Growing Pains and Strategies

So yesterday I was answering a colleague’s question on business growth, and I wanted to talk a bit more about strategy, as I mentioned in the last sentence of that post.

By strategies, I mean tightening your operations, policies, workflows and standards up with purpose, intention and critical thinking. Reviewing how you’ve been doing things and putting a new critical eye to those things and considering whole new possibilities. Because with growth comes choice and the ability to refine. Some of the things you can do when your business is in a state of growth and choice include:

1. Increase your rates. As Mikelann Valterra says, not everyone should be able to afford you. If literally every client who approaches you can afford you, that’s a good indicator that you’re far overdue to give yourself a raise. When you become a hot commodity, you simply aren’t going to be able to work with everyone, nor should you. Raising your rates will not only help sort the wheat from the chaff, it will also increase the caliber of clients you have to choose from.

2. Lose the dead weight. If you have any clients that you don’t enjoy working with for any reason, let them go. The mental anguish and negative energy they create in your business literally pulls your business down. Really, you will physically feel a weight lifted from your shoulders and a new spring in your step. The time and energy you get back will triple, which you can then set loose on replacing those poor-fitting clients with more ideal clients, focusing on your business instead of constantly working in it, and indulging the newfound creativity that always occurs when mental gunk is cleared away.

3. Make some mental shifts. I find that most people in the beginning years of their business operate as if they were still admin assistants, that secretary sitting outside the boss’ door with the only exception being they are now working from home. They really don’t do anything differently from when they were an employee except that they now call themselves business owners. But really, for all intents and purposes, those are just words that don’t really mean anything. Traditionally, that’s how the industry originated. But when you reach a stage of growth that you now find yourself in, it’s a perfect opportunity for you to take a more critical look at who you are as a business owner. Ask yourself… Am I just a lackey, just an assistant, just a gopher? Or am I an administrative expert?

When you start to better define your role and the business you are in, you start to realize that not only can you portray your business differently, you also don’t have to operate or take on work in the same way as an employee.

Don’t let anyone tell you that your value depends on you being able to take on or handle everything that a client throws your way. You don’t have to work with clients on a daily basis. You don’t have to manage their email boxes. You don’t have to act as their receptionist on top of everything else. You don’t have to run their personal errands or deal with anything that isn’t directly related to their business. You can focus just on administrative works—because that’s what experts do. And they get a pretty penny to do it.

4. Review your operations. With the mental shifts, you will also start to realize how you can tighten things up in your policies and work processes. For one thing, you can lose the timesheets and reporting. You aren’t anyone’s employee and you don’t have to agonizingly report every minute detail of how you spent every second of time on behalf of a client. Some of the things you can look at changing are how you package and frame your offerings to clients, the support you provide and don’t provide, your pricing, your communication protocols and processes, refining your prequalifying processes, how you consult with prospective clients, where you can delegate (while understanding what work is critical for you to focus on and not abdicate), creating support plans and taking charge of the delegation process, taking a look at what you are offering and identifying services or support that can be classified in separate business categories (to create additional revenue streams), and coming up with info products or stand-alone/DIY products/services (because not only will those things allows you to provide something for those clients you can’t work with or who aren’t ready to work with you, they also create passive income streams).

5. Narrow your focus. If you don’t already, this is a perfect time to decide on a target market or refine the one you have even further. Not only will it give you clearer direction, it will laser-focus your efforts so you aren’t willy-nilly exerting them without any strategy or focus (which means the ROI yielded will be based more on luck than purpose and intention). When you do this, you get really good at marketing to a specific group. You spend less time marketing and networking. People have a much clearer idea of who to refer to you and thus, will do so  more often. Your message becomes more attractive, compelling and resonate (in fact, it will attract even more people beyond your target market, creating even more choice for you in your business). You get to know that group way better than you ever could marketing to anyone and everyone and therefore can hone your offerings specifically to their needs and wants. And ultimately, all of this allows you to command higher fees working less and with fewer clients. It’s not magic and it’s not a secret. It’s as basic as 1+1=2.

Bigger isn’t necessarily better. Everyone is always telling us how to become successful doing or becoming something else. Well, my passion is helping administrative experts be successful AS ADMINISTRATIVE EXPERTS. You aren’t some lowly person on the totem pole. My advice is always geared towards the person who loves what she does and wants to be financially and operationally successful as an administrative specialist.

4 Responses

  1. Julia Lilly says:

    This poses a great question… how do you present a raised rate to your customers without creating ill will? Do you give them 6 months notice or a gradual increase to the desired rate? I have only had my clients for 6-8 month and I don’t want them to think it is part of my “strategy” to raise rates once I have them dependent on me. But, due to lack of experience, I did not set my rate properly in the beginning. Advice in that narrowed down area?

  2. Great question, Julia!

    Here’s what I do… I always give current clients a couple month’s notice and at the same time bring any and all new clients in at the new rates/fees. I tend to do fee increases at the beginning of the year so letters would go out to clients in November letting them know ahead of time what to expect.

    I don’t know how many clients you have, and even though I really, really vehemently discourage fear-based decision-making, if you only have one at the moment that you are very much dependent upon, you might decide to make just a modest increase if you’re really worried about losing them.

    It will at least get them used to the idea that you are a business, and a professional, and fees are occasionally going to be raised for various reasons. On the other hand, you might want to sit tight with that client and work to bring new clients on board at the new higher fees/rates.

    Once you aren’t so dependent on the first one, you can then bring them up to speed at the same rates as the rest so that you aren’t managing a bunch of different policies (too much administration will slow your practice down considerably–you don’t want that).

    Here’s a rough template of what I use in my own practice as far as verbiage for your rate increase letter goes:

    Dear [CLIENT],

    The fee for your monthly support plan will increase to $X per month effective [DATE]. It is such a pleasure working with you, and I really love watching you grow and move forward in your business through our work together. [HERE, INCLUDE 2 OR 3 MAJOR ACCOMPLISHMENTS YOU’VE HELPED THE CLIENT ACHIEVE. USE FACTS AND FIGURES, ESPECIALLY DOLLAR AMOUNTS AND/OR PERCENTAGE INCREASES, WHENEVER POSSIBLE.] I look forward to continuing our wonderful relatinship and helping you achieve your goals and dreams.

    Signed,

    YOU

    Don’t be overly concerned with “ill will.” The clients who feel they are getting value are not going to be concerned with that. Truly, it’s usually ourselves who have the most problem raising rates due to self-confidence issues, not clients. You’d be surprised at how often they will say something to the effect of It’s about time. What took you so long? Honestly!

    And the clients who don’t want to pay more, really don’t want to pay in the first place. In business, there has to be an equitable exchange of interests. You can’t work just to suit clients and their interests or otherwise operate fearing their “ill will.”

    Anyone who asks you to not charge for your value is asking you to deprive yourself of the ability to make a living, keep yourself healthy and take care of your family. Would they ask themselves to do that? I think not. So you don’t need any client who has been taking advantage or otherwise doesn’t want to pay for your value. Let them exclude themselves. It will help clear your practice out of ill-fitting clients and pave the way for the ideal ones to come in.

    And saying that, do be prepared whenever you raise rates to lose a few people. The ones you lose are mainly going to be the ones who were only there to get something for nothing in the first place.

  3. I am interested in getting an outside opinion of someone to review my operations, in particular my pricing structure to see if it is even where it should be.

    I struggle with the email support that comes with each of my website maintenance service levels as they are so hard to measure.

    How would I get help with that?

    Karissa

  4. There’s no “should be” when it comes to your pricing structure. The better questions to be asking are:

    1. Am I happy where I’m at?

    2. Am I making enough money?

    3. Is the money I’m making enough to live on AND sustain the business without any other form of income (e.g., PT job or spouse)?

    4. Am I earning enough that I’m also creating profit in terms of freedom and flexibility to enjoy life and the fruits of my labor?

    If your answer to any of those is no, then I would assume it’s going to be an area you want to improve on.

    I’m not entirely sure if I understand correctly what you mean by “email support.” If you elaborate a bit more, I may have some thoughts to share.

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