Archive for April, 2012

Which Title Captures Your Attention Better?

I am just finishing up a new free tool for Administrative Consultants and so excited to share with you.

I’m a bit stuck on the title, however, and could really use your help.

Let me know which title captures your attention better in the poll below.

Or maybe you think neithere of them is good and have a better suggestion. If so, please do let me know in the comments.

Many thanks!


What’s In a Name, Part 3

One thing that interests me about marketing is that so much of it involves psychology, which I find fascinating. Being a student of psychology definitely will aid you in your marketing.

I’m sure many have heard the coffee comparison example:

Essentially, that people will pay many times more for a cup of coffee at Starbucks than they would for the same coffee at 7-11.

A lot of that has to do with the “experience” of getting coffee at Starbucks, which might include (among others):

  • more quality coffee (real or perceived)
  • better tasting coffee (real or perceived)
  • hip/comfortable atmosphere
  • place to hang-out, to see and be seen
  • status

All of this is related in many ways to “connotation,” which is the underlying (conscious and subconcious) thoughts, feelings, perceptions, prejudices and preconceived ideas and associations that are conjured up and evoked from a word, term or experience.

Just as context, environs and experience have much to do with how people buy and the perceptions they bring to the table, the words and terms you use in your marketing are relevant in this respect as well.

While some lofty, high-minded conversation about your title should NEVER be part of your marketing message nor your conversation with clients, the term, title and brand words you use to identify yourself to clients does matter. It will evoke certain perceptions and understanding (or misunderstandings as the case may be) in your potential clients.

You can make things easier and work more in your favor or more difficult (paddling upstream) all depending on the words and terms you use.

For more on this topic, see these blog categories as well:

What’s In a Name?

Why We Stopped Calling Ourselves Virtual Assistants

Dear Danielle: How Do I Transition from Virtual Assistant to Administrative Consultant?

Dear Danielle:

I’ve been following you for a long time and am a big fan of what you are doing!! I realize that after two years of “just barely” making it, that it’s time to make some changes to my business. I was considering changing to an OBM, but that doesn’t really fit what I do either. I can see that being an Administrative Consultant more clearly defines what I am and what I really want to be doing. So, how do you make the transition from a virtual assistant business to an Administrative Consultant business? MD

Rather than having this question languish any longer in my To-Do list, I thought I would do a quick video for my answer.

Okay, I knew I had more to say on this, lol.

To summarize, the quick answer is that there’s nothing complicated or involved about transitioning from virtual assistant to Administrative Consultant. You don’t need to go through anyone’s course or buy “certification” from anyone’s diploma mill. It has more to do with definition and mindset.

Obviously, just changing your title isn’t going to turn things around in your business. It’s the attendant thinking patterns and changes in self-perception (as well as the changes in perception by clients) that go along with this new way of thinking and operating an administrative support business that have the most significant impact. How you see and understand yourself greatly affects your professional self-esteem, your marketing message and how you operate and go about the process of helping clients. Those shifts in perception, even if subtle and underlying, have a HUGE direct link to your business success.

There are many problems with the virtual assistant term that have very real negative impact on people’s businesses and marketing:

  1. The word “assistant” is a term of employment. There are both legal and practical implications in using that word.
  2. It focuses on a role, rather than an expertise. And when you are in business, you aren’t anyone’s assistant and you can’t be.
  3. People using the VA term view themselves more as assistants and have a much more difficult time getting over employee mindset. Consequently, they end up operating and working with clients in employee-like ways that aren’t sustainable, that prevent them from growing and earning better, and that actually keep them from helping clients better.
  4. People only understand the word “assistant” one way—that of employee. So, potential clients come to the table right from the get-go misunderstanding the correct nature of the relationship.
  5. Every day we see examples of just how prevalent the idea is that VAs are remote employees, which is why they only expect to be paying them the same wages as an employee. This is the disconnect the word “assistant” causes in the marketplace.
  6. The word “assistant” automatically puts you in a subservient position. It’s why you have such a hard time getting clients to see and treat you as a business owner and independent professional, not their personal assistant.
  7. If you are a collaborative partner and work WITH clients, not FOR them, you are NOT an assistant. And if you are an assistant, you are not a partner.
  8. It instantly creates wrong or misaligned understandings and expectations in clients and prospects that you then have to spend time correcting and setting right.
  9. It’s a vague, generic, ambiguous term that doesn’t impart any kind of clarity or helpful, proper connotations, understandings or perceptions whatsoever. It actually creates more  difficulty in your marketing, consultations and conversations overall.
  10. The VA term has become the generic, garbage dump term for anyone doing anything and everything. It has absolutely no meaning or definition. It’s why clients constantly come to the table thinking you are going to be their do-anything-and-everything-at-my-beck-and-call assistant. That’s a big problem because when that’s the perception, people only see you as a gopher. And people do not expect to pay someone they view as merely a gopher or lackey the “big bucks.”
  11. The VA industry has become branded as the cheap labor pool of flunkies, and this is the expectation it is setting out there in the marketplace. This makes your job marketing your business and expecting to be paid as a professional doubly difficult because it is juxaposed against everything prospects have overarchingly come to associate with the term. Why align with a term that only makes it that much more difficult to attract properly educated, well-paying clients to your business?

So, when it comes to definition, what we’re saying is that administrative support as a business is a specific expertise and specialization in and of itself, not a role. It’s also not “anyone doing anything and everything.” It is a very clear and distinct category of business. If you are specifically in business to provide the art and expertise of ongoing administrative support, you and your business are better served marketing-wise and income-earning wise by using the term of Administrative Consultant.

There are entirely different connotations and mindsets created when you use the term Administrative Consultant, for you and your clients. This has huge positive impacts on your view of yourself (“I’m an expert in the art of administrative support. I’m not some mere assistant; I have EXPERTISE!”) that will show up in your marketing and how it creates more positive and aligned understandings and expectations in clients. AND because they aren’t seeing you as merely an assistant, but someone with real and specific expertise, they are much more willing (and even expect) to pay professional level fees.

I hope that helps provide some clarity to things for you! Feel free to keep the conversation going in the comments. 🙂

Dear Danielle: Should I Market on Craigslist?

Dear Danielle:

I literally am starting my business. No customers yet. My question is this:  I am COMPLETELY lost when it comes to marketing. I have had some suggestions on advertising on Craigslist. I am not comfortable doing so due to the negative reports I’m hearing about scammers and crime. What are your thoughts on this? Ramona Hartley, Hartley’s Clerical Service

Hi Ramona 🙂

Thanks for the great question!

The first thing that jumped out at me was your use of the word  “customers,” which might be telling about how much thought and planning you’ve done so far for your business.

Now, I’m not assuming anything, and your use of that word could be innocuous. Still, it’s important to make this clarification in case anyone else is unclear:  When you are providing a professional service where the intention is to create a business relationship (which is what we have as Administrative Consultants) you have clients, not customers. A customer is someone who buys something on a one-time or sporadic basis. There is no relationship beyond that.

This may seem pedantic, but it’s really not because how you understand and decide specifically what you intend to be in business to do (as well as how you do it and who you do it for) informs how you go about everything else moving forward, including marketing. And with marketing (which is also about educating, aligning understandings and setting proper expectations), the words you use are always, always important.

Getting back to your original question, what’s happening here is what I call haphazard marketing because there is no rhyme or reason for your efforts. You don’t really know where to market so you’re just trying to think of anything and everything that might work. In a sense, where there is no intentional basis, it can be said that that is not really marketing at all.

What you need is to come up with some direction for your efforts. To do that, you must first engage in some business planning.

This is an important step because the exercise of planning your business forces you to get clarity around things such as what business you really intend to be in, the kind of money you need to make, who would make the best (most needful and profitable) clients for that service and, given that information, where to best find them.

Fortunately, you don’t have to do this from scratch. The ACA Administrative Consultant Business Plan Template gives you a template already laid out in professional format that gives you a map to follow for the entire process.

Part of business planning is determining who your target market is going to be. This is a frequent topic of business so rather than reposting everything, I want to direct you to the Target Market category of my blog. Here you will always find any and all posts I’ve written on the topic of target marketing so you can begin learning about what that is and how to go about it.

As far as Craigslist (or any of those bargain basement kinds of places such as elance, odesk, etc.) I would tell you to steer clear and not waste your time. It’s really the wrong platform for professional services such as ours. There are many reasons, but probably the most important is that it cultivates and caters to the wrong mindset.

Craigslist (and the like) overarchingly is where penny pinchers go to find bargains. So trying to offer a professional service on that platform is like trying to sell a Mercedes at a yard sale. The people going there are looking to spend pennies and get something for practically nothing. They’re not in the right mindset for that kind of purchase because it’s the wrong environment. You see? And you can’t be in business to cater to penny pinchers if you expect to make a living at this.

Marketing itself is going to be a field of ongoing learning throughout the life of your business. Meaning, you’ll never know all there is to know, but the more you study and read up on this topic, the smarter and savvier you will become. In fact, many will say when you are business, marketing IS your primary job. And this all starts with the business planning process.

How Do You Know What a Client Wants?

There’s an interesting phenomenon I’ve observed in businesses frequently over the years that I was reminded of over the past weekend.

It was beautiful weather in my part of the world, and I felt like taking a drive to this little waterfront seafood place located in a more secluded part of town. It’s a lovely area near a public park with a view of the bridge where you can sit outside and watch the boats go by.

Checking out the menu and not remembering if it was the cod or the halibut that was the bit more tender and flaky fish, I asked the server for her advice.

And instead of answering my question, she immediately pointed me to the halibut as being cheaper.

You see the problem, right? She answered a question I didn’t ask.

I didn’t ask what cost less. I wanted what I was looking for regarding flavor, texture and eating experience.

So her answer was irrelevant and didn’t help me in the least. It certainly didn’t help her employer.

It makes me wonder how many people are jumping to conclusions like this server (based on her own life circumstances most likely) without any indication whatsoever that a client is looking for cheap. I certainly see it a lot in our own industry.

If you are doing this, not only are you not really listening and paying attention to clients and instead presupposing what’s most important to them, you are shooting yourself in the foot when it comes to earning well.

Don’t assume that cheap is the first and only thing that clients care about. Write your marketing message to attract those who are more interested in the experience of working with you, how you can help them grow and move forward and how much better and easier you can make their business and their life (and weed out those who are only looking for cheap).

That’s where your value is.

Dear Danielle: Web Design Client Balking at My Contract

Dear Danielle:

I purchased the web design forms set about a year and a half ago (maybe longer). I have a potential client who read through them and called me (very defensively) and said there was nothing in the contract to protect him, that it was one-sided and there was nothing in there if I didn’t deliver on the project. I have only had one other person reluctant to sign a contract and she turned out to be a very high-maintenance client. Do you have any advice about how to deal with this sort of situation? He wanted to go through the contract and send me his suggested revisions. I am subcontracting for him. He had the client and I am the web designer. I have already spent about six hours doing comps. Can you help with some advice? Are there contracts out there that would protect the client or is the fact if I didn’t deliver, I wouldn’t get paid enough protection for him? Pamela C.

Hi, Pamela, and thanks for the question. Let me see if I can help you think this through. 🙂

My first bit of advice would be to never begin working without a contract and being paid, at least partially, upfront. Stop with the comps and do not continue further until the contract issues are ironed out and you decide whether or not to even proceed further with this client. If you do proceed, my advice is always to get a deposit toward the full payment before any, any work begins. It’s just good business (particularly with a client who is already demonstrating certain tendencies, shall we say, lol).

It’s never in your best interest as a business owner to work without a signed contract in place. Business is business only when there is a fair and equitable exchange of benefits and interests. Essentially, the client pays for work to be conducted or executed on his or her behalf in exchange for a fee that you determine will fairly compensate you for the value of your time, skill, knowledge and expertise. If everyone were mindreaders and always remembered exactly what they promised to do, we could simply do business on a handshake and a promise and we wouldn’t need contracts.

But that’s not reality. And it can be argued that it’s you as the service provider who has the greater burden of risk and liability in this exchange. This is why we use contracts in business: to formalize in writing all the expectations and terms of the relationship so that everyone knows (and remembers) what their obligations and considerations to each other are, as well as their rights and recourse. It just helps keep everyone honest and on the same page. In case anyone’s memory fails them, a written agreement is there to remind and legally uphold those promises and understandings made to each other. In a worst case scenario, a written agreement is easier to legally enforce than an oral agreement.

The scenario you describe, however, generally boils down to one of ideal and unideal clients. There is nothing unusual or slanted any more in your favor with our contracts than any other typical contract of this nature. What is happening is that this client is expecting you to draw up a contract for him and his business and it’s simply not your job to do that.

What you have to decide is whether this is someone you want to deal with or not. Is this client one who may end up being another PIA, high-maintenance client? You both have the same legal recourses as everyone does who breaches a contract, which is the right to seek legal remedy through the courts. What more does he want? The blood of your first-born?

I’m being silly, but there are actually clients out there who are that unreasonable in their expectations. They would want you to guarantee that the sun won’t set for the next 60 days if they could get you to agree to that. And you are entitled to be paid for work you were engaged to do whether they end up liking the site or not. But that’s a whole other blog post.

So the first step is to have a conversation with the client in order to better understand the concerns and find out what he would like changed or added to the contract. It doesn’t hurt to listen and find out more. From there, you can decide whether what he is proposing is reasonable or unreasonable for you in your business.

Maybe you find that there is room for some additional considerations or compromises. Heck, just having the conversation might allay his concerns.

(A word of caution, though… since you aren’t an attorney, you might be changing things that negate a whole host of other important legal protections in your contract so never accept changes willy-nilly. Always consult with an attorney to make sure you don’t invalidate your contract in any way).

On the other hand, you might simply decide it’s not worth the angst, that the client has trust issues beyond what you can help with, and “my contract is my contract.” Obviously, you would put it more tactfully to the client, but you get my drift. You do not have to work with anyone you don’t want to, particularly if they can’t agree to your terms. YOU get to decide what is reasonable and right for your business and not accept any clients who ask for things beyond those boundaries and standards.

Now, being a subcontractor just complicates the whole mess. Back when I still had a web design division in my business, I did the same kind of thing for one of my clients. He had a web design business and I was the one designing the sites as a subcontractor. We both had to sign each other’s agreements.

It sounds as though your client hasn’t bothered to come up with his own contract. But that’s not your job to do for him. He need to consult his own attorney. But yes, it is definitely more of a problem scenario because you both need to have terms that are working seamlessly and aren’t in conflict with each other. Because, in a worst case scenario, if his client who gets the site decides to sue him, he’s the one stuck holding the bag. It’s just a whole big can of worms.

It goes without saying that the goal is to do good work and have happy clients. We all want clients to love what we’ve done for them. It’s just our natural inclination. A client has to be pretty egregiously unhappy before they go to the trouble of suing, so I’m just pointing out possibilities.  It’s really not an ideal situation, but if you want to be in it, you might want to find a polite way of letting him know that the onus is on him to talk with an attorney and come up with his own contract for you to sign.

Free Gift for You: Intro to Business Formations

One of the most important decisions you must make in your business is what business formation to choose. Many of us start out as sole proprietors. For many reasons, there often comes a time to decide whether incorporating is the next best move in your business. However, it can be really confusing trying to understand all the different forms of incorporation in order to decide which is best for you.

As part of the work I’m doing on our Start Your Business section of the ACA website, I came up with a free guide to business formations to provide an at-a-glance comparison of the different formations and some of the most important things to know about each.

You can download your free Intro to Business Formations here.

Could you do me a favor in return? Since this is new, I hope you will let me know if this guide is helpful or not or if you spot any typos or anything else a miss. I sure would appreciate it!

Have a rockin’ Monday and enjoy!