Archive for September, 2013

Dear Danielle: Should I Offer Inbox Management for Clients?

Dear Danielle: Should I Offer Inbox Management for Clients?

Dear Danielle:

Do you recommend doing inbox management as a service offering for clients? It sort of feels a bit too ‘personal assistant’ to me. I did it for a past client and I didn’t enjoy it, but she was the proverbial client from hell and called on me night and day. I’m now molding my business to suit me. And wondering if you know of Admin Consultants who do inbox/email management. I usually suggest setting up auto-responders. But I guess if the compensation was right then perhaps it’s lucrative… I’m on the fence. Thanks kindly Danielle!Lisa Kelly, Admin Guru

Great question! I love any opportunity to elaborate on this as it’s sort of a lynchpin topic.

I don’t do any email/inbox management for clients and never have for exactly the reason you mention.

I’m not in business to be a personal assistant. I’m a strategic support partner.

That means clients and I are NOT going to be working day-to-day in the same way they would with an employee, nor am I going to be available to them (at their beck and call) in the same manner as an employee… because I’m not one.

I tell them to think of me like they would their attorney or accountant because that’s exactly how I want them to understand the relationship and how we’ll be working together.

And I come right out and tell them that if what they are looking for is a day-to-day assistant, then they need an employee.

What I do explain is that I can’t be in business to be their personal assistant for both legal and practical reasons, but that the time I do free up for them is time they can use to better manage their own inboxes (among other things) and feel less stressed and harried.

Of course, it’s also important to point out that I simply don’t have these kind of misunderstandings anymore now that I am an Administrative Consultant. When you don’t call yourself an assistant (i.e., Virtual Assistant), people don’t confuse you with one. 😉

The problem with offering that as a service is because it necessarily forces you to work with clients in a day-to-day assistant-like capacity.

Not only does that make it easy for the IRS to view you as an employee in that dynamic, but more importantly, I’m not trying to have a business that chains me to my desk every day and turns it into a job. Which is exactly what it would do because I’d have to constantly be monitoring inboxes and managing things.

I purposely never provide any kind of support that puts me in that kind of role. And it’s one of the reasons I have so much more freedom and flexibility than most people in our industry.

No one else has to do that to themselves either. You don’t have to offer those kind of services in order to still be of enormous benefit and value to clients.

In fact, one of the reasons I am of HIGHER value to my clients is because I don’t take on those kind of functions and roles. That frees my time and mental space for more valuable, important administrative work that has far greater impact and results in my clients’ businesses.

It’s not about how much you can do for clients that makes you valuable. It’s about how those things you selectively do for clients improve their businesses and lives.

I also wanted to touch on something else that your question brought up. I sense that you are about to step over your own standards. And my hope for you is that you don’t do that. Because it’s a slippery slope downhill from there.

No amount of money is ever enough to make you enjoy work you don’t like or make it worth turning your business (and life) into a drudgery and hell of your own making.

I urge you to stick to your guns about what you want. It’s the only way you will create the life and lifestyle you want for yourself.

The other thing that will benefit you in running your business your way and avoiding clients from hell is to get clear about your standards, boundaries, policies and procedures.

Start writing down how clients are to contact you, in what ways and within what time frames, how they are to communicate work to you (YOU decide that, not them), what your business days/hours are, and whatever information and protocols you need them to know, understand and follow in order to work with you.

Then inform clients of these things. Use your website to prequalify ideal clients. Talk about how things work in your consultations. Document them in a Client Guide that you give to new clients. Institute a new client orientation and go over these things again formally in that orientation.

These steps will go along way in making sure you work with ideal clients and that none of them turn into the clients from hell.

The industry at large is still so completely mired in employee mindset. They simply don’t know how to operate any other way except to keep being assistants.

So these questions and conversations are always an excellent tool to help them stop thinking of themselves as assistants and begin to think more entrepreneurially about administrative support, because it’s then that they start to see how they can operate differently, get better clients and make more money.

You don’t have to be an assistant to provide administrative support. They are not one and the same thing.

I’ll leave that for everyone to ponder. And if you just had an “aha!” moment from this, please let me know in the comments. 🙂

All my best moving onward and upward, Lisa!

(If you want more freedom and flexibility in your life and business, get my guide Power Productivity & Biz Management for Administrative Consultants (GDE-41) to learn all my systems, policies and standards for workload management and working with clients. One of the best tools you’ll learn in there is my 3/7 Guideline!)

What to Do When You Can’t Decide

What to Do When You Can't Decide

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

They can really stop you dead in your tracks in your business-building efforts.

People make things a million times harder for themselves by agonizing over decisions and being unable to commit to them. They don’t want to make a mistake or get anything wrong. It’s like they think they are being graded or something.

Here’s what you need to know:

There is no secret, foolproof plan to get everything 100% right and perfect in business. None. Nada. Zilch.

Get used to the fact that you WILL make mistakes, have misteps and get some things entirely wrong.

That’s simply the nature of business, or heck, any NEW thing you try.

There’s no way around it. AND it’s not the end of the world. You simply back up and course correct.

At a certain point, you have to stop looking to everyone else for answers.

Other people can certainly help you and give you guidance. Other times, experience is the best teacher.

Sometimes it’s the misteps you go through that make the advice you’ve been given finally click and make sense. We call those “a-ha!” moments when the light finally goes on.

(If I had a dollar for every message someone sent me with, “You were SO right, Danielle! I get it now!” I’d totally be a millionaire, lol.).

If you are struggling with something, look deep down and see what fear or unrealistic expectation might be holding you back. Are you trying to be Miss Perfect? Who are you insanely trying to please? What is the worst that can happen if something doesn’t work out?

Once you identify what that is, it will be miraculously easier for you to break the block, exorcize your demons and move forward.

Fears left in the shadows grow to giant, hairy proportions. Once identified and brought into the light of day, a fear is not as big and scary and intimidating. Faced head-on, you can turn your fear into a little pipsqueak you squash like a bug.

Making decisions is an area where people struggle a lot. They think someone else has the magic formula, the secret answers they aren’t privy to. They want other people to tell them what to do or give them the perfect answer.

But no one can do that for you. YOU are the decider in the end.

If you are struggling with deciding on something, it’s likely there is some fear underlying that struggle. Figure out what it is and I guarantee it will be easier for you to break through and finally move forward.

Other times, making a decision, or rather, not making one, is where you allow yourself to run on autopilot and just sit in the status quo. It’s safer and more comfortable that way.

You think, well, if I don’t do anything, I can’t make any mistakes, I can’t get it wrong.

But that’s no answer either because the decision still sits there, niggling away in the back of your brain, never allowing you to really be free of it.

So inaction is a decision, a choice, as well, but it’s not really an ideal one.

Because how you deal with anything is how you deal with everything. It’s a pattern that will keep you stuck, keep you from growing, and keep you from really living life in so many ways.

When you are stuck in limbo like that, the only way to break free is to just DECIDE, once and for all.

Stop asking others. Stop weighing. Stop gathering facts. Stop going back and forth. You’ve done enough of that already.

Just. Pick. Something.

Don’t worry about whether it’s right or wrong, the best or worst path. If nothing else, flip a coin. It sounds crazy, but I’m totally serious.

You can always course correct later on. In that kind of situation, it’s the only way to get out of your inertia.

I promise. Everything will be alright.

And PS: I tell you all this as someone who’s been there, done that and survived to tell the tale. I’ve been in business a LOT of years now and while I’m in an excellent place now in my life and business, I, too, made every mistake in the book back in the beginning. And I’m still learning! So I speak from experience, not as a perfect, sinless yogi on high. 😉

Is the Client Always Right?

Here’s some fodder for conversation:

How do you balance between making things easy/convenient for your prospects and clients and your standards/boundaries around ideal clients? Where do you draw the line between honoring your standards/boundaries and what makes someone an ideal client for you, and being client-centric?

For example, I was reading an article that was telling business owners they should make themselves available in every way possible (phone, email, mobile, IM, etc.) to accommodate everyone’s contact preferences.

I’ve seen this advice a million times over the years and always thought it was crazy.

That might be true for big business, but as a solopreneur/boutique business, I would go insane being interrupted and contacted every which way like that. Which is why my standards around who makes an ideal client include the fact that they are amenable to MY systems first.

If someone only wants to deal with me on the phone and be able to call me any time they like, they are not an ideal client for me because I can’t run my business and do my work under those conditions.

And besides just the operational impracticalities and boundaries, being too available invites disrespect and makes you look desperate. If you don’t respect yourself to have and honor your boundaries, your clients and prospects won’t either.

Another example: I read an article that said to make it easy for clients to remember appointments and other important dates.

If I can automate or systemize that, great. I have no problem doing that.

But, if it this instead turns out to be a needy client who lives in constant chaos and disorganization and has to be constantly reminded and have their hand held all the time, that’s not an ideal client for me and I wouldn’t work with  them. I’m an administrator, not a babysitter, and my ideal clients need to come to the relationship with some responsibility for themselves.

So where do you draw these lines in your business? Do you get similar advice that makes you second-guess or feel guilty for honoring your boundaries and standards around who is an ideal client for you?

Dear Danielle: How Can I Sell My Services without Being Sold To

Dear Danielle: How Can I Sell Without Being Sold To?

Dear Danielle: I have found that almost every potential client I have talked to about my services trying to get their business, they in turn try to sell me their products. What is a polite way to reject someone’s product when you are telling them about your services and how you can help their business? —Michelle Prieto

This question left out a lot of details and context so I asked Michelle to elaborate a bit more. Here’s what she added:

Thank you for responding! I’ve attended several expos/events during the last year and have found it beneficial handing out cards and briefly speaking with people. A lot of the people I have come across start out being prospective clients, but by the end of our conversation, I feel since I didn’t purchase their product, they end with “Ok, I’ll call you.” Most are people who don’t know me that I have approached first. When I decided to venture into this business, I wanted my focus to be on helping small business owners grow their business by relieving some of the pressure of paperwork (no specific field). I have succeeded with that focused area until I come across someone who is selling a product. I’ve worked in an office setting since I was 12 (I started by helping out at my uncle’s Real Estate office doing misc. items). I’m very confident about my capabilities and skills. The area I am struggling in is finding and finally achieving clients. It has been a difficult year, but I am determined to make my business work.

Thanks for the extra context. That helps a lot!

Okay, so here’s what’s going on. These aren’t prospective clients. These are just people you’ve cornered at an event.

What you’re doing is a form of cold-calling, only in person instead of over the phone. You’re trying to sell your services to anyone and everyone—people who don’t know you from Adam. They might listen politely, but you’ll never hear from most, if any, of them.

Plus, it’s the wrong platform. You’re trying to “sell” your services in an environment where everyone is “selling.” And what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. 😉

This is a very common mistake that most new business owners make. They have no clue what they should be doing to get clients so they default to selling to anyone and everyone.

But promoting a professional service isn’t the same thing as selling a Sham Wow.

You’re rushing the process and approaching the wrong people in the wrong environment.

What you really want to be doing is seeking relationships, not sales.

No one likes to be sold to and especially not right off the bat. There’s some finesse involved, and a time and place for certain kinds of conversations.

Marketing professional services is a lot like dating. You don’t go on one date and immediately launch into all your requirements for a spouse and your urgency to get married.

Relationships are grown and nurtured over time, and only after there is some mutual interest established in moving forward.

Your competence and ability in the work you do has nothing to do with your competence and ability in marketing your business. They are two completely different skillsets.

And that’s where you will benefit: by learning about marketing and how professional services are best promoted (i.e., relationship building, not cold-calling, and letting people come to you).

Do things a little differently and you’ll get better results:

  1. Don’t cold-call/cold-sell.Talk about their businesses, not yours. What are their common challenges and frustrations in running their business? What kind of goals and objectives do they have? You become far more interesting and of interest to people when you are interested in them.
  2. Get a target market. Without one, all you’re doing is shooting your arrows into the wind in all directions without any intention. That’s an extremely inefficient and ineffective way to get business and you’ll wear yourself out long before seeing any results. When you decide who to focus on (i.e., your target market), you can then figure out where those folks specifically are hanging out, what their common needs, goals and challenges are, and then approach them accordingly.
  3. Give a “gift,” not business cards, something informative that is actually useful and of interest and value. And of course, to determine what will be of interest and value, you need a target market. Your useful “gift” then becomes a pipeline for you. Those who are interested will then come to you. Those are real prospects.
  4. Funnel everything to your website. Make sure everything you give out includes your branding and a call to action to visit your website.
  5. Have some kind of lead capture mechanism on your website. Your website should then have some kind of free offer that people can sign up for to get. This gets them onto your mailing list so that you can continue to keep in touch with them through an ezine, blog posts, special announcements, etc. Those people who sign up are actual hot prospects because they’ve shown interest and made the choice to come to you, not the other way around. This is one of the ways you create your own marketing pipelines and have people coming to you, not you chasing after them.
  6. Ask for their business cards instead of giving yours out. After conversation and they’ve shown some level of interest, ask people if they’d like to receive your free offer and then follow up accordingly.

Hope that helps, Michelle. If you need me to elaborate on any of this, feel free to ask in the comments. 🙂

Stop with the VA Crap

If you’re going to be an Administrative Consultant, be an Administrative Consultant.

Stop with the VA crap. They’re not the same thing and all you’re doing is creating confusion by trying to incorporate both terms.

Pick one or the other, not both.

(And I recommend if you’re going to be a grown-up business owner, you choose to be an Administrative Consultant. When you run a business, you are not anyone’s assistant, ever.)

Are Business Cards Dead?

Are Business Cards Dead?

They aren’t “dead” per se.

There are still times when it’s nice to have a business card to give, particularly when you are asked for one.

And a nicely designed card enhances your business image.

The problem is many people don’t know how or when to use them appropriately.

They agonize and spend too much time and energy on them. They think by throwing their card into the winds in all directions, eventually they’ll get someone (anyone? pretty please!) interested. And that’s a really demoralizing dynamic, not to mention ineffective.

So, the question should really be “Are business cards effective for marketing?”

The problem is your business card is about you, when your marketing — to be effective — needs to be about your potential client.

Shoving your card indiscriminately into as many faces as you can amounts to “cold calling,” which is the act of trying to “sell” yourself to anyone and everyone without any indication they want to hear from or know about you whatsoever.

No one likes to be imposed and intruded upon that way.

Those folks are not prospects. They’re just people you’ve cornered.

Sure, they’ll take your card out of politeness, but you’ll never hear from them. You’ll turn off more people than you’ll interest going about it like that.

Let me tell you a story about my days as a private investigator…

As a private investigator, I was sometimes called on to handle difficult process serves. These were the cases where people were evading service by hiding and not answering their doors.

You could try everything in the book without budging them.

However, the one thing that worked nearly every single time was when you walked up to the door with a big package or huge bouquet of flowers.

Did they actually get the delivery or bouquet? No. You’d give them the papers that were being served.

But when they saw you walking up with a package or flowers, they thought they were getting something, and that’s what made them open the door. Nearly no one could resist the possibility of a gift!

So this is my advice to you.

No, not to trick people, but to give them a gift instead of your business card (save those for other purposes).

When I say gift, I do not mean SWAG.

SWAG (short for “stuff we all get”) is all those pens, envelope openers, etc., that are branded with your business info.

SWAG is just more vanity junk that’s about you that people don’t want or care about, more than half of which simply ends up in the garbage and forgotten.

What I’m talking about is some kind of handout that is for and about them and their business that’s going to truly be of use and value.

Maybe it’s a free report. Maybe it’s a free how-to guide. Maybe it’s a free pass to sign-up for an e-class you conduct.

It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s something that’s of real interest and value to your target market that teaches them about a topic they are interested in, shows them how to do something, or helps them overcome some kind of challenge, obstacle or problem.

And then of course, you want to make sure your hand-out is branded and includes a call-to-action at the end that gets them over to your website.

You’ll garner far more interest and inquiries this way without turning a single person off.

The paradox is that because you’ve given them a gift and made it about them, they in turn are going to be more interested in you.

The beauty of this approach is that those people who come to you by going to your website and contacting your further, those are actual hot prospects because they’ve indicated their interest simply by visiting your site.

Don’t you agree that’s a far more feel-good prospect for all involved?

What Stories Are You Telling Yourself?

What Stories Are You Telling Yourself

If you think you can’t, you won’t.

If you tell yourself that something is not possible, it will be (impossible).

Self-limiting beliefs are self-fulfilling prophesies.

I say this in the best way possible: You do not know enough and do not have enough business experience yet to be telling yourself these lies. Trust in this process with me.

Who are these people you think are your competition, who are limiting what you think you are able to do or achieve?

Don’t tell me you are limited to charging a certain amount because other people have the market locked up low-balling and undercharging. You don’t know that.

Those are stories you made up and are telling yourself because you are afraid and because don’t know what you don’t know.

Other people are not your competition.

The only dynamic that matters is the story between you and your target market, how well you understand them and what’s important to them, your in-depth knowledge about their business, how it’s run and what their common needs, goals and challenges are.

Forget everyone else. They do not figure into the equation of your success whatsoever.

This is one of the reasons that business ownership is also a journey of self-growth and improvement.

You are forced in so many ways to grow personally, stretch outside your comfort zones and come to terms with self-limiting and self-defeating beliefs and mindsets.

Onward and upward, girlfriend (or boyfriend). 😉