Archive for April, 2010

Dear Danielle: Do I Have Enough Experience to Be an Administrative Consultant?

Dear Danielle: Do I Have Enough Experience to Be an Administrative Consultant?

Dear Danielle:

I only have 2 years experience as an executive assistant and 6 years as a receptionist/data entry clerk. Could I still be an Administrative Consultant? Any suggestions are helpful. –BT

Well, it’s not really for me to say. It’s what the marketplace has to say.

What I mean is, yes, as an industry, those of us in it definitely have thoughts, opinions and expectations about what the qualifications should be for those who want to enter our ranks. Generally, we want to protect the reputation and credibility of the profession to protect interests of ourselves and clients alike.

Ultimately, however, this is an unregulated industry so no one can tell you that you may or may not open an administrative support business if that’s what you want to do.

That said, clients have very demanding expectations. So the better question might be, do you have enough experience that you will be professionally qualified enough to meet those demands?

Business savvy also plays a critical role here because if you don’t know how to run and manage business well, that also will directly impact your service to clients and their satisfaction.

If you don’t have a sufficient level of these things, are you prepared to deal with the extra difficulty and rejection you might face? Do you have the stamina, perseverance and tenacity to keep working on whatever you need to work on to get to a level that is marketable?

The less skill and experience you have, the much more difficult a path you face. It will be much harder for you to command the kind of fees that will earn you a real living and it may take you much longer to get established.

You can be the most likable person on the planet and have no problem developing rapport with prospective clients, but when it comes right down to it, the proof is always in the pudding. Clients get frustrated (and do not work long) with those who don’t have a business level of skill, competence and business management sense and ability.

What I might personally suggest is that it might be a good idea to stay in the workforce a few more years. Grab every opportunity to grow in your administrative support skills and at the same time become a student of business (and I don’t mean enrolling in an MBA program; simply start reading business books).

Use this time now to start thinking about a target market and studying what kind of administrative needs and challenges that market has and how you can support those needs and solve those challenges.

Lay the foundation of your business now so that when the time is right and you’ve got enough business knowledge and marketable expertise under your belt, you will be more prepared for success.

Then again, maybe you feel you’ve already got what it takes. If so, go for it. ;)

There’s No Such Thing as Social Networking

Ha! That got your attention, didn’t it. Let me explain…

Social networking is nothing new. It’s simply the latest catchphrase for something that has always existed and will continue to exist in business: networking and relationship-building.

The only thing that’s different is that we have new technology tools available for nurturing and facilitating those things.

Now, I’m not saying social networking is bad or not to use social networking tools. Not at all. Just be smart about it. Use your head. Know your target market.

It makes little sense to expend days and months twittering away if that’s not where your serious clients are spending their time and all you have to show for your effort are a few nickel and dime project customers.

So here are some questions that might help you gain some productive direction in your social networking efforts:

  1. Is your target market there? If not, you might as well be blowing bubbles in the wind. If your target market has its own, more concentrated industry forums and groups, it’s far more productive to focus your time and energy in those places.
  2. Are the interactions meaningful? If you and your prospective clients aren’t able to really engage, might there be quicker or more effective means to get in front of them and really connect?
  3. What’s the ROI (return on investment)? You want to engage in networking activities that yield the highest, greatest return for your marketing/networking time, energy and budget.
  4. Is your effectiveness being diluted by spreading yourself too thin trying to everywhere? You can do a lot of things not very well or you can do one or two things super duper well. Don’t be afraid to buck the bangwagons and stick to your favorite platform for better results.
  5. Are you interesting? Remember what you’re there for. Prospective clients are interested in how you can help them. Tie your conversations to that interest whenever possible. Provide good info and also ask questions to learn more about them. Clients are also people. They may not care what you had for breakfast or that you are now taking the garbage out, but sharing a funny anecdote or the day’s pet peeves (from a cheerful, humorous perspective) can be great conversation starters that also let them see you as a real person.

Social networking can be a great leveraging tool for finding and getting to know new prospects and drawing them into your own pipelines. It can also be a complete waste of time if you’re doing it without any thought or intention.

Do your homework so the former is the case for you. :)

If You’re Sitting on the Sidelines, Whose Fault is That?

There was a bit of kvetching going on last week on one of the listservs I belong to.

I don’t really consider myself a member of that particular list as I’m only an observer there on behalf of one of my clients, but the group dynamic is common to many of the networks I belong to and a constant source of business musing for me.

You see, someone asked a question and as usual, out of thousands of members, only a handful offered up any input of their own (even if it was just to state that they had the same question or issue).

This handful is comprised of the few folks who regularly participate by answering and contributing questions, adding to conversations and just all around going out of their way to give thorough, detailed information that the rest of the list (who sit like bumps on a log and never bother to open their mouths) gets to learn from and take advantage of.

The super-participators make up the 20% who are actively engaged in 80% of the conversations and interactions.

Yet every so often, as was the case last week, there will be someone who pipes up to complain that basically the participators are participating too much. And then a few others will chime in with their agreement.

They’ll say things like they are scared to post or reply for fear of ridicule.

They say they feel like anything they might contribute would be quickly overshadowed.

They’ll point out that the regular participants aren’t the only ones with good advice and expertise to share.

They’ll complain that conversations get “hogged” by the regular contributors.


How does an online conversation get hogged by anyone?

If you aren’t speaking up, whose fault is that?

Unless someone has physically hog-tied you and duct-taped your mouth shut, no one is “making” you be silent; that’s your choice.

If you aren’t asking questions or adding your own two cents, don’t complain that others are dominating the conversation. You have exactly the same option and opportunity as everyone else to type words on your keyboard and hit the “post” button. It’s just that some people are go-getters and others are not. Which group do you fall into? (Which do you want to be in? Which one are you choosing to be in?)

And definitely don’t complain if the list is quiet and no conversations are even getting started (another frequent lament which is ironically almost always posted by people who NEVER particpate or start conversations anyway; they just sit around waiting for everyone else to do it for them). What have YOU done to start any yourself?

Give the floor to those same people who complain they “can’t get a word in edgewise” and ask for their feedback and input, and guess what you’ll still get nine times out of 10?


Because the problem isn’t really other people “hogging” the conversation. That’s just an excuse.

It’s not everyone else’s job to entertain and inform you. How about giving back a little yourself?

It’s also not anyone else’s job to hide or dim their own light so that you don’t feel insecure.

There are no “turns” in business. It’s ALWAYS your turn to speak up and get in the game.

If you want others to see you, to get to know you, to acknowledge you, you’re just going to have to step up to the plate.

Take a risk. Put yourself out there the same way the active participators do.

Ask for what you need. Dive in. Speak up. Exercise your curiosity and share what you know. Or simply ask questions.

Don’t hold back. But do own your own fears, jealousies and insecurities. No one else is responsible for them but you.

You get to choose to get in the game or sit on the sidelines.

But make no mistake–that’s your choice. Just stop whining about it if you choose the latter.

Dear Danielle: Should I Point Out Website Typos

Dear Danielle:

I can’t tell you the number of times that I have looked at a colleague’s, taken a deep breath, sighed, and just continued reading. But 5, 10, even 15 minutes later I will still be struggling with whether or not I should have emailed the person and told them about the error. You see, I am an administrative professional who has been in the business for 20 years and am now starting my own administrative support business.  One of my special talents is proofreading. So I think this person is NOT going to appreciate me, the newbie in town, emailing them to point out the spelling error, grammatical error or formatting problem on their website. Yet it bothers me. This is our profession and our website represents who we are and the work that we do. I learned the hard way to review, review, and once again review. I worked in the actuarial field for the last 5 years and let me tell you…those folks are very difficult to communicate with and they demand perfection the first time that you return a document to them. I refused to make mistakes and be caught. So I walk away wondering if I should contact the person and take a chance that they think that I am being rude by pointing out the errors or do I disregard it? I know that my work is NOT always perfect, but if these websites had been reviewed, these errors would have been caught because they are obvious errors. I prefer to do what I think is the right thing, take screen shots and send the colleague the info. I have found three websites with errors in the last two weeks and the colleagues all appear to be well-spoken and high level (some of these websites were created by members listed in your directory; I found these errors while doing research for my own company). Personally, I think that these people should hire me to proofread their websites (totally tongue in cheek there, but I just had to say it). So…what do you think? Do I contact them, or not? By the way…I proofread this email several times before sending it (and pasted it in Word and performed a spellcheck on it). Yes, I am a perfectionist, but my name is on this email after all. –KG

The first question that pops into my head is why are you spending so much time on your colleagues’ websites? The people and sites and businesses you should be studying and getting to know are those of your core target market.

What will be helpful in this situation is getting really honest and clear about the underlying intention. The danger here, as you suspect, is that your approach may engender resentment, rather than appreciation.

And the reason it could is because there’s a different feeling and tone between: a) randomly reading someone’s site, finding a typo and shooting off a quick, friendly email to let them know vs. b) going out of your way to find every error, spending an inexplicable amount of time and energy taking screenshots, and doing what really amounts to free work for people who aren’t even your clients.

All that effort and energy would be more productively focused on developing your own business and clients.

As you mention, no one is perfect. One of my mentors is a multi-millionaire consultant renowned the world over who takes great pride in his vocabulary and command of the language.

He can be quite pedantic when it comes to grammar and even he has typos and misspellings on his website and blog posts now and then.

It doesn’t bother me. Because while it’s certainly always the goal to “dress the part” as much as possible, a few occasional typos here and there do not diminish his standing and wisdom nor detract from the message. Those are cosmetic things that are quickly and easily corrected.

Personally, I always appreciate someone who takes a moment of their valuable time to let me know of little innocuous errors (which can happen even when you have your own proofreaders) as long as it is done in the spirit of helpfulness.

Yes, it is true that there are more than a few people in our industry who have very poor grammar and communication skills. But I feel safe in saying that the least thing you probably want (and what is least useful to you) is having people view you as  busy-body with too much time on her hands.

There can be a very fine line between being helpful and being presumptuous.

It’s one thing to discuss standards and expectations in an industry, entirely another to barge into a stranger’s house (so to speak) via an email and pointing out their personal gaffs and shortcomings (which is what that might feel like to the recipient). Ultimately, their business is their responsibility.

If you have impeccable grammar and proofreading skills, emphasize those attributes to your own prospective clients.

If you come across a typo on someone’s site, let them know about it as a friendly favor if you are so inclined.

Beyond that? Let it go. It’s not your kettle of fish to fry. Save your energy and focus for your own business.

Administrative Support IS a Speciality All Its Own

Guess what, people?

Administrative support IS a specialty in and of itself.

You CAN specialize in just administrative support and do as well as any other kind of specialized service professional.

The problem, the reason why clients don’t get it much of the time and why we as an industry are not earning well, is because people continue to call anything and everything “virtual assistance” and lump everything under the sun under the “virtual assistant” umbrella.

When something doesn’t have any definition like that, then it isn’t anything at all, least of all a profession.

And clients don’t pay well for something that is nothing. They view it as merely gopher work.

If people would simply stop trying to call everything virtual assistance and learn to identify, define and separate business categories for themselves (and not let clients define that for them), they could begin to earn better. They could charge one retainer for administrative support and then charge separately for work and projects that fall under different business categories entirely.

A good example of this is the argument I hear new people put forth constantly: “Well, when I was an executive assistant, I also did bookkeeping and web design and copyrighting and this and that and the other.”

So, you’re saying that because employers piled a load of other work onto the shoulders of administrative staff because they were trying to save a buck at your expense, that means as a business owner you should lump everything you know how to do under one banner and offer it as all one and the same?

As an employee, you had no say in the matter and trooped along like a good soldier. And hey, learning new skills and tinkering with new programs can be just plain fun.

But it is neither smart nor profitable to carry that kind of employee mindset over into your business.

If you do, I guarantee sooner or later you will realize the consequences of this and the wisdom of the advice I give you today.

Just as a doctor is different from an attorney, there are different classifications of work and business.

For example, Web design, a separate profession in its own right, is inherently project-oriented work. It immediately differs from administrative support in that respect.

More importantly, it is something that requires entirely different skills, processes, knowledge and talents from administrative support.

For this reason, it is a completely separate category of business and expertise for which you can charge separately as an additional income stream.

No one is saying that you can’t be in business to do more than one thing (e.g., administrative support and web design and bookkeeping, etc.). But that doesn’t make them all the same thing.

You can be in the administrative support business and also be a web designer (or bookkeeper or copywriter, etc.) if that’s what you want to do. It’s just that they are not all one and the same thing.

Once you start grasping this, you’ll begin to gain more clarity about which business you intend to be in and what to more appropriately call yourself.

By making these distinctions clear, it will start you on the path to better earning because you’ll be able to see and think more clearly about what should fall under your administrative support umbrella and what falls under another business category altogether (you can call these “divisions” in your business) and should be charged for separately.

And it’s YOU who needs to make these distinctions and classifications in your business. Don’t let clients dictate these things.

Because that’s the other part of the problem–people in our industry doing (and giving away) all this other work beyond administrative support because clients keep trying to pile everything on without paying extra for it. And it’s keeping you in the poor house.

Of course, this is happening with your consent if you refuse to get conscious about these things. It’s not a partnership if you are being taken advantage of.

By the same token, you aren’t being taken advantage if you are allowing it. If you keep lumping everything under the administrative support umbrella, you will continue to deprive yourself of opportunities to earn better and grow your business in more profitable, sustainable ways.

Do You Want to Be Right or Rich?

You may have heard this little saying somewhere online, particularly in Internet marketing circles.

What this really translates to is, “Do you want to be truthful or rich?”

Because the implicit message is that you can’t be honest, really and truly authentic and tell the truth if you want to also be rich.

Frankly, I much prefer to be a truth-teller rather than someone who tells people just what they want to hear or manipulates them into paying attention.

I have absolutely zero interest in selling my soul for the sake of earning money.

But what I also find interesting is that it implies that being truthful and getting rich are mutually exclusive.


I don’t believe this for a minute. Do you?

Another Way to Supercharge Your Administrative Support

I was talking with one of the attendees of my Pricing & Packaging class last month who mentioned that she wasn’t sure what to do with a couple clients she wasn’t feeling very energized by.

I asked her what the problem was. She related that she much preferred big picture work, and while she enjoyed these two clients as people, they were low-commitment as far as hours go — only 5 hours per month. She said the work always ended up being transactional, sporadic and disjointed, and she never felt like she was really and truly helping them get anywhere other than taking care of busy work and miscellaneous projects instead of actual admin support.

I’ve spoken with hundreds of people in our industry who experience similar issues and feelings.

Those of us in the administrative support business enjoy big picture work because it allows us to understand the client and the business much better.

It IS what we’re in business to do, after all.

In turn, this allows us to apply critical thinking, grow in our knowledge of the business and the work, and thus carry out the work in ways that make much better sense and fit better in the overall scheme of the client’s operations, goals and objectives.

This is so much more gratifying, energizing and stimulating.

But with such a low commitment of hours, it’s incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to gain any kind of big picture sense of the business. It’s verrrry slow-going at best.

So there are a couple choices you can make.

  1. You can decide that in order to provide the kind of work that allows you to really and truly help clients AND which also keeps you energized, motivated and interested, your ideal clients must make a higher minimum commitment. And then simply decline to work with anyone who can’t make that commitment; and/or
  2. Take charge of the process by consulting with the client, finding out what one of their most immediate goals or objectives is and then focusing your support exclusively on that particular area.

For example, let’s say the client really wants to get an ezine going. Well, implementing an ezine requires some initial project-related design and set-up. Once you’ve got that going, it requires ongoing management.

So what you could do is charge a flat/project fee for the design and initial set-up and then focus the retainer hours on establishing the publishing schedule, setting deadlines, formatting, editing and proofing articles, uploading issues, managing the delivery platform, scheduling issues for broadcast, not to mention taking care of all the details of managing subscriber lists and utilizing tracking and reporting features.

As you can see, when you sit down and map all the activities that go into implementing and then managing/maintaining a support area, it’s a lot. By focusing that small 5 hour retainer on just that one support area, you can accomplish some meaningful, tangible results for them.

This is exciting to clients!

Commitment requires a measure of trust. And trust isn’t handed over on a silver platter. It’s something that is earned and, like relationships, grows in stages over time.

So, once they see you get one area of support whipped in shape and under control, that’s when you talk to them about taking on another support area and increasing the financial commitment, which they are now more likely to agree to.

You can help clients grow in their trust and esteem of you by taking charge of the support process in this way and focusing the work on an area where you can achieve a more demonstrable result, and then keep growing the support plan with the client from there.

Most clients simply don’t know how to move forward and are unsure of what to let go of.

This is why it’s always you’re job as the business owner and administrative expert to take charge of this process, conduct a thorough consultation, make your support plan recommendations to them, and take that burden off their shoulders.

It’s still ongoing support as it’s not project work or specializing in doing one thing (this is why it’s called a support area). It’s just that it’s a much more focused and intentional way to really help clients move forward in accomplishing the things that are important to them while also growing the commitment.