Archive for the ‘Answering Client Phones’ Category

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

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

Dear Danielle:

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

Hi Karen 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I would like to address something else as well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which leads me to my next point:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is There Room for LIFE in Your Business?

Is There Room for LIFE in Your Business?

Came across this article about how Sweden shortened their workday to six hours.

Hear, hear!

Germany is similar, with basically a 7-hour workday.

All of Europe really has a much more humanistic approach when it comes to work.

Many businesses are closed on Sundays. Many will close for several weeks during the holiday season. And they take longer lunches with time to actually eat slowly, enjoy their meal, and recharge.

The U.S. has a lot to learn from them because for all the time off people have over there, they are more productive, healthy and well-adjusted.

In my business, there are naturally some days here and there where I am nose-to-grindstone all day doing client work. And I enjoy those occasional balls-to-wall challenges.

But those are the exception, not the rule.

It wouldn’t be humanly sustainable for very long otherwise, and the service and quality of my work to clients would suffer as a result.

That’s why, in my business, I generally have a four to five hour workday.

It’s like that for several reasons.

First, I don’t operate an “assistant” business model. That means I don’t work with clients like a day-to-day assistant (like in the employment world).

I don’t take on work that inherently requires me to be chained to my computer all day, every day, or that can only be done within certain client-imposed hours.

And I don’t provide instant/same-day turn-around on client work requests. I only take on work that can be scheduled within my work management system.

If it’s work that can’t be done within a three-day window, then it’s not work I take on, and the client has to either do it themselves or plan ahead better and provide more lead time in the future.

That’s because it’s a standard in my life to operate my business around my life, not the other way around.

I firmly believe that your business should support your life, not suck the life from you.

And it’s important to me that my work and business be structured in a way that gives me plenty of breathing room so I can do great work and take fantastic care of clients while also having time and space to take care of me.

(Remember, ultimately, taking care of you is taking care of clients. Someone who is overworked, stressed and unhappy is no good to anyone.)

It’s also why I don’t do what I call “wipe your ass” work such as making appointments, answering phones or managing anyone’s day-to-day calendar or inbox.

Never have and never will and my business and income haven’t suffered one bit (in fact, I make more money and command higher fees because of it).

That kind of work is what “assistants” do, and as an Administrative Consultant, I’m not an assistant. Clients need to manage their own calendars, inboxes and personal appointments.

When you take on that kind of work (answering phones, managing client calendars and inboxes), you put yourself into on-demand/same-day timing because that’s what so much of that work entails. When you do that, you end up creating a business that has you working like an employee and requires you be attached at the hip to your computer and email every single day.

Leaving you very little of the freedom and flexibility you went into business to have.

Don’t buy into the BS that you have to be anyone’s personal assistant to also provide admin support and be of value. They aren’t the same thing and are not inextricably entwined.

Those people who think that have only ever known how to work with clients like an employee and don’t know how to think more entrepreneurially about themselves and how they offer their service.

The more you know your target market and their business/profession, the better you can identify and focus on the more important and actual administrative work that moves their business forward, helps them accomplish their goals, and creates real, tangible results.

Beyond that, I let clients do their own ass-wiping. 😉

If they need someone to work like an employee/assistant to them each and every day, then that’s who they need to hire, not me. Those aren’t the clients I work with.

Because I’m not in the assistant business. I’m in the administrative support business. Two completely different things. 😉

Power Productivity & Biz Management for Administrative Consultants (GDE-41)If you’d like to finetune your own administrative support business and work with clients in a way that gives you more freedom and flexibility in your life—which, I might add, also allows you to be more productive and take far better care of them in the process—I share my exact business model and management systems and how to implement them in my guide, Power Productivity & Business Management for Administrative Consultants (GDE-41). Check it out.

Dear Danielle: What Phone System Do You Recommend?

Dear Danielle:

I have a few clients who want me to answer their phones for them. Is there a phone service that will allow my clients to forward their phones to me and when my phone rings I would know which company I am answering the phone for? –NA

Thanks for the question. Unfortunately, I can’t be of much help with your specific question as I’ve never answered phones for clients in my 15+ years of practice. I refer them instead to Ruby Receptionists, which is a company that is specifically in the business of answering phones for clients.

Since you’ve asked me, what I would encourage you to do before you proceed further with this is just make sure that you even want to be in the phone answering/receptionist business.

The reason I bring this up is because so often new business owners in our industry don’t realize that they have a say in the matter, and then get led down paths that they may not really want or intend, and eventually wish they hadn’t.

They go into the relationship thinking that they’re just supposed to do whatever clients want them to do because they’re still thinking of themselves as a sort of admin assistant rather than a professional service provider.

It’s not until later as they get into things that they realize business is far different from when they were an employee working exclusively for one employer, and how and when they work with clients, as well as what they do (and don’t do) for them, needs to be very different in many ways.

You may eventually find that answering phones for clients is turning your business into a J.O.B. where you are chained to your desk/office/phone system. You may find that it deprives you of the freedom and flexibility that you originally planned for your business. Answering phones interrupts your concentration, which in turn may make it more difficult for you to take on and do a good, timely job for more profitable clients and projects.

Think about how you’d have to charge clients. I know that if a client expected me to be sitting at my desk waiting for the phone to ring for certain hours, I darn sure would be charging for those hours, not the calls, since that is business time they would be reserving and requiring me to be available.

Here are a few other blog posts I’ve written that may also be helpful to you on this topic:

Dear Danielle: I HATE Answering Phones. Do I Have to?

Dear Danielle: How Do I Answer Phones For Clients?

The decision is yours obviously, and I wish you all my best either way. I just want you to know that you do have a say in the matter. In fact, it’s actually very important to your business success that you decide consciously and intentionally what you want to be in the business of and what you don’t.

So always keep in mind that just because a client asks, doesn’t mean you have to provide something if that’s not what you want to be or do in your business. Remember, you are not a replacement for employees; you’re something very different and aren’t going to necessarily do all the same things an employee would do.

Dear Danielle: How Do I Answer Phones for Clients?

Dear Danielle:

I live in New York and have been a VA/Administrative Consultant for a client in Texas for approximately five months now. Everything is going well. I answer the phone with her company’s name right now. However, I would like to expand now and take on at least another two more clients. How would I possibly handle three clients at once with just one phone line and how would I answer the phone for each client. I recently just began saying my name. What do you suggest? –PC

Ah, you are getting an inkling of what a dead-end it is trying to be a receptionist for clients. This kind of work will turn your business into a J-O-B… a prison cell that forces you to become chained to your phone for certain hours a day. Is that really what you went into business to do?

Plus, think about how you’d have to charge clients. If they expect you to be available for certain hours to answer the phone, they should be charged for those hours, not by the call.

And how will answering phones affect your concentration when you are trying to carry out administrative work for your other clients? What about your own business’s phone calls and consultations with prospective clients?

What happens if you need to step away from the office? Are you really going to appreciate having to check in and out with clients? And even if you took the phones with you, how long are you going to like having that intrusion upon your life? When do you think it will eventually take a toll? Would clients appreciate their calls being answered unprofessionally such as if you are in a noisy space or sounding like you’re out shopping?

If you are intent on answering phones, I don’t have any insight for you as I have never provided that service for clients in my practice. However, if you’re open to it, I want to invite you to explore some different thinking:

There is an infinite difference between going into business to bring your administrative skills to clients who need that expertise in their business and going into business to be an assistant. That doesn’t mean you can’t be an assistant as well if that’s what you want to do. I just want you to know that being an assistant and being an administrative expert are two separate things. You don’t have to be an assistant (or a receptionist) if that’s not what you want to be in the business of doing. Your value is NOT dependent upon also being an assistant. Because providing administrative support and expertise is a big enough role and valuable enough work in and of itself.

You may want to do some heavy thinking about what you really want to be in your business because one will enslave you and limit your income potential and one will allow you to be an expert providing skilled, strategic support while still leaving you with lots of freedom and flexibility in your business and your life. Guess which is which?

Likewise, there’s a complete difference between being an administrative expert and being a receptionist. You get to choose which one you want to be. I just want you to be aware that you don’t have to be a receptionist if you would prefer to focus exclusively on being an administrative expert.

What happens is that newcomers to our industry get hit with the idiotic message that they are supposed to be an assistant to clients, a secretary just like they were in the workforce except virtually. It’s a big, fat farce, and it doesn’t work.

That’s why we see so many Virtual Assistants struggling. They create these businesses that have them operating and working with clients in ways that prevent them from earning well and don’t leave them any room to grow, much less think. They don’t know any other way to earn well and so they fall prey to the thinking that the only way they can increase their income is to create a bigger business or go into something else entirely. I see it over and over and over again.

It never needed to be that way for them in the first place, and that doesn’t need to be your lot either. All it takes to change things around or prevent yourself from falling into the same trap are some simple mindset shifts.

If you are running a business, you are not–and can not–be anyone’s assistant. It is absolutely impossible for you to work and be just like that secretary/administrative assistant you were back in the workforce to clients. It will turn your business into a prison and keep you working with clients in ways the absolutely prevent you from making any kind of real money–at a level you could actually live and thrive on just with the business alone.

You can’t be everything to clients. And you have to understand that when you’re in business, how and when you work with clients and what work you do for them is necessarily going to be much different from how they would work with an employee.

Like I say, you can be an assistant or a receptionist if that’s what you want to do. You can also simply choose to be an administrative expert and say “no” to any kind of on-demand, instant assistant type work that requires you to be chained to a phone or desk or checking in on a daily basis.

If clients need a receptionist, you could do what I do and refer them to a virtual receptionist service like Ruby Receptionists. Because this is specifically and exclusively what they’re in business to do, they can provide this service far better and more economically than you ever could. You are then free to focus on being the best administrative support expert you can be to clients–without being chained to a phone.

Being On Demand Is Not a Sustainable Promise

Let’s say you promise on-demand, employee-like support to clients.

You market your business promising clients that it will be just like having their own administrative assistant, just like back in their corporate days, only virtually.

Let’s say one of the things you tell prospective clients is that you can manage their email box every morning.

You tell them, “Imagine waking up every day to an IN box that’s already been sorted through for you!”

So you get one client and it’s easy enough to keep up with this, right?

Then you get another client who also wants their email box sorted through every morning.

And you get another client who wants that as well.

Pretty soon, you’ve got a handful of clients, all of whom you’ve promised to sort through and manage their email IN boxes every morning.

Now, the first thing you have to do every morning of every day is deal with all your clients’ email boxes.

It begins to take up a fairly significant part of your morning each day. And that’s not counting all the other work you have on your plate for all your various clients each day.

A couple clients complain that you are starting to take too long to manage their email boxes in the mornings, they need it done quicker so that it gets done before they start their day. But you’re already working as fast as you can.

You try to prioritize clients and put them in some kind of order based on need, but three of your clients are in the same timezone that is three hours ahead of you, meaning, you’d have to get up extra early in order to beat them to their IN box before they start their day.

On top of this, you are beginning to feel trapped and chained to your desk. You can’t get away when you want because you’ve promised these clients this service and allowed them to expect it every day.

It doesn’t matter that you’ve had to tell them that there are going to be days when they will have to handle this on their own. They still complain and grumble and are dissatisfied because they’ve been led to expect that this was something you would do for them every day, just like an in-house assistant.

Sure, it would probably be better to just let them go, but you need the money. It was a lot of work to get their business in the first place. You feel like you’re letting them and yourself down.

You’re wishing now that you’d done things differently, not created such unsustainable expectations.

But now you’re stuck and it’s causing you to procrastinate, to dread your own IN box.

When you’re working, you feel stressed and harried, like someone is breathing down your neck.

You find yourself making silly, dumb mistakes you’d never make under any other conditions. You’re a highly skilled administrative expert and that’s just not you! You don’t know what to do or how to start over.

You’re now wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into.

You’re burnt-out. You don’t feel like working like this day in and day out. You feel like a slave and have no freedom.

Wait, this is just like the J-O-B you used to have, only now, instead of working for one employer in one business with one dedicated workload to manage, you’ve now got a handful of “bosses” all in completely separate businesses and with completely separate workloads to manage! What?!

Is this what you imagined business would be like?

Have you thought through how all the things you promise clients will actually play out and work in real life, practical application?

Have you thought through what your daily life and actual work with clients will be like if you offer your administrative expertise and support in an on-demand, instant-assistance-like manner?

How many clients can you expect to work with like that?

What might the limit be to your income potential operating like that?

Don’t you want time to actually be able to breathe and also enjoy the freedoms that can come with owning your own business?

Can you imagine that there is a different way of operating an administrative support business that doesn’t require you to offer your support in any on-demand, instant assistance kind of way?

Dear Danielle: I HATE Answering Phones. Do I Have To?

Dear Danielle:

It seems like a lot of business owners want someone to answer phones. I HATE answering phones. Is there a way to get around this? –GF

I with you! I hated being chained to a phone when I was an employee, and I darn sure had no intention of being a receptionist in my business, lol.

Our industry has had a lot of terrible marketing. As a result, clients come to the table thinking we’re going to be just like their old admin assistant. What they need to understand is that we are not receptionists or call center operators. And you don’t need to be one, either, if that’s not what you want your business to be.

In my observations of new business owners in our industry, I see them thinking they need to be and do everything for clients. They end up trying to offer every conceivable service under the sun. And it backfires on them.

My advice is to stick with the work and support you love doing and are best at. Don’t bother with anything that negatively impacts your business model or the quality of life you want for yourself.

Because as the saying goes, if momma ain’t happy (that’s you, lol), ain’t nobody gonna be happy (much less get anything of value from you).

If you can’t or don’t offer a certain service or area of support yourself, you can still be of help by referring clients to businesses or resources that do.

Why be the architect of your own unhappiness by creating a life where you dread waking up each day to work you loathe doing? (You can get a job for that!)

If you don’t want to answer phones for clients, don’t offer that service. Simple as that.

Remember, you aren’t meant to replace every single support function in a business. What you’re providing is strategic support. You don’t have to meet every single client need in order to still be a great help and value to them. 😉