Archive for the ‘Administrative PARTNERING’ Category

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.

There Is No “Perfect” Client

There Is No "Perfect" Client

Perfect is not the same thing as ideal.

There is no such thing as the perfect client. These are people we’re talking about here, and people are nothing if not imperfect.

Still, it’s vital that you choose clients wisely and with intention from your ever-increasing knowledge about the kind of person you enjoy working with most, who gets the most from working with you, who makes working together easy, and who values and appreciates what you do for them and allows you to do your best work, and to never ignore any red flags that set off your spidey senses.

Because clients who are not a good fit — or un-ideal — will cost you dearly in time, money, energy, morale, confidence, and joy — far more than they are paying you to ever be worthwhile and far more than you can afford, I can tell you that.

Have you ever had clients who weren’t ideal? What kind of negative impacts did working with them have on your business? What measures did you take to create to improve/change this situation?

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.

Use This Phrase Instead of “General”

Some folks use the term general when they talk about administrative support as a business.

But administrative support is not “general.”

Administrative support is a skillset, expertise and profession in and of itself. It’s the very backbone of every business in the world.

That is anything but “general.” That is something very specific.

Administrative support is also an ongoing relationship with a client; it’s not a one-off project here and there sporadically.

It’s about being an active right-hand in the client’s business and taking on specific areas of work and support for them.

Using the word general to describe your business relegates it to something menial, unimportant, homogeneous (as in same basic humdrum as everybody else), and of not much value.

That’s because general is code for menial which is code for cheap and mundane.

And when clients think of something as menial, they expect to pay paltry fees for it as well.

If you are struggling to get clients who recognize the work you do as valuable, important and beneficial to them, it could be because you are using language that is attracting un-ideal clients and/or putting potential clients in the wrong (i.e., cheapskate) mindset.

When marketing your business, you want to use words that position your business and portray it as something invaluable, not general.

Here’s an alternative to better articulate your value:

If you’re trying to get across the idea that you support clients across the board, instead of using the word general (and I advise anyone who wants to get more well-paying clients to banish that word entirely from your business vocabulary), use the phrase full service.

It has much better connotations about your value proposition and will have a much better impact on your marketing and the client perceptions it sets.

Take a look at your website today. Examine the conversation you are having with clients and the words you’re using.

Will you be making some changes?

Delete “Self-Employed Worker” from Your Business Vocabulary

Delete "Self-Employed Worker" from Your Business Vocabulary

Do you want clients who treat you like their beck-and-call employee or as a trusted business professional delivering a valuable expertise?

If it’s the latter, then delete the words “self-employed worker” from your business vocabulary.

When you are self-employed, you’re not a worker, you are a business, period. (That’s a legal distinction, not an opinion.)

This all goes back to properly educating clients about the correct nature of the relationship.

If you set the perception that you are some kind of little worker bee, that’s exactly how they are going to think of and treat the relationship.

The first place you nip that in the bud — so that you can get more ideal clients who properly treat and understand the relationship as a business-to-business one — is through the language and
terminology you use.

I Am Replaceable

 

I was watching a video one recent morning and it reminded me of something that I wanted to share with you:

I am replaceable… and that’s a good thing.

What I mean is this:

I am not indispensable because I keep my clients dependent on me.

I’m indispensable because I empower them to run their own businesses without me if, when and where they need to or should they ever choose to.

Any of them could walk away from me tomorrow and be okay and not lost as to what or where anything is.

If I got sick or anything happened to me (god forbid), they are all in great shape to be able to take over and run with things themselves.

I don’t withhold their own information from them (e.g., think web designers who withhold passwords or sign up for client domains and hosting in their own names instead of the client’s).

I don’t make them have to go through me to get access to their own documents, administration and services.

I specifically use certain tools and work with clients in ways that they always have access to everything they need.

They stay with me by choice, not because they’re stuck and it would be too much trouble to extricate themselves.

They stay because I make their business (and life) better. I ease their burdens. They have less stress and more free time.

Because I’m good at what I do and always do what I say I will, they trust me implicitly.

Those are the best reasons for clients to stick with you.

What We Mean by “Partnering” with Clients

What We Mean By Partnering with Clients

Partnering is a word we use often in our industry.

Sometimes people (both in and outside our industry) don’t know what we mean when we use that word in relation to administrative support. They don’t understand why a partnering relationship is useful to them.

We’re actually talking about a few things when we use the term partnering:

  1. We’re referring descriptively to the personal, one-on-one, ongoing relationship between two people (as opposed to an occasional, impersonal one where the work is a one-time or sporadic series of transactions with no deeper relationship than that).
  2. We’re referring to fit and chemistry.
  3. And most importantly and beneficial to clients, we’re talking about the sympatico, intuitive, shared body of knowledge and understanding that occurs when a client works with an administrative support partner in an ongoing relationship.

This is the only way to get to know and understand a client and his/her business at any deeper level.

The benefit and value of this, of course, is that clients get someone who “learns” them: who they are and how they think, how they like things done, what their frustrations and annoyances are, what their challenges and obstacles are, what their idiosyncratic workstyle is, and what their bigger picture goals and aspirations are.

It’s only in that kind of personal, ongoing relationship that an administrative partner can learn to anticipate her client’s needs in a variety of ways. As they get to know each other more and more, an administrative partner can work and think more independently on behalf of her client and complete work with that “big picture” context and understanding of the client’s business in mind.

The client then doesn’t have to repeat him/herself over and over to every different person and can feel more confident and at ease in letting go and allowing things to get done on his/her behalf.

This makes the client’s life infinitely easier, and he/she has more time to focus on other things.

By investing in the relationship for the long-term, clients eventually get someone who is always working in a way that supports their needs, their interests, their ways and their objectives in mind, just as the client would themselves.

The longer they work together, the more that knowledge and understanding grows, and the easier it is to work and do more together.

But that only happens within an ongoing, one-on-one relationship.

A cog in a wheel is just that — a cog.

A cog’s ability to think critically and act independently (which is of huge benefit to clients) is extremely hindered. The left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing (or only knows a very limited or isolated part).

Working in that context requires a lot more effort from the client, which can add to their exhaustion and overwhelm and burden.

It certainly doesn’t free up more of their time because they have to oversee and micro-manage all the myriad moving parts.

If they had an administrative partner, on the other hand, someone who takes on certain roles and functions accordingly, that is tremendously freeing for clients.

It’s important to keep in mind that clients don’t know everything and are often too close to their own businesses to see the forest for the trees (as we all are).

As someone who is able to get to know a client’s business nearly as well as they do themselves, by virtue of that deeper, ongoing relationship, an administrative partner can be immensely helpful and valuable to the client by being able to see and bring to attention those things which the client might not know or see from their perspective.

That said, we shouldn’t expect that clients already know and understand this value. They might think, I just need someone who will do what I tell them to do.

But that is a cog, a trained monkey — not an administrative partner.

That’s why it’s always our job as Administrative Consultants to help our potential clients understand how administrative partnering and working in a long-term, continuous — not transactional — relationship can be tremendously valuable to them.

Like any of us, so often it’s the case that they simply don’t know what they don’t know. So the more you develop and lead the client through your own processes, the more you define the roles and functions you can take on for them, the easier you make it for them to see and understand that value.

Flunkies and gophers are a dime a dozen. Their value and usefulness is also extremely limited. Clients don’t expect to pay them much more than that either. 😉

But that’s not what you are as an Administrative Consultant.

As Seth Godin so elegantly puts it: You are not a task rabbit. You’re a professional doing unique work that matters.

RELATED ARTICLE: I’m Not Your Partner?

RESOURCE: If you want a bit of extra help articulating to clients the value and benefits of working together, you can also direct them to the ACA Client Guide.

***
What has been your experience with this? Do you ever have trouble articulating your value to clients? Do they ever have trouble “getting” it?

Reminder to Clients: People Are Not Vending Machines

Reminder to Clients: People Are Not Vending Machines

People need human kindness and appreciation. Remember their dates. Don’t grunt requests at them, as if they aren’t worthy of the extra two seconds of time it takes to speak to them in complete sentences. Say “please” and “thank you.” Human beings are not vending machines.

These thoughts arose from a situation in my personal life, but it’s a good reminder for clients as well.

If you find yourself with a client who exhibits any of these disrespectful behaviors, it’s an indication that they may not understand their role in the relationship (namely, that of client, not employer).

Make sure you don’t leave them any room for misunderstanding that. It’s too important to your success in working together and your own personal happiness in your business.

You set the tone for that by marketing yourself as a strategic support partner and administrative expert, not their assistant.

Dear Danielle: What Are Your Thoughts About this Deadbeat Client?

Dear Danielle: What Are Your Thoughts About this Deadbeat Client?

Dear Danielle:

I recently experienced every startup business owner’s nightmare. One of my clients (a fast talker) was extremely upset because I had to resort to threats of involving my business attorney. It is absolutely outlined and spelled out in all of my contracts. He went off on me, tried to avoid payment, but I did not back down. He refused and did not pay the late fees that are also outlined in my contract as well, then had the audacity to tell me, “I’ve been in business for 35 years and never seen such aggressive payment policies.” I reminded him how I bent all my rules for him from the start in order to accommodate his needs, drastically lowered my pay, and okayed him to pay upon invoice vs. upfront for projects. After he found that I was not going to back down and accept the loss, the funds miraculously appeared in my account. However, he did not pay the late fees he had incurred. He is someone I will always run into as we are associated with the same Chamber. Not only did he insult me countless times, but he left some very rude messages. I stayed calm the entire time and continually reminded him of the contract we had gone over together and signed, and how with any business, his included, no one will render services without payment. My attorney advised me to take the loss for the fees because he eventually paid and to let it go, especially considering how low the amount was from start. Needless to say, after a long disturbing message from client, he says, “We will no longer do business. Don’t call us anymore.” I laughed thinking, he can’t be serious? Surely, he couldn’t have thought there would be any more services after that. Ultimately, I thought about it; he knew I had just begun. What he didn’t know is that I have many years of experience behind me. Just because a business is up and coming, that doesn’t mean you’re illiterate as to how business should flow. I am now considering that he may taint my good name with lies to cover what he has done. What are your thoughts? —Chaunte’

I’m guessing while you are justifiably upset, you may also be feeling a bit beat up and second-guessing yourself, wondering if you were out-of-line in any way.

I don’t know the backstory here so I’m not entirely sure what happened, but if you did work he engaged you to do, you are certainly entitled to be paid.

That said, I call these first clients (the ones we take on when we’re new and not entirely sure what we’re doing just yet) “practice” clients.

We learn a lot from these initial clients, particularly what we don’t want in our businesses, who we want to avoid working with in the future (i.e., un-ideal clients), and what red flags to look for and be conscious of going forward.

We also have to cut ourselves a little slack when we’re new, forgive our missteps and possible clumsiness.

The good news is that we can learn from these experiences, gain clarity about how to do things differently next time, tweak and adjust our processes and infrastructure accordingly, and improve our finesse.

Since you asked for thoughts, I’ll share a few in no particular order in the hope that you find some useful ideas…

  1. The first thing I keyed in on was your characterization of this client as being “a fast talker.” This seems like the first red flag to appear that you recognized, and yet you took him on anyway. It would be worthwhile to do a bit of soul-searching and ask yourself why? If it was clear to you that this client was a bit of a “Slick Willy,” what made you ignore that red flag and not trust your first instincts? Will you ignore your intuition the next time this kind of client approaches you? Is this the kind of client you really want to be working with? If not, what will you do differently next time?
  2. The other related thing that stood out was your mention of how you bent over backwards for this client, gave him discounts and breaks you normally wouldn’t, and stepped over your own policies and self-interests. Why? Because no good ever comes from this; all it does is teach clients how to treat us poorly and take us for granted. So it would be good to ponder and examine what might be going on here. What I see that often happens is when we are new (and I had a very similar problem when I was new in business myself), and we don’t yet have a firm frame of reference of our value, we tend to overcompensate. We don’t think what we offer is enough; we think we need to “prove” ourselves. In fact, this is the worst thing we can indulge in when we’re new because the worst kind of clients smell that neediness and desperation like blood in the water. A lot of this clears up as we gain experience in business and working with clients. But often a person can go out of business before they can gain the insights, professional self-esteem and confidence to overcome these debilitating tendencies. This is why I always tell people that they can’t afford to work with crappy clients, not for any amount of money — they’re business killers. They can destroy a person’s morale and confidence in the blink of an eye.
  3. This does not sound like a joyful experience whatsoever. If you have clients you have to threaten with attorneys and legal action, there is something very wrong. Sure, you might be in the right, but do you really want a life and business working with people who are not honorable, that you can’t trust, who disrespect you with nonpayment? I’m guessing not. So, one important step to avoid this in your business moving forward is to start two lists: one for all the traits and characteristics of your ideal client and one for all the traits and characteristics of your UN-ideal client. Continue to add to these lists with every new client experience throughout the life of your business. It will be a constant work in progress; the point is that it is one of the very best exercises in getting clear about who you do and don’t want as clients so that you heed red flags and trust your gut in the future. As you consult with new clients, keep those lists handy. They’ll remind you whenever you’re tempted to step over your own standards about who you do and don’t want to work with (and more importantly, why).
  4. Yes, it’s good to have proper contracts with legal language that spells out what the recourse and late fees will be if a client doesn’t pay. At the same time, this should always be a very last resort for the very worst case scenarios. The best course is to avoid working with crappy clients in the first place. The better, more productive, focus is not to underscore every legal point to hammer clients over the head with them, but to improve the ways in which you get clients and how they are educated all along the way. This is why we have a website and steer clients there first so it can pre-educate them and set the proper context. It’s why we have a specific consultation process to further instill proper mindsets and education, as well as determine fit, before we take on clients. It’s why we need to get clear about the business we intend to be in (e.g., do you want to be in the project business where everything is a transaction, or in the business of ongoing administrative support where there is a more personal relationship and where you can charge an upfront retainer?). It’s why we are discerning about the clients we take on and go through specific, intentional steps in onboarding new clients (e.g., having a Client Guide and conducting a new client orientation with new administrative support clients). It’s why we get clear about our own standards, values and goals and what is important to us in our businesses — so that we can establish the policies, procedures and protocols that support them.
  5. I agree with your attorney. Even though you may be entitled to them, forget about the late fees. It sounds like you got the principle amount. This client is not worth allowing him to suck any more of your precious attention. To continue to let it take up space in your mind is giving energy to the wrong thing, to your detriment. For your own sake, forget about this client and move on.
  6. Deadbeat clients can happen to the best of us, particularly when we’re new. At the same time, clients often don’t pay because they aren’t happy with something. Did he give any reasons for why he wasn’t paying? Did you ask him? A lot of times some honest dialogue and meaningful probing can unearth what the real problem is. Barring a client just being a jerk and thinking he can take advantage (which it sounds like this client was), it’s very useful to us to forget about being in the right and make a sincere attempt to see things from the other person’s perspective when an issue crops up (which it can even in the best client relationships). The insight and feedback we can gain is like gold to our businesses — as long as we make good use of it.  So don’t shy away from direct, honest, respectful dialogue with clients. Don’t be afraid to ask — and hear — what could I do differently? What would make this better for you? You can use it to figure out where your blindspots might be and improve your systems and processes (for them and for you).
  7. One way to avoid deadbeat or otherwise un-ideal clients is to have a website. I noticed you don’t have one yet. While I get that people often want to take on clients before they have a website in place to start making money right away (and there is no shortage of morons out there telling people they don’t need a website to start their business), I would argue that this is a mistake. It is not to your benefit in any way for you to be doing business without a website. In so many ways, your website IS the business. Your website isn’t just a way to market what you have to offer. Its other value to you is that it provides a tool with which you can properly educate clients and set and manage their expectations and mindsets before you ever start working together. This is what will get you more consults with more (and better) clients.  To take on clients without the benefit of a website where you can send them to get informed about how things work in your business, what business you are actually in, who you are looking to work with (and who you’re not), etc., is like charging into battle without a gun. Your website can help you prequalify and attract more of your ideal clients, educate them in the way you need them to be so they enter the relationship with the right expectations and mindsets and understandings (and respect!), and weed out those who are not a good fit for you so your time is not wasted.
  8. It’s important to note that this was a project client, not a retained client where you were providing an ongoing relationship of administrative support. These are two completely different business models. It’s worth getting clear and intentional about which kind of business you want to have because the kind of clients you get, the way you work together, how you get them, how you make your money, and the processes you go through with each are very, very different from each other.
  9. Another way to get more intentional about the business you consciously choose to be in and the kind of clients you want to work with is to choose a target market. A target market is simply a field/industry/profession that you cater your administrative support to (like attorneys or financial advisors or coaches or speakers, etc., etc.). The benefit is that when you know specifically who you’re focusing on, you can get clear (more quickly and easily) about how to craft your solutions, how to market them, and where to find and get clients more quickly and easily. When you have a target market, you don’t have to take on projects with any ol’ client for not enough money. It helps you get more of your ideal clients and provide more ideal solutions designed specifically for them (which allows you to command higher fees).
  10. We always get a do-over. Each and every day is a new chance to learn, improve, do differently and grow.

***

What about you? Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? How did you resolve it and what did you change moving forward?Save