Archive for the ‘Administrative Consultants’ Category

Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

Just Because You Can Doesn't Mean You Should

Just because you can do everything doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

People who are new in business don’t tend to understand this at first. They are too eager and excited to get those first paying clients.

But once you have more than one client, you begin to get an inking of this truth: you don’t want to bog yourself down doing too much stuff and trying to do every. single. thing. for clients.

You’re going to come up against a wall of overwhelm real quick if you don’t get clear and focused about what you do (and what you don’t) in your business.

Focus — on who you cater your support to and what you do for them — is key.

I see a lot of people in our industry really enamored with the idea of doing anything and everything.

It’s an idea they are hit over the head with when they first enter the industry at large, almost as if there is something virtuous about it.

NOTE: It’s not virtuous; it’s misguided. In fact, I am here to tell you it is keeping you from providing a superior level of administrative support and service that clients will pay well for. Doing every little thing is keeping you small and under-earning.

Most of the people who come to me for help in our industry are those who fell for the BS of doing anything and everything only to realize later just how much it is keeping them from being able to develop, from making more money, from having time for a life, and from having a business and clients that actually make them happy.

Sometimes there’s a bit of “savior complex” rooted in this notion, which also isn’t good for you or your business (or ultimately your clients).

Sometimes it’s a lack of professional self-esteem (again, common in people who are new in business). They don’t yet have a sense of confidence in their value and think they need to “prove” their worth by offering to do anything and everything.

Most of the time, though, the folks trying to do anything and everything are those who have not chosen a target market (which is simply a field/industry/profession you cater your administrative support to).

That’s how the cycle starts.

When you don’t know who you are talking to, it’s difficult to form a clear idea of specifically what you do and how you help.

That’s because having no clear idea of who you are talking to forces you to think in a manner that is too broad, vague, and generic.

And so they end up offering anything and everything they can think of that might be of value to someone, somewhere (anyone? pretty please?).

What ends up happening, though, is you become a garbage disposal that clients toss any old thing at, making up their own rules and expectations in your business in the process.

This is what Seth Godin calls being a “meandering generality instead of a meaningful specific.”

When you get specific about who you work with (i.e., target market), you’ll be able to more quickly, clearly, and specifically identify exactly what you do and don’t do that helps clients.

(HINT: And that’s NOT everything and the kitchen sink.)

Here’s an example of avoiding the constant busy-ness of certain work that keeps you from really developing your business into a more powerful revenue and freedom-generating machine.

I’ve long advocated that colleagues never manage any client’s email in-box:

  1. You are not their personal, on-call employee/assistant. (What, do they need you to wipe their ass for them when they go to the bathroom, too? Look, there are just some things that grown-ups need to do themselves. You didn’t go into business to be someone’s lackey, did you? You can get a job for that. Just say no to work like that. It’s not the kind of thing you need to be doing in business.)
  2. You have enough of your own emails to manage to take on anyone else’s; and
  3. In-box management is drudge work that will keep you in the reeds on a daily basis, never able to get beyond the busy-ness to work on higher-value, big-picture stuff, both in your business and theirs.

This is a good example of “you don’t have to do everything to be of value” because even though in-box management isn’t something you do, the time you free up for clients by doing the other things you DO do allows them to better manage their own in-boxes.

What you can do instead is share your tips, advice, and guidance with clients on how to better manage their own in-boxes.

You could do that by writing an ezine article and/or blog post, creating an info product for purchase, putting together an instructional video or DIY email training, or perhaps do a paid online class a couple times a year.

(And by the way, inviting people to sign up to your mailing list to get any one or all of these will help you grow your list and continue to keep in touch and nurture those relationships.)

Dealing with it like that, you are providing additional value without bogging yourself down in that kind of work.

You don’t have to do everything to be of value. Let that sink in.

(If you need help finally choosing a target market, get my free tool that helps walk you through the process.)

Interview with Danielle Keister, Founder of the Administrative Consultants Association

Interview with Danielle Keister, Founder of the Administrative Consultants Association

Last month a colleague asked for an interview with me, and I thought I would share my answers with you here as well.

Your Name:

Danielle Keister

Name of Your Business:

I am the founder of the Administrative Consultants Association (ACA), a professional organization for those running administrative support businesses. I also run my own administrative support business supporting solo attorneys who practice in the areas of business, intellectual property and entertainment law.

Years in Business:

I’ve been in business since 1997 when I officially took out my business license; longer if you want to include the years I did this work on the side informally. I originally started the organization now known as the Administrative Consultants Association (ACA) in 2005.

Q1. Tell me about starting your business. Why did you start it?

My husband died without warning in 1995, leaving me a young widow with a daughter to raise on my own. An unexpected loss like that really makes you question life and what you want out of it, how you want to live, what you want for yourself and your children, etc.: Are you living life on your own terms? How happy are you in the 9-to-5 grind? Is my child really getting the best of me if I’m tired and working all the time just to make ends meet? What kind of life am I providing for her? Is this really all there is?

I had previous forays into a few side businesses that I never really took anywhere. It was after the loss of my husband that I decided to get serious about taking the skills I had and turning them into a real business I could make a viable income from to create a better quality of life for myself and my daughter. I didn’t want to be a 9-to-5’er the rest of my life.

Q2. What is your role/job? What sort of responsibilities do you have?

I would say “job” is the wrong terminology to be using here since we are business owners, not employees. Some people may think that is pedantic, but consciously understanding the difference between employment and business ownership and having a business (not employee) mindset begins with using correct terminology.

In all my years of mentoring, what I’ve found is that those who never truly get over employee mindset and continue to work with their clients as if they were still employees don’t survive long in this business.

This is why I continue to clarify the distinction and make sure everyone I come across “gets” it. I want people to succeed in this business, which really starts with developing that all-important business sensibility.

As a solo business owner, I wear three hats: 1) I’m the CEO responsible for the development and direction of my business and making important decisions about the business; 2) I’m the manager responsible for managing all the moving parts and taking care of administration of the business; and 3) I’m the service provider — the craftsperson whose skills are the stock and trade of my business services.

Q3. What is your typical day like?

Very generally speaking, on a typical day, I wake up according to my own internal clock (I haven’t used an alarm clock in years).

Once I get up, I do a little yoga and stretching, eat, and then get cleaned up and dressed for the day. I fully admit to working in my bathrobe every once in awhile if I don’t have any plans to go anywhere that day, lol. But most of the time, leggings or long skirt with a comfy but stylish tee is how I roll.

I don’t like to rush into the day and prefer to check emails and get things sorted in my in-box as the first thing I do.

There is a lot of talk in many online places that discourage this, but I prefer the opposite and find this email clearing and organizing step much more conducive to my productivity for the rest of the day.

I then tend to dive into client work around 10 or 11 am (I always joke with people that my brain doesn’t get juiced up fully until around 11 am).

Depending on what’s on my plate for that day, I may work until between 4 and 6 pm. But it really varies, depending on the day’s workload, what priorities are in the queue, and what else I’ve got going on.

If the work in my queue gets done early, I don’t jump into the next day’s pile. I go enjoy life!

It does take discipline, though, not to fill your free time with work, work, work.

I think for most of us, our first instinct is to get as much done as quickly as we can. But that is really counterproductive and keeps you on a hamster wheel. It’s not good for you and ultimately it ends up not being good for clients.

You have to be diligent about respecting your own boundaries (which in turn trains clients to respect them as well) and give yourself lots of breathing room so you don’t burn out in this business.

At some point around noon or 1 pm I’ll knock off for lunch, maybe go somewhere to eat.

I also try to get a good walk/hike on most days (try being the operative word here lately). Depending on the weather, sometimes that’s first thing in the morning, sometimes it’s around midday, sometimes it’s later in the evening.

It really all depends, and this is the beautiful thing that I’ve created in my business: the freedom and flexibility to be able to listen to my own natural rhythms, structure my business around my life, and do what I want, when I want, while still taking great care of my clients. (I never sacrifice their needs; it’s all a matter of setting proper expectations and boundaries.)

I’ve also created what is essentially a 3-day work week (you can get my entire business management system here):

  • Mondays are my Admin Days where I take care of the admin in my own business or working on my business.
  • Tuesdays are my meeting days that I reserve for telephone meetings and appointments with clients and others.
  • Wednesday through Friday is when I do client work.

For the past few years, my life has been extra stressed caring for a sick, elderly dad. In full disclosure, I’ve really let my own self-care down. I’m beyond grateful I’ve built a business that allows me to do this for my dad, but it’s not easy and still comes with a cost that has taken a toll on me. Making my own self-care a priority again is something I wrestle with on a daily basis and am currently working to improve.

(For a more in-depth snapshot of my typical day, check out this post.)

Q4. What is the best thing about owning your own business?

As touched on above, the freedom and flexibility to live a less rushed/forced life; the ability to live according to my own natural rhythms and internal clock; and the ability to structure my business and its policies, procedures, and protocols so that I have plenty of time for life (or whatever is most important at any point in time; for me, right now, that is my dad).

I never ever want a business where I am living to work instead of working to live.

One of the things I’m always saying to my clients and colleagues is that your business should support your life, not suck the life from you. It took a lot of fits and starts, trial and error, and course correction, but I’m very proud of the business and income I’ve created today.

I also love that my daughter was able to see that self-sufficiency and determination modeled and be a part of my business journey.

Q5. What is the hardest thing about owning your own business?

Well, I’ll be frank with you: business ain’t for sissies, that’s fo sho!

I was extremely fortunate to have had some opportunities come up that gave me the financial means to take care of myself and my daughter while I started my business.

And later I was also fortunate to have a significant other to lean on during the rough spots, of which there were many, make no mistake.

It takes an extreme amount of perseverance, determination, self-motivation — and time —to get a business to a point where it’s actually solvent and sustainable and eventually profitable.

And, of course, everyone’s mileage and set of circumstances will vary. You just take advantage of everything you’ve got going for you, figure out the rest, and if you can get past all that, the rewards are amazing!

Q6. What advice do you have for someone wanting to start a business? What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started?

One of the reasons I started the ACA was to provide others with the knowledge and easier path in starting their own administrative support business that I didn’t have way back when. I did it all without knowing there were others doing what I was attempting to do.

One thing that was pivotal in my success was realizing that a secretarial service is not administrative support.

Secretarial services are project-based businesses where the person does something here and there for drive-by clients.

It’s an inherently volume-driven business, one that requires you to always be on the hunt for your next clients and projects, even while you try to complete the work in front of you.

It’s a plodding, exhausting way to try to make a living and extremely difficult to get profitable.

Once I realized that, instead of project work, I could provide administrative support being an ongoing right-hand to a handful of regular clients on a monthly basis instead of a constantly revolving door of one-time or sporadic clients and rinky-dink projects, that’s when I cracked the revenue code.

But it took me a few years to get to that realization and figure out how to structure things properly.

Now, I base all my training and business education products around that basic tenet so that others won’t waste so many months or years.

I show them how they can build a business based on retainer clients (which is where the bread-and-butter is) while still taking advantage of project work that comes along that is of interest to them (which is gravy).

Another bit of advice I have for folks is not to take shortcuts with the business startup process. Every step helps build your business mindset and sensibility.

People get impatient with the process and want to jump ahead of themselves and it’s really to their detriment and that of their clients.

I’ve seen more businesses shutter their doors because the owner didn’t put the proper foundations in place before taking on clients.

Don’t rush things. There is a little bit of back and forth involved as you figure things out, but beyond that, there is a basic step by step process involved in any business start-up. Don’t skip those parts:

  • Do the business plan.
  • Learn how your local, state and federal taxing and licensing works and what your responsibilities/obligations are.
  • Don’t take on clients before you’ve got at least a basic website up and mapped out a rudimentary set of policies, procedures and protocols. Your website is an incredibly important tool in properly educating clients about the nature of the relationship and bridging understanding so that you attract your right, most ideal clients. You will find that having something there to start with is going to be incredibly helpful in building, growing, and honing your business from there.

These are all exercises that help you create the strong foundations you need to be able to get — and keep — clients. The problems with clients and not getting the right ones happen when those things are absent.

If you were interviewing me, what other questions would you have for me? Let me know in the comments!

Why Being a “One-Stop Shop” Is BS

Why Being a "One-Stop Shop" Is BS

I think the idea that very commonly travels around our circles that we should be “one-stop” shops is dangerous.

Dangerous in that it sets you up for failure and mediocrity.

Dangerous because it’s rooted in employee mindset.

Dangerous because it stems from an underlying lack of healthy professional self-esteem that who you are and what you do is ENOUGH.

And dangerous because it teaches clients and others to devalue the expertise you ARE in business to provide.

It is ENOUGH to be in one business, not a million different businesses at once (i.e., administrative support… not administrative support AND web design AND graphic design AND bookkeeping AND marketing AND social media AND writing/copywriting, and any and every other hat you can find to put on).

That BS is something employers pulled on their admin staff because they could get away with it (i.e., dumping every kind of work and role onto them beyond their job description without any promotion in title or pay).

You don’t need to carry that wrong and negative influence over into your business. And you shouldn’t.

Because you are not a human garbage dump.

Because business and employment are not the same thing.

And because running your business and working with clients as if you were still an employee keeps your business from really flourishing.

It is ENOUGH to keep your eye on your one focus and discipline.

In that way, you beat mediocrity and can be the very best you can be at the particular thing you are in business to do.

Trying to diversify and be all the things to every body keeps you unfocused and dilutes the time and energy needed to do any one thing particularly well.

People who specialize in mediocrity don’t make the big bucks, are tired and scattered all the time, and never gain traction in their businesses.

You DON’T have to solve ALL problems for clients. You only have to solve the problem your business is set up to solve.

You DON’T have to be all things to every body.

Sometimes It’s the Little Things that Make the Highest Impact

Sometimes It's the Little Things that Make the Greatest Impact

My target market is solo attorneys (specifically, those with a practice focus on business, intellectual property, and/or entertainment law) and believe it or not, even lawyers get writers block.

Pretty much everything they do involves writing so that can be a real business-killer.

And do you know what my clients tell me over and over is one of the most useful things I do for them?

Crazily enough, it’s simply starting a draft document or letter for them.

I set my clients up with their own branded templates for everything in their business: letterhead, envelopes, labels, pleading form, etc.

They could easily just open a template and start it themselves.

But quite often, because they can have so much other stuff on their plate at any given time, that simple step is too much for them to even begin and they get blocked.

So, whenever they need to start a complaint, write a motion response, reply to a letter, etc., they ask me to get the ball rolling. (Or, when I know one is needed, I just start one without being asked.)

And that simple assist of taking care of the back-end details so they don’t have to is what helps them break through the stuckness.

This is an example of why having an administrative partner is so useful to clients.

It’s not that they couldn’t do all or most of what we do for them themselves.

It’s that the mind plays tricks. It runs out of bandwidth when it tries to juggle too many details all alone.

With us as their administrative partner, we create a back-and-forth volley that helps them move through things step by step to keep their mind from getting overburdened and too ahead of themselves.

So it’s quite often the simplest of things we do that can have enormous positive impact and value for our clients.

How to Converse with a Ninny

How to Converse with a Ninny

Recently, something reminded me of a conversation I had a while back with a colleague.

She was frustrated by an interaction she’d had with someone in a networking group and wasn’t sure what to do about.

The person had asked what she did. She answered that she was an Administrative Consultant and attempted to relate some of the tasks she helped clients with.

The person’s response was “Oh, so you’re a virtual assistant?”

She wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that because she most vehemently did not want to be associated with that term whatsoever.

In all honesty, some people aren’t worth your time. And the person she was talking to was obviously an uncouth ninny.

On what planet does anyone dictate to you what your title or term is, especially after you have just told them?

(That was a rhetorical question. The answer is it is never anyone’s place to call you anything except what you have instructed/informed them to call you.)

However, a big part of the problem was in how she was describing what she did.

At the time, this colleague was resistant to pinning down a target market, and the kinds of things she said she did were so broad, vague, and generalized that it’s no wonder people were confused and wanted to lump her in as a VA.

That term has become a garbage dump for “anyone doing anything.” It’s basically branded itself to mean “cheap gopher.”

She got caught up in reciting lists of tasks instead of having the more abstract conversation about how she helps clients through the expertise of administrative support.

If you’ve found yourself in a similar conversation, and you deign to indulge in it with someone, here’s how you could respond in order to better educate said ninnies:

THEM: “Oh, so you’re a VA?”

YOU: “No, as I mentioned, I am what is known as an Administrative Consultant. That is something different and more specific.”

THEM: “But aren’t you basically an assistant?”

YOU: “No, that’s not an accurate way to understand the business-to-business relationship I have with my clients. Let me ask you this: As a coach/attorney/accountant/designer/(insert their profession here), are you an assistant to your clients?”

THEM: “No, I’m their coach/attorney/accountant/designer/(whatever their business/profession is).”

YOU: “Exactly! That’s how to understand my relationship with clients as well. You and I both run businesses that offer a specific service and expertise. We both assist clients, but that doesn’t make us assistants, right? What each of us does doesn’t matter. The fact that we run independent businesses, each delivering a specific service and expertise is the important thing. For me, I happen to be in the business of providing administrative support. But I’m not an assistant because 1) assistant is a term of employment and I am not an employee to my clients in any way, shape or form, and 2) I don’t act as an assistant to clients. I am a business owner and professional who provides a specific service and expertise to my clients; they turn to me for my expertise in providing ongoing administrative support and guidance. And the term we use for someone in that specific business is Administrative Consultant.”

This is how I have had similar conversations in the past. But what I’ve found is that once you a) stop calling yourself an assistant, and b) stop describing your business and the service you provide and how you work with clients in assistant-like terms, people get it, and you aren’t going to have to deal with too many ninnies after that.

Have you ever found yourself in a similar conversation as this colleague? How did you navigate it?

Do Your Family and Friends Respect Your Business?

Do you ever have trouble getting family and friends to respect your business?

I know I still do sometimes, even after doing this for over 20 years.

I don’t know that it will ever change when it comes to certain people we have to deal with in our lives.

Here’s an example of what I mean…

So one of the reasons I went into business for myself is to have more control over my own life. To have more say about how I spend my time (and on whom), to get more joy and fulfillment out of the work I do and the gratification it brings seeing how it helps my clients in very immediate and impactful ways.

Most of all, I wanted to be able to be present in my own life, to be able to be there for those I love.

My dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s about 10 years ago. In 2014, his health took a severe nosedive and he ended up in the ER and then assisted living for a year.

My sister lives in the same city as my dad, but doesn’t drive and works a 9-5 job.

I live about an hour away, but since I am the only one who drives, I’m the one who had to pick everyone up and shuttle them around back and forth.

Since that time, because I’m the only one who drives and because I have a business working for myself and have the flexibility, I’m the one who has scheduled all my dad’s various appointments and run him around to all of them: primary care, neurologist, weekly B12 shots, eye appointments, hearing appointments, cognitive testing, blood draws, etc.

I take him to get his hair cut, his toe nails taken care of (he needs a special appointment for this), runs to the grocery store, the pharmacy, and a multitude of other errands.

I also make sure his house stays clean (especially his bathroom) and check the fridge to make sure anything old and expired is thrown out since my sister, who actually lives mere blocks from him, fails to do any of this no matter how many times I ask.

I’m happy to do it; there also isn’t anyone else to do it so it falls on my shoulders. Someone has to take care of him, right?

While I’m grateful to be able to do it, at the same time, it’s no easy task. It eats up a shit ton of time and energy.

Plus, it’s not all happy, happy, joy, joy. My relationship with my dad has been difficult and strained my whole life.

And doing all of this, making the time to do it, has had negative effects on my business, cost me a lot in very real financial ways, and caused me to lose a whole lot of momentum.

Having to take my dad to what may only be a half-hour appointment ends up eating a whole day of my time and energy and actual work hours.

It disrupts my entire life and business. I’m completely spent and it sometimes takes me a day or two to recuperate and get back into the swing of things.

Yes, I am very fortunate I have the freedom and flexibility to be able to do this for my dad. My dad and my sister are very lucky that I’m in the position I am to be able to do it because if I didn’t, there’s no one else to fall back on.

Still, it really sucks that they take it for granted and don’t consider just how much of a toll it takes on my life and my livelihood.

If my sister had to do this while trying to hold down a job, she’d end up in the loony bin, not to mention fired.

But she’s so cavalier about my time and doesn’t seem to grasp the fact that, um, hey, I work for a living, too!

It’s so easy for people to look at your life and think all you’re doing is sitting around at home playing on the computer.

They don’t see that you are doing real work, important work, for real people who are depending on you in very real and important ways.

Your clients have invested their time and money and faith in you, and you have the privilege and duty to not let them down and manage your obligations to them.

So what’s the solution?

Maybe we need to set more boundaries and make sure the people in our lives honor those boundaries.

Maybe we need to be more respectful of own boundaries and not step over them and make concessions all the time.

Because it’s a slippery slope when we do that, and next thing you know, you have no boundaries at all.

Maybe we need to say “no” more often.

It’s honorable to want to help and to be able to make sacrifices when it’s important and necessary to do so. But we can’t neglect our own self-care.

When you say “yes” too often, people tend to take it for granted.

Don’t let them off the hook so easy. Make them shoulder more of the load.

It may not be easy to say “no,” but I think we are all worthy of looking out for our own health and best interests as much as we look out and care for others in our lives.

Maybe we need to dress our businesses up in more formal, tangible, traditional ways.

Have that professional website up. Have those professionally printed business cards. Establish professional hours. Lay down the law with your family and friends so that they know when you’re working in your business, you are AT WORK.

If this is one of the problems you have, don’t let them just drop in and gab any ol’ time they please. Make appointments. If someone drops in unannounced, politely but assertively turn them away. Let them know what your office hours are and that they need to call or email first to make sure if or when you are free (that’s just basic good manners anyway; their lack of consideration is one thing; you accepting it is another).

Dedicate a room in your home for your office. If you don’t have a room, then a space. And make sure everyone knows that that space is sacred and off limits.

If you live with others, perhaps putting on “work” clothes and getting out of the bathrobe once in awhile (lol) will help them see that you take your business as serious as they take their job.

While we sometimes need to have a straight talk with a client now and then about boundaries (and a lot of times, it’s we ourselves who teach them bad habits in the first place), I think a lot of times it’s our family and friends who are the worst at respecting our businesses and boundaries.

Have you experienced this in some way yourself? What are some of the ways you have dealt with it?

If You Do Nothing Else, These Are Words to Live By

If You Do Nothing Else, These Are Words to Live By

I was reading Brit Marling’s article about Harvey Weinstein yesterday morning. In the first paragraph, she relates some powerful wisdom her mother imparted to her when she was a little girl:

“To be a free woman, you have to be a financially independent woman.”

It’s akin to something Suze Orman always reminds women of: “A man is not a financial plan.”

This is one of the most important reasons I work to help other women in this business earn better, to better understand the economics of business and how the business-to-business relationship with clients works, and teach them the important business skills that are integral to being able to ask for and get professional fees and how to navigate those business conversations: the consultation, pricing, your marketing message, chief among them.

Even if you are not your family’s primary breadwinner, life can change in an instant.

Divorce, illness, death, accidents, acts of nature… there are any number of unforeseeable events that can befall any of us at any moment and put us in the position of having to be the sole provider. Being a single mom is perhaps one of the most important reasons.

This is why my goal is to always show other women how to build a business that can take care of itself, to show them how to create the kind of income they can actually live on whether they are or need to be or should become the primary breadwinner; to establish a business that runs like a business and can scale at any point in time, even if right now you only want to work with one or two clients.

Being financially independent and creating a business that can take care of you and your family if need be is one of the best things you can do for yourself and those you love.

How NOT to Choose Your Clients (and What to Do Instead)

How NOT to Choose Your Clients (and What to Do Instead)

One of the best investments you can make in the long-term sustainability of your business, happiness and peace of mind is choosing your clients wisely.

As you grow in your business, your selection process will evolve and your discernment skills will improve.

No matter how young or inexperienced your business is, though, having clients meet at least some minimal criteria before you allow them on your roster will always serve you well.

That’s because choosing to work with shady or otherwise unideal clients will come back to bite you in the butt, one way or another, either sooner or later.

I was reminded recently of a colleague who reached out to me after being approached by a client who raised all kinds of red flags with her.

Being new in business, she asked me what I thought she should do, and I gave her the advice I always give in this situation: trust your gut.

And she, as new people often do, ignored her own wise counsel and all the telltale signs indicating that this was a bad idea and took the client on anyway.

While she found this client’s honesty and integrity questionable, she wanted the experience and was too eager and impatient for clients to let this first one go.

She rationalized this decision by telling herself that it wasn’t her place to judge, that everyone deserves benefit of the doubt, that she would just put blinders on and do whatever honest work she was given and not involve herself in anything beyond that, and that it wasn’t her place to question things.

She wouldn’t engage in anything illegal, unethical or dishonest, she told herself, and what she didn’t know beyond that wasn’t any of her business.

But here’s the thing: It IS your business to question things. You are deluding yourself if you think you can keep it separate and not be complicit.

Well, long story short, this did come back to haunt her, as all her instincts about this client (the ones she chose to ignore) turned out to be accurate.

It came to light that this client was engaging in some disreputable and unethical practices and ended up being sued by several parties.

She was forced legally into all the drama which caused her a lot of stress and anxiety, not to mention diverted her time, attention and energy away from her own business.

Ultimately, this client lost his business and because she had put all her eggs into this one basket, she was left with no client and no income at all. Back to square one.

These were very painful lessons she learned from this experience that caused her serious damage and could have been avoided.

It took her more than a year to start over. But I don’t think she ever gained any confidence back in herself, and it wasn’t long before her enthusiasm for her business petered out and she closed up shop.

The takeaways I hope people can glean from this are:

  1. You can’t separate your values and principles from your business. They are each a reflection of the other.
  2. You can’t associate with dishonest, unscrupulous people and expect to come out unscathed.
  3. You can’t afford to work with shady or otherwise unideal clients. It will cost you in far more ways than you realize with potentially disastrous results you may not be able to recover from. It’s an unwise, unshaky platform on which to build your business and reputation.
  4. All good things come to those who wait. Don’t be so desperate to take on the first client who comes along if they are not a good fit.
  5. Always trust your gut. It won’t ever steer you wrong.
  6. It’s okay to make mistakes. Just be aware that the damage bad clients can do to you can sometimes be devastating. Walk away from any client, immediately, who doesn’t seem like a good fit.
  7. Maintain an abundance mindset. This is not the last or only client in the world. Walking away from problem clients opens you up to attracting better, more positive and ideal ones.
  8. Never put all your eggs in one basket. A good rule of thumb is that no one client should make up more than 20% of your business and income.

What can you do to avoid this trap in your administrative support business?

  1. Sit down now and list the values, standards and principles that are important to you in life. The act of writing things down formalizes these standards and makes them more concrete and tangible. Continue to add to this list throughout the life of your business. Then devise your policies, protocols and procedures around these standards and values.
  2. Create ideal and unideal client profile lists. These lists, again, are extremely useful tools that help you formalize your intentions around choosing ideal clients and avoiding bad ones. As you go along in your business, use these lists to note those traits, behaviors, conditions, etc., that are and are not a fit for you. This will help you be more and more conscious about who you do and don’t want to work with. Any time you are tempted to ignore your standards and gut instincts, pull these lists out for a jolt back to reality.
  3. Always conduct a thorough, formal consultation with each and every client. Don’t take shortcuts with this process. It’s an incredibly important and useful step in helping you identify and choose the most ideal clients for you and your business. (And if you aren’t sure how to conduct a good consultation, you can get my complete, step-by-step guide that will show you exactly how to do it as well as beef up blind spots and make improvements to your existing process.)

You’ve heard some version of the fable of the scorpion and the frog, I’m sure. The bottom-line is this: A slippery eel is a slippery eel. Don’t let one sweet-talk you out of your better judgment.

How about you? Have you ever taken on or been tempted to take on a client you had reservations about? How did it turn out? How did you resolve to do better the next time around? What insights do you have to share with others on this topic?

Dear Danielle: Should an Administrative Consultant Have One Specialty?

Dear Danielle: Should an Administrative Consultant Have One Specialty?

Dear Danielle:

In your opinion should an Administrative Consultant have one specific specialty, or should you specialize across a few specialties to maximize profitability. My idea is to focus on providing admin services to local small bankruptcy law firms, who may not have a paralegal on staff, as I have extensive work experience as a paralegal. Any insight on this would be most appreciated. Thank you an advance for your help. —TR

Thanks for the question… because it’s something I see a lot of people confused about in the administrative support industry at large.

In an Administrative Consulting business, you already have a specialization: administrative support.

What you’re in business to do is already your specialization.

What I see a lot of people not understanding is that administrative support is a specialization in and of itself.

They confuse being an administrative assistant when they were an employee (who very often had everything-and-the-kitchen dumped on them without any say-so or proper additional compensation) with administrative support as a business.

One is a role of employment while the other is a specific expertise. They are not one and the same thing.

And what you don’t want to do under any circumstances is run your business and work with clients as if you were their employee.

First of all, it’s illegal. Second, because it’s unprofitable and unsustainable.

When we talk about specialization in the Administrative Consulting business, we’re talking about having a target market, which is simply a field/industry/profession you cater your administrative support to.

You provide a good example: Bankruptcy attorneys is a target market.

Generally speaking, attorneys is a target market and the practice area of bankruptcy attorneys specifically would be called your “niche” or “specialization.”

My target market is attorneys as well, but specifically intellectual property/entertainment law attorneys.

See what I mean?

The reason this is the useful thing to focus on is because (in the case of our example of attorneys), one practice area can do such drastically different work from another practice area, that the administrative support would be completely different as well.

The marketing message you would need to come up with if you worked with estate law attorneys would be very different from the one you’d create if you were speaking to criminal law attorneys.

I have a number of blog posts that elaborate on this topic. Dig around in the Target Market category and I think you’ll find some that hit this right on the nose for you.

As far as profitability goes, I would need a bit more information about what you are worried about. I think it does, however, pinpoint a fear that a lot of people new to business in our industry have.

They think if they focus on a target market they’ll miss out on opportunities. In fact, focusing on a target market makes marketing your business and getting clients vastly easier.

That’s because instead of being a meandering generality, they become a meaningful (and more compelling and attractive) specific.

The market expects to pay those with a specific expertise (like that of administrative support) much more than those they perceive as merely gophers and jacks-of-all-trades (e.g., the person who will do anything just to make a buck, from whose website it isn’t clear what exactly they do, whose marketing message is all over the map).

Plus, there is so much constant mental switching of gears when you try to be this, that and the other. That in itself is unprofitable (Been there, done that.)

So I would tell you: focus your business on the one thing. You’ll be perceived as someone with a specific expertise (in our case, the expertise of administrative support), your business will be easier to run and the work easier to do (which makes it more profitable), you’ll get clients much more easily, and you’ll be able to command higher fees that allow you to make more money working with fewer clients.

Be Your Own Superhero

There’s nothing “kickass” about being a “sidekick.”

Women with real moxie proudly claim their role as administrative expert and capable leader of their own business.

You’re not the hired help. You’re an expert clients turn to for your administrative expertise and guidance.