focus:

You aren’t in business to serve anyone and everyone.

You are in business to serve only those you serve best, whose needs are most in alignment with your needs and business offerings.

Focus first on what you need and want from your business and the kind of clients you want, and everything else will fall into place.

Forget about trying to offer every single thing that you think clients want.

Figure out what business you want to be in, what you want to offer, how you want to offer it, and who you want to offer it to, and your right, ideal clients will find you.

As you gain clarity and understanding about that, you’ll find that your business is easier and happier to run, you attract more money and clients (and better clients), and you have much more success and satisfaction.

I guarantee it. You’ll see… :)