Archive for the ‘Administrative Consultants’ Category

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 never set out to be nor do I ever want to be 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 additional expenses and 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 do things.

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. :)

Download the Latest Version of the ACA Income & Pricing Calculator

Get the Free ACA Income & Pricing Calculator

Do you ever have one of those d’ops moments when you realize you’ve made a big huge blunder that’s gone unnoticed for months?

Yeah, that’s me this week.

I just realized recently that everyone who has been downloading our free ACA Income & Pricing Calculator has been getting an outdated copy that is several versions old (by like a year or more).

Oy vey!

Here’s what happened…

With the admirable, but ill-advised, intention of making it more quick and convenient to download (i.e., fewer steps), I decided to attach it to the download message instead of having people go through our shoppingcart.

The problem? After awhile I forgot that it had been uploaded as an attachment, which means whenever it was updated and improved upon, the old version was never getting replaced with the current version.

I share this with you because it’s another excellent example of why adhering to our systems and standards is so important. They’re what make things simple and consistent and help us avoid mistakes.

By deviating from my usual standard and process of having ALL our downloads managed by the shoppingcart (so that the most current version of any product was always delivered), I introduced an additional, unnecessary step that ended up falling through the cracks.

So….

Getting clear and conscious about your numbers in business is one of the very first important steps to your financial well-being. I want you to have the best and this is such an invaluable tool.

Click over to our Free Resources page and sign up for the ACA Income & Pricing Calculator. I promise you’ll get the most current version now, lol.

PS: As a token of my appreciation for your understanding, please use coupon code THANKS10 for 10% off your next purchase from the ACA Success Store.

You Don’t Have a Portfolio

You don’t have a portfolio when you’re in the admin support business because admin support is a service, not a tangible, visible product (like design is).

Rather, your “portfolio” is the experience clients get dealing with you.

It’s your service, your communication, your responsiveness, your policies, processes and procedures, your systems, your standards, how your website looks and works, what your testimonials say, your case studies…

These are all demonstrations—samplings and examples—of your expertise, competence, professionalism and the service experience clients will get should they decide to work with you.

And if they are positive, if they are smooth, if they are well-executed, those are the things that instill confidence and trust in your potential clients.

Dear Danielle: How Can I Transition from Virtual Assistant to Administrative Consultant?

Dear Danielle: How Can I Transition from Virtual Assistant to Administrative Consultant

Greetings, Danielle:

My name is Lourie Perry, solopreneur of a new business. I am new to your acquaintance and I have to say you have inspired me! I have since changed the title of my position on social media. I already had business cards made before changing my title of “virtual assistant.” I love the Administrative Consultant title because it sets me apart from the rest (my first goal to achieve), it’s a professional title that demands respect and (to be) taken seriously as women in business. My question is how can I transition from a virtual assistant to an Administrative Consultant? For example, while at a networking event I introduce myself as an Administrative Consultant, but they look at the business card and see “virtual Assistant.” By the way, I have changed from Virtual Assistant to Administrative Consultant on my website, as well! Your help will be appreciated! Thanks from saving me from the sea of normal! —Lourie Perry, A Nyvybe Virtual Office.

Hi Lourie :)

That’s so great! You’ve done yourself a huge favor in business that you won’t regret.

So, this is sort of an easy one:  toss the old business cards and get new ones. These days, you can get a small stack for basically pennies on the dollar.

The reason is that consistency is super important. Everything needs to match.

Because if you call yourself this here and that there and yet something else somewhere else, or you try to use every term you can think of all together, all that does is create confusion and disconnect in your prospects.

And as the business adage goes: A confused mind says no.

They’ll walk away and put you right out of their mind because you’ve made it too difficult for them to understand who and what you are.

Better yet, don’t invest heavily in business cards or much of any printed marketing collateral. You just don’t need it.

Instead, I want you to read my post about how business cards should really be used and what to give people instead that is going to have far more impact on those you want to remember you and take interest: Are Business Cards Dead?

The other thing I wanted to relate for you and anyone else who is new reading this is that you never want to lead any conversation with your term. Your term is not for marketing purposes (I’ll explain its real importance later).

If people ask what you do, instead of saying “I’m an Administrative Consultant,” tell them what kind of problem you solve or a result/benefit you provide and who you do it for (this is your target market).

So mine, for example, is (and this is my tagline as well and no, nobody can “borrow” it. You gotta come up with your own):

I help IP and entertainment law attorneys do more wheeling and dealing from the beach.

(The beach being a metaphor for whatever they’d rather be doing and wherever they’d rather be than stuck in an office all day long.)

See how it clearly indicates who I work with and a benefit/result they get?

People are typically intrigued and want to know more (“How can I have more time for the beach?!”) and I’ll further explain that I provide administrative rescue for these solos without ever stepping foot in their office.

When they want to know how that works, that’s when I explain how I partner with my clients to provide them with strategic relief and rescue from the administrative burdens that suck up their time and energy and keep them stuck at the office.

I then tell them a story (a verbal case study) of how my strategic administrative support helped one of my clients reduce his workload, streamline and automate his operations, multiply his revenues and how he gets to travel extensively now while still running his business (which he loves).

See how I never even used my term of Administrative Consultant in conversation? They’ll see what to call me on my biz card, my free giveaway, on my website, and all the other places where my name appears.

That said, your term IS important for two reasons:

  1. You need to give people something (ONE THING) to call you and with which to categorize your business—a mental coathook, if you will.
  2. It needs to clearly convey what your expertise is while setting proper, respectful perceptions and expectations.

In our industry, the problem we’ve historically had is that by (formerly) calling ourselves assistants, we created wrong perceptions and understandings in our clients. Since we called ourselves assistants, that’s what they wanted to treat us (and pay us) as. It caused a misalignment of interests and understandings right from the start and, in turn, serious problems in the relationship.

So we’d constantly have to deal with prospects and clients who didn’t understand the nature of the relationship, who would tend to treat us like under-the-table employees they didn’t pay taxes on, who thought we were supposed to be at their beck-and-call like employees, and who would balk at paying proper professional fees (because when they think of you like an employee, they want to pay you like one as well).

And because it was such a vague, ambiguous term that focused on a role (assistant), not an expertise (administrative), clients thought it was their place to twist you into whatever kind of pretzels they pleased.

These are all problems caused by the term “virtual assistant.” It creates wrong expectations, perceptions and understandings right from the get-go.

This is why those us who are in the expertise of administrative support are Administrative Consultants. We don’t want clients thinking we’re their assistants, treating the relationship as such and wanting to pay peanuts—because we aren’t.

We want clients who approach us as professionally and in the same manner they would approach an attorney, an accountant, a web designer or any other independant professional.

The Administrative Consultant term creates an entirely improved perception and demeanor in our prospective clients. They are more respectful and understand the correct nature of the relationship. Instead of approaching us as subordinate order takers, they instantly view us as trusted administrative advisors and business peers.

And because of those changed and improved perceptions, we are able to get better clients and command higher (proper) professional fees.

It’s all about setting and managing expectations and creating better, more accurate and respectful perceptions with the words and terms we use, in this case Administrative Consultant.

(For more on this topic, read my post Dear Danielle: We Loathe the Virtual Assistant Term; Is There Something Else We Can Call Ourselves?)

Since you’re here, I also couldn’t help but notice your business name. I know you didn’t ask, but I feel it would be a disservice not to mention something that I think may be very important to your success.

I always highly encourage people to delete the word “virtual” from their business vocabulary. This post explains all the reasons why: Dear Danielle: Should I Use the Word “Virtual” in My Biz Name?

The thing I’m also concerned for you about is the spelling of your biz name: A Nuvybe Virtual Office.

I fear the esoteric spelling and syntax is going to make it extremely difficult for people to remember and find you (which is the opposite of what you intend).

That’s because no one is going to know how to say or spell it. And trust me, they aren’t going to go to extreme lengths to figure it out. They’ll just move on.

I know you value being different. I certainly appreciate that. And we all should be striving to continually clarify for ourselves and our prospective clients what our unique value propositions are.

Stand out in your marketing message, your service levels and skilled delivery and work product. However, beyond that, there are certain things in business that you just need to conform to or you’ll defeat your purposes. Choosing a business name that people can easily read, spell and remember is one of them.

Check out my Naming Your Business category here on the blog. I’ve got several posts that I think you’ll really find helpful on this topic.

Even if you were to simply change to New Vibe Administrative, that would be an incredible improvement for your prospective clients and those who refer you. That’s because its spelling is something that makes sense to people, they’ll easily be able to say it in their head and, thus, remember it and find you again, and it clearly conveys what you do in business.

I hope you find all of this helpful, Lourie. If you have any questions on anything here and want me to elaborate, please feel free to post in the comments and we’ll keep the conversation going.

I’m very happy to meet you and glad you found us. Welcome to the Administrative Consultant community!

I Shake My Head in Disbelief When I See this on Anyone’s Website

I shake my head in disbelief every time I see on someone’s website a “free 15 minute consultation.”

What on earth do you think you’re going to accomplish in only 15 minutes?

You’re going to learn more about the prospect, his/her business, uncover and identify their needs, goals and challenges, explore feelings and desired outcomes, and make a support diagnosis all in only 15 minutes?

Heck, it takes the first 15-30 minutes alone just for clients to feel comfortable and let their hair down.

If you’re going to offer a consultation, make it something real. Fifteen minutes is a joke.

You need AT LEAST 1 hour (I actually recommend blocking 2 hours so you have plenty of space to explore the conversation) to have a productive, probing and worthwhile consult that is not only going to be meaningful to the prospect and build rapport, but also help you devise smart, considered, high-value, customized support plan recommendations for which you can command top dollar.

Putting in the time upfront it takes to have a REAL consultation is an investment that will earn you more retained clients and better beginnings that have a real chance at success and results moving forward.

Dear Danielle: How Do I Price This?

Dear Danielle: How Do I Price This?

Dear Danielle:

I’m just starting my administrative support business and have really appreciated all of your blog advice and toolkit information. I have run into a slight issue with my first prospective client that I’m not sure how best to handle. She has requested assistance for an annual event she’s planning in late November. We’ve done the initial consultation and I believe we could work well together and there’s a lot of room for growth with her. I had explained that I don’t do hourly billing, but she asked about how many hours per month I would dedicate to her project so I said I estimated around 30 hours per month. I made clear that since I don’t keep strict track of minutes/hours worked that if I end up going over 30 hours a bit that she wouldn’t be billed any extra. I sent her my contract to sign (which didn’t list specific hours, but instead listed the support plan we had determined) and she sent me her contract that states “scope of work will require a minimum of 30 hours up to 48 hours per month.” I absolutely can’t go up to 48 hours a month as then my pricing would be way too low. Do you have any advice on how I should handle this? —Shannon D.

First let me say, none of what I’m going to explain is intended to make you feel bad or that you’re doing things “wrong.”

We were all new business owners once and all started from the same place where we didn’t really know what we were doing. There’s just going to be a learning curve no matter what and it doesn’t make you a dummy or anything like that. And you’re going to have a lot of trials and errors throughout the life of your business.

That said, when people ask ME for my advice, my expertise and my opinions, that’s exactly what they get. They don’t get a bunch of wishy washy “you are free to do whatever you want in your own business…” crap. Um, duh. I don’t think anyone here needs me to state the obvious.

And these discussions are helpful because even though you will still have a learning curve, they raise your consciousness and help you better understand and increase your business knowledge and education moving forward.

Okay, let’s dive in here…

The initial thing that strikes me is that you aren’t yet really clear about what business you’re in.

You say you’re starting your administrative support business, but this really isn’t administrative support. This is more like event management and support which is really a whole other business and industry.

And the reason it’s important for you to get clear about your business is because, well, it affects just about everything moving forward. You have to get clear about what you truly intend to do and be in business if you’re ever going to get any traction.

If I’m a plumber and someone comes to me to fix their car, am I going to take on that work? Why would I do that? Just for the money? How does it serve my business to dillute my energies on work I’m not in business to do and may not have the expertise for? How does that serve the client if I’m really not in business to do that work? Is it ethical for me to take money for something I’m not really qualified to do?

So if you’re going to be a plumber, be a plumber. And direct clients who come to you for things you’re not in business to do to the right professionals. Otherwise, you’ll be spinning your wheels forever.

The other thing I get the feeling you’re not quite clear about is that this is project work, not administrative support.

Granted, it’s over the course of several months, but it’s a project nonetheless because there is a specific ending (the culmination of the event).

Administrative support on the other hand is the collection of tasks, functions and roles that require ongoing attention, management and maintenance throughout the life of the business. Administration isn’t an event, it’s an ongoing relationship. That relationship IS the “product” (so to speak) that you are offering when you are seeking retainer clients.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with taking on project work on the side if you so choose. But it’s very important that you do so consciously, not blindly.

That’s important because here is what tends to happen otherwise:

People in our industry want to have a retainer-based practice with clients who pay a monthly fee in advance every month. However, they end up focusing on and distracting themselves with project-based work instead which is a never-ending hamster wheel that keeps them from ever building the business they really intend.

On top of that, by allowing clients to never commit, they never get the real kind of business they want and dream of.

As the adage goes, you will never get what you don’t ask for and expect.

So if you want a retainer-based practice, that’s really what you need to focus on. You’ll never get there picking pennies up on the ground from non-commital clients and their nickel and dime projects.

If you want retained clients providing administrative support, that’s what you have to expect and make it a standard around who qualifies for working with you. That should also added be on your Ideal Client Profile as an ideal characteristic:

“A client who is ready to commit to working together every month in an ongoing relationship of administrative support.”

Now, we come to the whole hours thing. And as our readers here won’t automatically know, your question initially related to my Value-Based Pricing & Packaging methodology.

So the thing you’re not seeing is that you’re still trying to sell hours.

However, with value-based pricing, there shouldn’t be any talk about hours.

Value-based pricing is about offering a solution and providing results. It’s also about certain values (or morals, for lack of a better synonym) around providing those things.

Let me try to explain:

You say you can only provide X hours per month, but the client wants you to commit to more than that.

Forgetting the fact that hours shouldn’t be what you’re selling, what kind of whole, complete solution can you provide if you are only willing to commit to doing the half the work that’s needed?

Because it’s not any kind of solution if you’re only going to provide something that’s half-baked.

I’m not sure why you would have priced at anything less than what you need to accomplish it. Why would you do that? (That’s probably a whole other great topic for conversation, lol).

I’m not saying you should overextend yourself. But value-based pricing and packaging is contingent upon (among other things) providing a REAL, WHOLE solution and result for clients. It doesn’t help them to sell them something that will only get them half there.

And you won’t create raving fans and testimonials that way either.

So, what needs to happen is that you need to have a REALLY thorough consultation so that you have a very clear idea of what work will be involved, what the client’s needs, expectations and goals are, what results and outcomes they’re looking for, and then price THAT at whatever it needs to be for you to accomplish those things, not the hours.

(And of course that sounds so simple. There is more to it than that, obviously, and my guide shows you exactly how to set parameters and determine what work falls into admin support and which things can be categorized  as project work that you can charge for separately, as well as how to talk about pricing and present that information on your website and in other conversations with prospects and clients. My guide also shows you what to talk about with clients INSTEAD of hours; when you do it the way I show you, they understand how much more beneficial and how much more they get from working together this way.)

But you have to be prepared to provide that solution. If you’re not, then it’s really not ethical to take that client on. A half solution is no solution at all.

As far as the whole contract thing, this is where your marketing and message, as well as what you call yourself, are so important because those are the things that are shaping client perceptions and expectations.

This client needs to be properly educated that it’s not her place to be changing your contract. Your contract is your contact. Clients either sign it or they go elsewhere. Obviously you would be more diplomatic, but that’s what it boils down to basically.

But the other thing is that if clients are consistently doing these kinds of things, it means you are not properly presenting yourself a business owner. Fixing that typically entails improving your content and marketing message on your website and framing yourself more like a business and independent professional.

That starts by not calling yourself an assistant, ever. ;)

Let me know if that helps and if you have more questions, feel free to post them in the comments.

The Industry Survey Is In!

Get the 2012-2013 Industry Survey Report

Results have been compiled and the annual industry survey report is now ready for you!

Since 2006, the Administrative Consultants Association has been conducting an annual survey of those in the administrative support business for the purpose of taking a representative group snapshot of the industry.

In 2010 we moved to a biennial reporting period. This year’s survey period ran from January 2012 through April 15, 2014, with 97 questions and 500 respondents.

The survey report covers the categories of:

  • Individual Demographics
  • Education, Experience & Credentials
  • General Business Demographics
  • Tools & Equipment
  • Employees & Subcontractors
  • Clients
  • Hours
  • Services
  • Marketing
  • Pricing
  • Success, Profitability & Entrepreneurship
  • Training & Continuing Education

This year’s report is 101 pages and chock-full of helpful, fascinating, eye-opening data.

If you’ve participated before, you’ll find it super interesting to compare with previous years’ results.

Purchase here. Price: $19

Tune Into My Interview on BlogTalkRadio with LaToya Haynes

The lovely LaToya Haynes has invited me for a live interview on her BlogTalkRadio show this Friday, and you’re invited.

Here are the details for tuning in:

Fabulous Careers, Doing What You Love

BlogTalkRadio show with host LaToya Haynes of Driven Results VP

Date: Friday, April 18, 2014
Time: 11a PDT | 12p MDT | 1p CDT | 2p EDT (U.S.)
(Need time zone conversion, go to TimeAndDate.com)
Duration: 1 hour

Tune in this Friday: http://tobtr.com/s/6329503

Want to know what marketing terms could be sending the wrong clients instead of ideal clients in your administrative consulting practice? Are you struggling with how to charge your clients in your practice?

Tune in this Friday when I’ll be providing tips and strategies to get your business going in the right direction. Your questions are welcome!

“See” you there. :)

Dear Danielle: Do You Ever Provide Writing Samples?

Dear Danielle:

I love your insight into this amazing industry and the advice that you provide. My question is, have you ever created a writing sample as an administrative consultant? If so, what type of sample and what do you include? Thanks so much! —Tajanna Mallory

Hi Tajanna :)

Thanks for the question!

Nope, I haven’t and I wouldn’t, and I’ll tell you why:

I wouldn’t create writing samples because I’m not in the writing business.

I’m in the administrative support business.

Two different things.

Remember, you’re not a gopher, a lackey, who does any ol’ thing clients dream up to pile on you.

As an Administrative Consultant, you’re in business to provide a specific expertise—the expertise of administrative support.

This is yet another example of why people in the admin support business need to stop calling and viewing themselves as assistants.

When you call yourself an assistant, clients think it’s their role to twist you into whatever pretzels they please.

Because that’s what they’re used to doing to employees.

And people only understand the word assistant one way: employee.

Here’s the thing:

They wouldn’t expect their attorney to build them a house, would they? They wouldn’t turn to their accountant to handle a lawsuit, right?

Of course not.

Because those are different expertises that entail completely different skills, knowledge, training, talents and processes that they aren’t in business to provide.

This is why I’m always telling folks, you have GOT to get clear and specific about what business you’re in.

Are you a writer? Or are you an adminstrator?

You can be whatever you want, of course. And maybe you have a separate writing division in your business. But that doesn’t make writing and admin support the same thing.

It’s like the analogy I’m always using:  Why would you ask a plumber to fix your car?

That would be silly, naturally. Someone who needs their car fixed needs a mechanic, not a plumber.

It’s the same thing here, and I would tell a client so.

I don’t “do” writing. I “do” administrative support.

Clients need to write their own stuff or hire an actual writer/copywriter to perform that service for them.

I might edit/proof their work, but I don’t write for them. That’s not what I’m in business to do.

Do you understand the difference?