Dear Danielle: What Is “the Work?”

Dear Danielle:

I am just starting my administrative support business.  I am networking and setting things up, but I have a question (hope it does not sound silly)… If you could, please list and/or explain some of the duties/work you in real terms. I hear everyone talk about “the work,” but I want to know the details. What kinds of things do people hire you to do? —AC

Not a silly question at all. Although I can’t say it’s the easiest to answer.

That’s because the administrative support that one Administrative Consultant provides to her clients can be completely different from what another Administrative Consultant provides.

It’s impossible to create any kind of comprehensive list because the work we do is so much more than that. More importantly, there’s no way to do that because no two clients, businesses and professions are the same. There might be some general similarities and overlap, but overall “the work” all depends on the clients, the industry they are in, the work they do and what their goals, objectives and challenges are.

So, like me, for instance, I work with attorneys and business consultants. HUGE amounts of document work involved in both. I also have a lot of contact with their clients in various capacities, such as interviewing, doing intakes, making calls… I also have to interact with the courts, JAs and use the various filing systems. That’s just the teeniest tip of the iceberg.

What I do for my clients, given the professions they are in, is VERY different from the work of an Administrative Consultant who, for example, works with more online-based business owners. Those two markets do completely different things, have completely different interests and motivations, and the work, therefore, is vastly different.

Instead of trying to identify “the work” in only the most general sense, I would instead have you look at things from a different perspective.

1 You can’t be in business to do everything. So YOU have to define what you are in business to do. How I look at things is that administrative support is a skill, expertise and specialty all its own. As a business owner, I am not anyone’s assistant, personal valet or gopher. I am in business to provide administrative support to clients who need that expertise in their business.

2. Once you know what you are in business to do, you will have a better idea and focus about the kind of work you provide for clients. But that’s not the end of the story…

3. You also want to define what administrative support means to you. The best way I have to explain administrative support is that it is the collection of ongoing tasks, functions and roles that keep a business organized, running smoothly and moving forward. Where a lot of people get confused is thinking that administrative work is simply paperwork.

And administrative support isn’t just about administration (the back-end running of the business). Administration is only one area of a business where administrative support is provided. Administrative support encompasses work in ALL four areas of a business–administration, business development, marketing and networking, and working with clients.

Take a look at the quick video below and see if that doesn’t help you understand a bit better.

4. You also want to define a target market. For the same reason that you can’t be in business to do anything and everything, it is also impossible to try to work with anyone and everyone and create any kind of unique, meaningful, resonate and compelling message at the same time.

As Seth Godin says, “You can be a wandering generality or a meaningful specific.” Once you know who it is you are intending to work with, that right there is going to hugely allow you to identify and define “the work” you want to do with and for clients and separate it from different categories of project work you may want to charge separately for.

(And by the way, when you work with a very specific target market, the work and running your business becomes INFINITELY easier.)

5. Beyond all that, EVERYTHING depends on the consultation. Everything. You can’t begin to know how to support someone or what work is involved until you have spoken at length to the client to learn more about them, their business, their values, goals and the challenges they face.

If you want to get REALLY good at doing consultations and know EXACTLY how to proceed with them (what to talk about when, questions to ask, how to ask, what to look for, etc.), then I highly recommend you get my Client Consultation Process, “Breaking the Ice (GDE-03).” It covers everything from before, during and how to follow-up afterward.

2 Responses

  1. I have just started my Virtual Assistant business and was caught off guard by an unsolicited request to bid on two jobs! The first job is well within my expertise. The second is new terrain–production and email distribution of a weekly newsletter to 1000+ audience.

    I agree with your theme of not being all things to all people (defining your niche market) but at what stage do consider bidding on a project if you have not performed the work before? When is it okay to develop your skill set and to grow while being paid to perform a service?

    It would be a significant achievement to get this client and there is a high probabililty to convert to a monthly retained arrangement. Components of the job are well within my expertise (project management, design, typesetting) but the last thing I want to do is to perform poorly!



  2. Hi Joanna 🙂

    This is a tough one for me to answer because in this conversation, we’re talking about support and you are talking about project work. You get that those are two different things, right?

    You can certainly do what you want in your business. That goes without saying. What I’m wondering is whether you know there is a better way to go about building your business rather than the merry-go-round of chasing after project work.

    Because what you’re describing sounds more like the tail wagging the dog instead of the other way around.

    I mean, if someone simply wants to have a project-based business, that’s what they should do. But they’re going to find that it takes a LOT more time, energy and marketing and they are forced to be on a constant hamster wheel of chasing down new work and more clients. It’s LOT harder to make money in that kind of business.

    Providing retained support is a much easier business because you have more regular, consistent, predicable cashflow and once you get some retainer clients, you don’t have to work so much on the marketing and networking end. Because it’s support, where you are providing a package of one-on-one support and services, you get to charge more.

    There is much more intentional way that you can get clients by creating your own pipelines so that they are drawn to you and going through your processes, rather than you chasing after them. You don’t have to chase after RFPs or operate on the level of “hoping” that they might turn into retained clients. YOU get to say how things work in your business. You get to say what the minimum commitment level is to work with you and then focus on those folks who are ready to do that.

    Because frittering your time away with nickel and dime project work and clients that you only hope will turn into a bigger relationship will only distract you from creating a retained client base. One is a “hope” based way of doing things and the other an intentional, methodical way of growing your business. You get to choose, but I wanted to make sure you understood that the way you’re doing things now isn’t the only way. 🙂

    So in answer to your question, I wouldn’t ever spend my time bidding on projects if my real intention was to build a retainer-based business with clients who valued the work and weren’t seeking the lowest bidder. Present your offerings and articulate your value, but never, ever “audition.” That is the worst, most ineffectual way to try to build your business.

    When you aren’t “bidding” on projects, you aren’t chasing after things you can’t do, but instead focusing on the things you can do. The clients for whom those things will help them grow and move forward will naturally be drawn to your offerings.

    And when you are a retained, collaborative support relationship, there will naturally be lots of opportunities to say, “Hey, I don’t know how to do this yet, but I’d like to learn and be able to support you in that area, too.” In this way, you aren’t ever misleading clients or taking on things you don’t really know how to do yet. Clients don’t like to be guinea pigs, at least not when they’re paying for it, so learn on your own time or present it as an opportunity to increase your value to them.

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