While you’re still working is the best time to get your business foundations solidly in place before opening your business doors:
- Become a student of business. Study up, particularly in the areas of practice management in a professional services business, marketing of professional services, and all things related to the administrative support business industry (starting with the best resource of all, the ACA website and blog here! 😉 )
- Create your business plan. Going through the exercise of business planning forces you to think through certain aspects of the business and get clear about why you’re going into business, what your goals and challenges are, how much money you want/need to make, etc., and then formalizing the map for how you plan to get there.
- Create a business map (not to be confused with a business plan). This is basically a modeling of what the business looks like in a visual, illustrated format and how it earns its revenues and profits. RESOURCE: The ACA Business Plan Template is tailored specifically for those in the administrative support business! It’s not only a business plan; it’s also a visioning tool for how you want your business to support your life.
- Get the practical working pieces together. This includes your contracts, ideal client profile, and beginning policies and procedures. This is also the time to begin drafting your Client Guide, which is a basically a formalizing/documenting of your standards, policies, procedures and protocols. This guide is given to new clients for the purpose of informing them how things work in your practice and how to get the most out of the relationship and work together successfully. This is a particularly useful tool because, while it should be written in positive, client-centric language, what it does is help to outline boundaries and inform clients what the “rules” are (for lack of a better term) so that they don’t think it’s their place to be making them up. YOU have to instruct them about how things work in your practice, not the other way around. It sets proper expectations and helps them view and respect you as a business and professional, not their beck-and-call employee. RESOURCE: One of the reasons many businesses in this industry fail is because they never learned how to structure their operations to handle more than one or two clients at a time. This is where my Power Productivity & Business Management guide comes in. In this guide, I give you all my trade secrets, systems and tools for running a six figure practice that scales with the growth of your roster and makes sure you still have room for a life in the process.
- Get your website started. This will always be a work in progress. No one is ever “done” with their website, nor should they be. One should always be working to improve and clarify their educational marketing message for clients. And while you are working is a great time to get the framework up and begin the work of crafting and honing your message. RESOURCE: Build a Website that Works. In this guide I show you exactly how to put your website together using my own proven conversion system for more consults and more clients, and how to articulate your value as I walk you step-by-step in creating your own unique, irresistible marketing message so you can get those lucrative, well-paying monthly retained clients. Throughout all this, you’ll get the bonus of a crash-course in in-bound marketing, business modeling and more clearly identifying your offers and how to position them on your website for best results.
- Learn those all-important business skills. Getting clients isn’t at all like applying for a job. In this way, going into business is like going back to college because there are several skills you’re going to need to study and learn if you’re going to be successful. These include pricing and packaging your support; conducting consultations with clients; and marketing and presenting yourself among other things. RESOURCE: I’ve been in this business for darn near 20 years and have packaged up every single bit of my knowledge, know-how, and expertise into the ACA Success Store. When I say it has everything you need, that’s not some cheesy marketing line. It actually has exactly all the right information and tools you need to set your business up properly and learn the important skills you need to be successful far more quickly and easily than trying to do it (slowly, blindly) all by yourself.
- Take on that first client! While you’re still working can often be a great time to take on that first client. Keep in mind, you’ll only be able to handle so many retained clients (possibly only one, maybe two) while still working a job, and you still need to provide a professional, business-like level of quality and care they would expect from any business. Don’t use having a job as an excuse for providing anything less. That said, I often refer to those first clients as “starter” or “practice” clients. That’s because this is a time when we’re getting our business legs and learning about what we like and don’t like in our business and identifying who our ideal clients are and how we want things to work. So, it’s quite common that these clients aren’t necessarily ones you’ll keep for the long-haul (although that is entirely possible as well). Sometimes we’re lucky and have a client who happily and gratefully grows with us. You’ll also find that as your business standards and boundaries shift and improve, as you course correct things that aren’t working in your business, there will also be some clients you naturally outgrow and need to let go. And then there will be others who are just plain intractable and not amenable to any change in your business (and probably weren’t a great fit anyway) and leave of their own accord. Don’t view those clients as losses or failures. They absolutely aren’t! They provided invaluable growth and learning experience and helped you better know yourself and improve your business. So, be grateful you had them and remember that when you let the unideal go, you open up space for the more ideal to flow in and take their place. You won’t grow by clinging to that which is not ideal and absolutely happy-making for you.
- Start a slush fund. As you’re working is the best time to start socking away operating capital for the business. This is because for most people, there are only so many clients you can feasibly take on while still employed in a “day job” and still have time, room, and energy for all the other things you have to juggle in life. There comes a transition where, if you’re wanting to go into business full hog, you have to make a leap, and most people don’t yet have a full roster of retained clients when they make that leap. So there’s going to be a period of time once you make the leap and leave your job where you’re working to fill your roster with clients. Having that operating capital (or some other means of income) while you get established can be a lifesaver and help ensure you can pay the bills and not make choices out of desperation (which leads to stepping over of standards) until the business becomes profitable and fully self-sustaining.
Hope that helps!
Oh man, thanks for that Danielle! I had the exact same question. Right now, I’m in the process of taking notes and creating timelines. I’m dreading the contracts part, but I’m hoping it all pays off in the end.
One of my other questions is, do you find that clients demand a lot of phone calls/skype? It’s hard for me to step aside from my desk at work, and that’s one of my main fears. I don’t want to seem unavailable, but at the same time, it’s something I cannot do.
Hi Kiri 🙂
That’s the great thing about being in business—YOU get to decide how things work, not clients. Plus, it’s important to remember, these are clients, not employers. Just like they wouldn’t tell your attorney or accountant or web designer or their whatever when they are to be available, it’s not up to clients to dictate when or how you are available.
So like any business, if a client wants to speak with you, they need to make an appointment. And appointments are based on your availability, not the client’s.
Here’s how I set the policies in my business so you can see how you could do them as well:
In my practice, I don’t take unscheduled phone calls. If I did, I’d never get any work done and my concentration would constantly be broken. (Side note: I use a virtual PBX system with various pre-recorded messages that run depending on the time of day; I also have calls set to not ring).
As a policy I require all communication and requests be submitted by email. This puts their information/request in writing and creates something tangible that I can easily move around and manage in my work queue.
Each client is given a slot (same day/same time) each week for a weekly telephone meeting. This is where the client and I regroup and bebrief, ask questions and touch base.
Having a weekly telephone meeting, especially when clients are new, is really helpful in that it helps nurture the relationship and get to know each other better. You just don’t want clients them calling you all day long for every little thing or they’ll eat up all your time and energy and (eventually) get on your last nerve, lol.
This is the reason for setting intentioned policies and procedures that allow YOU to stay sane, stay in business and able to give your best to all your clients equally.
Getting over employee mindset, which is the thinking that we operate our businesses and work with clients in the same way we worked with our bosses as employees, is often the biggest hurdle for new business owners. There’s going to be a bit of a learning curve and you may have to keep reminding yourself, “it’s up to ME, not them.”
It’s also one of the biggest perks of owning your own business. Having those boundaries are what will allow you to enjoy the freedom and fruits of that.
One thing that helps is to always remember that in order to take excellent care of your clients, you have to first take excellent care of yourself. A burnt out, stressed, overwhelmed administrative expert is no good to anyone, much less herself. So your standards, your policies and procedures, need to be good for you first, because ultimately, they are for the client’s benefit.
I really appreciate the time you took to answer my short question! And I think you’re right – it will be hard to get over that hurdle of not being an employee anymore.
What you wrote is so liberating! Do you think it will prevent people from wanting to work with me though? I hope not, but I guess since I am running my own business, until I can go full time, then they should be somewhat accommodating.
The weekly check-ins are also a great idea as well as unscheduled phone calls. I never imagined setting a policy on unscheduled phone calls, but I can see how that would be frustrating.
Hoping to be set up and running by the end of the year 🙂
What about the contracts part are you dreading? Care to elaborate?
Oh gosh…just the fact that I don’t even know where to start or what the correct ones will be for my type of business.
Right now I’m just in the taking notes/creating a timeline stage, so once I get to contracts, I’m sure I’ll read much more into it and figure it out. Maybe then it will seem less intimidating.
However, I’ve read that some people don’t even use contracts and have never had a problem. From your post, I see you recommend them. Any reason why?
First let me say that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel or start from scratch. My organization has contract templates already done up for you and reviewed by my own attorneys. They are extremely comprehensive so all you need to do is add, edit or subtract whatever you like. When you’re ready for them, you can get them in the ACA Success Store fast and easy.
A contract is so important to have on sooooo many levels. First, it’s a clarifying and memorializing on paper of your agreements to each other as provider and client. When it’s on paper, no one’s memory can conveniently “fail” them, lol. It’s there in black and white.
Going through the contract process with a client forces you to get clear about the scope of the work and what those agreements are, how they’re to be honored by each party and what happens whey they aren’t, what the recourses are.
On another level, a contract is also an opportunity to manage expectations and shape perceptions. It helps clients take your business seriously and respect and honor the agreements you make to each other.
And hopefully you never have need to, but in a worst case scenario, in the event that you feel you must take someone to court (or vice versa), having a contract can help you prevail. Likewise, there are some terms that are required to be put to writing in a contract to be enforceable by law.