Archive for the ‘Administrative Consultants’ Category

How I Helped One of My Clients Love Her Business and Clients Again and Make More Money

Recently, a colleague shared an excellent article about saying no to unnecessary meetings and respecting our own time more overall. (You can read the full article here.)

I definitely share the author’s sentiments and have written versions of the same message myself many times over the years. (This, for example.)

It’s so important to remember that as service providers, we are running businesses. We are not gophers for clients to do with as they please.

In fact, we have a duty to protect and preserve our important business resources (e.g., our time and energy) and use them most efficiently and effectively so that we can continue to help clients and do our best work for them. A business won’t survive otherwise.

As such, it is up to us to set our own policies and expectations in clients around how and when meetings work as well as what the communication protocols shall be.

Those aren’t things that are up to clients to dictate, and they should not be expecting that as a matter of course.

It reminded me of the time I ran across someone who was very young (no work, business, or life experience to speak of) and brand new in our industry whose first client had her attending all “team” meetings by phone every single morning.

At the time, she defended it and could not be convinced otherwise that it was not her role as a business owner to have clients require her to attend their regular, daily internal meetings.

Eventually she wised up and learned (the hard way) that business owners are not employees, and it most certainly is not any client’s place to “require” you to do anything. 😉

I was also reminded of one of my early clients whose belief that “the customer is always right” was killing her. She came to dread working with her clients because of this unhealthy belief system, and it was creating an existential crisis in her life.

How could she make her living if she was beginning to hate dealing with her clients? She loved her work, just not everything they were “requiring” her to do, particularly when it came to endless meetings.

She was a solopreneur making over $1 million a year. That’s not the kind of money that’s easy to walk away from, but at the same time, her clients were running her ragged and she was miserable. Something had to give.

So I thought I would share the story of how I helped her shed this mindset and the steps we took to turn things around in her business so she could enjoy working with her clients again and not quit her business.

It’s a good example of how we, as Administrative Consultants, are so often in a position to guide and advise clients as a natural extension of our administrative support, expertise, and experience.

Perhaps it will inspire some ideas in your own Administrative Consulting practice on how you can further help clients.

This client was a high-end gala designer who conceptualized, produced, and executed the theme and experience of major fundraising events (think multi-million dollar budgets for $5,000+ a plate balls).

One of the pitfalls of her business was that she was constantly being sucked into endless group meetings with the local boards of these events, sometimes two or more times a week.

And she absolutely hated it.

These meetings were such an unnecessary time-suck and complete waste of productive time.

They ate up far more in travel time and preparation than the meetings themselves, which would sometimes last over two hours.

And more often than she’d prefer, they turned out to be merely bickering sessions between board members who couldn’t agree on anything. What did they need her there for?

Worst of all, attending all these meetings utterly stifled her creative energy—the very thing she was paid big bucks for!

This client was amazing at what she did. It’s a unique form of art in and of itself.

But while she knew what she was doing when it came to her talent, she had no previous business experience or training so dealing with clients, setting boundaries, and managing expectations was all new territory for her.

Since she had no frame of reference, she just assumed, like a lot of new business owners, that the “customer is always right” and whatever they want or ask is how she should be doing things.

One day as she was getting ready and lamenting to me over the phone about having to go to yet another one of these dreaded “dog-and-pony shows” as she referred to them, I asked her, “So why do you keep going? Do you realize you can say “no” to these meetings? YOU are the artist, not their employee. If they want to work with you, they need to conform to how YOUR service works, not the other way around.”

This was an epiphany to her!

She was this amazing, sought-after designer, and it had never once occurred to her that she could refuse to indulge in these endless, ridiculous wastes of her time; that it was, in fact, imperative for her to do so from that moment forward or she wouldn’t be good to anyone, least of all herself.

How could she do her best work for these clients if she allowed them to deplete her?

And if she didn’t put her foot down and start respecting her own time and energy, they certainly weren’t going to either.

Having done this in my own business and having helped a couple other clients by that time in this area as well, I outlined some of the things that could be done that would make a dramatic, positive difference in her business and how she worked with clients.

She resolved right then and there that she simply could not go on as she had been and asked me to help her.

First, since this was project-based work above, beyond, and different from (i.e., not included in) the monthly retainer she paid for my administrative support, I determined an upfront monthly flat fee for my consulting services. I estimated that we would need 3-4 months to fully implement everything.

Through a series of weekly phone calls, we explored and documented the specific issues she wasn’t happy with in her business. During these calls I provided suggestions and helped her see how we could rectify the issues she was experiencing by clearly identifying her standards (e.g., what values were important to her around money, work, clients; what she wanted for her business, for herself, and for her clients) and then implementing policies and procedures and creating tools that worked in support of those standards.

Our work together involved:

  • Making a list of the problem issues that were making her miserable and inhibited her creative flow.
  • Creating a picture on paper of what she wanted her business to look like, how she ideally wanted things work.
  • Formalizing her standards and values around these things on paper.
  • Helping her visualize and map out her client and creative processes and the practical steps involved, and charting this out on paper.
  • Fleshing out and formalizing new and improved policies and procedures and incorporating them into her client contract.
  • Creating a “client bible” (a/k/a Client Guide) that shared with clients her values around the whole client experience and preserving her time and creative energy with smart policies and procedures so she could do her best work for them. This guide worked as a tool that further educated and informed clients and set and managed their expectations about how she worked with clients, her communication protocols, the different stages of her design process, the specific kind and number of meetings that would be involved in her process, as well as what was expected from the clients themselves. For example, with regard to the dreaded meetings, the new protocol that I suggested and she agreed would be perfect was that beyond the initial consultation or two, she did not work or meet directly with boards or committees once she was engaged. She required clients to appoint one to three people that she would be working directly with from that point forward, with one of those people being her primary contact and liaison. This required boards and committees to work out their ideas and disagreements among themselves first on their own dime. This saved her a lot of angst and was a much more efficient and effective process for all involved.

Besides needing to stop the cycle of endless meetings she had allowed her clients to expect, we also identified that how and when they were expecting to communicate with her the rest of the time (i.e., ringing her any time of day and night!) was another one of her problem areas.

Here again, she had the misguided and detrimental belief that she had to be constantly accessible to clients on demand. She thought it would make them “like” and appreciate her more.

But being too available, she realized, was backfiring and actually had the opposite effect of causing them to have no respect or regard for her, which definitely was not her intention.

We set that right by establishing formal communication standards, policies, and protocols that clearly informed clients about her client hours and what forms of communication were acceptable and when.

This was something she hadn’t done before whatsoever!

Going through this process helped her see even more clearly how she was not respecting her own time and value and, therefore, clients weren’t either.

She realized where she was being too informal when it came to certain polite boundaries, and too lax in charging for other things, as well as simply not charging more profitably overall.

It helped her see where she could be charging higher fees and more intentional in how she worked with clients and doing things in a way that worked with HER creative process.

Toward the end of this realigning/re-centering process, we identified areas where my monthly administrative support could be further utilized to help ease even more of her burdens.

For example, with the newly identified and mapped out client-onboarding process we put together, we could clearly see steps that I could take on for her that would free up more of her time and attention such as the contract-signing and payment process, dissemination of the client guide, answering initial client emails and questions, and setting up and administering client files and accounts.

(This increased workload, of course, warranted an increase in my monthly administrative support fee.)

By engaging in the effort to change what wasn’t working for her, she took a stand for:

  • her own self-care,
  • doing work that was up to her professional and artistic standards, and
  • what she needed from clients in order to accomplish those objectives.

She learned that by setting clear boundaries and parameters, she wasn’t saying no to clients (something she was extremely averse to doing previously), she was actually saying yes to providing them with the best experience and outcomes possible.

When clients had a better understanding of the boundaries and protocols expected, they became much easier and happier to work with, and were much happier with her and what she created for them.

The consequence of our work together was literally life-changing for her:

  • She realized that “being nice” and forever agreeable to meeting after meeting was not benefiting her or her clients.
  • She hadn’t realized before that clients only had meeting after meeting because they didn’t know any better either. Her taking charge of her own business and processes gave them the leadership and guidance they needed (and unknowingly craved) from her as the professional in the relationship. The happy, unexpected byproduct was that they saved themselves all that wasted time and energy as well.
  • By better respecting her own time, it helped her also gain more respect for the value of what she created for clients.
  • She ended up having more time to take on more ideal projects and do even better work for the clients she served.
  • She increased her fees and kept better account of work and value for which she should be charging.
  • Because she wasn’t stuck in endless meetings any longer, she had more time to go on the soul-enriching trips around the world that fed her creativity which, in turn, benefited her clients.
  • And, perhaps most importantly, her joy and happiness returned which further fueled her creativity and excitement for the work.

I hope this helps you see how you, as the person who provides your clients with administrative support and expertise, are in such a perfect position to also be of help to them in improving and growing their businesses.

I have worked with and observed far too often consultants who simply don’t have the administrative skill and expertise to execute their ideas for clients (much less had anyone like you who could help them do that, hint hint).

As someone who is intimately involved in and familiar with your clients’ businesses, you can be so much more effective in not only sharing advice and ideas for improvements, but also implementing those changes and incorporating them into the administration of the business overall.

It’s why we are Administrative + Consultants. 😉

I have a LOT more to teach you on this.

When you learn how to do all these things in your own business, you can also do them for your clients.

One blog post isn’t going to do it, though; it’s just not an adequate medium for that kind of learning.

My best advice is always to get my entire system because each piece is an integral part of the overall picture. You can’t fully learn one area with the absence of the others.

If you are only able to start with one piece, however, my Pricing & Packaging Guide will show you how to understand and map out different work and revenue streams in your business and how to present and provide that kind of additional support to your clients (and how to make more money yourself doing it!).

Any questions, shoot me an email. I’m always happy to help where I can. 🙂

Dear Danielle: Is It Possible to Start My Administrative Support Business While Working?

Dear Danielle: Is It Possible to Start My Administrative Support Business While Still Working?

Dear Danielle:

I am glad to connect with you. I am currently employed. Is it possible to start this business without resigning from my job and still deliver? Thank you for your time. —Dorothy N.

Hi Dorothy. This is a good question. In fact, it’s probably in the top 5 or 10 that people ask me when they are trying to figure out how to go about starting up their administrative support business.

And I have some sound advice for you.

Since this is a topic I’ve covered before, I’m going to direct you to three main posts that have served people well when they’ve wondered the same thing:

Dear Danielle: Should I Quit My Day Job to Start My Administrative Support Business?

Dear Danielle: Is It Possible to Start an Administrative Support Business Part-Time?

8 Tips for Transitioning to Your Administrative Support Business from Full-Time Employment

Let me know if these help!

I Have No Substitutes

I Have No Substitutes

So I recently had someone ask me to help them find a coach/mentor in this business who understands the difference between a VA and an Administrative Consultant.

Ummm, hellooooooo? What am I, chopped liver? Do you even know where you are?

So, let me get this straight… you don’t want to work with me because I’m “too harsh and our personalities wouldn’t mesh,” but you think asking me to find you someone else is not somehow insulting?

Mind you, this isn’t someone who has ever actually spoken with me, much less even inquired about working with me.

Look, I get it. If you want fancy, frilly writing from someone who blows smoke up everyone’s ass, I’m not your girl. But that doesn’t make me “harsh.”

And I don’t have a lot of respect for people who use that word. Especially when it’s directed at a woman, as well as when it comes from one woman to another.

Because “harsh” is used as a sword against women for not fitting the mold, for not conforming to what society tells women they need to be and how they should speak and behave: to be “nice” and “get along.”

(Translation: Appease others at all costs, stuff your own feelings and needs, and whatever you do, don’t say what you really mean because god forbid you as a woman should speak clearly and directly with conviction and a point of view lest you make anyone uncomfortable).

Are your feelings hurt merely because I’m direct and use straight-forward sentences and don’t beat around the bush?

Are there not enough happy faces and cute unicorn emojis for you?

Or do you just feel abashed because I called out the rudeness of your request so you want to now deflect it onto me.

Yeah, I don’t have time for that BS.

How about this? Be a grown-up and own your own shit. Stop expecting others to dull their intellect or competence because you feel insecure.

What’s actually going on is you are afraid.

I would never throw that fear in your face if we were working together. That’s not what I’m about. (I’m about helping people overcome their fears with a combination of straight talk and tough love and giving them the knowledge and tools to be more confident and successful in their business.)

But when you try to blame me for your personal issues and level the word “harsh” against me, that’s your problem, not mine.

And here’s a little advice on good manners: If you don’t like someone, don’t follow them.

Get off their page, get off their mailing list, and get lost. Stop resenting them on one hand while consuming everything they offer on the other.

And what you especially don’t do is ask them to help you find a substitute (like, “I don’t like you so much, but I’ll suck up all your free stuff and, oh, hey, can you also refer me to someone else who knows as much as you… for free, of course”).

Gawd, does this really even need to be said? Just f**k off already.

Is that too harsh? 😉

The bottom line is, I think most people (the people who matter) are smart enough to understand that I can be both strong and assertive in my writing generally while still able to take a firm, but gentle approach in guiding people with whom I may work personally.

And I’ll tell you one more thing: You won’t find another person out there with more integrity than me. Because people with actual integrity speak truth and will tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear, to succeed.

Others will say anything and pretend to be whatever they need to in order to get your money. There are a lot of hacks out there like that, and you can have them if that’s what you want. But it won’t be me referring you to them.

I have no substitute. I originated my teaching on this industry and there isn’t anyone else qualified with my level of knowledge and expertise to be teaching it.

So, if you want to learn about Administrative Consulting, you’ll have to get it from me. Otherwise, you’re on your own.

Dear Danielle: Are We Management Consultants?

Dear Danielle:

Thank you so much for the information you make available. I have purchased a couple of your products so far. I am just starting out and I won’t be calling myself a VA. Instead I refer to myself as Virtual Consultant. After getting a better understanding of what an Administrative Consultant is from your website, it seems we are like management consultants. Do you agree or disagree with this? Kind regards. —SC

Hi SC and welcome to the ACA.

In answer to your direct question, I would disagree. There’s a reason the name of this organization is Administrative Consultants Association. 😉

I am not an advocate of the word “virtual.” It’s a silly, idiotic word that doesn’t belong in the vocabulary of a proper business.

If you are going into business to provide the service of administrative support, then you are an Administrative Consultant, not a management consultant or “virtual” consultant (What even is that? Could be anything and does nothing to clearly and immediately tell your marketplace and would-be clients what your focus is and what you do.)

Administrative is the key word here. If you leave it out, you are not conveying the specific skill and service you are in business to provide.

A management consultant is something entirely different. If that’s what you want to go into business for, that’s up to you, of course. But to be clear, that’s not what we do here at the ACA or as Administrative Consultants.

An Administrative Consultant is someone who provides administrative support and works with clients directly in ongoing, long-term, one-on-one relationship.

Here are a few blog posts that elaborate a bit more on these points:

Dear Danielle: We Loathe the Virtual Assistant Term
What Makes Someone an Administrative Consultant?
Dear Danielle: Should I Use the Word Virtual in My Biz Name?

It seems you have an aversion to the word “administrative” for some reason. Why is that?

Is it because administrative support is not the service you want to provide? If so, there is nothing wrong with that; however, that’s not what this organization is here to help with.

The Administrative Consultants Association is exclusively for Administrative Consultants: people who are in the business specifically of providing ongoing, collaborative administrative support and working directly one-on-one with their clients.

If all someone does is “manage” and they don’t actually provide administrative support themselves, that person is not Administrative Consultant.

Hope that helps shed a bit more understanding. Let me know if you have more questions.

Dear Danielle: Does This Business Allow for Expansion?

Dear Danielle: Does This Business Allow for Expansion?

Dear Danielle:

I’m a student who has been assigned to research a startup business. As a business administration major, this is something that interests me, so it is more than assignment. Does a company such as this allow for expansion from being one person to expanding with several employees? Thank you for your time. —RT

Hi RT,

Thanks for the question.

A person can create any kind of business they wish. That should go without saying. However, Administrative Consulting is a solopreneur business model, not a “team” or “staffing” one. That’s because the primary value being imparted is the personal one-on-one relationship.

People running this kind of business are not interested in managing employees and all the attendant problems and responsibilities that come with that much less creating a company the size of which inherently requires employees.

Administrative Consulting is a deeply personal and collaborative one-to-one relationship with clients. It’s ideal for people who are interested in a boutique-sized solo business working directly in one-on-one relationships with just a handful of (ideally, well-paying) clients.

You don’t need employees to do that and it would actually make things more unnecessarily complicated, disjointed, and expensive while reducing profit margins.

This is not the kind of business for people who want to turn the work into an assembly line. That is completely opposite to the value that is created when working together in a long-term, ongoing, one-on-relationship with clients.

That said, I have always advocated the idea that being solo doesn’t mean you do literally everything yourself. It simply means that YOU are the product; it’s your unique combination of skills, talent, experience, insights, and know-how that your clients are “buying,” so to speak.

However, in the same way that clients partner with us for administrative support, an Administrative Consultant can and should have her own Administrative Consultant to support her behind the scenes as well, along with having relationships with her own accountant, bookkeeper, business attorney, web designer/programmer, etc.

Most of us also belong to networks of colleagues we can refer to on those occasions when we may need or want to bring in an extra hand or two. But those are incidental instances and provided by people who run their own independent businesses and are not employees.

This kind of business and relationship doesn’t need a lot of chefs dipping their fingers in and ruining the stew, if you understand my analogy. It just needs the leverage of a few key relationships to be successful.

I always say this as well: Anyone who can make it as a solopreneur is better poised to succeed in any larger future business incarnation. Because if you can’t do it as a solopreneur, being bigger is not going to help anything.

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 inkling 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?