Archive for May, 2008

Valuing Yourself and What You Have to Offer

Mikelann Valterra shared the best quote in her newsletter recently:

“If you place a small value on yourself, rest assured that the world will not raise the price.” —anonymous

She followed this quote with one of her very astute observations:

“The true key to earning your worth is to believe you have worth to begin with. Not only do you have worth, you are WORTHY of good money. We all want other people to value us. But how highly do we value ourselves? Value and worth come from the inside out. When we know in our gut that we are indeed worth a lot, it is far easier to ask for good money. Don’t expect the world to pay you top dollar if you place a small value on yourself!” —Mikelann Valterra

Mikelann is one of my favorite authorities when it comes to helping women value themselves in business.

She has such a knack for clearly and eloquently ideas and concepts that aren’t always the easiest things to relate.

I can’t recommend her stuff highly enough.

Go to her website. Sign up for her newsletter. Subscribe to her blog.

Acquiescence Is Not a Business Strategy

Some members and I were having a brainstorming session to help a colleague who had a prospective client who was balking a bit at the terms of her agreement.

In the course of our conversation, another member proposed the idea of allowing the client a PAYG (pay-as-you-go) arrangement until they felt comfortable working on a retainer basis.

Here’s what I think about that…

Acquiescence is not a business strategy.

It’s a mentality that says “I need to take whatever I can get and my business interests are of less importance than the client’s.”

It’s settling for something less than ideal.

You do not have to settle for anything less than what you want for your business.

And you will never get what you don’t ask for and expect.

If you allow others to dictate what you want or need, whether in life or in business, you will be forever plodding through life at the mercy of everyone else’s whims and wishes.

Set it and expect it!

If you are trying to build a business with a roster of retained clients, it doesn’t serve your purposes to expend your time and energy on prospective clients who aren’t ready to commit to working with you in the way you need and want.

All that does is distract you and divert your focus, energy and resources from finding those clients who are ready.

If you never assert your expectation for working only on retainer, you will be stuck piddling around with clients who won’t ever make the commitment.

And for every exception you make to your standards and policies, you are instilling more work, more administration and less profitability in your business.

The beauty of this is that having this expectation doesn’t involve long, convoluted discussions.

You don’t have to explain yourself or make excuses for your policies.

All you have to do when you are having your consultations and explaining how things work in your practice is simply say, “This is how I work with clients to help them achieve the best results in their business… ”

Let those who don’t fit weed themselves out. Save your energy for those who are a fit.

You will be much happier. And your business will be much more successful and profitable because of it.

Inside Secrets to Having Friends as Clients

Nina Kaufman is an attorney and business expert who is always spot-on with insightful advice. We in the administrative support business seem to encounter the hazards of working with friends over and over so I thought this article was well-worth sharing. —Danielle

Inside Secrets to Having Friends as Clients
By Nina L. Kaufman, Esq.

When we’re growing our businesses, friends can serve as a great source of referrals. They know us well, trust us, and have no hesitation about recommending us to others.

But what happens when a friend makes a referral… and the referral is the friend herself? The dynamics of your friendship can change radically, and often not for the better. (I know–I’ve “been there, done that,” and got the tatters of a couple of friendships to show for it.) Here are some inside secrets to making sure that both your business and your personal relationship with this friend stays happy and healthy:

  1. Set business expectations. One of the reasons that having friends as clients becomes a disaster is that friends may expect you to handle their work the same way as you handle their friendship. Let’s say that “Janine” is used to your dropping everything to help her in a crisis. She may get upset when you don’t handle her web design project with the same urgency (even if it’s really not urgent). Before you take her on as a client, have a good long talk about your company’s standard procedure for working with its clients. Let Janine decide whether your S.O.P meets her needs, rather than convoluting your company’s policies to meet hers.
  2. Be clear about what you’ll charge. You’re not doing a friend a favor by not charging him (or deeply discounting) the products or services you provide, and ending up in an unprofitable situation you later resent. Natalie ran into a situation where she agreed to help Michael, a friend from church, with IT services. She had agreed to install and configure a particular computer program for Michael–she’d only charge the out-of-pocket expenses for the program itself. She bought the computer program at her preferred partner rate (so Michael got the benefit of her discount). The company sent the wrong program, so Natalie had to spend valuable time straightening that out. It then turned out that Michael had misunderstood his computer capacity, so when Natalie tried to install the program, all sorts of other programs wouldn’t work with it. Ultimately, Natalie spent many more hours than she had intended, earned no money on the deal, and Michael was upset with the whole process taking as long as it did, so never referred any further business to Natalie. A lose-lose situation all around.
  3. Get it in writing. David had this very issue with Gary, a college buddy. Gary needed help with PR services, and David agreed to help his long-time friend with a particular project… on a handshake. But Gary kept expanding the scope of what he wanted David to do, and once embroiled in the middle of it, David couldn’t easily pull out. Had David had a written agreement, he could have set out the scope of his services more clearly so that Gary would better understand when David needed to charge additional fees.
  4. Have someone else say “no.” You know from the moment you pick up the phone and hear from the friend on the other end that he has a need whether this could become a problem situation for your business. I feel a knot in the pit of my stomach. Other people feel their chest tighten. Still others get a headache. Don’t disregard those warning signs. If you know you really can’t meet your friend’s needs, but don’t have the heart to deny them personally, find a “bad cop” to bring to your client meeting. Your “bad cop” could be a business partner, division manager, or other work associate who will be the one to deliver the hard news about what the company charges, when payment is expected, and whether any exceptions will be made. It’s not the best of all worlds, but gives everyone a way to save face–and to save the friendship.

Doing business with friends becomes awkward because it inverts your natural rules of relating. Business needs to come first, not the friendship. That’s a hard boundary to set. Sometimes, the best thing you can do for a friend is to refer her to someone else to meet her needs. That way, you can help your friend while still keeping the friendship intact.

*****

© Copyright 2008 Wise Counsel Press LLC. Nina L. Kaufman, Esq., is a small business attorney and the founder of Wise Counsel Press LLC, which offers easy-to-understand legal strategies and information products that protect small businesses and save them money…wisely. To learn more, and to sign up for their FREE how-to articles and FREE audio class, visit www.WiseCounselPress.com.

Are You Trying Too Hard?

Have you ever had a conversation with someone who goes into so much explanatation or effort to provide “evidence” that in trying to convince you, they actually have the opposite effect?

In trying to make you think they know what they’re talking about, you clearly see they don’t know what they’re talking about at all.

It’s like the criminal who offers up such advance intricate detail of his alibi and reasons for his every minute action that he actually ends up looking more guilty.

They’re trying too hard.

Many people in our industry think getting clients is all about jumping through hoops and junking up their websites with every credential and work sample they can think of.

They put up examples of PowerPoint presentations, spreadsheets, brochures, yada yada yada…

This indicates the erroneous thinking that a work sample is going to be the thing that clinches the deal.

In fact, any work samples you provide will make very little difference. They will be of only passing importance, after the fact, after the prospect has already made up their mind about you one way or the other.

You know what? It’s not necessary… especially if you truly are what you say you are.

First of all, you need to know, really know, what business you are in.

Are you in the business of writing or design or bookkeeping or secretarial services? Or are you in the business of administrative support. What is your first and primary focus?

If you’re in the administrative support business, the “product” you’re offering is a relationship, not line-item services.

And think about it… how do you provide a “work sample” of a relationship?

The absolute, most important credential you need to have in this business is competent sensibility.

That qualification isn’t “sold” or evidenced through work samples. It’s an intangible characteristic that is demonstrated throughout all your interactions with your prospects and site visitors.

It’s in how you’ve set your business, policies and processes up. It’s in the conversations you have with would-be clients. It’s in your ability to lead your own business. It’s in your writing on your blog and your content on your website. It’s the confidence you project when you talk with potential clients. It’s the professional image you present visually, verbally, in writing, even in the operation of your business.

All of these things together become a living, dynamic demonstration—work sample, if you like—of your competence and expertise.

While they’re intangible, these are the things that clients will directly and powerfully correlate with your administrative ability and skill level.

That might not sound right to you. It might not be logical. It is, nonetheless, absolutely true.

Consumers make purchasing decisions for emotional reasons. It’s a researched, proven and verifiable fact.

They’re also hugely influenced by instant, unconscious judgments they make within minutes, seconds even, of meeting you or visiting your site, as well as other subliminal messages they receive along the way.

They only look to more conscious, rational “evidence” to back up their emotional decision.

Nothing, and especially not any work sample, will have more effect on your ability to be perceived as worth every penny you charge than the things I’ve outlined above.

So the questions you should be asking yourself don’t have to do with what work samples to provide. Instead, the questions to really be pondering are:

  • What message is the visual presentation of your website communicating to your site visitors? Is it one of high-calibre competence and ability? Is it one of an established, truthworthy, credible and committed business? Will your audience have an affinity with it?
  • What about your written message? Does it portray a confident, qualified and skilled professional? Does it demonstrate an absolute understanding of the difficulties or problems your target market wants to solve? Does it expertly inform them about the solution you provide for those difficulties and problems? Does it convey warmth, trust, perhaps even the feeling that they are having a close and personal conversation with you? Does it portray, without any doubt, that you know exactly what you’re doing, are highly skilled and have a plan to help take away their burdens?
  • What about practical correlations? Is it flawless in its execution of spelling, punctuation and grammar or is it littered with typos and misspellings? Are the ideas coherently presented?

Keep this in mind as well… No one is going to come to your website and decide to work with you based on a brochure or desktop publishing sample.

“Selling” professional services is a far more personal, intricate and involved dance.

Most of the time, clients come to us through our networking efforts and word-of-mouth.

And why is that?

Because through our writing and interactions with them (or those who refer them), we have demonstrated our competence and instilled the know, like and trust factor.

Your most well-placed efforts, with a great return on results, will be along those lines.

The Difference Between an Administrative Support Business and a Secretarial Service

I was reviewing our industry survey results recently.

It was interesting to see how many people still don’t understand the difference between a secretarial service and an administrative support business.

You didn’t know there was a difference? Yes, they are completely different business models.

 

The difference hinges upon whether the relationship is project-based or it is an ongoing, collaborative relationship of administrative support.

If someone is focused on selling line-item administrative services a la carte, they are providing secretarial services.

It’s like the relationship you have with, say, Kinkos.

You go there for one-off services. You might only ever need them once, or you might be a repeat customer and come back on a sporadic basis. But the relationship is incidental and transactional and they aren’t any more involved in your business than your mailman. It’s not the same kind of relationship as administrative support.

Administrative support is exactly that:  it’s a relationship of ongoing support where you take on specific tasks, functions and roles for a client in their business on an ongoing, monthly basis. It’s not one-time or sporadic projects.

That’s because administrative support isn’t an event. It’s not something you do once and never have to do again, (whereas project work, and the extent of your role in that transaction, ends as soon as the project is completed). Administrative support is ongoing throughout the life of every business.

So, an administrative support business, you aren’t selling one-off, individual services. What you selling is that ongoing relationship of support itself: the opportunity for a client to have an administrative partner who can take on any number of administrative roles or service areas depending on their needs (which you would determine and negotiate through your consultation process).

 

If all you are doing is project work, then you aren’t in the administrative support business, you’re in the secretarial services business. The ongoing relationship is what differentiates an administrative support business from a secretarial service.

Without the continuity and consistency of the relationship, you don’t get to know the client, their business or their work to the degree that allows you to provide that right-hand value.

Without the relationship, administrative work can only be done in fits and starts and bits and pieces.

Without that ongoing relationship, you can’t begin to develop an idea of the big picture of the client’s business because you aren’t any more intimately involved in it than than if they were picking up a burger from the drive-thru.

Without the big picture, there is no view for helping clients discover where improvements in systems and processes can be made.

Without working together on an ongoing basis, the client never gets to actualize the kind of efficiency and forward growth that occur only when there is a body of intimate knowledge and familiarity that is built and expanded upon on a continuous basis.

It is an entirely unique dynamic that cannot be had without working together, continuously, in collaborative partnership.

If administrative work is performed on a start and stop, occasional basis (services a la carte), the impact it has on the business as a whole organism is very isolated.

But if you are in the administrative support business, you are selling a package of ongoing support (a relationship) which uniquely offers clients the ability to achieve an entirely different, higher body of knowledge, forward growth and results that will not only get tasks done, but build upon and strengthen the foundation of the business itself.

This is what defines the administrative support business model and distinguishes it from secretarial services.