Archive for the ‘Administrative Consultants’ Category

Dear Danielle: Should I Choose a Name Looking to the Future of My Business or Just Go with Virtual Assistant?

Dear Danielle: Should I Choose a Name Looking to the Future of My Business or Just Go with Virtual Assistant?

Dear Danielle:

I’m just starting out in this adventure and I’m having trouble choosing a business name. I’ve read your blog on Administrative Consultant and I’m intrigued, BUT I’m just starting out and will be doing anything and everything from answering phones to data entry.  Should I choose a name looking to the future of my business or just go with virtual assistant? I appreciate your help with this. — Karen E.

Hi Karen :)

I see you that you did notice the name of this organization. That’s good. Because I do need for people to understand that this is NOT a virtual assistant organization. This is an organization for Administrative Consultants.

What that means is if people want to ask me questions, I’m happy to help, but they need to pay attention to details (which is an important qualification in this business) and respect the proper terminology used in this organization.

Here is our position on the VA term: “Virtual Assistant” is a term of employment and has no place in any business owner’s vocabulary. It most certainly has no place in our organization or conversations.

I’m here to help people put on their big girl business britches, not perpetuate detrimental, employee mindsets.

That starts with encouraging them to hold themselves and what they do in higher esteem and not use terms of employment to describe themselves, which is counterproductive to every single effort they must make in starting and growing a business successfully.

Any why? Because your choice of words and terminology directly impacts everything in your business from getting clients, the kind of clients your marketing and terminology attracts, their correct or incorrect perceptions and expectations about the nature of the relationship, the demeanor and attitude with which they approach the relationship, your ability to command professional level fees… EVERYTHING.

Are there folks out there who aren’t ready to think bigger about themselves and what they do? Yes, of course.

There are also people who aren’t really focused on being anything specifically in business, who are better described as gophers. They are more in business to be this, that and the other and letting clients dictate their roles and what they are in business to do.

For them, the VA term is actually the better fit.

But that’s not who this organization is for. We don’t cater to those folks or old ways of thinking and operating.

Our interest, and who this organization is for, are those who are specifically focused on the business of providing administrative support.

The people who are attracted to the ACA tend to have a more sophisticated view of business and the administrative work they do. They are ready to gain deeper understandings and engage in new ways of thinking and doing things in order to continue to more positively grow their business, strengthen their business skills, get more ideal clients and make more money while operating in a way that allows them to still have plenty of time for a great life.

So, with that understanding in place, here’s my advice:

What will help you answer these questions for yourself is going through the exercise of completing a business plan.

You have to decide for yourself what kind of business you want to be in, what you want your work to consist of and what you want your days to look like.

One question that really helps is asking yourself, why do I want to be in business for myself? What am I hoping to achieve? Is this just to earn a little side money or do I want/need my business to be financially sustainable and profitable enough that I can earn an actual living from it?

And then build your business around the answers to those questions.

It’s not enough to “just want to make some money from home.” Because being able to do that is not as simple as that.

It takes intention and thoughtful preparation and foresight in setting up the business, creating standards around what you want for yourself and from the business, and what kind of work and clients will bring and sustain happiness and joy in your business so you can both do your best work for them AND remain in business for a long time to come.

As far as naming your business, I have a category on my blog called Naming Your Business that will give you excellent some guidance and helpful insights and advice. All of the articles in this category are very important in gaining deeper understanding about the importance of how you name your business and will raise your consciousness around that task.

And then this one specifically will give you some practical tips for coming up with a unique and differentiating name for your business: How to Name Your Business for Success

I would like to address something else as well.

You mentioned answering phones. This idea tends to come from people thinking that being in this business will be the same as being an employee/administrative assistant and nothing could be further from the truth.

I try to get people to understand that how and when they support clients is not the same as when they were an employee and is going to look much different once they are in business for themselves.

For both legal and practical reasons, you can’t be someone’s administrative assistant in the same way you were as an employee. They are just two completely different animals and trying to do so will keep you from creating a real business that has room for enough clients that you can actually earn a real living.

I personally have never answered phones for any client, and I wouldn’t dream of taking on that work because it would keep me tied to a phone day in and day out, which is NOT what I went into business for.

I’m not saying you have to do what I do, but in my experience, most of the people who think they are going to act as their clients’ receptionist really haven’t thought that idea all the way through about what their business and day-to-day life would be like being chained to a phone and computer all day long answering calls for clients.

Most of them, once they really think about it, realize that’s not what they really want to do. It’s more simply that they don’t know what else they could be doing for clients so they can only think in the most general, generic, traditional terms.

So, I always ask people who bring it up: Is answering phones what you really want to be in the business of doing? Have you really considered what that would actually be like and how it would impact your goals and ideals and what you envision for your business and life? Take a moment and try to picture what your days would look like doing that work.

It’s okay if that is work you want to do (you can always change your mind later if you realize it isn’t and chalk it up to a learning experience). Just make sure you are going into it consciously and intentionally with eyes wide open. Because answering phones can very quickly and easily turn you into a receptionist with little time or concentration to do anything else.

And you don’t need a business to do that. You can get a telecommuting job answering phones and still work from home if that’s your aspiration. When it comes to that kind of work, there are businesses already set up to do that work and get clients and you could simply apply for an employee position with them.

There are four posts on my blog in the category Answering Client Phones. Check those out as I think you’ll find them very illuminating on the whole topic.

Which leads me to my next point:

The one thing that is going to help you plan EVERYTHING more easily in your business and with greater intention, clarity and detail, is by choosing a target market.

A target market is very simply an industry/field/profession that you cater your administrative support to.

For example, in my administrative support business, I work with solo attorneys in business, intellectual property and entertainment law. This specificity allows me to very precisely identify in more depth, detail and clarity exactly what kind of work is needed to best support my clients and, thus, structure my offerings more specifically and meaningfully as well.

Deciding on a target market will help you plan, market and get clients so much faster and easier in your business. With a target market, you’ll be able to better identify with more depth and detail the specific kind of administrative support those clients need, what will have the most meaningful impact and results for them, and cater your offerings around that so that you can be their trusted administrative expert, advisor and strategic support partner instead of their receptionist with a ball and chain around your neck.

Next step: Download my free Income & Pricing Calculator and How to Choose Your Target Market guides.

These two exercises will get you thinking more critically about your administrative support business and what you want out of it.

And then I recommend you check out the resources in the ACA Success Store, one of which is the business plan template geared specifically for the administrative support business. These things are going to help you immensely in getting on the right track toward creating a more ideal, profitable,  happy-making business.

I would like to know how all of this lands with you and if you’ve found it helpful so please let me know in the comments. And if you or anyone has further questions on the topic, we can continue the conversation there as well.

Dear Danielle: I’m Not Sure the Administrative Consultant Term Fits, but Neither Does VA

Dear Danielle: I'm Not Sure Administrative Consultant Fits Me But Neither Does VA

I had a short, but meaningful conversation on LinkedIn with a new colleague who was wanting to get away from the VA term, but wasn’t sure Administrative Consultant was right for her either.

It’s important to understand the correct underlying definition of a term (not merely the surface words that it is composed of) in order to determine if it is apt and appropriately applies to your own situation.

If you are at the same crossroads, maybe this interaction is helpful to you as well. (I’ve kept the colleague anonymous for privacy.)

COLLEAGUE:

Dear Danielle, I have just had chance to read your LinkedIn summary properly and oh yes I agree. I know I have been calling myself a VA, but I would like to get away from this (it doesn’t feel comfortable with me) as I don’t think it actually says what I do, and I think business owners don’t really understand the potential. It is a descriptive word to bulk us altogether. Although the word consultant I don’t think fits in with what I do either. I have this idea that a consultant comes into a business, suggests ways to improve, and leaves. I’m more of an implementer, but that doesn’t sound right to promote this either. I did speak to a “mentor” once (only once) and he suggested I charge quite low as people won’t pay more for an admin assistant. That was right to begin with, mainly to get me the confidence to work for myself, but now it is a lot different. Anyway, lovely to make acquaintance with you and look forward to hearing further from you.

ME:

Nice to make your acquaintance as well.

Yes, that “mentor” was no mentor at all. No business mentor who knew anything about business (especially a professional service business) would tell you to charge quite low because rule #1 in business is that it must be profitable (or you don’t have a business, you have a hobby).

You can’t be profitable undervaluing yourself (which in turn attracts clients who don’t value you or what you do).

You also see how calling yourself an assistant wrongly influenced his perceptions, right? This is exactly why it doesn’t do anyone in business any good using terms of employment (which is what “assistant” is) to describe themselves.

Have you been to the ACA website? The home page further explains our definition of Administrative Consultant. After reading that, you might find that it does fit for you after all.

For example, the people in our group aren’t just implementers because as experts in administration, our clients also come to us to guide and advise them on their administrative set-ups, operations and workflows. So, in that respect, we are consultants.

Administrative Consultant is the marriage between someone who provides both administrative support AND guidance and expertise on best practices with regard to systems and operations.

Even if right now you still might feel that you are only an implementer, after a few years in business and working with clients, I’ll bet you’ll see yourself differently.

The best clients naturally don’t see you as just their little worker bee (and if that’s all they think of you, they will only want to pay peanuts). They see you as their administrative expert and will look to you for your advice, guidance and recommendations on these matters.

It’s the natural progression of the relationship, which is also exactly what makes us Administrative Consultants.

Either way, I’m sure you’ll find a whole lot of useful insights and confidence-building resources on the ACA website. Check it out here.

COLLEAGUE:

And yes! Just looked at your website and video and that is exactly what I’m doing for one of my clients. Your explanation of Consultant I like for the “all inclusive” role. I will start moving away from the VA term, as I do prefer to work with someone on a long-term basis. Thank you for providing me the explanation and the confirmation I was really looking for.

ME:

Wonderful!

On the topic of confidence and learning how to command professional fees, you might find this category on my blog helpful.

I very much appreciate our conversation today. I know it’s something a lot of people in our industry feel as well, but aren’t sure how to articulate or ask about it. Thanks for reaching out!

Dear Danielle: Do I Need a Professional License to Be an Administrative Consultant?

Dear Danielle: Do I Need a Professional License to Be an Administrative Consultant?

Dear Danielle:

I am very serious about becoming a full-time Administrative Consultant. I have done quite a bit of work on the side and really enjoy the business. I have one question:  Do I need any type of professional license to work as a full time Administrative Consultant, something similar to a real estate agent being licensed by the state or an accountant, lawyers, etc.? Thanks very much. —RD

This is not a regulated industry in the U.S. (or anywhere else that I’m aware of). You don’t need any special kind of license to start an administrative support business.

Depending on your state or country, however, there may be some required business licenses and registrations to be in business, that you may need to pay either annually or on a one-time basis. That’s something you would definitely need to look into.

I always advise people to contact their respective city, county and state agencies to determine what their business taxing, reporting and registration/licensing requirements are.

In the U.S., you would also need to educate yourself about the federal IRS self-employment business taxes and reporting.

Hope that helps!

Are There People Around You Who Want to Keep You from Growing?

Are There People Around You Who Want to Keep You from Growing?

I was listening to This American Life this weekend on the radio as is my usual Saturday morning ritual.

One segment, Mon Ami Ta-Nehisi Coates, had me reflecting about how your life and world-view changes when you are in business, and how some of your relationships can change (or even end) as you grow and perhaps make more money and become more successful in your business and life.

In the segment, producer Neil Drumming talks with his long-time friend, Ta-Nehisi Coates, about Coates’ newfound fame and their friendship in that new context.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, for those who don’t know, is a celebrated American writer and journalist who has been hailed as the next James Baldwin. With the publishing of his latest book, he found himself suddenly famous and rich, which doesn’t always set well with those who “knew you when.”

The overarching take-away I got from their conversation was Drumming’s discomfort with Coates success and improved financial circumstances.

It seemed to me he felt that Coates “newfound” tastes and interests were pretentious, that he was getting a bit uppity simply for enjoying the fruits of his success, that since he came from more modest roots, that’s exactly where his tastes and interests should stay.

But whose problem is that? Is it Coates’ or Drumming’s?

Think about that.

Whether Coates’ success was something he methodically sought to achieve or came as an unexpected surprise, why shouldn’t he be interested in and partake of experiences he now has access to?

If the shoe were on the other foot, wouldn’t Drumming (and anyone else) do the same?

Or would he deprive himself of all this life and success now afforded him just to please other people’s sensibilities of who and how he should be in the world and what status level he should keep himself at? Why should he do that?

I see this dynamic at work in our industry as well.

Those in my circle have grown a more sophisticated sense about business and our place in the business world.

As a result, we ditched the “assistant” moniker long ago because it held us back in our business dealings and earning potential by keeping us mired in employee/less-than/subservient mentality, even in ways we weren’t fully conscious of.

Business owners aren’t assistants; the word isn’t even a term of business so it has no place in our vocabulary.

It also negatively influenced clients, causing them to think of the relationship more in terms of employer/worker instead of (correctly) a business-to-business one.

So, we grew in our esteem and understanding of ourselves in relationship to our clients. We weren’t their assistants or little worker bees. We are their skilled administrative experts and trusted administrative advisors.

But there are others in the world who are threatened by that view.

They fear taking a bigger, leading role in their business and in their relationships with clients. They want to stay in comfort zones that are easy and familiar, that don’t rock any boats, that don’t challenge themselves or others too much.

They are fine with settling, for not asking for “too much.” Because, to their thinking, who are they to desire something more or better or stand any taller than anyone else? They aren’t able to imagine anything more or better or different for themselves; they daren’t. Because that would mean stepping away from the herd.

And that’s okay if that’s where they’re at and want to stay.

What’s not okay is for them to want and insist that you hold yourself back and stay at their level if you are yearning to grow, to have a happier business, to get better clients, to make more money, to have more life, to place a higher value on what you do and how you help clients, to learn how to charge more for that, and to call yourself something that better respects your role as a business owner and sets better expectations and understandings in your clients.

How about you? Can you think of a few people who are a negative, detrimental influence in your pursuit of your business dreams and growth? A friend or family member who belittles them and consciously or unconsciously sabotages your efforts?

Maybe you’re hanging around in groups and surrounding yourself with others who keep you from thinking bigger about what you do, who don’t know any better.

I’m not even saying it’s necessarily intentional or conscious on their part. That just seems to be the nature of herd mentality: keeping the status quo, nurturing mediocrity, attacking anything they don’t understand (yet). It’s instinctive.

But if you are going to grow in your business, if you are going to get better clients, if you going to ever learn how to ask for and get higher fees, to believe in and understand the higher value you offer and how to provide the context that conveys those things to your would-be clients, it’s going to require you to break away from the herd.

Delete the Word “Freelancer” from Your Business Vocabulary

Presently 81% of freelancers have trouble getting paid by their clients and, on average, each unpaid freelancers is owed over $6,000 in salary.”

Language like this drives me freaking nuts, and it’s responsible for the perpetuation of freelancers continuing to NOT UNDERSTAND ANYTHING.

Freelancers are BUSINESS OWNERS.

They don’t get paid a “salary.” That is the what EMPLOYEES get, which freelancers are not.

What they are owed is $X in unpaid invoices and fees from deadbeat clients (who probably think and act like they are employers because the moron freelancer doesn’t set them straight in the first place).

If they understood better the distinction about being in business for themselves, they would know not to allow any client to get that far into debt with them in the first place, stop work before it ever gets that bad, and if they were really being smart, require more money (if not 100%) upfront.

It’s yet another example of why no one should be using the term “freelancer.”

Not only does it make people think of someone who is only casually, incidentally, haphazardly working on the side for pocket money, as a result it sets the wrong expectations and mindsets in clients that are a cause of a lot of these issues in the first place.

Perfect example — here’s what one deadbeat client retorted to a “freelancer”:

This isn’t your full time job, this is just a side job, so why do I need to pay you?

As an Administrative Consultant, you are not a freelancer. You are in an actual committed, professional business with the intention of providing an ongoing and well-rounded body of support as a whole to clients for the long-term. (And if you aren’t, then you’re not an Administrative Consultant.)

You will be doing yourself a huge favor by deleting that word from your business vocabulary and never using it again.

TIP: You Aren’t Selling Services

TIP: You Aren't Selling Services

As an Administrative Consultant, you aren’t selling “services.”

You are offering one thing: a collaborative and ongoing administrative support relationship.

See? ONE thing.

It’s the relationship that is the product, not the services.

What administrative work is involved in that support relationship depends on your target market.

What you should be focusing your marketing message on is what that relationship looks like and how it improves the life and business of your clients and all that they stand to gain by working with you.

What Makes Someone an Administrative Consultant?

What Makes Someone an Administrative Consultant?

  1. An Administrative Consultant is someone who is SPECIFICALLY in the business of administrative support.
  2. Administrative support is not one-off projects or tasks on an ad hoc basis. That is a secretarial service—completely different business model and type of service. Administrative support is an ongoing relationship where you are administratively supporting clients with the operations of their business across the board. So, it’s important to understand the difference between a projects/task-based business and an ongoing support one. If your business model is project-based, you are not an Administrative Consultant.
  3. If you specialize in transcription, then you are in the Transcription business and not an Administrative Consultant (or VA or OBM or anything else).
  4. If you specialize in social media, then you are in the Social Media business and not an Administrative Consultant (or VA or OBM or anything else).
  5. If you specialize in marketing (of any kind), then you are in the Marketing business and not an Administrative Consultant (or VA or OBM or anything else).
  6. If you specialize in web design, then you are in the Web Design business and not an Administrative Consultant (or VA or OBM or anything else).
  7. If you specialize in bookkeeping, then you are in the Bookkeeping business and not an Administrative Consultant (or VA or OBM or anything else).
  8. Are you getting it now? What you specialize in IS your business.
  9. If you are in the business of getting the work and farming it out to third party contractors, then you are in the staffing/outsourcing business and not an Administrative Consultant. Administrative Consultants work directly with their clients in close one-on-one relationships. That’s what makes it personal and where the magic happens—between two people.
  10. Administrative Consultants don’t have “teams” of subcontractors they farm their clients’ work out to. That is the antithesis of administrative support as it transactionalizes the work, turning it into a generic commodity and assembly line instead of an intimate relationship (which, by the way, is your value and competitive advantage as an Administrative Consultant). What Administrative Consultants do instead is collaboratively partner with another Administrative Consultant (or two) who administratively supports them in their business in the same way they support their clients.
  11. Administrative Consultants are not personal assistants who perform personal tasks/errands. That is a personal assistant/concierge service. An Administrative Consultant’s work is focused on the client’s business support needs.
  12. An Administrative Consultant is not an assistant who does anything and everything. That is a virtual assistant. An Administrative Consultant is a business owner and independent professional who specializes in the expertise of administrative support.
  13. If you specialize in the expertise of administrative support (i.e., it’s the chief thing you are in business to do), and work personally with your clients in an ongoing, collaborative partnering relationship to support the operations of their businesses, you are an Administrative Consultant.

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).

Come Join Our New ACA Facebook Group

Hey, are you in the administrative support business?

Then come join our new ACA group forum on Facebook!

I’m finding there is a lot more interaction and engagement on group pages.

AND because we have it set to private (only members can view the discussions), you can feel safe in asking any ol’ “dumb” questions you like without fear of any clients and prospects seeing them.

Your colleagues and I would love to have you there and get to know you. :)