Archive for October, 2009

Dear Danielle: What Is My Compensation?

Dear Danielle:

I am just starting my administrative support business. I have seven years of administrative expertise, but one thing I am unclear about is my compensation. I know that most charge by the hour or on a monthly basis, but how do I know how much to charge? And considering that I am just starting out so I am taking on side jobs that are here and there, how should I charge for smaller list items? Thanks in advance? –KT

My first caution is to always be conscious about the terminology you use. This is important because when you are communicating with others, and especially clients, the words you use in explaining things can have very real effect on how and what expectations are formed, as well as how and whether folks understand what you mean for them to understand.

Words like “compensation” have no place in your vocabulary as a business owner. That is a term used in the context of employees, which you are not.

As far as what to charge, ask yourself these questions:

  1. How much does your business need you to charge? That is, how much do all the expenses and overhead cost to run your business?
  2. How much more money do you need to set aside for incidentals and/or continuing education?
  3. How much do you need to charge to pay for your own time? How much do you want/need to earn each month/year to pay your own bills (not the business’s)?
  4. How much does it take to make something worth your while?
  5. How much would honor your skill, value and expertise as an administrative expert?
  6. What rate or amount would send the message that you are an expert, not an unskilled amateur, who has what it takes to improve the client’s situation?
  7. How much profit needs to be built in for you to achieve your own goals and dreams (e.g., for travel perhaps, or special family vacations, or buying a home)?
  8. What kind of cash flow do you need to operate with ease and not be stressed with bills and due dates? (Cash flow is a concept different than simply income; it’s the amount of money you reliably and consistently expect each month that you can use to plan and budget).
  9. How do you want to position yourself in the field? How do you want potential clients to look upon you? What “perceived value” message does your pricing send?

You can’t just work to be paying the bills. What you charge can’t just be enough to pay for your expenses and time in your present circumstances only.

In order for you to grow a solvent, sustainable business, you have to make sure your fee covers all the practical business considerations. It also has to be intentioned enough that you can plan, set goals and grow.

Pricing is every bit a marketing strategy as well.

How you price sends a message to clients. I can tell them that you are a top-notch expert who has real value to offer and can really help them or it can convey the idea that you are desperate (which isn’t attractive to clients) and/or not very highly skilled.

I would also add that it’s not your job to be “affordable.”Keep that word out of your vocabulary as well.

It’s your job to deliver a solution that helps clients move forward in their business and accomplish things. That’s your value and that’s where you want to keep your message focused. So if you consider all the ways that what you do helps clients, how your work ultimately helps them achieve their goals and dreams and make more money, what would you say is the value of that?

Have a look at the Free Resources page… we have a free automated Excel Income & Pricing Calculator that will help give you a beginning frame of reference about what it costs to run a business and what kind of fees you need to charge. It’s a great way to start becoming conscious and intentional about this area of business.

Dear Danielle: How Did You Arrive at Your Industry Figures?

Dear Danielle:

I recently purchased the Virtual Assistant business forms offered on your website. I am currently working on developing my business plan for my start-up Virtual Assistant business. In one section of the business plan, you list some industry statistics, specifically an estimated number of established Virtual Assistants. Where did you get that information. I have never attempted any type of market research and analysis before, and to be honest, I am at a complete loss and have been stressing over my lack of knowledge. I don’t even know where to begin. –TD

Oh dear, don’t stress over this stuff. Truly, in the scheme of business, industry state are not important.

Let me ask you this: are you doing the business plan for your own purposes or are you intending to use it to seek funding and loan assistance? If it’s for your own purposes, then definitely I want to put you at ease.

First, let me answer your main question on how we arrived at the figure we provided.

Back in 2006, my proteges and I took on the HUGE project of taking count from Virtual Assistant directories and search engine results. Honestly, I don’t know how we survived that “little” task, LOL. We literally looked at every single VA organization and website we could find and took census.

And we didn’t just take things at face value just because it showed up in results or was listed in a directory or someone called themselves a Virtual Assistant.

We deducted from our count any site that was no longer active, and specifically did not include anyone who wasn’t actually a Virtual Assistant (someone who is in the business of providing administrative support to clients) who we determined to be more accurately in another field altogether (e.g., we often found people calling themselves VAs when in fact their entire business was specifically focused on Web design or transcription or bookkeeping–which are completely different categories of business from Virtual Assistance).

So give or take the relatively few anonymous VAs in the world who didn’t have websites or listings, our count really is the most accurate number of those in the industry, increased exponentially to account for the three years that have elapsed since. In two more years, we’ll take another census of the industry and get those counts updated again.

But getting back to your agonizing :), how many VAs there are in the world is of absolutely no consequence for you and your business. It just does not matter. That kind of research and info is only necessary if you are submitting a formal business plan for the purposes of funding or loan assistance. I hereby give you permission to shed not one more bead of sweat on it.

Here’s how I would want you to refocus your thinking on the whole business planning thing… Going through that exercise is very valuable because it gets you to think about and plan things, work ideas and policies out and such, in your business that it might not otherwise occur to you. And of course, you should never, ever just follow a template. You still have to apply your own set of circumstances, your own goals and ideas, as well as your own critical thinking.

The Virtual Assistant business plan template I developed is specifically designed to not only give folks a professional format to follow that they can actually use for funding purposes if they ever need to, but also to get your own creative juices going–not substitute them–and show you a model where you can create multiple revenue streams, passive income and information products all in supplement to your premium craft and trade of ongoing administrative support.

But beyond all that, business planning should most importantly be about what you want for yourself and your life. Your business should serve you and your life first. Your business planning should then be approached from that angle. If you think about it from that perspective, it becomes clearer which parts of the formal business plan to focus your energy and attention on and which parts, not so much. ;) Not to mention, you might be able to have a bit more fun with it.

After that, your highest priority should be on determining a target market on which to focus and doing the homework and research on who they are, what they are doing, what’s important to them, what they need most and where their common challenges and obstacles are. The intersection between your interests and theirs is where you’ll find your sweet spot.

David Letterman Extortion Plot: Ignorance is for Morons

By now, I’m sure everyone has heard about the David Letterman extortion plot. What I think is interesting is how people have drawn conclusions about things they couldn’t possibly glean from the monologue he gave about the circumstances.

They make things up in their own heads; draw conclusions based on nothing except their own imagination.

Are we a nation of uneducated peasants? The stupidity of it all just floors me.

Now, to be absolutely clear, I’m not defending Letterman.

Having workplace relationships (romantic or sexual) is stupid and ill-advised.

He’s an unmitigated jerk for cheating on the heart of the woman (his wife) who loves him and lives with him, the mother of his child, who possibly thought she was in a committed, monogamous relationship.

Engaging in this behavior also exposes him as a target for just this kind of thing, as we’ve seen.

But, at this stage, based on what little details we know, he hasn’t done anything unlawful.

We absolutely do not have the kind of true and complete knowledge of the facts to assume anything. And he didn’t admit to anything other than he’s “had sex with women who work on the show.”

So what.

He’s just a celebrity. Heck, he’s just a man. Who cares if he’s a hypocrite? He’s not the Pope and he’s not the president. Last I checked, he was a comedian. It’s his job to poke fun of others in the same situation he now finds himself in.

Beyond that, how people conclude that he committed sexual harassment based on his monologue is beyond me. It becomes obvious that they don’t know what sexual harassment is (and shame on the HR consultant who should know this).

So let me enlighten you:

A boss, manager or other superior having a romantic or sexual relationship with a subordinate does not automatically constitute sexual harassment.

It’s not against the law to have a consensual relationship with a subordinate. There is no wrongdoing unless the relationship has been coerced with threat looming over the subordinate’s position or career and they bring a claim of sexual harassment against the superior.

If the reports that have come out thus far are true, no one has ever filed a sexual harassment claim against him and he didn’t violate any company policies against workplace relationships. Until a victim actually steps forward and states there has been unwanted, coerced sexual harassment, we don’t know that there has been any.

I guess my point is, don’t be an ignorant dummy.

Get the facts before you go flapping your lips about stuff you don’t know anything about. Don’t make them up.

Dear Danielle: Should I Pay a Fee to Find Clients?

Dear Danielle:

Hello! I’m in the beginning stages of starting my own administrative support business, but the information on the Web is a tad overwhelming. I’m well-qualified with eight years of administrative experience within various fields (marketing, accounting, constructions and the military). I have so many questions!!! My first question is how do I find a niche and is it necessary to my business’s success? Where do I find clients and should I pay a fee to do so? –MT

That’s actually two questions, but who’s counting, lol.

Let’s start with the second one first.

Generally, I would say no to paying a fee to find clients.

I’m guessing that you are meaning job referral sites and such, and those places just do not bring the kind of clients with the proper mindset to pay professional fees.

Mostly, the clients you find in those places are transactional-minded and only looking to source out project work (not ongoing administrative support) to the lowest bidder.

They’re looking for chumps willing to prostrate themselves for $1 to $10 an hour. You can’t make a living or build a sustainable business like that!

If it makes sense to you to work for that little money, you have that option, of course.

But if you’re looking to truly build a business that where you can earn an actual living and be profitable, you’ll want to save your time, energy and efforts for better avenues.

With regard to your second question, yes, having a target market will absolutely make building your business much faster and easier.

(For those who don’t know, a target market is simply an industry/field/profession that you cater your administrative support to.)

Determining a target market is one of things you can do to make everything less overwhelming and give you some direction as far as finding clients.

When you know who you are directing your message to, you can write a clearer, more compelling message that will resonate with them.

When you know who your audience is, you can create your offerings specifically to meet their needs, which in turn will make them more attractive to clients.

When you know who your market is, you don’t have to wonder how to find clients. You simply figure out where your target market hangs out online and off, and then look for opportunities to network and interact with them.

Knowing who your intended market is will make all the work of figuring out what their common interests, goals and challenges so much easier.

There’s not really a secret to determining a target market.

Some people start with what they are familiar with, meaning they might choose a target market because they’ve worked in that particular field or industry before, they know what it’s about, how those businesses are run and can easily identify the kind of administrative support they can give to professionals in that field.

Others choose a target market because it’s one that already has established history of working with those in our industry. For example, the coaching, speaking, real estate and legal fields are industries with a long history of utilizing us. Those industries are already familiar with ours, they know the drill, so to speak, and you can be pretty sure there are plenty of clients to go around and they will be easy to find.

Other people might decide on a target market after working with a client in an industry they weren’t familiar with before. In those circumstances, they might find they really have an affinity for that client’s profession and really enjoy the work and people in that industry.

You might switch target markets several times throughout the life of your business, but the point is to start somewhere as it will give you much needed direction and focus for your efforts all the way around.

In choosing a target market, the most important criteria it must meet are:

  • It must be an industry that has a need for the solution you are in business to provide (i.e., administrative support);
  • It must be an industry where there are plenty of clients who have a need for your solution and who are easy to find and network with; and
  • It must be an industry/field where the business owners are making enough money to afford professional fees (you can’t work with people who can’t afford you).

Be sure to download our free, more in-depth guide on How to Choose Your Target Market

Continuity Is the Name of the Game

Here’s an article I wrote for clients and published today in The Portable Business™. 

Administrative Consulting is all about continuity, where ongoing administrative support is the name of the game (“ongoing” being the operative word here).

Administration isn’t a project.

It’s not something that is done once and presto! you’re done.

Administrative support is a collective group of ongoing tasks, functions and roles that keep your business organized and running smoothly.

This is precisely what separates administrative support from piecemeal secretarial services.

Said another way, administrative support is a relationship.

In order for it to work — indeed, for the magic to happen — it requires the active participation of both client and Administrative Consultant.

This means you, the client, are an integral part of the equation. If you are absent from the relationship, it won’t work and you will end up dissatisfied.

Here are three vital ingredients you must bring to the table to ensure you get to experience the most fruitful and rewarding aspects of working with an Administrative Consultant:

  1. Show up and be present. Your participation is necessary. An Administrative Consultant cannot care more about your business than you do. If you disappear for long periods of time and then all of a sudden show up with a flurry of requests you need done “like yesterday,” well, that just isn’t going to work. An Administrative Consultant has other clients to serve who are just as important as you. Don’t expect her to drop everything and disregard her previously scheduled work and commitments; you’ll have to wait your turn.
  2. No dumping. I’m not going to beat around the bush here. Administrative support is not about dumping everything in a heap on your Administrative Consultant and walking away, leaving her with a mess to sort out. Every Administrative Consultant has her own work request methods and management systems. You will be required to follow whatever her process or procedure is for submitting work so that it can be managed effectively and accomplished in the most timely manner possible in a way that is fair and consistent for all her clients.\
  3. Be respectful. An Administrative Consultant is not your hired help. She is an administrative expert and collaborative partner. Business owners who can’t extend common courtesy and mutual respect are not a good fit for working with a Virtual Assistant. You show your respect by:
  • Paying on time without any hassles;
  • Making your meetings and appointments with your Administrative Consultant a priority, showing up prepared, and canceling with appropriate (not last second) notice when you can’t;
  • Answering her questions and returning your feedback and input in a timely manner; and
  • Observing the policies and procedures she has in place that allow her to give great customer service to her clients (all of them, not just you) and make her business (and yours) run smoothly.

RESOURCE: For more information on having a successful relationship with an Administrative Consultant, be sure to check out our free online client guide guide: A Client’s Guide for Getting Your Business Relationship with an Administrative Consultant Off to the Best Start

There Is No Such Thing as Flubbing

So I was having a great time chatting online with some colleagues.

One, who I’ve always considered super sharp was lamenting how she “flubbed” her first consult.

And I’m thinking, flub? What’s to flub?

This isn’t a test. You aren’t on stage. No one is expecting you to be perfect.

And I told her as much!

But I know what she meant. She felt like she let herself down.

Well, I say, she didn’t flub anything.

So she she had a consult, and she wasn’t as smooth as she would have liked.

No big deal!

If I could show you a movie of all the bad consults I’ve had in my beginning business years, where I was tongue-tied or said something I wish I hadn’t; where I wasn’t as confident and polished as I would have preferred, you would be rolling in the aisles. I cringe and turn red at some of the memories.

I’m much better now, thank you veddy much!

And that only came with practice.

There are going to be a ton of consultation you conduct where you will think you absolutely bombed.

But here’s the thing — you can’t ever bomb at these things.

The world won’t come to a screeching halt. Much to your chagrin, you will live to see another consult.

Joking aside, these “practice” consults, as I like to call them, are absolutely necessary and worthwhile, every single one of them.

You get better every time. And you learn something valuable with each and every one.

You have to have these experiences. It’s the only way you will grow in your confidence and consultation skills.

They are what is going to lead you to becoming the smooth, polished administrative expert and who knows exactly how to lead her process, connect with her right clients,  and forge solutions that are truly going to help move them forward.

So don’t be so hard on yourself!

Do your best to relax and look upon the people you consult with as lovely acquaintances you meet in the road of life.

Maybe you’ll end up working together and getting to know each other more. Maybe you won’t.

But in looking at it like this, it takes a load of pressure off you and the focus to be perfect. No matter how things turn out, you haven’t lost a thing.

Trust me, one day you will laugh at how terrible you were (or so you thought) and smile proudly at how far you’ve come.

You’ll have a lot more fun in the process, too. 😉