Archive for May, 2009

Dear Danielle: What About References?

Dear Danielle:

What do you think of prospective clients asking Administrative Consultants for references? –DE

I think when clients ask for references, they:

a) aren’t understanding the nature of the relationship, and/or

b) aren’t feeling the trust/competence/credibility that good demonstration of those things would give them.

Yes, we get irritated with some clients. Some clients are just looking for a free ride or intentionally trying to get what amounts to an under-the-table employee. I have no love for those types.

But other clients (I think probably the majority) are only misinformed because the industry at large is the one misinforming them and setting the wrong expectations.

I know we’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating: the VA industry is still stuck in employee-mindset.

People, you have got to stop with all the references and comparisons to employees. All that is accomplishing is making clients think that you are some new kind of employee. Your job isn’t to replace employees. Some businesses and some workloads simply require an employee.

We, on the other hand, are business owners. As such, we should be representing a higher, more professional level of skill sets for clients who want greater expertise and who have administrative workloads that don’t require an employee.

You have to show and tell clients how to properly seek out a professional (not an employee). They don’t necessarily know how to do that. When the industry at large stops marketing like an employee and comparing itself to employees, those requests for references will go down considerably.

But here’s the other part of the issue… when clients ask for references, a lot of times it’s because they just aren’t getting what they need to trust that they’re hiring a pro, an administrative expert.

Where they get that is through your presentation of yourself and your business.

That means, you have to demonstrate skill, competence, legitimacy, credibility and qualification in all that you do… in the visual design and display of your website, in your marketing message, in your speaking and writing, everything.

Because when you do that, you are instilling in them the sense of those things. They don’t feel the need then to look or ask for additional “proof.”

So if you are getting lots of requests for references, it’s a signal that your presentation, your image, your message, etc., may not be up to snuff.

That’s a good time to go through all your content and marketing message and see where you might be losing them. You might even want to get the help of a pro to give you feedback on where you might be falling short and help beef things up.

As far as marketing goes, it’s always a great idea to have testimonials from current or former clients. Provide full names, pictures, urls and contact info if the client agrees to that.

Be sure and intentionally use and reinforce the term “testimonials” by the way. Very important. You want to steer clients away from confusing you in any way with an employee.

So if a client asks for references, you could say, “Oh, you mean testimonials? Of course!” and you can then steer them in the direction of the testimonials on your website.

The other thing you can do is have a more elaborate or in-depth sheet that you can provide to clients who are further along in your consultation process.

If they still want to talk to someone in person, all you need is one or two clients who are agreeable to giving out their contact info and then save that info only for the most serious of prospects.

Remember, the last thing you want to do is inconvenience any of your past or current clients with constant phone calls and emails from other would-be clients so dole that info out judiciously.

At the same time, I will tell you that if you are meeting all the other tests of credibility and demonstration of skill and competence in everything else you do, requests for further references and “proof” are going to be little to none.

In over 12 years of business, I cannot remember a time that I have ever been asked for references.

Rant: I’m Not Your Employee

Just saw some idiotic tweet on Twitter. Nothing irritates me more than reading any variation of the ridiculous phrase “…manage your Virtual Assistant…”

Exxxxcuuuuuuuuuuse me?!

Virtual Assistants are not “managed.” A Virtual Assistant is not an employee. Do clients “manage” their attorney? Their accountant? Their doctor? Their mechanic? Their plumber?

Why on earth do they have this insulting notion that they are going to manage us?

Why? Because Virtual Assistants themselves insist on allowing themselves to be led around by the nose by clients like a bunch of schmucks.

They don’t have the balls to come out and say “no” to clients, to say no to being “managed;” to correct clients when it’s clear they don’t have the proper understanding of the nature of the relationship.

They’re so freaking afraid of losing the client. What hostages! I can’t imagine living life like that.

It’s both sad and maddening at the same time.

To Would-Be Clients: I run my own business, thank you very much. I am not your employee. I am your Administrative Consultant. You’re not going to manage me anymore than I am going to manage you. I expect you to talk to me and about me with the same professional respect you would have for any other kind of professional you expect to help you in business. Otherwise, we have no business together.

But I Only Need These Little Things Done

But I Only Need These Little Things Done

One of the things we in the administrative support business often hear from clients is some variation of the theme on why they keep trying to do everything themselves in their businesses:

“But I only need these little things done… they don’t take much time or effort or skill.”

“It’s just as easy for me to do it.”

“In the time it takes to me to email it, I could have gotten it done already.”

But here’s the thing… all those tiny moments can and do add up to huge chunks of time and energy — resources that are better spent building your business.

You see, the value in having an ongoing administrative support relationship with an Administrative Consultant isn’t in the tasks per se. It’s in what that Administrative Consultant’s support allows you to achieve and accomplish because you aren’t spending your own time laboring over details and implementation.

Think about it.

When you expend your time and effort on the “little things,” you are chipping away at those vital resources you need to tap into your creativity and stay focused and energized.

If you fritter those things away, you won’t have any left to spare. Ideas and products you’ve been meaning to get to languish forever on the back burner.

Plus, all those “little things” take up space in your head. They crowd out ideas and dilute the mental energy you need to take action.

By the time you get done taking care of them, you may not have anything left for the more important stuff.

You give away your critical thinking and brain space by trying to do it all yourself.

Don’t hang on to the “little things” because it’s “easier.”

It doesn’t matter how hard or how easy they may be. The point is to give them away so that you can move forward.

What are you trying to achieve in your business? Where do you want to focus your time and energy? What work or projects are you trying to get done?

The act of giving away the “little things” (along with big things, for that matter) can mean all the difference in (for example) whether or not you are able to work with x number of additional clients per month, create those new passive income streams, complete that program that will represent $x more in additional revenues, or write that new book that will generate more publicity, establish authority in your field and increase your expert status.

And the greatest thing about all this is that you don’t have to remain a prisoner to this thinking.

An Administrative Consultant can unshackle you from your administrative burdens. All you have to do is let go. It really will set you free to soar in your business.

RESOURCE: For more about what you can gain by working with an Administrative Consultant, be sure and read the ACA Client Guide article, “The Benefits of Support: Why Getting Administrative Support is Critical to Your Business Success.”

© Copyright 2009 by Danielle Keister for the Administrative Consultants Association. You are granted permission to republish this article only if used without alteration in its entirety with this copyright notice, title, article content, resource, and links intact.

What Would You Do? Newcomer Uses a Colleague’s Business Name

So here’s a sticky situation that is occurring more and more often:

A newcomer to the industry enters the scene and proudly announces her new business name and tagline to the world. Problem is, it is identical or nearly identical to the business name and/or tagline of an established colleague.

Your business name and tagline is part of your brand identity, which is an important and valuable intellectual asset.

It helps creates a unique and distinctive identity of your business in the marketplace. It helps facilitate brand awareness, differentiation and word-of mouth advertising for your business.

When someone copies your name or tagline or uses a derivative, it creates confusion and unfair competition.

While registering your tradename affords you the greatest legal rights and recourse, it is not required and it’s not the only way to exercise your rights and protect your turf. There are common law protections as well that protect intellectual property owners.

The law does require, however, that you actively protect your trade name (business name), trademarks, servicemarks, etc., (e.g., taglines) or you lose the rights to lay claim to them.

What that means is you must go after those who infringe upon your business name, tagline and other trademark property or you lose right to them. And if you are serious about your business (it’s your livelihood after all), that’s not something you take lightly. It, therefore, becomes necessary for you to keep a vigilant eye open for infringements of this nature.  The eyes and ears of your colleagues are often very helpful in this effort.

Which also means you do not want to be the newcomer who is doing the infringing on someone else’s tradename and/or other intellectual property. You can be easily sued and held liable and ordered to pay thousands of dollars, on top of having to start all over from scratch.

Do you really have the time, money, energy and resources to fight a costly legal battle in another state or even country with someone who has every right to go after you and protect their intellectual property and very important business interests? And if you don’t have the money to defend yourself, they can win by default judgment.

Stealing from others and engaging in the unethical practice of infringing on the tradename/trademark/intellectual property of others is a no-win situation.

But forget legalities for the moment.

Let’s look at this from a moral and ethical standpoint.

Sometimes this is difficult, but it becomes less so when you first ask yourself the question: “How would I feel if this happened to me.”

======================
SO WHAT DO YOU THINK?
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  1. Would you be upset if someone new to the industry started using your business name? Why or why not?
  2. If you saw someone new using a colleague’s business name, tagline/slogan or other brand identity, would you say something to that newcomer? Why or why not?
  3. Would you let a colleague know if you saw someone new using their established business name, etc., a close enough derivative of it to be confusing? Why or why not?

Dissection of an Actual Cold Call Prospecting Email

Just about every other day I get an email from someone new in the industry wanting to me to hire them or asking for help in “seeking a Virtual Assistant job.”

I received one recently that was so ineffective that I thought it might be helpful to others to provide a dissection on why it wasn’t an attractive or compelling offer. We’ll take it line by line:

“To Whom It May Concern:”

Okay, right here, I’m already not getting any warm fuzzies. You took the time to scour the Internet for Virtual Assistant businesses, go to my website and harvest my email, but you can’t go that extra step and personalize your message to me? And you expect to get a response?

“I would like to inquire to see if you have any available positions at this time.”

This one is really frustrating to veterans like me.

First of all, if I had available “positions,” I would have advertised them, either directly on my website or on an employment site of some kind.

Unsolicited mail like this creates work, work I didn’t ask for and don’t want my time wasted on.

I don’t respond to these types of requests and find them especially irritating because Virtual Assistance is not a “position.” It’s a business and a profession.

And if I did hire someone, it’s going to be from amongst my colleagues whom I’ve gotten to know on forums and know something about their qualification and competence. It’s definitely not going to be a stranger I don’t know from Adam or Eve who, by the way, provided no website and only a free email account.

“As you’ll see on my attached resume, which includes a link to my online portfolio, I have the professional experience, and track record for which you are searching.”

Um, you don’t even know whether I’m offering any available positions at this time so how on earth do you presume to know what I’m searching for?

I have no interest in resumes, especially ones I didn’t ask for. I look for professionals, not employees. A resume is just a bunch of words on a page. They mean absolutely nothing to me. I want to see competence and skill and critical thinking and qualification demonstrated in action. This email is a perfect example of those things NOT being demonstrated in any way.

“In addition, I am motivated and enthusiastic, and would appreciate the opportunity to contribute to your company’s success.”

Part of my company’s success is not expending valuable time and resources dealing with these kind of frivolous email blasts. And if I were an employer, I wouldn’t care what you would appreciate. Instead, you should be showing me that you understand what I would appreciate.

“I am excited that you are offering this as a telecommuting position.”

Um, hello?! Knock, knock. Anyone home in there? You don’t even know if I’m offering any positions. And it most certainly isn’t telecommuting. Don’t contact people unless you are going to be using your brain. This is not engendering any warmth or confidence in me for your thinking ability, competence or attention to detail. In fact, all I’m thinking it that you have a box of rocks for brains.

“Its the most cost-effective way your business can go green without the quality of your work suffering. By maintaining a 100% virtual status I save:

  • 203 gallons of gasoline, or $914 per year
  • 2,071 barrels of crude oil per year
  • 1.785 metric tons of CO2 (the principal greenhouse gas) per year
  • I can be 100% paperless – everything is on my computer
  • In addition to less paper, there is a considerable amount of ink and toner saved by not using printers and copy machines. All cartridges used are recycled and kept OUT of our landfills.
  • Less energy is used because my business doesn’t need a bricks-and-mortar location. Everything is handled virtually.
  • In addition, you don’t pay for office expenses such as utilities, desk, chair, computer and the office space itself.”

First of all, know your audience. You’re preaching to the choir, sweetie. I’m already a virtual business owner, not to mention an industry veteran. Don’t you think I already know this stuff?

I live and breath these stats every day inside and out. Don’t waste my time by making me read irrelevant information that is of no consquence to me. It’s completely useless in showing me why I’d want to work with you. And I certainly don’t care about how much it will save you and your business.

And seriously, everyone is going overboard with the green thing. It’s a tired, repetitive conversation and only hits on features. You spent the better part of your letter explaining something that doesn’t tell me anything I’m interested in or show me anything in the way of how my business or life would be improved by working with you. All you’ve shown is how uninformed you are.

“Then there are benefits expenses including, vacation time, sick time, and insurance coverage. Working virtually I am, as an independent contractor, responsible for those costs. As your virtual employee, you pay for my hourly rate and reimburse for any costs incurred for the job (mailing costs, etc.)”

Now, maybe this is just me personally, but this shows a level of ignorance that is just so completely unattractive to me. Virtual Assistants who are serious about their profession and having it taken seriously really resent the confusion this kind of statement causes.

Virtual Assistants are not employees. Telecommuters are employees. So which are you? Because if you’re an independent contractor, you’re not an employee so please stop calling yourself that. Those kind of ignorant statements especially piss me off because they are responsible for the continuing miseducation of our marketplace, for setting the wrong expectations and for making things even harder for real Virtual Assistants trying to get clients to understand more accurately what their relationship will look like and how they will be working together. You are causing these Virtual Assistants that I care about problems. Of course, there will certainly be clients only too ready and willing to exploit you and take advantage. But I’m not one of them. Someone at this level of business illiteracy is of no use to me whatsoever.

“Hiring me as your virtual employee is extremely economical for your company. When all is said and done, you spend nearly double the amount for an in-house employee than for a virtual one. Time is money. Hire me as your virtual employee and save on both. You are making a HUGE impact on the environment as a business owner or executive who hires virtually!”

Again with the virtual employee thing. Enough! You are either an employee or you’re running a business. One or the other. Get educated about that. The government wants its due. They don’t allow independent contractors to work with clients as if they were their employee. By making this statement, if I were a client and I were ignorant about this as well, you have just caused me a huge potential legal liability. Because if my state or the IRS decides to audit me and finds that I’m working with a contracter like an employee, it’s me who will be forced to pay all the back taxes, benefits and penalties.

“TOGETHER WE CAN MAKE A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE! I look forward to speaking to you soon, thank you in advance for your time and consideration.”

Not hardly. All you’ve done is wasted my time and patience.

Help! Client Not Paying

A colleague reached out to vent on a listserv I belong to. She shared how a client she works with on a project to project basis had gotten several payments behind to her. He’d stall, put her off, and whenever a due date that he promised to pay rolled around… you guessed it–he didn’t pay. AND to add insult to injury, he was starting to get snippy with her and tell her to get off his back. The nerve of some people, huh?!

Here’s my advice to her:

Dear Peeved:

So sorry for your predicament.  Unfortunately, it’s an all too common one for folks in our industry who work on a project basis. I don’t know how this one will turn out for you, but there are definitely steps you can take (and things you can rethink) that will help improve your odds for ensuring payment in the future.

1.  Always, always, always, always work with a contract. Did I mention “always?” You perhaps are very aware of this already, and may have even had this client sign a contract before working together. As you know, a contract doesn’t guarantee that you will get paid or that people will always be honorable and have the integrity to abide by their agreements. But contracts are legally binding and enforceable agreements. Should it get to that point, they will definitely help you prevail should it become necessary to take things to a Court.

Now a lot of times, that’s more work, more money and more energy than the debt is worth. That doesn’t mean you forgo using a contract. A contract does a lot more than just formalize your agreements. A contract helps clients take you and your business more seriously. It shows that you are a professional and helps ensure that everyone is on the same page and knows what is expected from each other lest anyone conveniently “forget.”

Likewise, it also helps ensure that you are working with more serious clients. The ones who don’t want you to operate professionally, maybe because they have intentions to stiff you in the first place, will be shooed away. So never cut corners on this, no matter how big or small the project.

2.  If you work on a project basis, get some kind of payment upfront. Would a grocery store let you take home groceries and decide whether or not to pay later? Of course not, and neither should you allow your clients to do that. You are not a client’s bank. It’s not your obligation to extend them credit (especially not with new clients you have never worked with before). And the time, energy and expertise you expend on a client’s project are very tangible, valuable–and finite–resources in your business. If not 100%, get at least 50% payment upfront. It’s perfectly acceptable, established professional business practice to do so. Not only does it help clients take your business seriously, it also shows that they take their project seriously. If it’s not worth it to them to have some skin in the game, then it definitely should not be worth it to you to work with them. In the event that they don’t pay the balance, at least you’ve got half your losses covered.

3. Don’t let clients go into debt. You don’t do anyone any favors by allowing them to continually accrue outstanding debt to you. You also have a responsibility to mitigate your damages. That’s why you see work-stoppage clauses in contracts that tell clients:  No Pay-No Work. Immediately cease any further work until the client gets all outstanding payments to you in full.

4. Work with clients who can afford you. Clients who aren’t in profitable businesses or industries are going to more often be problem payers. It’s just a fact. No amount of wishful thinking is going to change that. Wish them well, but you have yourself to think about first. You can’t help more people (or stay in business long) if you are constantly trying to rescue folks who need to rescue themselves. You aren’t going to “save” them by taking on their responsibility or their lot in life. All you’re doing is enabling them while harming yourself. Save your energy for the clients who can easily pay. It’s really the healthiest, kindest thing you can do for yourself and the world.

5. Work with honorable people. The minute you see any inkling that a person is less than honest or ethical, run away. Fast. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ll be the one person in the world they would never do wrong. That is a fantasy. There will be a day they do it to you. It’s just a matter of time.

6. Perhaps rethink the whole project basis. Project work is grueling. You have to constantly chase down new projects, new customers, to survive. While you’re working on one project, your mind is thinking ahead to the next 10 you have to get to pay the rent. It puts you on a neverending hamster wheel of marketing and networking. And the administration you put into answering RFPs, conducting consultations, negotiating terms and contracts, invoicing… often it costs more and expends more time and energy than a project even earns!

Administrative Consultants who work with clients on an ongoing, continuous basis and charge upfront monthly retainers make more money and have much simpler businesses to run. They have better cashflow, less overhead and administration, and have to do way less marketing and networking once they’re established. There’s much more ease and continuity in the work and the client relationship, which, in turn, brings more ease and continuity into your business.

And there’s nothing that says you can’t also opt to take on intereresting or lucrative side projects that come along if you choose to, “choose” being the operative word. Retained Administrative Consultants have more choice in their business because they aren’t constantly scrambling for income and cashflow the way project workers must. Therefore, they get to pick and choose what they want to expend their energies on in terms of other opportunities that arise. They get to decide if a project is worth their time (i.e, is the money it will bring in worth the effort?). They don’t have to be distracted or have their energies divided or waylaid by nickel and dime work if they don’t choose to. Doesn’t that sound like a much nicer kind of circumstance and way to operate your business?

Should We Expect Colleagues to Demonstrate Competence?

Someone new registered for the forum a couple weeks ago.

She met all the minimum criteria and was approved to complete her profile.

Her username had to be changed since she did not follow the registration directions for that (obviously rushing through too fast to actually read them or just didn’t care to honor our request).

When she sent her email to us that she had placed the membership seal on her site, the link she provided showed that she had not in fact actually done that. What she did was place our logo on her site. This was the second step where she didn’t follow directions.

My administrator gave her the standard reply in those situations (“that is not an approved use of our logo and must be taken off the site; please refer back to the instructions for placing the approved membership seal code on your site and let us know when you have made this correction… “).

When she emailed us back that she had made the correction, her profile was double-checked to make sure all steps had been followed (standard procedure).

Unfortunately, she had yet again failed to follow just about every instruction, wasting everyone’s time and attention in the process.

Here’s the message I sent her:

“Hi, [NAME WITHHELD],

“My administrator has passed this onto me to handle. I’m afraid you have failed to follow several of the instructions. We’ll give you one more try to get things right (you’ll need to go in and read the instructions thoroughly this time). We won’t be able to approve your membership if you are unable to do so. We need members to demonstrate a professional level of competence, qualification, which includes the ability to pay attention and follow directions. That may sound harsh, but as a professional organization, we uphold a promise to clients that we takes very seriously: the the administrative support experts in our group are the best of the best. Not following directions, repeatedly, does not convey to us that level of competence.”

Now, to her credit, this person did not get hysterical like so many do, blaming us for their own failings. She did, however, reply that while she appreciated the chance for “one more try,” it wouldn’t be necessary.

This is a very tame example. You wouldn’t believe some of the ugly hate mail I get when people are not approved.

In this case, we didn’t even “reject” her. We were willing to give her another opportunity to take things a little more seriously, not rush through the instructions, and show us — demonstrate — that she is a competent professional who is able to handle the demands of taking care of clients to a professional standard.

Here’s my frustration in these instances:

We don’t know these folks from Adam or Eve. It’s their job to show us (demonstrate) that they are skilled, competent, qualified professionals.

Would you go to a job interview on your worst behavior, wearing your sloppiest clothes, talking like a street thug?

Would you expect to get the job if you filled out forms incorrectly or didn’t pass any tests you had to undergo?

Of course not.

So why are these people so insulted when the first face they present to us isn’t one that inspires the greatest of confidence?

This society where everyone thinks they are entitled to be catered to and coddled and have everything handed over to them baffles me.

It’s not our job to give them the benefit of the doubt.

If they can’t follow the simplest of instructions here, what on earth are clients going to get?

We can’t represent those who don’t take this seriously or who otherwise don’t demonstrate a level of professional skill and competence.

Our word has to mean something when we tell clients that they are going to connect them with skilled individuals from our group.

We also have an obligation to our members to uphold our standards of excellence and qualification to ensure their reputations as well. You are judged by the company you keep.

If a client has a bad experience with someone who touts our name on her site, our other members may suffer from that association.

The client may think if that’s the level of competence in one, the apple may not fall far from the tree, so to speak. They might not want to hire anyone else from our group after that.

And frankly, no one (not clients, myself, my administrators nor members and colleagues) wants to deal with someone who is a pain in the ass because they consistently don’t pay attention or have to be constantly asked to please follow directions.

We welcome all administrative experts who are in business to provide ongoing administrative support, but they have to step up to the plate and put their best professional foot forward.

So what do you think? Is that too much to ask?

What happens if there are no standards of excellence or at least a minimal display of the most basic ability?

Do you think clients want to partner with anyone who is difficult, defensive and frustrating to work with this respect (because they don’t read thoroughly, need to have requests repeated over and over to them, and don’t follow specifications or directions according to the client’s wishes)?

Being On Demand Is Not a Sustainable Promise

Let’s say you promise on-demand, employee-like support to clients.

You market your business promising clients that it will be just like having their own administrative assistant, just like back in their corporate days, only virtually.

Let’s say one of the things you tell prospective clients is that you can manage their email box every morning.

You tell them, “Imagine waking up every day to an IN box that’s already been sorted through for you!”

So you get one client and it’s easy enough to keep up with this, right?

Then you get another client who also wants their email box sorted through every morning.

And you get another client who wants that as well.

Pretty soon, you’ve got a handful of clients, all of whom you’ve promised to sort through and manage their email IN boxes every morning.

Now, the first thing you have to do every morning of every day is deal with all your clients’ email boxes.

It begins to take up a fairly significant part of your morning each day. And that’s not counting all the other work you have on your plate for all your various clients each day.

A couple clients complain that you are starting to take too long to manage their email boxes in the mornings, they need it done quicker so that it gets done before they start their day. But you’re already working as fast as you can.

You try to prioritize clients and put them in some kind of order based on need, but three of your clients are in the same timezone that is three hours ahead of you, meaning, you’d have to get up extra early in order to beat them to their IN box before they start their day.

On top of this, you are beginning to feel trapped and chained to your desk. You can’t get away when you want because you’ve promised these clients this service and allowed them to expect it every day.

It doesn’t matter that you’ve had to tell them that there are going to be days when they will have to handle this on their own. They still complain and grumble and are dissatisfied because they’ve been led to expect that this was something you would do for them every day, just like an in-house assistant.

Sure, it would probably be better to just let them go, but you need the money. It was a lot of work to get their business in the first place. You feel like you’re letting them and yourself down.

You’re wishing now that you’d done things differently, not created such unsustainable expectations.

But now you’re stuck and it’s causing you to procrastinate, to dread your own IN box.

When you’re working, you feel stressed and harried, like someone is breathing down your neck.

You find yourself making silly, dumb mistakes you’d never make under any other conditions. You’re a highly skilled administrative expert and that’s just not you! You don’t know what to do or how to start over.

You’re now wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into.

You’re burnt-out. You don’t feel like working like this day in and day out. You feel like a slave and have no freedom.

Wait, this is just like the J-O-B you used to have, only now, instead of working for one employer in one business with one dedicated workload to manage, you’ve now got a handful of “bosses” all in completely separate businesses and with completely separate workloads to manage! What?!

Is this what you imagined business would be like?

Have you thought through how all the things you promise clients will actually play out and work in real life, practical application?

Have you thought through what your daily life and actual work with clients will be like if you offer your administrative expertise and support in an on-demand, instant-assistance-like manner?

How many clients can you expect to work with like that?

What might the limit be to your income potential operating like that?

Don’t you want time to actually be able to breathe and also enjoy the freedoms that can come with owning your own business?

Can you imagine that there is a different way of operating an administrative support business that doesn’t require you to offer your support in any on-demand, instant assistance kind of way?

Geez, You Practically Have to Bonk Some People Over the Head

Man, I tell ya… whaddaya gotta do to get through to some people?!

So a someone new registers for our forum the other day. She meets all the registration criteria, but when her site is checked, turns out she’s using verbatim content taken from my personal business website.

I mean, seriously?! Did ya think no one would notice? And then you try to join the professional organization of the person you just stole from?

Honestly, what is wrong with the brains of these people? It just floors me.

On top of that, before she’s gotten any confirmation or word from us, she’s placed the organization logo on her website.

Now, while I appreciate the idea that she wants to be affiliated with us, you can’t just go placing logos and membership buttons on your site unless have permission and/or you are, um, an actual member.

Hello, this is planet earth. In what world is it honest or ethical to mislead site visitors into thinking that you’re an official member when you’re not or have certain official credentials when you don’t?

So I email this person (who’s of an age and generation that she damn well knows better) and I tell her I realize she’s new to the industry so I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt. I proceed to give her a primer on copyright infringement and content theft.

I also explain that she can’t willy nilly place logos on her site without permission, that she isn’t a member yet of our organization and that it isn’t an authorized nor permissible use of our logo. I show her what she needs to take down from her site and ask her to email me when she’s done so that I can put the matter to bed.

Well, I get an email back from her and she’s taken down our logo, but all she’s done with my content is simply change a few words!

I’m fed up at this point and I just call her. She answers and I explain (gasp) the concept of plagiarism to her. You can’t steal someone’s content and you certainly can’t just change some words around when you’re caught. That’s the very definition of plagiarism is. Duh.

I inform her that it must be taken down completely and she’s going to have to come up with her own, original content. I again ask her to email me when she’s complied with this.

I get a message back from her. She’s taken down the infringing verbiage completely (finally), but here’s what she says to me:

“I have read a gazillion sites in the past few weeks getting ideas for my site. Your slogan must have stuck in my mind. I was not aware that I copied it verbatim. I have several operating sites and have found infringement of my copyrighted words, but I take the position that it is a compliment and just let it go.”

It wasn’t a slogan she stole. It was a whole paragraph of content. And you “remembered” it all, word for word, in your head a week later? Yeah, right.

This is what I emailed her back:

“It isn’t a compliment. It is stealing. And it’s illegal. You don’t get to benefit in your marketing from using other peoples’ content and intellectual property.  They developed that content for their own benefit.”

And I should have added that just because she may choose to view it as a compliment, doesn’t mean that I am going to nor that I have to. That’s why they have these laws on the books, dodo brain. I don’t take stealing from me very kindly, especially in view of the fact that I give so freely of all my knowledge to the industry in the first place to help Virtual Assistants build their own equity and collateral.

Oh, and how ironic is this… our guest speaker for this month’s guest expert teleseminar is Jonathan Bailey of PlagiarismToday.com, LOL.

If you’ve ever had your content stolen or want to know what to do if it should happen to you in the future, you’ll definitely want to attend! You can register here.

Some Valuable Tips for Responding to Request for Service Providers

So I was looking for a print layout designer recently.

I used a few different places and was inundated with an avalanche of responses.

You’d think that would be good news — lots of choice!

The problem is the sheer volume of responses to sort through was a daunting task.

Fortunately, that job was made much easier by the majority of the responders themselves who couldn’t follow the simplest of instructions or provide the basic information I asked for.

If you ever respond to project requests and requests for services providers, I want you to know what those on the receiving end go through so you can step up your game accordingly and not be one of the ones who gets tossed immediately and unceremoniously in the round file.

  1. Don’t make me hunt. If your portfolio is poorly organized and I have to dig around too much to find something relevant, I won’t bother. Convenience for the client is the name of the game. Don’t disrespect their time. Have a well categorized portfolio that loads fast. Provide direct links to just the relevant pages if at all possible. Trust me, your helpfulness and organization in this respect will impress. It will speak volumes about your polish, professionalism, intelligence and service.
  2. I don’t care about your resume. If I didn’t ask for one, don’t send me one. I’m looking to hire a professional, not an employee. Pros don’t submit resumes. What matters most to me is seeing examples of your work and a demonstration of your qualification, competence, talent and skill. If you’re a designer, I’m looking to see what your style is and whether you understand and demonstrate a knowledge of design principles in  your work, as well as polished level of service and customer care. That tells me loads more about what it will be like to work with you more than any resume ever could.
  3. Don’t send me irrelevant information. For example, web design is not print layout design. I don’t want to know all about your web design services if I’m looking for a print designer. Don’t send me your web design portfolio. If I specifically ask about print layout design, just send me what I asked for. Because when there are a million other people capable of respecting my time, sending me just what I asked about and able to follow simple directions and requests, you will not get a second look. All that shows me is that you are going to be difficult to work with because a) you can’t provide the most basic level of service and responsiveness, which b) will mean that I will potentially have to keep repeating myself and asking for what I need/want over and over.
  4. I’m not going to have a meeting (especially not an in-person one) to see if you can provide the services I’m asking about. I need to first determine whether there is a compatible fit at the most basic level. I don’t have time to waste in a consultation if I can’t first determine that you meet some basic criteria. So the first step is qualifying/screening the responders and finding someone with the talent and expertise I’m seeking. From that pool, I will then determine who I want to schedule consultations with. Consultations come after the qualifying process. That goes for me and that should go for you as well in your own business.

You have to put yourself in the shoes of the client. One request for a designer can yield hundreds and hundreds of responses. It’s overwhelming.

So us clients must whittle things down, if only for our sanity, but also because we have other things to do.

Respect your prospective client’s time and demonstrate that you will be a joy to work with.

You do that by following directions, complying with simple requests for information in the manner indicated, provide thorough information.

It’s okay to be yourself (in fact, having a personality will help you stand out from the crowd), and it’s okay to go a little beyond the scope in providing the requested info, as long as all the requested information is provided first. Just don’t go overboard and make sure anything additional you provide is relevant.