Archive for August, 2010

Another Reason I Can’t Stand Internet Marketers

I was just listening to a podcast and it reminded me of an Internet marketer who contacted me awhile back.

She sent me a message on Twitter asking to talk with me. She didn’t say what it was, and I’m not interested in spending my time talking to just anyone unless I know what it’s about and I’m interested in it.

Duh.

So I replied with something to the effect of “Possibly. What is it you want to talk about?”

Never got a response.

Lord, I hate it when people do that. Don’t waste my time asking me a question if you’re going to ignore me when I reply.

So whatever. Didn’t give it another thought until my phone started ringing off the hook a few weeks later. And I’m talking literally every single day, at least two calls or more from the same phone number, never once leaving a message.

Can we say I-R-R-I-T-A-T-I-N-G?!

Well, I don’t ever answer the phone.

I just don’t. I’m not looking for more clients at the moment and if I were, I only talk to the ones who come through my website and go through my consultation form.

And I’m sure as heck not answering anyone who refuses to leave a message. If you don’t want to leave a message clearly stating your intentions–who you are and what you want–then I’m not interested. Simple as that.

I might be running a business, but I’m a human being first. Have more respect for those you are calling and <gasp> and you might get some back.

After (and I’m not even exaggerating) over a MONTH of this, whoever is calling from this number FINALLY leaves a message. I also get an email from this person at the same time.

She states she is the virtual assistant to So-and-So Internet Marketer (who cares) and launches into a spiel about some program this Internet marketer is gearing toward VAs, yada yada.

Blech.

I HATE those things because they are just exploiting virtual assistants. I absolutely detest those people.

NO ONE has any business teaching VAs anything about virtual assistance except other VAs (and then, only the successful ones who have actual experience and substance to offer).

At this point, I’m thinking, how many hundreds of unanswered calls does this person need to get the message.

And this is besides the fact that I’m really annoyed at this point and definitely not interested in speaking with anyone who engages in phone tactics like this.

So I reply to the email in the most direct way I can: “Not interested.”

And do you know they still continued to call me several times after that?!

This Might Be a Profitable Target Market for an Enterprising Administrative Consultant

I love listening to NPR in the evenings. This week, they’ve been doing a three-part series about doctors in primary care.

In this series, they reported on the catastrophic shortage of primary care doctors who provide basic health care (they make around $150,000 a year compared to the multiple six-figure incomes of specialists), and took at look at primary care doctors who were opting for solo practice.

As all of us solopreneurs know, going solo comes with some special challenges.

We have to be more concerned about profitability and leverage. At the same time, as I’ve long been saying, small is the new big.

Nothing wrong with those folks who want to be a big as they can get, but at some point, “big” begins to lose it’s structural integrity and quality. The left hand too often doesn’t know what the right hand is doing or thinking. And people become numbers and transactions instead of, um, people.

In listening to this series, it occurred to me that primary care docs in solo practice might be a perfect market for an enterprising Administrative Consultant. Your knowledge or past background and experience in healthcare or family practice would be a great advantage.

Big companies and corporations don’t really need what we are in business to do because their workloads are so big they really need in-house, dedicated staff–and can afford it. When they are interested, it’s really more in the vein of impersonal, commoditized, transactional outsourcing as cheaply as they can get it. And you as a solo can’t make a living being cheap; that inherently requires a different business model and a much larger scale, volume-driven business.

It’s the smaller companies and solos who really make for the best fit for our business model and what we do because they are the ones that place more value in having a more personal (and personalized) type of ongoing support relationship that allows them to stay boutique-sized (by choice) while being as profitable and efficient as possible so they can give the best quality care and service to their clients. They see, understand and appreciate the value much more easily so it’s a much easier “sell.”

If I was someone interested in this market, what I would be doing is calling up a few primary care solo doctors, inviting them out to lunch (individually) and picking their brains about how they are running their practices, what kinds of administrative work are they fielding, who is doing what now and what areas might they see as not needing to necessarily be in the office, and offer up ideas and get feedback on other areas the doctor didn’t think of.

The enterprising Administrative Consultant, armed with this intelligence about how these businesses are run, what work is involved and where the doctors’ interests are, could then build a whole compelling message and practice around administratively supporting this very specialized target market.

I see all kinds of potential and opportunity here!

It’s a group that certainly meets the first three criteria of a target market:

  1. It must be able to afford;
  2. It must have a need for the solution you’re in business to offer; and
  3. There must be enough of them that you can find them easy enough and there are enough to fill your practice.

And because they are specifically solo/boutique-sized, they are going to be very interested in your support because it will help them have high quality standards in their practice while at the same time making them to be more efficient, streamlined and profitable.

For any of our clients, we offer them an opportunity to actually improve or increase the quality of their own businesses because they can be more profitable and get more done with our help.

On top of that, it will allow existing in-house staff (e.g., physician’s assistants, lab techs) to focus more on their core work which again helps streamline and increase efficiency and quality.

Just think of how much more (and better) patient care can be when in-house staff can focus on “practicing at the top of their license,” and doing what they are most trained to do when they are freed from back-end administrative work that an Administrative Consultant can take on for them.

Here’s a link to one of the articles (which also provides an audio recording if you prefer to listen): Bucking the Trend: Primary Care Doc Practices Solo

Happy enterprising! I’d love to hear from any of you who are already targeting this market or who are interested in looking into it. Let’s hear your success stories.

Administrative Specialist and Assistant Are Two Separate Concepts

One reason I think administrative expertise has for so long and so often not been given the same kind of respect as other expertise is given is because in the world of employment it tends to be inextricably tied to also being an assistant, which is automatically/inherently subjugating.

I want to say this loud and clear:  being an administrative expert and being an assistant are two separate ideas, and in business, they are NOT one and the same thing and don’t have to be.

You do NOT have to be an assistant to be an administrative expert and focus on administrative support.

Beware of virtual assistant “gurus” (many of whom weren’t successful in their own business or who haven’t run their own practice in decades, if ever) and “certification” programs that are simply training people to be glorified assistants who only call themselves business owners.

That’s not a new paradigm whatsoever. It’s just another name for the same old thing.

I see so many people in our industry struggling because they’ve been taught to continue being “assistants” in the same manner as an employee.

This is exactly what limits their earning potential and creates practices that enslave them instead of empower them.

It’s why we see many of them turning into virtual staffing/multi-VA businesses or starting their own training programs or professional organizations instead of supporting and collectively strengthening the established ones already in existence for the betterment of the profession.

They think that’s the only way they can begin to earn better and not be buried in the work.

But it’s a lie.

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

The term “assistant” itself is the root cause of all kinds of problems, misaligned expectations and confusion about the nature of the business relationship, which forces you to do double-time in educating clients.

Our lives could all be a lot easier without it. It’s why we’ve moved on to the term Administrative Consultant and a different, very specific business model entirely.

Being an administrative expert and being an assistant are not one and the same thing.

Pick one. Or do both if you choose. But know this:  you absolutely do not need to be an assistant in order to deliver value and expertise and have very personal, collaborative relationships with clients.

I know I certainly didn’t go into business for myself to continue to be anyone’s little assistant. I went into business to deliver my administrative expertise and talents to clients and help them achieve real results in their own businesses.

Dear Danielle: Should I Sign a Client’s Confidentiality Agreement?

Dear Danielle:

I finally have a new client (who has signed the retainer agreement I ordered from you and customized for my business–thank you!). However, the client emailed me wanting me to sign a confidentiality/non-disclosure agreement which the owner forgot to give me at our meeting. Would that be necessary to do? –ST

Having a client ask you to sign a confidentiality agreement is a normal, reasonable request. And here’s why:

When working with clients, especially in our line of work, we are often privy and have access to their intellectual property and other proprietary knowledge, processes and information.

Naturally, they would not want you to be taking their intellectual capital and proprietary information and using it for your own benefit, making derivative use of it in your own business, or in any way sharing or disclosing it to others.

So the idea behind a confidentiality/non-disclosure agreement is that you’re basically making a legal promise that you won’t do that and if you breach that promise, they can seek injunctive relief and damages against you.

The reverse can also be true.

You might have intellectual property and proprietary processes and information that clients become privy to that you wouldn’t want them sharing with others or repurposing for their own benefit.

If you have any intellectual capital or proprietary information you want to protect, you might have clients sign your own confidentiality/non-disclosure agreement before working together.

But, as with any kind of legally binding contract, you want to be sure you know what you are signing and not signing away any reasonable right or recourse or be held to any unreasonable standard or liability.

One thing in particular you want to look out for is any language that talks about you not working for anyone else doing the work you do.

This is usually associated with terms like “non-competition.”

(You’ll see this kind of language especially if they are using a generic agreement like you get at OfficeDepot or the freebies you find on the Internet—very, very bad idea as those things are fraught with terrible legal languaging and loopholes that expose both sides to liability.)

If that kind of language is in there, you want to ask them to take it out before you sign anything. You’re a business and no one has the right to expect you to not work with other clients doing the very thing you are in business to do.

Another thing I want to mention that I see all the time in our industry is this silliness about automatically providing clients with a confidentiality agreement.

This is not your responsibility.

That would be like a tenant providing the lease agreement to the landlord. Or a policyholder providing the insurance policy to the insurance company.

The party with the confidential information at stake is the one who writes the instrument protecting it and explaining the relationship, not the other way around.

So, if a client has IP they want to protect, it’s up to them to hire their own attorney and provide you with their own agreement. It’s not your job to do that for them and you could be creating more liability for yourself than is necessary.

And as the saying goes, I am not an attorney. This is not to be construed with legal advice, just my knowledge based on 14 years in business.

I hope it helps, but when it comes to legal matters, you should always, always seek the advice and guidance of an attorney.

Another Idiotic Post About Virtual Assistants

Saw another idiotic post about Virtual Assistants come through on my Google Alerts.

Articles like these are responsible for miseducating the marketplace into thinking Virtual Assistants are some kind of substitute employee–which they are not.

It’s also why we have so many new people coming into this profession thinking they are substitute employees filling a position.

Just about every freaking article they read anymore talks about virtual assistants as if they were still working for bosses. They use terms of employment like job, position, interview, resume, manage, train…

These people are such morons.

Once and for all: Virtual assistance is not a job. It’s not a “position” on your “team.” It’s a business.

And because it is a business, not employment, it is not any client’s place to be providing job descriptions.

If that’s what they’re doing, then that person is an employee – a telecommuter – not a VA.

Virtual Assistants are service providers who run their own businesses and specialize in administrative support.

They tell clients how they can help them and what they can and will do for them (as well as what they can’t or won’t), not the other way around.

And virtual assistants and clients had both better get it straight because the IRS will catch you sooner or later, one way or another, if you don’t.

Getting people to work for you from home is not a license to misclassify employees and be tax cheats.

Virtual assistants, you aren’t off the hook either: run your business like a business. Stop allowing clients to treat you like an employee. It’s up to you to set them straight about how this works LEGALLY.

And by the way, contractor, subcontractor, independent contractor… those are all terms that mean the same thing:  business owner.

There is absolutely NO third classification where an employer gets to hire someone to work like an employee, but not report them as such nor pay taxes on them. NO SUCH THING whatsoever.

Someone is either an employee or they are a business owner, regardless of the term they use (e.g. freelancers, independent contractor, subcontractor — these are ALL the same thing).

And any business that farms out workers, virtual or otherwise, is called a temp agency or staffing agency and those workers they loan out to people are employees.

What Is Your Pricing Saying About You?

Do you realize that your pricing sends a million messages to your prospective clients? Pricing is every bit a part of your marketing strategy. And no, I’m not talking about being the cheapest provider—that is always a losing proposition for both you and your clients. And here’s why:

1. What is your pricing saying to clients about you, your skills, your services and/or products? If you price too low, clients will view you as merely a commodity they can get from anyone, anywhere else. Low-ballers think that by pricing low, they will create even more opportunities to find clients. However, what it really does is open them up to an even bigger pool of competition–and not particularly good company (remember what they say about the company you keep). It’s a losing game and they have to work doubly hard just to get noticed and break even.

On the other side of the coin, clients correlate higher fees with higher skill and expertise. They expect to pay professional level fees where that’s the case. If you aren’t charging professional level fees, they innately think the skills and experience must be sub-par.

2. What kind of clients does your pricing attract? Cheap prices are a lightning rod for cheap clients. And cheap clients are the very worst clients to work with. They don’t value the work, they’re constantly trying to get something for nothing, and they nitpick and find fault with just about everything you do for them. Cheap clients are unprofitable and energy-draining to the extreme and cost you far more than you realize in your business.

You want to market to clients who have foresight and seek to invest in quality and expertise. These are the clients who understand that quality and expertise are far more valuable to them—and ultimately cheaper in the long run—than short-term cheap prices. They value the work and skills because they know how those things, in turn, help their own business move forward.

3. How does your pricing affect your operations and systems? If you have a complicated pricing structure or turn everything into a transaction, it makes it more difficult for clients to deal with you. And difficult, complicated and confusing is not good marketing. When your pricing and, thus, billing structure and procedures are complicated, you create even more administrative work for yourself. Whenever you have overly complicated, burdensome overhead and administration, that ultimately ends up detracting from your client service in one way or another. Simplicity is the name of the game. When you make your business easier to run, you make it easier for clients as well—and you have more time to serve them.

Likewise, if you aren’t charging enough, your business will not survive. You simply must charge profitably in order to stick around and continue to serve the clients who come to depend on you. You aren’t doing anyone—not you and not your clients—any favors by not earning well. Because your money problems will eventually affect your business and trickle down as service problems for clients. Pricing well is imperative for your business survival and the ability to create conditions that allow you to provide superior service to clients. And you can’t buy better marketing than the kind of word-of-mouth that is generated from that!

ACA Value-Based Pricing & Packaging GuideTo learn more about positioning your business with proper pricing and how to avoid the hourly billing trap, get my guide How to Price and Package Your Support Based on Value and Expertise–NOT Selling Hours!