Archive for March, 2015

Dear Danielle: Do I Need to Provide a Confidentiality Agreement to Clients?

Dear Danielle: Do I Need to Provide a Confidentiality Agreement to Clients?

Hi Danielle,

Thanks for doing all the hard work for us! Well worth the purchase (this colleague recently purchased products from the ACA Success Store). Here’s my question: While I see a confidentiality form that protects my company’s information, am I missing the form that assures my client that any information I am given about their business that’s necessary for my services will remain confidential? I have a proposal due tomorrow to a client and can’t find that form. —AG

Great to hear!

I don’t offer a form like that and here’s why: it’s not your role to provide a client’s confidentiality agreement for them.

That’s THEIR job in THEIR business to have their OWN attorney draft up a confidentiality agreement and provide that if/when/in what situation they deem necessary.

You are over-providing something that isn’t your role or responsibility to provide.

In doing so, you could be unwittingly creating an additional/higher burden of liabilities for your business beyond what is your role to assume as a provider.

This is why you don’t follow what the uninformed masses tell you to do.

Here are some blog posts that shed more light on the topic that will help you better understand:

Confidentiality Agreements Are Not Your Responsibility

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

Dear Danielle: Why Would I Need a Confidentiality Agreement?

Dear Danielle: Client Wants Me to Provide a Non-Compete Agreement

Let me know if you have any questions. 🙂

Do You Understand the Difference Between a Project-Based vs. Ongoing Admin Support Business?

Do You Understand the Difference Between a Project-Based vs. Ongoing Admin Support Business?

When I started out (and didn’t really understand the concept of providing administrative support as a business), I was what is correctly termed a secretarial service doing one-off projects here and there where I could find them.

Someone would hire me to do their resume, make a flyer or brochure, type some documents, that kind of thing.

It’s equivalent to the business model of a print shop for example.

A customer might be someone who only ever uses you once or it could be someone who is a repeat customer, but still on only an as-needed basis—occasional and sporadic.

The problem as I discovered was it was a paltry income, nothing I could actually live on. It was pocket money at best, and I still needed to work a full time job to pay the bills.

Okay, I thought, how do I make a living at that?

There is no recurring or consistent income when a business is project-based. You never know where your next meal or client will come from or when.

In order to make a living in a project-based business, it inherently requires that it be volume-driven, which comes with its own set of problems.

In a project-based, volume-driven business, you have to CONSTANTLY be marketing and networking and ever on the hunt for your next project, that next not one but five clients, all while you still have work in front of you to do.

It was EXHAUSTING.

It was a huge amount of work just getting those projects and clients I did have coming in here and there. It was this never-ending hamster wheel that left me little time to breathe.

And to have to multiply all those efforts 20-fold? No way. That was NOT the kind of business I wanted.

You also can never make up for in volume what you really need to make a living, not as a solo/boutique business.

The answer would seem to be add more people doing the work.

But that wasn’t a solution that worked for me either because:

  1. I have ZERO interest in being in the people management business, which is exactly what I’d have to do if I added more people;
  2. I would make even less money because my profit margins would be reduced with all the increased costs and expenses. Not only that, but my business would be much more complicated and less easy with all the added administration; and
  3. it would turn the work into an assembly line which is NOT what I want in my business or my life. I believe in artistry and craftsmanship in work product and that’s the quality I want to give to my clients. Churning work day in and day out as fast as possible (which is what you are forced to do in a volume-driven business) is NOT how I want to work or live my life.

It’s not that a volume-driven project business can’t work. But it’s a much bigger and more difficult business to build and sustain. And it’s simply a different business model altogether, one I had not the slightest interest in.

That’s when I started realizing that the way to make better money and more consistent income was to provide support as an ongoing RELATIONSHIP, not a one-off, piecemeal transaction.

Once I got conscious about that, I started building a retainer-based practice where clients paid me in advance on the 1st of every month for ongoing administrative support in their business, not a project here or there. I took on specific areas and roles that were ongoing in their business.

It was a lot more money—money I could actually LIVE on.

It was consistent, recurring CASHFLOW.

AND it didn’t require the constant merry-go-round of chasing after new clients and new work every minute of every hour of every day.

I could live and work in a much more relaxed, sustainable, breathable pace, growing my roster slowly one client at a time.

But I still had a lot of things to learn in my early years. I was still operating with the poor professional self-esteem that many in our industry suffer from: that I wasn’t enough, that admin support wasn’t enough.

Part of the problem was I still didn’t really have a target market.

And without that, I couldn’t really envision, much less paint a picture for prospects, about what admin support could look like in the context of their business and how it could help them in anything except the vaguest, most general (and uncompelling) terms.

So I thought I needed to offer a lot more. I thought I had to DO everything, BE everything, and be ANYTHING a client tried to twist me into at their whim in order to be of value.

First, I added web design.

And then I thought bookkeeping would be a good service to also offer because who doesn’t need bookkeeping?

What I failed to realize is that these are separate businesses in and of themselves.

It’s a full time job to just to provide bookkeeping to a roster of clients.

And design work requires a whole other part of the brain. It requires a switching of gears and lots of creative space that are simply too crowded when you are trying to do too many other things.

Eventually, as I got busier and busier (without really ever getting too far in anything much less making any better money), I realized that I needed to focus on ONE thing, be in ONE business, not multiple businesses.

Trying to be too many different kinds of businesses not only was keeping me from earning well, I wasn’t able to fully commit to any of them and was constantly distracted and pulled in different directions due to too many multiple focuses.

That’s not a recipe for doing your best work for clients.

I also realized that by focusing on ONE business (I got out of the bookkeeping business and then later discontinued doing any kind of design work completely), I did far better, more high quality work for clients, built my business faster, and ended up with far more discretionary time (i.e., freedom and flexibility) as a byproduct.

All of which ultimately benefited my clients in a multitude of ways.

I also realized (and look back now at how foolish I was back then) that if I had just gotten clear about being in ONE business earlier, I would have built my business and made more money so much faster.

Because once I did, I also soon realized that by focusing on the ONE business (admin support), I didn’t have the time or need to do anything else.

So now I’m VERY clear about what I’m in business to do and what I’m not.

If a client needs something I’m not in business to do (e.g., you wouldn’t ask a plumber to fix your car), I point out that they need to talk to the professionals who are in those other professions. If I happen to know someone good, I will refer them.

But I don’t bend over backwards making it my job to find them someone any more than it would be my doctor’s job to find me a lawyer. The only people who think that’s their job are those who are operating their business like an employee (or being trained to).

Dear Danielle: Is It Difficult to Rank or Be Found in Search Engines Using the Term Administrative Consultant?

Dear Danielle: Is It Difficult to Rank or Be Found in Search Engines Using the Term Administrative Consultant?

Dear Danielle:

I am only two months in to this business, but I wanted to know how to handle SEO, keywords and marketing using the term Administrative Consultant. Is it difficult to rank or be found in searches? —DW

This is a question that is frequently asked. For example, here’s one I got from someone back in 2011 who was wholly misinformed how SEO works:

This is terrific advice (as always!), but here’s one problem: for the purposes of search engine optimization, the term “virtual assistant” is invaluable to attract people to your site. People don’t know to look for an admin consultant, so SEO advice says the VA terminology needs to appear repeatedly in out web copy. I’ve gone through my site (which already had an unfortunate domain name chosen before I found YOU and all your amazing insights) and I’ve taken out every instance of the word “assistant.” Now I feel better, but also utterly unsearchable. What’s a girl to do??

She could not be more wrong. Keyword stuffing has been poor website/SEO practice and obsolete for I don’t know how many years now, well before 2011.

Here’s how to understand this:

Your title isn’t for marketing (or SEO) purposes.

It’s for setting proper expectations, understandings, mindset and perceptions in prospective clients, which is a whole other topic that has nothing to do with SEO.

No one even needs to know your term/title to find you. (Remember, there was always a first someone in every new industry; how do you think they survived and succeeded?)

Because how they find you isn’t due to what you are called, it’s what problem, pain or challenge you can solve for them. Your title has nothing to do that that.

Marketing is about having a target market (which is simply an industry/field/profession that you cater your administrative support to) and then networking and interacting with the folks in your target market to create your own pipelines for those people to get to know and come find you.

People who randomly find you on the Internet are few and far between and rarely are they qualified, ideal candidates.

SEO is the least relevant, and poorest quality way people will find you (at least in terms of how the misinformed person above was advising).

SEO is also a highly specialized, sophisticated area of expertise. It most certainly cannot be reduced to merely “just add your keyword all over your website and you will be found.”

Most laypeople these days do not know how SEO works, and especially not now in the age of the Google Penguin, Panda and Hummingbird algorithm updates.

SEO simply does not not work anymore the way most people think it does. They’re stuck in outdated understandings from 5, 10 years ago.

If getting clients was as simple as slapping an industry term all over your web pages, everyone would be rich and overflowing with clients. (This is the erroneous logic of those who think the only way clients will find them is if they call themselves a virtual assistant.)

But that’s just not how SEO (or marketing, for that matter) works, and you’re not going to get found that way.

Plus, results are personalized these days. When you see these people crowing about how they’re on the first page of search results, what they fail to realize is that’s only because the search engines are smart enough to know they’re interested in their own website.

They might be on the first page of their own search results, but page 10, 20 or 200 for anyone else.

And, if your site is new, your site is going to rank even worse. No over-saturated industry term is going to change that; in fact, your results will be worse with an overused search term.

Forget SEO right now. It’s the least important thing for you to be focusing on.

Paradoxically, the less you worry about keywords, and the more you focus on simply writing like a real person specifically and conversationally to your target market and providing in-depth educational information for them, the better your site will fare organically in the search engines.

This is because search engines these days value high quality content written by people for people and the fact that those characteristics foster more and higher quality inbound links and referrals. They are that smart.

If you are going to worry about keywords and phrases at all, it’s your TARGET MARKET’S industry search terms and phrases you need to be focused on using, not ours.

Here again is where having a target market makes everything in business so much easier.

When you have a target market, you stop wasting time and energy trying to be found by anyone and everyone and focus instead on that just that specific group and where those folks are hanging out in large groups, online and off.

You should be networking amongst them, and if you are, then you should also be directing everyone you meet (through your signature line, through your calls to action, through your free offers, etc.) to your website.

When it comes to SEO for your website, stop focusing so much on our industry terms and focus instead of the industry terms and search phrases of your target market. What topics are they frequently conversing with each other about? What problems and pains are they trying to solve? How can you include or adapt your content on your website to address these subjects?

For example, someone in your target market isn’t going to set up Google Alerts for our industry, but they certainly are for their industry and the related kinds of things they do and are interested in.

Those are the kind of keywords and phrases you want to use in your search engine marketing and optimization.

But SEO is never the lead driver of traffic to your website.

It’s your networking and relationship marketing efforts that create the real and better qualified pipelines. You’ll get far better results placing your focus there.

You Don’t Get Better Clients by Whining About YOUR Problems and YOUR Needs

You Don’t Get Better Clients by Whining About YOUR Problems and YOUR Needs

It’s all well and good to say we need to stand up as an industry to better educate clients, but guess what?

The marketplace doesn’t care about YOUR poor earning, YOUR burnout, how YOU have to scrape barely making a living.

To get better clients and command fees commensurate with the value you feel you provide, you have to show how this benefits THEM and talk about things in terms of THEIR interests, not yours.

You also can’t better educate clients and the marketplace by continuing to market like an employee trying to land a position, calling yourself an assistant and talking about how much cheaper than an employee you are, how much money they will save, and trying to bribe people into working with you with discounts and free work.

When that is the foundation of your marketing message, the very first thing you focus people on, you are continuing the same conversation that causes—and attracts—the very mindset you are trying to avoid.

It is entirely possible to fix all this AND have your needs and standards met.

How, you ask?

By having a conversation in your marketing message with your IDEAL client.

Your ideal client is not the cheapskate who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing (and wants everything for practically nothing).

Your ideal client isn’t looking for a cheap band-aid.

Your ideal client thinks long-term, big picture.

Your ideal client wants a partner and expert, not a flunky.

Your ideal client is seeking QUALITY and HIGH STANDARDS and views these as worthwhile investments that will return far more than is paid in mere dollars.

Point out and illustrate to your ideal client all the ways in which their business and life is improved, everything they GAIN,  by working with you (not what they save, not what they can cheap out on, not what you prostrate and discount yourself to do).