Archive for December, 2009

The “Frugal” Mindset Will Always Defeat You

I’ve been having an ongoing conversation with a business owner over the past few months.

He had emailed me awhile back outlining ongoing issues he’s had with people in our industry who call themselves virtual assistants.

He stated that he’s hired and fired many and nothing ever seems to work out for him.

Normally, I don’t spend my time and energy trying to convince those who will never get it.

But this was a very nice, genuine fellow, not a crank or someone just emailing to complain.

He was sincerely reaching out for some help and even though he’d had many unsatisfactory experiences, he wasn’t ready to completely abandon all hope of ever finding a competent, reliable administrator to work with.

Plus, I’m always interested in better understanding how business owners think in these cases because it helps me identify areas where those in our industry are giving them inadequate or confusing messages and allowing them to form expectations that will prevent the kind of desired outcomes and mutually beneficial relationships from happening.

So that you have a little bit of context, here are a few excerpts of what he shared with me:

“It’s my opinion there are more virtual assistants who promise the moon and then grossly under-deliver, which disappoints. It’s easy to say I’m patient, but I also run a business. If a VA will charge the kind of rates they want, they should come prepared (and many do not) and also be able to say “I don’t do that part” of the business or task you need accomplished.”

“I have worked with various VAs for five years. Spent a lot of money, didn’t really get too far. I’ve had enough experience where I can say that many VAs do not have the skills they advertise, do not have the expertise with products and resources they say they do; rarely complete work on time; have a difficult time estimating how much will be involved in a project, which slows everything down; suffer from the loneliness factor so when they get someone on the phone, it becomes a gabfest… and I’m paying! They are in constant education mode meaning they spend all weekend getting up to speed on a tool you need them to use (which they professed they had working knowledge of) and so you become their guinea pig. I’ve also found that if you are somewhat flexible in deadlines, a nice guy or easy going, the other clients of the VA will soon take (re-allocate) much of your VA’s prime working time.”

“I had a wonderful VA who was (literally) dirt cheap and fantastic. I’m pretty certain I found her on Guru.com. She charged $10/hour. She was amazing and very trustworthy. Out of the blue one day she called, said she is going to have to drop me because she found someone else who was willing to pay more and give her significantly more work. I would have paid her more, but she then said she would need $30/hr… triple!”

“About a year ago, I interviewed a VA who lived outside Chicago. I swear to God, I would have picked up and moved my entire business to Illinois, she was THAT impressive. She then told me her rate was $75/hr. That ended the entire discussion. She could have been sliced bread (and probably is), but for $75/hr?”

This business owner ended up advertising piecework and projects on Craigslist for $8 and $9/hr, but admitted he has to wade through a lot of wacky replies and still has a boatload of work he puts off daily.

I pointed out that while he was finding some help this way, this obviously wasn’t an ideal alternative since he still wasn’t getting his needs met and unproductively wasting enormous amounts of time and energy on this stuff, which he conceded was the case.

We talked at some length about all of this, with some very clear themes emerging and getting in his own way with this “cheap” mentality.

Besides advising him to hire for support, not piecemeal transactions, and giving him some tools and information for helping him make better choices and weed out those calling themselves VAs who really don’t have the skills and qualifications, part of what I suggested to him was this:

You had a wonderful administrative partner who (in your words) was “dirt cheap and fantastic.” This “‘dirt cheap” thinking will always defeat you. Unfortunately, it’s a personal problem that only you can choose to change or not. All I can tell you is that you simply are not going to get anything worthwhile for “‘dirt-cheap.”

It’s a flawed concept doomed to fail because no business owner can afford to stay in business being “dirt cheap.” Business cannot happen unless both the client and the provider have their needs met. In this case, nobody running a business (including those of us in the administrative support business) can be dirt cheap and have her profitability and income needs met. It forces her to take on more clients in order to make ends meet, which in turn, causes her to become overwhelmed in work. Yet what she’s earning in piling on more clients and more work still doesn’t adequately cover all the time and energy required for her to keep up and provide any reliably consistent level of professional support to anyone. In fact, the more work and clients she piles on, the LESS money she makes exponentially and the less effective and productive she becomes. Ultimately, something simply has to give. It’s inevitable. So what happens is,  once she realizes she simply can’t be dirt-cheap AND fantastic, and begins to recognize her true value, she necessarily MUST increase her fees and move on to clients who recognize the value and are happy to pay her more appropriate professional-level fees — exactly as you experienced with the “amazing and trustworthy” person you lost.

My advice is to stop begrudging this great administrator her fees. If you found these two people who were fantastic and impressive, they are worth every penny for the time, headaches and work they save you from, the ability they give you to get more done and move forward more quickly than you could otherwise, not to mention the ease, convenience and peace of mind you’d have working with someone you feel is competent and trustworthy.

This guy was being cheap, but part of the reason for this was because these women were calling themselves “virtual assistants.”

“Assistant” is a term of employment, not business. When you are in business, you are not anyone’s assistant.

People only understand the word “assistant” one way: employee. That’s because “assistant” is a term of employment, not business. When you are in business, you aren’t anyone’s assistant.

This is why this fellow (and thousands of other clients) come to the table expecting to pay peanuts: they don’t understand the correct nature of the relationship; they think they are hiring some kind of subservient worker instead of a service-based business. This wrong perception — due to the very term “virtual assistant” — predisposed them to the cheapskate mentality.

 

All of this goes for people in our industry as well.

If you are constantly expecting everyone and everything else to be free or cheap, business is going to be that much harder for you.

If you want to attract clients who value you and happily pay what you are worth, you have to value and respect others in the same manner when it is you who is in the client/customer position.

It’s a laws-of-attraction type thing, if that helps you understand this better.

If you are in the habit of devaluing others, you will continue to be devalued by would-be clients as well. If you can’t operate with a value mindset yourself, you aren’t going to be able to attract value-minded clients, must less be able to articulate your value in any meaningful way to them.

You also do yourself no favors calling yourself a “virtual assistant.” That term negatively shapes clients’ understanding about the nature of the relationship and predisposes them to the cheapskate mentality (i.e., when they think you are some kind of employee/worker, they expect to be paying employee-level peanut wages). Changing your terminology will powerfully change these perceptions for the better.

Virtual Assistant Ethics: What Do You Think?

I was contacted last week by the owner of a well-regarded training program for Virtual Assistants.

The owner is not a Virtual Assistant herself, but rather is an expert with an extensive background and expertise in the subject she teaches (exactly as it should be).

It had come to this program owner’s attention via a Google Alert that a new Virtual Assistant training/certification organization was offering a course with the exact same curriculum.

What was particularly disturbing to the owner of this well-respected, well-known training program is that:

  1. The listed instructor for the course at the new training organization is a current student of this program owner.
  2. This student/instructor is taking material from this program owner’s course and converting it to hers.
  3. This new training organization is charging $150 per class, so the four class series is priced at $600, almost exactly what the original program owner charges, which would lead people to believe they are getting something of value taught by an expert.

The student-all-of-a-sudden-turned-instructor in question is a new Virtual Assistant with no background or experience in the course she is now teaching.

What is also interesting and ironic is that the owner of the new training organization has posted in online forums that she would never pay anyone to learn this thing her own new training organization is now offering and charging for.

She stated she would instead do her own research and teach herself, the underlying sentiment seeming to be that she begrudges anyone charging for training, and she presumably thinks they should be doing it for free.

Funny how her thinking has miraculously changed now that it’s her own pockets the money goes into.

The program owner who contacted me about this is not only disturbed that this Virtual Assistant would take material in this way, but also concerned that unfortunate students won’t realize they are learning from someone who is not an expert, but has only taken a course herself–in fact, hasn’t even finished it at this point.

It appears the owner of the new training program didn’t bother to do any due diligence in hiring this instructor to ensure that students were being provided something of value.

One can’t help but wonder what other instructors were indiscriminately hired without any regard to background, qualification or expertise, and whether they might be using another person’s intellectual property as well.

Sadly, this isn’t an isolated incident. I know of several instances where this exact same thing has happened.

Besides the dishonesty and stealing, what also bothers me  is seeing new VAs who haven’t achieved any level of success or experience and expertise in their own businesses turning around and selling crap to their colleagues.

Why is it, I wonder, they can’t just concentrate on their own businesses? My guess is because it’s not easy growing a business and God forbid they should have to <gasp> actually work hard at anything.

So anyway, this got me to thinking about how much people understand about intellectual property.

Even outside of that, are there any basic principles of right and wrong that folks easily identify here? What do you think?

Dear Danielle: How Do I Get Over the Fear that I’ve Forgotten Everything and Won’t Be Good Enough in Business?

Dear Danielle:

I sent an attorney the administrative support contract templates I purchased from your site. I contacted him knowing very well that it would be costly, but he offered to look them over at no cost. After not hearing back from him, I asked him once if he’d had a chance to look them over and he mentioned via email that he would look them over during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Well, as of today, I’ve yet to hear from him. Since he offered, I don’t want to bug him. I would really like to start marketing the business, but I’ve been hesitant because of this minor glitch. I’ve worked with contracts before and they looked fine to me, but contacted him because it’s smart to have an attorney look things over. I’m seriously thinking of writing him off and simply moving on. I really need to move forward with my business, but I’m nervous about working with my first client. I’m sure you can understand my dilemma and frustration. To be honest, I’m afraid I’ve forgotten everything I’ve learned in the last 15 years. Crazy, isn’t it? –DE

Not crazy at all. It’s scary starting a business and until we get things going and find our groove, nervousness, second-guessing, negative self-talk and low confidence are normal things we’ve all experienced. The trick is to power through them and go for it anyway!

So is that the only thing holding you up? If so, don’t give it another thought.

So you’re nervous about going live, so to speak. It’s perfectly understandable.

I’m willing to bet that waiting around for this attorney’s approval on the contracts is a way to keep dragging your feet (even if you might not consciously realize it). So I have two thoughts to offer you:

  1. Yes, I think you should write the attorney off at this point. It’s holding you up and when it does that, it’s no longer a kindness or a favor to you. Don’t allow empty promises to keep you from moving forward in your business. You were prepared to pay for this service originally. Find another attorney and pay him or her. Remember: You get what you pay for and you can’t expect much when it’s a freebie.
  2. For legal reasons I have to qualify my assurances by saying that you should always have an attorney look things over. That said, I work with attorneys, three of my uncles are attorneys, I developed these forms with my own attorneys and have been using them for over 12 years of business. So again, I want to encourage you to move forward. Waiting around for clearances and permissions and okays and not trusting in your own good counsel is going to keep you from rockin’ and rolling. Find another attorney to look them over when you get a chance, but in the meantime, you don’t have to wait on that to get started.

As far as being afraid you’ve forgotten everything, trust me you haven’t. It’s like riding a bike.

You’re simply experiencing the natural, usual fears that all of us have about putting ourselves out there.

We all have the inner self-critic in the back of our heads second-guessing everything we do. But you have to ignore that voice and plow forward.

Remember, you don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to know everything.

Some things you might be rusty at, but you’ll pick them back up with use.

There will be other things you might have to learn.

And then there are going to be other things you simply don’t need or want to provide.

Sometimes, the best advice is to not even think about all the what-ifs you may encounter.

Focus instead on getting that first client, taking that first step.

It might even be helpful to have an honest conversation with any new client letting them know that while you are an administrative expert and can definitely help them, you are new to business and there are going to be things that you’re still learning as you go along.

This will clear the air and take some of the perfection pressure off you. I also think most clients will find it such openness and honesty very refreshing and earn you their even greater confidence.

You’ll tweak and hone and fix things as you go along, which is to be expected in any business regardless, but if you don’t ever get started, you won’t ever get anywhere.

Go for it!

Dear Danielle: What Insurance Do I Need?

Dear Danielle:

I am looking into starting an administrative support business and am having some trouble finding information on insurance that is required. I am assuming it is required to have errors and omissions insurance. I am having trouble finding an insurance company that can give me an idea of the cost or that covers this industry. I would really appreciate it if you could provide me some information on this. SC

Errors and Omissions isn’t required, but it’s certainly a good idea to have that kind of insurance in a business such as ours.

For those who don’t know what it is, Errors & Omissions (E & O) insurance protects you if a client claims you are responsible for errors or failed to perform as promised in your contract. If you are a sole proprietor (where you and your assets are at risk directly and personally), it can be even more important to have this kind of coverage.

This is a very common type of business insurance so I’m not clear why you would have any trouble finding a broker or insurance company who can talk to you about it. My best advice is to keep calling around.

Coverages are going to vary and be dependent upon your own particular situation so you really do need to talk to the source, but very, very roughly, you can expect this kind of insurance to cost around $1000 or more annually.

Another kind of insurance you may want to look into is some kind of General Business Liability. Policy terms, limits and coverages are going to vary and be dependent upon your particular situation as well as the insurance company so you really do need to talk to the source.

Generally, this kind of policy covers “trip & fall” type situations you are responsible for either at your office or at a client’s office (like if someone tripped over your briefcase while you were making an office call, for example), medical payments, business personal property (damage/loss/fire/vandalism), signage and loss of income (excellent coverage to have in case fire, loss, damage, etc., prevents you from running your business).

Different insurance companies will have different coverages and limits that come standard and then optional coverages that you can add on so, again, you’ll need to talk to the source and work out the particulars with an agent. An administrative consulting business running out of a home office making roughly $125,000 annually could expect this to cost between $250-$300 a year.

It’s important to note that even if you have homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, you may not have proper coverage for the business itself so be sure and find out from your agent what kind of business “riders” you need to add-on to protect those interests.

Another kind of insurance you may want to look into is Disability Income. This is a separate policy that would cover you if you became injured or ill and couldn’t run your business and earn your living.

The amount of the policy will depend on all your personal particulars such as age, income, whether you smoke or not, etc. This one can (very roughly) run around $115 or more per month, but as with all things insurance-related, you must get your information directly from the source.

If you live in an area where there are frequent natural disasters (slides, flooding, for example), you may also want to look into high-risk coverage to protect your personal business assets. These types of situations are often above and beyond regular business liability coverages (meaning you may not be covered in those events) so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to ask your agent about that as well if it applies to you.

How You Can Afford an Administrative Consultant

You may have heard about Administrative Consultants, and think they’re great.

An Administrative Consultant is someone who is in the business of providing ongoing administrative support to clients they work with in one-on-one, collaborative business relationships.

You totally get it and would love to work with your own Administrative Consultant.

As with anything of value, however, it’s going to cost something.

So you hold off and keep slogging along by yourself wondering how you can afford to work with an Administrative Consultant.

Well, let me show you…

How You Can Afford to Work with an Administrative Consultant

When you work with an Administrative Consultant on an ongoing monthly basis as your right-hand administrative partner, you can get so much more done than you ever could by yourself.

You free yourself up to focus on more important things.

You also get all that extra stuff done in less time.

Which means your business moves forward much more quickly than it would all on your own.

And when you have time and room to take on more clients, and you are accomplishing all those revenue-generating projects and goals you couldn’t get to before, you end up making more money than it costs you to work with an Administrative Consultant.

Let’s recap…

By working with an Administrative Consultant, you:

  • Free yourself to focus on revenue-generation
  • Reduce your own workload
  • Get more done
  • Make faster progress

That extra time you create by working together is time you can use to:

  • Take on more clients
  • Write that book
  • Develop that training program
  • Create those passive income products

All of which increases your revenue. So the question really becomes, how you can you afford not to work with an Administrative Consultant?

Be Thankful

I came across this little ditty on one of those placemat flyers you find in various greasy spoons… you know, the kind that have funny quips and crosswords to amuse yourself with as you wait for your food.

I’m not usually a fan of platitudes as they tend to be too cheesy or nauseatingly saccharine. Uck.

But this one is very simple and plainspoken—just my style–so it naturally resonated with me.

Be Thankful

author unknown

Be thankful that you don’t already have everything you desire.
If you did, what would there be to look forward to?

Be thankful when you don’t know something,
for it gives you the opportunity to learn.

Be thankful for the difficult times.
During those times you grow.

Be thankful for your limitations,
because they give you opportunities for improvement.

Be thankful for each new challenge,
because it will build your strength and character.

Be thankful for your mistakes.
They will teach you valuable lessons.

Be thankful when you’re tired and weary,
because it means you’ve made a difference.

It’s easy to be thankful for the good things.
A life of rich fulfillment comes to those
who are also thankful for the setbacks.

Gratitude can turn a negative into a positive.
Find a way to be thankful for your troubles,
and they can become your blessings.

Unethical Virtual Assistants: Philippines Call Center

Imagine my surprise to see an article I wrote in 2004 that is well-known throughout our industry published in a release with another person’s name in the byline.

Here is a PDF of the screenshot of the release submitted by one “Johnny Law” from Philippines Call Center which contains just about 100% verbatim content from my article, “How to Succeed in the Virtual Assistant Industry:” http://www.virtualassistantnetworking.com/infringements/OfficeWire/120909InfringingRelease.pdf

Here is the original link (article has since been removed): http://www.officialwire.com/main.php?action=posted_news&rid=50855&catid=93

Here is my original article: http://www.virtualassistantnetworking.com/howtosucceed.htm

I tell ya, these Philippine agencies are quickly making a very bad name for themselves in our industry. And it’s too bad because it hurts the reputations of whatever honest, ethical, legitimate Philippines agencies may be out there.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen so many of them stealing other peoples’ content, committing all kinds of infringements and engaging in unethical practices that I don’t trust a single one of them.

I’ve emailed Official Wire and asked for the release to be removed. Hopefully they will honor the request expediently. We shall see. In the meantime, know that the Philippine agency responsible for posting my content is dishonest and unethical. If they engage in unlawful acts such as this, they are not to be trusted in any manner and should be avoided.

UPDATE 12/9/09: I heard back from the Official Wire site owner, Greg Smith. His comment: “Contact the author.” Um, I AM the author. I wonder if this Greg Smith is familiar with the DMCA? He is as liable for publishing unauthorized copyrighted content as the Philippine agency who submitted it and his site can be taken down. Why do these people need to make it so hard? Why can’t they just be honest? I swear.

If I were you, you may want to also avoid Office Wire. I’m not familiar with them, but on closer inspection, it appears that the site may even be one of those spam/scam sites. Most legitimate sites like this will remove infringing content without too much hassle once it is brought to their attention. You have to wonder why one would choose to favor a dishonest company over the rightful owner and author of the stolen content.

UPDATE 12/10/09: Well, this Greg Smith was a total and utter a-hole. Seriously. Which again leads me to believe that his “press release” site is some kind of front for other intentions. In an email exchange, it turns out he is in the U.K. and seemed to believe he was outside of any kind of copyright governances whatsoever. He flat out refused to remove the release and it became quite obvious he has a huge chip on his shoulder about Americans, stating that “you Americans think you rule the world.” So I asked him, since I’m always curious about how on earth some peoples’ minds work, what does being American have to do with expecting people to be honorable and ethical? I asked him why he would choose to cater to a dishonest company that submitted a plagiarized release over the actual author’s request when he could simply remove it? It’s his site after all. He had no response other than some circular argument that he didn’t have to remove it and to contact the author.

With some help from the awesome plagiarism removal expert Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today, we found that OfficeWire.com is hosted by a U.S. company and thus subject to DMCA provisions. I emailed them today and they very quickly took action and the offending release has now been removed from the site. Easy peasy and also saving my IP attorney dollars for more important matters.

Are There Legitimate Companies to Help You Find Clients?

One of my members wanted to know if there are legitimate companies that help you find clients.

She’d seen many companies that say they employ people to do administrative work, but didn’t know who meant well, who was legit, who wasn’t and so on.

It’s a perfectly good question. I mean, on the surface, who wouldn’t want an easier way to find clients to work with, right?

Unfortunately, as with most things “too good to be true,” it’s not as simple as that.

Here’s the advise I shared with her…

I’ll be honest with you, those sites really ruffle my feathers.

That’s because anyone who works for herself is by definition a business owner. They are not temps or telecommuters (those are people who are employed by others and are paid a wage; companies who employ them must adhere to employment laws, like any other employer).

If an agency “employs” virtual workers, they are a virtual staffing firm, not a VA practice. By coopting our terminology they have created a great deal of confusion in our marketplace to the point that virtual assistance now means anyone doing anything virtually — and that was never what it was meant to stand for. (But it was a poor choice of a term to adopt in the first place for this very reason so it’s no great loss).

The other problem I have with them is that they are very exploitive of the people doing the work.

Many exert a great deal of control over the workers’ schedules and how the work is performed, yet illegally classify them as contractors instead of employees thus cheating them out of rightful employment benefits such as Social Security, Medicare, etc.

They count on these people to be ignorant of the laws that govern these legal distinctions so they can keep getting away with taking advantage of them.

On top of that, they pay very little. No one is going to get rich, much less make any kind of living, working for one of those places.

I have kept tabs on that industry for about five years now, talked to close to 100 people who have worked for virtual staffing agencies and the like, and all of them essentially report the same thing: the work is very sporadic and pays very little (like $10-15/hr on average).

You have to bear in mind that anyone they pay has to be cheaper than what they are charging the client in order to make it profitable for them to outsource the work.

The less they charge the client, the less they are going to pay the worker.

And of course, the less they pay the worker, regardless of what the client pays, the better their profit margin. Their incentive is to pay you as little as possible. They are out to make themselves money, not you.

People who have worked for these kind of agencies also frequently report problems getting paid.

Workers are typically paid after the fact, not upfront. If a client pays the agency late, most of these agencies make the worker wait for payment as well (which is unethical and possibly illegal; these people should be paid on time regardless of when the client pays as they are working for the agency, not the client).

If the client disappears entirely, these workers again will not get paid most of the time because these agencies simply are not big enough to have a margin that will allow them to pay workers regardless of who skips out or not. So those people just worked for free.

I know it can be tough financially in the beginning stages of your practice when you are still trying to find clients and sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. Just know the facts going in if you consider going down that road.

My advice: Don’t confuse working for other companies with building your own practice as they are two completely separate things.

When you work for someone else, you are building their brand, not yours.

These are not referral companies. They aren’t in business to find you clients. Any clients you work with belong to the agency, not you.

Be conscious about the fact that the time you expend building someone else’s business is time taken away from your own business-building efforts, where you could be working with your own clients, calling your own shots, making far more money and being paid on your terms, not anyone else’s.

This Is One of the Most Important Skills You Need to Have

One of the most important skills an Administrative Consultant needs to have is the ability to pay attention to details and follow instructions.

To clarify, I am in no way, shape or form suggesting that you should be an automaton merely taking orders from clients. (On the contrary! Your role as a business owner and Administrative Consultant is to exercise initiative and critical thinking.)

You’re running a business. It’s your role to take clients through your processes and always be investigating and probing as much as you need to determine where and how to best support them administratively.

That said, you are still in the business of providing support and helping clients accomplish the things they want to accomplish.

Very often, they want those things done a certain way for their own intentional reasons.

By all means, gain clarity and deeper understanding of what your client is thinking — and why — because that is definitely going to help you be of greater service to them.

If you know of a better way or have an idea you think might be helpful, you should share your advice and suggestions.

In the end, though, at least when it comes to practical matters (barring anything unethical or illegal, naturally), the client has the final say about what they like and how they want things to end up. It is their business, not yours.

Let’s take our members forum as an example to show you what I mean…

On the forum, we’re trying to create a particular experience so there are a few seemingly insignificant details that we are persnickety about.

We provide registrants with very precise, clear-cut instructions so they can complete their profiles accordingly.

One of those details is that we ask registrants to enter their location with city, state (or province, etc.) abbreviation and then their country so that it appears exactly like this: Anytown WA, USA.

Note that we specifically leave out a comma between the city and state, but do have one between the state and the country. It’s not the traditionally correct way one would normally format that kind of information, but this is how we want it — consistently.

Once in awhile we’ll have someone register who doesn’t get that detail right the first time.

Some ignore the instruction and don’t complete their location at all.

Or they’ll put a comma where we specifically ask them to leave it out.

Or they’ll spell out their state instead of abbreviating it.

Or they’ll only enter their state.

Or they’ll leave off the country.

We give them once or twice to get things right, but every so often we’ll get someone who will do everything BUT follow directions and enter things the way we ask.

This is always utterly perplexing to me because to my mind, it couldn’t be clearer or simpler.

We tell them explicitly what we want there and provide an example.

Yet, after three, four or more attempts, they still just can’t get it right.

They aren’t paying attention and keep trying to make up their own rules.

So how does that relate to working with clients?

Everything!

Because if you have a habit of not paying attention to details and following specifications, you end up frustrating the client and wasting their time.

They have nothing to feel bad about in wanting things they want them, but when your inability to follow through on those wishes forces them to repeat themselves over and over, it makes them feel like a nag and they resent it.

Plus, when that is the case, you are not demonstrating competence.

They lose confidence in your abilities.

They won’t trust that they can rely on you to get things done properly.

They’ll feel the need to start double-checking your work.

All of which ultimately makes you difficult to work with.

They didn’t choose you so you could create more work and hassle for them, right?

In the case of my forum, we tend towards giving everyone the benefit of the doubt first.

But if they repeatedly can’t get it together, we begin to form the impression that this isn’t someone we should be representing.

We are constantly advocating for our members and touting their graces and competence to clients so we need for our members to actually be those things.

When someone can’t follow directions, especially when it comes to the simplest of things, over and over, we have to question their qualification and whether they are someone to whom we should be lending our reputation.

It’s not an indictment on the registrant as a person, but we are a professional organization after all.

We have a standard of excellence and competence we adhere to so we really need members to put their best foot forward and inspire our confidence in them.

And the same goes for your clients. They need you to inspire their confidence.

You don’t have to be perfect. You’re not a machine, and you will make mistakes every once in awhile.

And that’s okay because that’s not where your value lies. In fact, I advise you to have a conversation about that with prospective clients in your consultations.

But what is important is that overall you demonstrate a pattern and consistency of proficiency so they can trust in you.

When they have a specific detail they want adhered to in a certain way, honor that.

Because if you can’t, you create distrust and unease for them, and eventually they’ll start looking for someone else who doesn’t make it such an ordeal to work together.

Dear Danielle: Do I Have to Know This and This and That, Too?

Dear Danielle:

My biggest strengths are written and verbal communication, research and word processing. Can I still be a successful Virtual Assistant or do I need to know things like 1shoppingcart, website design and desktop publishing to even have a prayer of getting any clients? —KT

I’m going to be annoying and not really answer your question directly. And the reason is because there are several aspects to consider. In pondering those things, you will end up answering the question for yourself.

My first question to you is: Do you know what business you are in (or considering being in)?

Being in business first has to be something you want to be in, want to be doing, enjoy doing and have the qualifications to do.

I mean, it wouldn’t serve you to wake up one day and decide to be a plumber if you have zero interest in pipes and sewage. And it certainly wouldn’t serve any customers you got if you didn’t have the training, experience or qualifications to be a plumber, right?

For this reason, you have to get really clear and cognizant of exactly and specifically what you want to be in business to do.

In this case, you may want to ask yourself: Am I in business to provide administrative support or am I in business to sell individual services?

Because there is a big difference between delivering ongoing administrative support (which is a business category and service offering in and of itself) and selling individual, piecemeal services (which is not support; that is what is called secretarial services).

When you are selling line-item services, the focus is on the individual project and the transaction. But if you are in business to provide administrative support, the product you are really offering is an ongoing, right-hand relationship. The relationship is the focus, not the transactions or individual tasks.

The reason this clarity is important is because it makes all the difference in how you market, articulate your value and attract exactly the right clients who have a need for what you are in business to offer.

Which brings us back to your original question, and the answer to that is:  it depends.

It depends on what you are in business to do, who has a need for what you offer and who you want to work with.

You can be an administrative expert and not have to also be a website designer and a graphic designer and a bookkeeper, etc., etc., if that’s not what you want to do.

Your value isn’t in trying to be every single kind of professional under the sun or to know how to do everything in the world. In fact, it’s really silly to and ineffective to try to do that because you can quickly distract yourself from your focus, spread yourself too thin and dillute your strengths and expertise.

You’re in the driver’s seat. You get to set the expectations and craft your marketing message in a way that attracts exactly who you want it to attract. If you don’t want to do any of those other things you mention, focus clients on the thing you do do and how that helps them in their business.

Now, I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t do any of those other things. If you want to work with online business owners, knowing HTML and being able to draft up web pages, etc., is something that will add value to what you offer.

Additional divisions and complementary layers of support in your business (such as technical support for 1shoppingcart, for example) are also ways you can add more revenue streams by offering them as stand-alone services or at higher priced support packages.

At the same time, there are plenty of clients doing real-world work and running non-virtual businesses who aren’t going to care a whit whether you know 1shoppingcart and don’t need you to know graphic design because they already have a talented graphic design house they use, thank you very much. They just need you to be focused on administrative support, and really, that’s plenty as it is!

They certainly wouldn’t turn to you for legal advice if you weren’t an attorney, and they wouldn’t ask you for financial guidance if you weren’t an accountant, right? Of course not. So focus clients on exactly what you are in business to do and explain things so they know, as clear as day, exactly what kind of expert you are and what you are in business.

The trick is to get clear about what you want to be in business to do and then target a market that has a need for exactly that. The more clear you are, the more you’ll attract exactly the right clients.

PS: I think you’d find my business plan template and my Value-Based Pricing & Packaging Toolkit specifically for administrative support businesses very helpful in sorting all this out. It’s not only a template that shows you how a professional business plan should be structured and formatted, it’s also designed to get your thought juices going with regard to these kinds of questions, figure out exactly what kind of business you want to be in and how you can create a multi-layered administrative support business with multiple revenue streams.