Archive for March, 2010

Client Complaints Are Almost Always a Result of Setting the Wrong Expectations

Outside of sheer incompetence and lack of skills, almost every complaint between clients and those in the administrative support business can be traced back to one problem: allowing clients to think of you and work with you as a substitute employee.

If you are running a business, you are not anyone’s assistant.

If you market yourself as a replacement for employees, clients naturally expect that you are going to work with them and be available to them and do the same things for them as an employee would.

That’s an expectation you will absolutely be unable to sustain, and you’ll kill yourself in the process of trying to live up to that kind of promise.

Because that’s what an expectation is: the perceived or actual promise of something. And I say perceived because, if you don’t take charge of what expectations are set, clients will make up their own assumptions, assumptions that might not be correct or that simply won’t work for you.

The problem is not that you need to be more, do more, be more available, create a bigger business model or turn into something else entirely.

It’s that clients aren’t understanding what you are, what your role is and the true nature of the relationship. And most of the time, that’s the fault of our own industry and how many people in it are marketing themselves.

You have to understand that you are not a contract employee. You are not a replacement for employees. You aren’t an employee of any kind whatsoever.

As a professional business service, you are an alternative to employees. And when something is an alternative, there are necessarily going to be differences and trade-offs in how and when you work with clients.

Your value isn’t in doing everything, being everything, meeting every need or solving every problem. You can absolutely provide top-notch ongoing administrative support without being available on a daily basis or trying to fulfill every single role in the same way that an employee would.

It’s what I call strategic support – even just a little helps clients make great strides forward in their businesses, keeps them running and humming along smoothly, and creates vastly more time and space at their disposal than they had before your help, even beyond the retainers they pay you.

And since you are a business provider, not an employee or contract worker, you may need to make clear to clients that there are certain things you simply can’t do for them and that they may not expect, such as on-demand/same-day work or any work that requires daily maintenance and check-in. With several clients to service, you will absolutely need to build-in breathing room and space in which to schedule and organize your workload.

This can sometimes also mean recognizing when a client really needs an employee rather than an independent service provider and informing them of such.

Once you start grasping this, you can begin to change the expectations, change your language and how you market and pre-educate prospective clients.

YOU’VE got to clearly and consciously create the definitions, set the expectations and discuss these things upfront. That’s when we’ll start seeing more harmony and alignment of understandings and expectations between clients and those in the administrative support business.

Dear Danielle: How Can I Target Churches?

Dear Danielle: How Do I Target Churches?

Dear Danielle:

What strategy would you recommend using for targeting churches with the administrative support business? I know a lot of churches depend on volunteers for help, but they might not have the right skills. And while some may have administrators, most do not. I think there is a huge market. –BP

What does your intended market say?

Whether it is churches or any other field/industry/profession, what you really have to do to answer this question is a bit of market research.

Job #1 for every business owner is to get out from behind the computer and get on the phone and actually talk to those in the market you’d like to work with.

Is there interest? Is there need? Can they afford professional fees? Does the research support your belief that there is a huge market? Because nothing else matters unless the intended target market has a need for what you are in business to offer (in our case as Administrative Consultants, that’s administrative support) and the willingness and ability to pay for it.

There are all kinds of ways you can collect information for this market research:

  1. Call around to churches and conduct some telephone market research interviews with the people who would be in the position of making those decisions.
  2. Invite a few out to lunch (one at a time) to pick their brain.
  3. Set up an online survey and invite church leaders/administrators to give their feedback. Can you find out enough about their administrative work that you can create meaningful administrative support plans and compelling messages that will influence their interest? What are their objections and how might you resolve those? You may find that there are certain denominations of churches that have more need and interest than others. You may find certain churches are in a better position to pay; what are their characteristics and is there a large enough group of these churches that you’d easily be able to fill your practice with them as clients? This is the kind of data that can emerge with research, which you can then use to narrow your focus, refine your questions and determine the best methods for reaching the right people.

Good luck!

Are You Dripping with Friends?

The term “drip marketing” comes from the direct mail industry.

Studies indicate it takes at least 7 to 10 points of contact before a prospect even remembers a business, much less buys from it.

So, the idea is to mail a series of printed promotional pieces (drip) to current and potential customers, and thereby keep the company in front of their eyeballs long enough to establish brand awareness and develop them into leads.

That sure doesn’t sound very warm and fuzzy, though, does it? In fact, it sounds pretty impersonal and a little too cold and calculating.

People want to be cared about.

They want to connect with other human beings, not be a cog in someone’s marketing machinations.

That said, you’re still a business. You have to somehow find a way to get in front of your would-be clients or customers. Marketing is a necessary evil.

But guess what? It doesn’t have to be evil. Let me tell you how you can create authentic drip campaigns driven by heart (you might even be doing one of these already):

  1. First, shift your perception. Instead of “marketing,” look at these efforts simply as a way to make new friends (prospective clients/customers), help those you are already friends with (past and current clients/customers) and continue to nurture and solidify those relationships. People do business with and refer those they get to know, like and trust. So what you’re really doing in all your reaching-out efforts is simply allowing people to get to know the real you and leaving a door open for them to enter a little further.
  2. One way you can do this is to publish an ezine for your target market. An ezine (electronic newsletter) is a form of drip marketing because it allows you to keep a line of conversation going with your audience on a regular basis. It’s a heck of lot cheaper and easier to publish than a print newsletter, and there’s a much greater return for the effort. The keys to a successful ezine are:

    a) make it about your target market (what do they want to read about? What are their challenges and obstacles? What advice, tips and solutions will be of value and interest to them? How can you make it fun?), and
    b) publish regularly—weekly, every other week or at least once a month. You know you’re doing something right when readers email you when an issue is missing or late!

  3. Publish a blog. Like an ezine, frequency is key. It doesn’t have to be on the same kind of schedule as an ezine, but you should post regularly to maintain a momentum of interest. Posting twice a year just isn’t going to cut it. If you do blog, you can be more personal and less formal, the content less structured. It’s another avenue for allowing prospective clients/customers to connect with you as a person, which makes you much more relatable and approachable.
  4. Offer a free e-course via a series of autoresponders. Say you have some sort of how-to guide that you’ve been offering as a single download. Divide each step/section/bullet into separate messages to be sent out one at a time each week. If you have 10 messages, that’s 10 weeks you can be helping those on your list and keeping in touch with them. Encourage questions and feedback, which will help you better understand their needs and challenges and develop further useful content and information for them.
  5. Continue to consistently keep in touch with your list subscribers. Send out a message whenever you come across news and information you think will be helpful to your target market. Send a message linking to an article you think is of interest to them. Tell them about happenings or products you recommend. Let them know whenever you have a special event or offering for them. Periodically spotlight one of your skills or services they might not be aware of and how it might help them in their business. Make a list of all the reasons you could contact those on your list. The possibilities are endless. Continue to add to it as you come up with ideas. There’s nothing wrong with letting folks know what you do and what you have to offer them. Just try to strike a balance. Remember that the point is to be helpful, not spam them with constant marketing and self-interested promotion. The simple act of being a helpful, knowledgeable resource for them promotes you in all the best ways possible.

All of this is about creating rapport and trust. When you show people who you are and what you are passionate about, you instill rapport. When you demonstrate that you understand their business problems, needs and interests, you demonstrate your competence and authority and show that they can trust you. Nothing evil about that! It’s simple consideration. Commit to more of that.

RESOURCE: Aweber is the most versatile autoresponder service out there in my book. Not only can you use it to deliver your ezine, it can be used for all kinds of other purposes including capturing subscribers, managing unlimited lists, communicating with those lists (separately or together) via sequential and scheduled broadcasts, setting up automated message campaigns, distributing blog post notifications and even incorporating those messages with social media. The reporting features are phenomenal and it integrates nicely with shoppingcart systems. Its double opt-in policy makes it one of the very top rated services for email delivery and open rates.

How to Get Help When Starting Your Administrative Support Business

Here’s a little pet peeve of mine: leaving a Voicemail with no message other than your name and a request for me to call you.

I rarely return those calls. Almost every time, the folks who do this always want far more from me than I can provide them with in an unscheduled telephone conversation.

Once in a great while, I’ll make an exception and phone back one of these mystery callers. And nine times out of 10, it turns out they want me to personally walk them through all the ins and outs of starting an administrative support business.

I then kick myself in the butt for calling them back.

I resent being hijacked like that. It’s rude, plain and simple. It shows a complete lack of regard for the other person’s time and interest. What makes you think I don’t have other things to do except sit by the phone waiting to help you start your business… for free?

Of course, it’s my fault for answering or calling back. So these are reminders for me to honor my own boundaries and self-care.

Seriously. I get a jillion of these calls every week. I can’t help everyone individually. I have my own business to run, and my own life and priorities about who and what I give my time to.

Everything I can help them with is already here on the blog and the ACA website in the free resources and the business tools and guides I offer. I’m able to help many more people at once through these channels.

So, if you want help in starting your administrative support business, here are some tips to help you avoid any faux pas:

  1. Don’t hijack people. You will be more likely to get help if you leave a full message with not only who you are, but WHY you are calling. Don’t be evasive or trick people into calling you back (yes, I’ve actually had people do this!). They aren’t likely to want to help you when you do underhanded, manipulative things like that.
  2. Better yet, email first. Be upfront and direct about why you are writing. Knowing your intentions, the person at the other end can decide whether or not to give their time and better schedule something in advance. Be yourself and let your personality shine through; it’ll certainly make you much more noticeable and interesting. I’m a real person and I appreciate real, unpretentious people who don’t put on airs. But do remember to put your most professional written foot forward at the same time. Be specific and state your question or request clearly. I can’t (and won’t) spend my time trying to decipher incoherent thoughts and poor communication. I am always happy to answer clear, focused, specific questions on my blog here, but no one can help you with, How do I start an administrative support business? That’s what my blog, classes and business guides are for.
  3. Think of the other person, not only yourself. Consider the fact that someone who is knowledgeable, successful and in a position to help you is most likely in high demand from hundreds of people, all wanting the same thing as you. If they can’t help you personally, accept that graciously. Be respectful of their time and appreciative when they are able and willing  to give it to you. Your good attitude about this may even warm them up to you and help you make a personal connection where they are more inclined to take an interest in you. The worst attitude you can have is one of self-entitlement. No one owes you their time and attention.
  4. Be prepared to pay. Really think about this. Why should someone who doesn’t know you from Adam set aside their valuable time to give you a personal tour and advice in starting your business? It’s really self-centered to think like that. People like myself offer a TON of free info and advice to help folks. But if you want my personal time and guidance beyond the things that I already provide, I charge for that.
  5. Do your own homework first. No one is going to do everything for you. I never, ever help people who I see have not lifted a finger to help themselves first. Read everything. Apply critical thinking. Take the first steps yourself. If you can’t narrow your questions down, you haven’t done enough reading and research on your own yet. The person who has specific questions has obviously done this. The kind of questions they ask make it very clear to people like me how much legwork they’ve done already and how serious they are about their business. Those are the folks I enjoy helping because I see the wheels turning and they’ve made some level of commitment. They’re easier to help, and there is more satisfaction in helping them because they really apply themselves and the advice given to them. When it comes right down to it, I just simply like those people more. NO ONE likes an ask-hole. 😉
  6. Give back. I’ll let you in on a little secret… those who contact me and the very first thing they express is that they understand that I may or may not be able to help them personally… those are the folks who get my attention. Because to me, that shows a person of character and awareness about the needs of others, not just their own. Those people are givers, and I enjoy helping them most. I have no use for self-absorbed takers who want to suck your brain dry (for free, of course), but then can’t be bothered to say thank you . Which leads me to the point of this bullet, how you can give back to those who help you. First, always, always, always, always remember to say thank you. Let them know how they have helped you. Then, remember the time and knowledge they gave you and when they ask for feedback, input, testimonials or contributions to a discussion, give that to them! Those are things people in my position really, really appreciate in return.

My Best Tips and Tricks for Teleseminars and Webinars

I’ve done teleseminars up the ying-yang and know how to run those like the back of my hand. Got it down to a fine science.

I also recently held my first training webinar, and it was quite the learning experience.

Here are a few odds and ends things I learned (in no particular order) that you’re sure to find helpful, too.

  1. Use a timer. It’s easy to get distracted and lose track of time, especially when you get caught up in the moment with the energy and enthusiasm of your attendees. In my first class, we went way over the planned time I told people to schedule, and I felt really bad about that. In the future, I plan to keep a clock right in front of my eyeballs and also turn on a timer to help keep me on track. This will help gauge when it’s time to speed things up and move along to keep everything on schedule.
  2. Map it out, then stick with the script. I find reading from a script difficult. It seem unnatural or inauthentic. I like the dynamic of a real conversation and interaction, which feels more genuine and in-the-moment. There’s so much I want to share with folks that often I don’t remember something until it comes up organically. But there’s a reason why the experts tell you to script things out. You end up with a more polished production, and it helps keep things focused and on track. Plus, if you suffer from “um” and “ya know” syndrome (like me), a script does wonders in curing the problem. If it feels a bit fake, remind yourself that ultimately, this is about providing a better experience for your participants and it’s their benefit and comfort you’re doing this for.
  3. Leave your notes unstapled. I know. This sounds like such an inane, irrelevant thing, but it really does take more effort and fumbling around to flip stapled pages than it does unstapled ones. Trust me. Things will flow much better if you leave them unstapled.
  4. Keep the trickiness to a minimum. I wanted to do something a little more original than anything I’d seen in webinars I’ve attended. One of my ideas was to do on-screen drawing, where I was engaging with participants, asking them questions and then writing down points to help crystallize concepts I was trying to convey. I wanted it to be like they were at an actual, in-person class. In theory, that sounds awesome. In practice, not so much. Trying to do this really slowed things down. It was too difficult switching between all the mental gears it takes to man the control panel, turn pages, keep the conversation on track and flip between the drawing tools all at the same time. While most webinar platforms offer drawing tools, there’s still a lot that needs to be perfected in the technology and controls before they’ll be at a level where this is more feasible. Sometimes, the best solution is the simplest, tried-and-true method.
  5. Have a co-pilot. Initially, I weighed the option of having one of my colleagues help me. But then I thought that would just make me more nervous and there wasn’t much she could take off my hands anyway. Well, after doing Part 1 of my first webinar, I realized that was a mistake. With everything else I had to do myself, no matter what, it was absolutely impossible for me to also pay attention to those who were having audio difficulties, typing in the text chat area or raising their virtual hands with questions. So in Part 2, I definitely had my administrator help me. She monitored the audio and let me know when someone had a question or issue. It really did help.
  6. Have everyone mute themselves. Here again, I really wanted a more interactive, dynamic conversation. I didn’t want to be talking at people. The problem with that, however, is no matter how large or small the group, no matter how many times you convey your webinar guidelines and ask folks to observe good netiquette, there is always going to be someone whose audio problems and noisy background will disrupt the class. Dealing with those issues slows things down and only serves to frustrate everyone. So here’s the thing to keep in mind if you feel uncomfortable doing most of the talking: people are there to hear you talk at them, so to speak. They paid for your class because they want to learn from you. They aren’t the ones with the knowledge, you are. So you have to be talking to them to a large extent in order to give them what they came to get. Having everyone mute themselves (and then instructing them to unmute themselves one at a time when you get to the Q&A portions of the class) helps you deliver a better experience for everyone. (PS: As the moderator, you don’t want to mute folks yourself as they won’t be able to unmute themselves when Q &A rolls around. Yup, this happened to us.)
  7. Establish the Q & A rules. Schedule question-and-answer spots into the sequence of your presentation. You can save them for the end of the class or intersperse them at specific intervals. Just don’t allow questions willy nilly. This will really slow things down and lead you off-track. Set expectations before the class by letting participants know how and when Q&A will be handled. Ask them to save their questions for those times (suggest they write them down along the way or submit them in advance) and to keep their questions on-topic.
  8. Keep class size small. If you were only doing a teleseminar, I would say it really doesn’t matter how large the attendance is (other than your bridgeline’s limitations). However, conducting training, particularly on a webinar platform, is a bit more involved, more interactive, more intimate. They really do work best and are easier to manage when the class size is limited. Plus, depending on the webinar platform you’re using, you can often keep costs down, if that’s a concern, by limiting the number of participants. I think a group of around 20 to 25 is perfect.
  9. Spread it out. Break classes down into one or two hour sessions. Beyond that, people get tired. Their mind wanders. They have other things to do. Too much information all at once can be overwhelming and hard to digest. Plus, for practical purposes, smaller recordings are easier to edit and manage. You can always combine separate recordings into one video later.
  10. Don’t be afraid to boot bad attitudes. I had the most delightful bunch of participants in my first class. I couldn’t have asked for a better group. However, there was one person in part 1 of my training who rudely made it clear she was impatient with what she perceived to be entry-level when she felt she was more advanced. However, this was not her personal coaching session where everything was going to be geared specifically for her. There were others for whom the knowledge and understanding was new — and appreciated. All the parts were important to the whole because they’re all pieces of one puzzle that would not be complete without that information. So, know going in that a) there are going to be people who end up not being a fit, whatever the reason, and b) you don’t have to suffer the company of anyone who is ill-mannered and brings negative energy to you and the rest of your class. If they can’t be courteous and polite and save their complaints for later, you have no obligation to allow them to put your off your game and make you uncomfortable.

RESOURCE: GoToTraining is the platform I used this time around to conduct my first training. All the Citrix products are very good and reliable. There are a few things I would really love to see them continue to improve, and they do seem to really listen and heed user feedback. Initially, they were offering their platform at $350/mo. I told them there was no way the small business owner would ever pay that, particularly when their class sizes were smaller and they might only use the platform a few times a year. The very next day, they introduced a new, lower-priced payment level geared especially for more sporadic use and smaller class sizes. Their customer support is also phenomenal, which, on a side note, is a trend I have been noticing lately. I’m seeing more and more companies put a new, all-out focus on providing outstanding customer support. It would seem that they are FINALLY hearing what the market has been saying for years now: “Your crappy and/or offshored customer service is creating ill-will and costing you our business!” Only good can come of that. But you, Mr. and Ms. Marketplace, need to stop expecting everything for free if you want to continue to benefit from this new wonderful service trend. It goes both ways. For myself, I am oh-so-happy to pay well for that kind of experience. ;)

Rethink Your Mindset: You Are Not Anyone’s Assistant

If you’re in business, you aren’t anyone’s assistant.

Too many organizations are training Virtual Assistants to work with clients like nothing more than contract employees (and a contract employee is an employee, not an independent contractor which is simply another term for business owner).

This keeps them from growing and earning better.

You will keep yourself stuck if you continue to buy into that thinking.

Your value does not depend on you being an “assistant.”

Your value is that you are providing an experience and a body of administrative skill and expertise with the big picture goal of helping clients move forward in their businesses–with your specialty being administrative support.

You do not have to work with clients in an assistant’s role in order to accomplish that objective, and you can still have a very close and personal one-on-one relationship without working with clients like that.

Providing administrative support does not require you to be an “assistant.”

It is a profession, skill and expertise all its own.

As an Administrative Consultant, your role is not to work with clients as if you were a substitute for an employee or in-house assistant.

How and when you work with clients must necessarily be very different.

I call this providing strategic support. Even just a little helps them make incredible strides.

Recording Conference Calls and Webinars with Camtasia

Ran into this issue and thought I would share what I learned in case it’s helpful to anyone else…

In offering my first training classes, I’ve been getting an education by fire of all the ins and outs of doing webinar recording.

I used GoToTraining for my first class.

It’s a nice interface, the customer support is awesome and they really do seem to listen and heed user feedback, but there are still enough drawbacks that my hunt continues for a more ideal platform in the future.

One thing that turned into quite the fiasco was dealing with the recording.

All the Citrix products come with the ability to do the onscreen capture and audio recording of your online meetings for you and they provide a built-in bridgeline as well.

On the surface, this sounded mighty easy and convenient, so I naturally opted to do that. And it would have been, if I had no need to do anything to the recording.

The problem was that in wanting to clean up the audio/video afterwards and also convert it to a more universal format, I discovered it wasn’t really compatible with Camtasia.

This really turned into a nightmare and caused a lot a disruption in the high quality service delivery I naturally wanted those who attended to get from me.

Ah, well, live and learn.

We ended up having to separate the audio from the recording, editing it separately in Audacity, and then re-recording the whole 2-hour presentation and synching up the edited audio back up with it.

Yeah, not fun.

And maybe there’s another, better, way to do it, but I’m still new to using Camtasia and everything the support people told me to try was not working.

Everyone pretty much threw up their hands and could only surmise that the recording I was provided with must have been corrupted in some way (which, I learned later is indeed a known problem).

At any rate, this all led to me determining that while I might use a platform like GoToTraining or WebEx to conduct future webinars, I want to do the recording myself using Camtasia and our own bridgeline.

What was stumping me, though, was how would Camtasia record the conference call?

The answer, apparently, is purchasing a devise called a “recording adapter” or “conference recording adapter.”

I was told I could purchase one of these from Radio Shack for $19.99. On their website, it’s called a “mini recorder control.”

However, in consulting with folks more knowledgeable than I about all the ins and outs of this subject, I was told that it’s not very high quality and also doesn’t work with cordless/wireless phones (which is what I have).

These folks suggested the better option is to go with one of the recording adapters offered by DynaMetric.com. They have two products for this, depending on what kind of phone you have.

a). If you have a corded phone, you want the TMP636 Webinar Recorder which sells for $85.95.

b). If you have a cordless/wireless phone, you want the TLP124HS Cordless Phone Adapter which sells for $84.95. The problem this one solves is the issue of your phone handset not having enough ports (particularly if you use a headset so you can speak hands-free). With this model, one end of the adapter cable plugs into your computer mic port, the other end plugs into your phone handset, and then your hands-free headset plug into a port built into the adapter device itself. Perfect!

These cost more than $20, but they are much better products for higher quality results and more sturdy, long-lasting life.

When you go to record your webinar using Camtasia, after hooking up the adapter, you would then select that option from your “Audio” mic list.

Business Costs Money

I came across a Google Alert recently where a colleague posted to a forum about a certain font she needed to complete a project, mentioning that $25 for the font license was a bit steep.

I had to chuckle because I’ve paid hundreds of dollars for a single font.

I realize most people in our industry start their businesses on a shoestring rather than properly capitalized. Still, they have to understand that being in business does cost money.

There are going to be times when, if you want to be smart in business, you are simply going to have to cough up money. You can’t expect others to provide everything for free (just as you don’t want clients who expect you to work for free). 😉

That said, there are a couple things this colleague (or you) can do:

  1. Go ahead and purchase the font license. Think of it as an investment, not an expense. You’ll be able to use that font for future projects so it becomes an investment in your library of design resources. AND you can write-off the cost come tax time next year.
  2. Charge the client for the cost of the font license, particularly if you’re only purchasing it specifically for that client’s design project and not one you will ever use again. If the client doesn’t want to pay for the font, then you simply inform the client he or she must choose another font. It’s not your responsibility to bear their business expenses, and this is part of the cost of completing their design project. The choice is theirs.

No One Can Guarantee You Clients

There are people who care about this industry, and then there are exploiters who only care about picking your pockets.

Look beneath the surface.

Are these people even in the business they are trying to teach you about?

Do they actually DO the thing they profess to have the knowledge about?

How can they be experts in our industry when they aren’t even in this business and don’t do what we do?

Don’t buy into slick marketing and promises too good to be true.

NO ONE can guarantee you clients.

When they start doing that, those are INTERNET MARKETERS and you had better run the other direction with your money because that’s all they are trying to get–is your money, any which way they can.

They will tell you whatever you want to hear because they prey on your desperation to believe it will be true.

They know that telling people they are guaranteed clients is what will make those folks salivate–and hand over their money–because that’s what they want and need most.

It is reprehensible and anyone trying to sell you that kind of BS is a dishonest, unethical slimeball.

I Don’t Do Pains-in-the-Butt

Seth Godin recently wrote about short-sighted, greedy, selfish consumers in his blog post, “More, more more.”

You give them an inch, and they want a pound of your flesh for the rest of your life.

He writes that basically every business owner who wants to provide “remarkable service and an honest human connection” will face the challenge of being abused by a few.

You always have options, as he illustrates: “Put up with the whiners, write off everyone or deliberately exclude the ungrateful curs.”

That last one is my personal philosophy.

As Godin so eloquently puts it, “Firing customers you can’t possibly please gives you the bandwidth and resources to coddle the ones that truly deserve your attention and repay you with referrals, applause and loyalty.”

For me, this applies to any relationship, not just clients.

If someone is abusive, tries to take advantage, is a jerk, an energy-suck, has broken my trust in them, or just doesn’t “get it” all the way around, I don’t deal with them anymore.

I ignore them. I remove them. I delete them. I block them. I move on.

Go bother someone else. I have better things to do.