Archive for August, 2015

Ideas for Finding Clients

Ideas for Finding Clients

Here are some ideas for where to find potential clients to help get your creative thinking going.

Since I work with solo attorneys (specifically in the business, intellectual property and entertainment law realm), that’s the target market I know best. However, anyone can extrapolate from these ideas to fit their own target market.

One of the reasons and benefits to have a target market is that it helps you more easily identify where to find clients. Because once you know who you are focusing on, that will tell you what support they need, how to craft your message, and where to begin looking for them.

(By the way, a target market is simply a specific industry/field/profession that you cater your administrative support to.)

For example, if you work with attorneys, the next step is to identify any and all places where you may be able to meet, connect and interact with, and get in front of said attorneys.

What do attorneys deal in very often? Lawsuits.

Where do they go when they litigate those lawsuits? To the courthouse, right?

So, are there any opportunities there? Are there attorney bulletin boards where you can put your business card, flyer, brochure or other handout? Is there a lawyers lounge where you can do the same? What about a law library?

What about your local and state bar associations? Do they have any online forums and listservs you can hop on? Do they have a print newsletter or online blog? If so, you could offer to contribute some articles (and thereby market your business in the process). Find out what advertising opportunities they have. For example, my state’s bar newsletter has a $50 advertising fee which is a small price to pay to get a targeted ad in front of all their attorney subscribers that gets them to my website or video presentation.

Ideally, you are focusing on the solos and boutique firms because they are the ones who truly have the need for our solution. Big law doesn’t need or care about what we do; they really have no real need for our solution. So keep your message, content and efforts geared toward the solos/boutique firms.

Are there special groups that these solos/boutique firm attorneys belong to, online and off? Find out what opportunities might be there for you to speak to their group or offer a webinar or give a presentation. You could teach them about what you do as an Administrative Consultant and all the ways your support helps their practice. Or, it could be about all the ways they can continue to operate in the online realm and further systemize/e-vitalize their practice and operations. (These are just a couple ideas, put your thinking cap with your own target market in mind. What would their ears perk up at? What are their common problems, challenges and obstacles, and what can you share that will help them?)

Talk to your area attorney associations and ask them if they have ideas on how you can connect with their solo attorney members.

If you know of some solo attorneys, TALK to them. And to be clear, don’t market to them. This is a knowledge and information gathering effort. Just see if you can speak with them informally and pick their brain. The goal is to learn as much about them as possible, what their interests are for their practice, where they are hanging out, online and off. The more you talk directly with people in your target market, the more inside knowledge you can glean that will help you in your efforts to support them, gear your solutions toward their needs, goals and interests, and find and connect with them.

Who/what are some of the vendors these lawyers use (locally, geographically and online)? There’s case management software services. There are process services. There are investigators. There are couriers, court reporters… the list goes on and on.

Contact these people and businesses. See if there are some advertising or co-marketing opps where you can take advantage of their own established footing in the industry to get in front of new prospective attorney clients. Maybe they have a blog or newsletter you can contribute to or advertise in/on.

Keep in mind that your services don’t compete with theirs; you are in complementary industries with the same audience. If you talk with them, you might be able to come up with some mutually beneficial referral partnering arrangements. Start the conversation; you’ll be surprised at what you might come up with, what ideas you hit upon.

Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and try new ideas. Get creative. Be up to try anything once.

At the same time, get good at recognizing when something or some place is a waste of time so you can move on quickly (and stay positive).

Do any of these ideas jump-start your thinking and how to apply them to your own target market?

PS: If you don’t have a target market yet, at least start thinking about one, especially if you’ve been struggling. Download my free guide on How to Choose Your Target Market

I Can’t Work for Pennies, How Are You Making This Work?

I Can't Work for Pennies, How Are You Making This Work?

I am still trying to lock down clients. Any suggestions as to how to obtain clients? I have been using Fiverr for sample gigs (decent income for small projects). I am reaching out to people on Linkedin as well as my previous employer (we have a great relationship so it’s no fluff, but no clients need me yet), but once I move to the pricing for everyone else, they are no longer interested. I feel my price point is comparable, but I can’t work for pennies on the hour. How are you guys making it work? —RB

Fiverr might be good for pocket change if that’s all your needing out of it. But you’re never going to find real clients there (i.e., the kind that pay the kind of money you can actually live on), much less retainer clients who pay a monthly upfront fee for across-the-board administrative support.

“Decent income” is relative. What does it mean to you? Have you done any cost and pricing analysis on what it takes to run your business, earn an income (yes, they are two separate things) and earn a profit? (Profit is yet a third category of earning; you don’t have a business unless you are earning above and beyond your operational and income needs.)

It’s important to understand that there’s a big difference between the economics of employment and the economics of business. That is a huge area of education for a lot of people who are new in business. They often don’t initially understand that $12/hour employee wage will not begin to earn them a living as a business.

You’re also looking at things from the wrong angle and going about the process too generally. Because it’s not about the price point.

(Don’t worry. Everyone goes through this thinking when they’re new in business—it’s a process of education, and I’m here to  help you with that). 

Getting clients begins and ends with WHO your target market is. Have you done that work yet?

RB: I have my target market (insurance), I guess it’s that I am not known maybe? Yeah, I love Fiverr for some quick cash, but trying to convert the folks I am talking to is what I am having trouble with (none from Fiverr). Maybe I need to reevaluate.

You’re not going to be able to convert those people because they aren’t the right audience, and it’s the wrong process/intention on the wrong platform. You’re trying to fish in an empty pond basically.

It’s not about being known. You don’t have to be known. Prospective clients don’t even need to have ever heard about our industry whatsoever.

It’s about YOU understanding THEM (your target market), their business, their industry, how their business is run and how you can support them, a
nd you understanding what they gain and how they benefit from this solution (this is how you will articulate your value to them).

And, of course, choosing the right market.

“Insurance” is pretty broad/generic. What does that mean? What kind of insurance specifically? Who in the “insurance” field are you focusing on?

Because insurance “companies” don’t need what we do. When a company is large enough that the workload inherently requires in-house staff, and has their own staff, you are barking up the wrong tree.

You want to target solo/boutique business owners. They are the ones who have the highest/greatest need for the solution we’re in business to offer, value it more, and are thus more interested and willing to pay for it.

Once you get clearer about all of these things, that is going to tell you where you should be focusing your efforts for more fruitful results.

And the smarter you get about that, you’ll find that you won’t want or need to waste your time in places like Fiverr. 😉

Here’s what I recommend:

1. Get my free ACA Income & Pricing Calculator and go through those exercises. It’s important to get very clear about your numbers and know your pricing baseline.

2. Download my free guide on How to Choose Your Target Market and go through those exercises. This is a necessary part of the process of getting clients. If you don’t know and specifically define who you are talking to, how can you ever find them much less know how to support them administratively? 😉 Once you get clearer about who it is you are seeking, that will inform all your next steps and answer all the questions you have about how to find them, where to find them, how to support them, how to craft your solution and speak their language. This is such a vital step that will make finding clients so much easier.

There’s a lot more to it than this, of course, but these two exercises are the best place to start.

You CAN do this! It’s work, but it’s legwork that must be done first if you’re going to start seeing results. The alternative is to keep plodding along for years on end as many people do.

SEE ALSO:

Dear Danielle: What Do You Think of Odesk and Elance?

Dear Danielle: Should I Market on Craigslist?

What Zirtual (and Any Virtual Staffing Agency) Workers Need to Know

What Zirtual and Other Virtual Staffing Agency Workers Need to Know

You may have heard that virtual staffing agency Zirtual abruptly ceased operations August 10 without any warning or notice to workers or clients.

Today, we learned that Zirtual has been bought by Startup.co.

There were a lot of problems with this company, not the least of which was poor business planning, unsustainable growth, and the illegal misclassification of employees as independent contractors, the latter of which is my biggest peeve.

A business model based on exploiting workers and disregarding employment laws is bound to fail sooner or later.

This is why it’s so important for business owners to do business with companies and independent professionals who operate legally and ethically.

It’s also why it’s important for you, as a worker, to recognize going in whether a company you consider working for is operating legally and going to treat you fairly and lawfully.

Nothing angers me more than people being taken advantage of and exploited without their knowledgeable and fully-informed consent.

For anyone who worked at Zirtual (or any virtual staffing company), before you jump from one exploitive situation to another, I want to shed some light on employment and business so that you cannot be taken advantage of so easily in the future.

First, Some Basics

In the world of work and services, you are either an employee or you’re a business.

There is no legal middle classification where someone “works like an employee but is paid like an IC.”

That is illegal.

Independent contractor, 1099 contractor, freelancer, self-employed, independent professional… these are all just different terms that mean the same thing: business owner.

As an IC, you are required to pay 100% of your own employment taxes whereas when you are employee, your employer pays half as well as other taxes that are fully employer-paid.

There is also no such thing as a 1099 employee. That’s a made-up, imaginary term for a classification that does not exist and is in fact illegal.

You are either an employee (in which case you enjoy the rights and benefits provided to employees by law) or you are a 1099 contractor, which (again) is just another name for independent contractor and means you are in business for yourself and as such are responsible for all the duties, taxes and reporting obligations that entails.

This is where the problem starts because most of these workers do not understand the difference and the legal and financial implications involved. They don’t realize that when they allow an employer to call them an IC, they just became self-employed business owners.

That’s not what most of them bargained for. Most aren’t fully aware of all the rights and benefits that they are deprived of in the process.

What this also means is, even if a company classified you as an independent contractor (even if you signed a contract), the law may still consider you an employee. The law does not uphold contracts that are illegal in the first place.

What Is an Employee?

An employee is someone who works for a company in exchange for a paycheck.

Being an employee or independent contractor isn’t something individual employers get to arbitrarily decide.

There are legal standards and definitions about what constitutes an employee, control being first and foremost.

As an employee, the company you work for has the right to dictate (among other things) your work schedule, hours, pay, where you do the work, what equipment to use, and when, where and how to do the work. (When you are an independent, self-employed business owner—in other words, independent contractor—clients MAY NOT dictate ANY of that whatsoever. YOU are the one who decides your fees, when, where and how you will work, what you will and won’t do, etc., and you do NOT “report” nor are you managed by clients in any way, shape or form. The only thing a client has the right to convey to you is what they would like accomplished, what outcome/result they desire for the work to produce, and what their timeframe/deadlines are.)

As an employee, you are supervised and directed by your employer who requires you to report to them and turn in timesheets. You may also be required to undergo training at the company’s direction.

If a company exerts any measure of control and management over a worker, that worker is an employee (and must be lawfully classified as such).

Likewise, if the workers ARE the very product of the biz (as is the case with temp agencies, staffing agencies, virtual staffing agencies, etc.), they must be classified as employees.

In exchange for this luxury and privilege of control and the benefit that is gained therefrom, an employer is held to some legal and financial obligations and requirements.

How Are Employees Paid?

At the start of employment, an employee completes an IRS Form W-4.

The employee is then given a paycheck in exchange for their work at the usual established company pay cycles and in accordance with local, state and federal laws.

By January 31 of every year, the employer is then required to provide the employee with an IRS Form W-2 Wage & Tax Statement which summaries the total monies you earned the previous year, the amount of taxes that were withheld from your pay, as well the employer-paid half of your FICA taxes (Social Security, Medicare, FUTA) and any other particular taxes (eg., unemployment) as may be required by local, state and federal law.

I highlight that last part because this is what many people don’t understand.

They don’t realize that when an employer illegally misclassifies them as an IC (self-employed independent contractor), that employer is essentially stealing from them.

Those are rightful monies owed to you that they are legally required to pay when you are an employee according to the legal definition.

What that means is that by illegally misclassifying you, they are shifting 100% and more of those costs onto you instead of paying their legally-required share.

Understanding Employment Taxes

Everyone who works and has earnings must pay FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) taxes.

FICA consists of 12.4% Social Security tax (up to whatever a given year’s wage cap is; for 2014 the cap was $117,000) and 2.9% Medicare (there is no wage cap on Medicare tax; however, beginning in 2013, if an employee earns more than $200,000, there is an additional 0.9% Medicare surtax that must be withheld from their wages).

If you are an employee, 6.2% Social Security and 1.45% Medicare tax is withheld from your paycheck, and your employer must pay the other 6.2% Social Security and 1.45% Medicare taxes.

FUTA (Federal Unemployment Tax Act) is another tax that must be paid, which is 6.2% up to $7,000 in wages. This tax is paid 100% by the employer. If you are an employee, there is no employee portion to be withheld.

If you are an employee who has been illegally misclassified as an IC, this is more money that is rightfully due to you that the employer is cheating you out of.

FUTA, in conjunction with state unemployment insurance systems, provides for unemployment compensation to workers who have lost their jobs.

This is another of the rights and benefits that an employee enjoys that an independent contractor is not eligible for.

Why Do Companies Classify Employees as Independent Contractors?

Why do they do anything? Because of the money.

Employees cost a business a lot of money. And I don’t mean only in terms of pay.

Besides their benefits and pay, it costs a lot to manage them. Taxing and reporting responsibilities must met. There are employee rights and labor laws that must be observed and complied with.

Compared with all that, it’s easier and cheaper to work with ICs than it is employees.

So a lot of companies will think, “You know what? We can’t afford these employees. Let’s call them independent contractors instead.”

But here’s the problem with that: it’s illegal.

The legal phrase is “illegal missclassification of employees.”

They don’t get to have their cake and eat it, too. Not when it cheats those workers out of their lawful, rightful employer-paid taxes and benefits.

If they don’t want the cost and headache, then they have to give up the control.

And if they don’t want to give up the privilege and luxury of control that comes with beck-and-call employees, then they have to comply with the law.

That’s just how it works, folks.

Companies don’t get to decide at their whim whether to classify someone as independent contractor just because it’s cheaper and more convenient for them.

The second they start exerting the control of an employer over a worker, that worker becomes an employee.

What to Do if You Feel You Have Been Misclassified as an Independent Contractor

As I said before, even if a company you have worked for classified you as an independent contractor, even if they had you sign a contract, the law may still consider you an employee if that company exerted any of the control that only an employer is allowed to exert (see Independent Contractor or Employee?)

The first thing to know is that it is 100% the company’s duty and responsibility to properly classify workers. The worker is never responsible for this.

I mention this only because many workers worry about taking recourse for fear the law will come down on them, and that is not the case.

Keep in mind that if you were an employee missclassified as an IC, you were missing out on all the usual rights, benefits and perks afforded regular employees of the company that ICs are not eligible for such as : unemployment benefits; worker’s comp benefits; severance pay; workplace rights such as minimum wage, overtime pay, sick pay, rest breaks, vacations; healthcare coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

The law may determine that you were entitled to those as an misclassified employee.

And if you worked for a company that closed up shop and left you high and dry, you’re going to want those unemployment checks.

The good news is that you have nothing to lose by looking into these things and possibly a lot to gain.

If you were feel you were misclassified as an IC, one of the simplest things you can do is fill out an IRS Form SS-8. The IRS will do the rest of the work after that. If they find that you were misclassified and should have been an employee, it’s the employer who is on the hook any penalties and back taxes you were deprived of.

If you’re young, it may not mean much right now, but when you get older and near retirement age, those retirement funds and medical benefits become more real and relevant to you. No matter what your age, those are accounts you should be concerned about and attentive to. They are part of your rightful benefits.

Another way a lot of these misclassifications come to light is when people file for unemployment insurance.

Yes, even if you were told by the company that you were an independent contractor, even if you signed a contract, I  encourage you to file for unemployment insurance.

Once you do that, they will also examine the relationship and make a determination. If they find that you should have actually been classified as an employee, it’s the employer who will be liable for those benefits and back tax payments.

And, talk to a local employment law attorney. Because I am not one and I don’t want any of this information to be construed as legal advice. I only share this information to point you in some directions where you can get the full information and advice from the proper agencies and legal advisors.

That kind of attorney can better and more fully explain all the ramifications of being misclassified as an IC, what benefits and rights you may have been deprived of, how long the statutes of limitations are in your case, the recourse and remedies available to you, and what the next best steps are.

There may even be, as we speak, some attorneys or law firms working on some kind of class action.

Moving Forward

Armed with this information, you can be more knowledgeable of your rights and how things are supposed to work should you decide to work with another company similar to Zirtual.

If you work for anyone who dictates any of your working conditions to you, you know now that you must be classified as an employee, that there are employer-paid taxes and other employee rights and benefits that are your right.

And if any employer exerting a level of control over you tries to tell you they are going to start paying you as an IC, you can say:

“Hold up! Not so fast! That’s not correct. People who are in business for themselves as ICs, know they are in business for themselves. Last I checked, I don’t recall starting a business, and I am not in business for myself. You are exerting a level of control over my pay, schedule and work conditions that constitutes employment. As such, I am an employee and must be paid accordingly, including all the rights and benefits afforded to employees. If there’s any question about that, we can have the IRS make the determination.”

Okay, I’m being a bit snarky, lol. But you get my drift.

Now that you are better informed, in whatever pleasant or diplomatic fashion is your preference, you can be more assertive and point people in the direction of the resources I have linked throughout this post.

If you have any questions about any of this, I am happy to answer and help in any way. Please post your questions in the comments.

And if you are in a former Zirtual worker, I understand several groups have been started to support each other.

I would be happy to speak to your group, either by phone or online, and help shed further light and answer any questions you may have about any of this information about employee classification.

Likewise, if any of you are interested in actually starting your own business (otherwise known as self-employment, being an independent contractor), I can definitely answer any of those questions as well. As a business owner since 1997 and the founder of the Administrative Consultants Association, that is my specialty!

RELATED ARTICLES: The topic of subcontractors is another important area for people in business to understand. I have a whole category on my blog that covers subcontracting:

ACA Blog: Subcontracting Articles 

Definition of Subcontracting

What You Need to Know About Subcontracting

Dear Danielle: Should I Upgrade to Windows 10?

Dear Danielle: Should I Upgrade to Windows 10?

Dear Danielle:

Should I upgrade to Windows 10? —TM

This seems to be the topic of the day lately for all us PC users.

And really, it depends. There are so many variables to consider.

A lot of it boils down to personal preference and your own business circumstances.

Although this is more of a technical question (I focus mainly on business operating and marketing principles here), there are definitely some business implications so I’ll share my thoughts.

First and foremost, talk to your technology people.

(Don’t have any? Get some! This is one of the important support relationships to have in business.)

In my business, I call on my “computers guys,” a local father and sons computer and IT business who have been my go-to fixers and advisors on all things computer-related for many years now.

When I asked them about ugrading to Windows 10, here’s what they advise:

“Reserve your free copy, but don’t install it. All new software is buggy, and this one is no exception. We recommend everyone wait for at least six months when a lot of the initial bugs and problems will likely have been identified and fixed.”

As you weigh this decision about whether or not to install, a couple other things to take into account are:

  • How old is your computer?
  • Do you have the system requirements for an upgrade to 10?
  • If you upgrade, will all your other software and tools you use regularly still work or will you have to upgrade them as well?
  • If you install and then have problems, how will that impact your client work and turn around times?

I’ve been hearing horror stories from clients and business associates who upgraded to 10 right away.

I’ve also heard from other people who think Windows 10 is awesome and have had no problems (so far, anyway, lol).

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer.

Personally, I never install new software right off the bat. 

I have too much work to do to deal with the aggravation and time-suck of computer problems and learning curves that are easily avoided by simply waiting a bit longer.

I know from experience that it takes working with things more in-depth before any issues/bugs raise their ugly heads. And that’s usually at the most inopportune time. I have a fast-paced practice and the last thing I need are computer problems stopping everything up.

Plus, I never upgrade right away to the latest (and the “latest” is not necessarily the “greatest” to be sure) because my clients rarely do, and it causes difficulties/incompatibilities in a lot of ways when you are ahead of your client curve.

In fact, you may be surprised that up until a couple weeks ago, I was still running XP and Office 2003/2006 on my primary workhorse computer.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a technophobe in the least. Far from it. You can’t be in this business.

And I have always had all the new stuff on my laptops.

But bad design is bad design.

I just don’t like anything Microsoft redesigned after XP so I kept it on my main computer. If it ain’t broke, there ain’t nothing that needs to be fixed. 😉

It’s like this: Just because something is “popular” and “everyone is doing it,” doesn’t make it good.

Likewise, just because something is new, doesn’t make it good.

But technology marches on and the day finally came that I was forced off my beloved XP and Office 2003/2006, lol.

Now, I have Windows 8.1 on everything and running Office 365.

I am probably going to install 10 on my least-used laptop just to see what it’s all about.

But I most likely will not install 10 on my main desktop work computer for another couple years when I have a new computer built by my “computer guys.”

All in all, in deciding if now is the right time for you to upgrade to Windows 10, take this into consideration as well:

Are you newer in business and have few or no clients? Then this might be a great time to bite the bullet and see what happens.

Because if you do run into problems, they won’t have a big impact and you have more time on your hands to deal with them.

However, if you have a busy client roster and workload, you don’t have the same kind of space to deal with computer issues.

If you can’t afford the time, aggravation and downtime that potential computer problems may cause in your practice, I would say slow your roll and give it another six months.

There’s no reason you have to rush into anything right this second. Windows 10 will still be there and in far better shape than it is right now.

And if/when you do upgrade, be sure to check out all the useful Windows 10 articles I’ve pinned for you that will help you learn all about the new features, tweak your settings and make the best use of it in your practice.