Archive for the ‘Bad Clients’ Category

25 Ways to Get Better, More Ideal Clients

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One of the biggest complaints people voice in our industry (the administrative support business) are clients who are a pain in the ass, otherwise known as PIAs, or more gently, unideal clients.

Bad clients are also one of the biggest business killers. One bad client (particularly in a new business) can suck up all your resources and destroy profit—and your morale—to the point of no return.

Despite your best efforts, it’s possible to end up with a rotten apple once in awhile.

Far more often, however, it is we who create the conditions that bring un-ideal clients into our lives in the first place.

You have far more control in this area than you may realize. So, here’s a list that will help you have more ideal, joy-to-work-with clients who won’t tear your business apart:

  1. Own your role. Bad clients don’t happen to you. You’re the one who took them on and continues to work with them. Acknowledge that so you can fix it and start doing things differently from this point forward.
  2. Trust your gut. If you have a bad feeling or see red flags, pay attention. Your instincts will never fail you.
  3. Treat and respect your business like a business. When you do, your prospects and clients will as well.
  4. Have self-respect. Don’t beg, bribe and prostrate yourself to get clients. The only clients who are attracted to desperate people are bad clients.
  5. Don’t be so available. Have a process that prospects go through to become clients. It’s an indicator that you are a professional, successful business, and that is going to attract professional, successful prospects. Anyone who is in a rush and wants to sidestep your processes is never an ideal client. Better clients are willing to wait for the best.
  6. Never take on work or clients just for the money. This is often where at least 75% of the problems start.
  7. Have standards. For example, choosing to work with only honest, ethical people is a standard. What others can you think of? Write them down and hang this list where you’ll see it every day.
  8. Set proper expectations. Remember, you’re not running a mass consumer, assembly-line business like McDonald’s. You’re running a professional service firm where there is a personal, ongoing relationship with each client. Sometimes clients can seem unideal because you haven’t properly managed expectations. They’ve been left to their own devices and so they assumed or made up their own rules. Similar to raising children, if we are too permissive, over-promise, and establish policies that we can’t possibly sustain on a consistent basis (such as 24-hour, on-demand, instant assistance), we can turn clients quickly into spoiled brats who throw tantrums the second you don’t instantly jump at their request. Picture your business with a full roster of retained clients. What kind of turn-around and communication policies does THAT business need to take great care of all your clients, consistently and reliably, now and in the future, without overcrowding and burning you out in the process?
  9. Set policies, procedures and protocols. These are relationship-preservers that bring order to your business, ensure it runs smoothly and gives you the space you need to take fantastic care of all your clients, evenly, consistently and reliably. Without this structure, clients can quickly (and often do) turn into monsters we dread dealing with.
  10. Establish boundaries. Besides helping ensure your business runs smoothly so you can do great work for all your clients, your policies and protocols also establish boundaries. For example, having formal office hours between 9a and 5p is a policy that also sets a boundary that tells clients you are running a professional business that opens and closes at certain hours and they may not expect you to be working past those times. See? Boundary.
  11. Honor your standards, boundaries and protocols. Here again is where we often “do it” to ourselves by taking shortcuts and stepping over our standards and boundaries or allowing clients to. They’re in place to ensure you have a happy business and happy clients. Ignore them at your peril.
  12. Know who your ideal client is. Start an Ideal Client Profile. This is a list of all the traits, characteristics and demographics of the kind of person you really enjoy working with, who you work best with, and who benefits most from working with you. Keep adding to and refining this list throughout the life of your business. This formalizing exercise helps you get more clear, conscious and intentional about who you want to attract and focus on in your business.
  13. Start an UN-ideal Client Profile. Likewise, as you grow in your business, you are going to get more and more clear about who is not the right fit for you, with whom you don’t enjoy working. List these traits and red flags so that you can better recognize those folks when they appear on your doorstep—and quickly and politely send them away.
  14. Work with business people rather those who are employees themselves. Business people get it. Non business people are more often going to be difficult to work with because they aren’t coming from a business context and don’t understand the proper business etiquette and rules of engagement.
  15. Have a target market. A target market is simply an industry/field/profession that you cater your administrative support to. Having one will not only make everything in your business easier, it will also help you get better, more ideal clients.
  16. Have a proper business website. Your website isn’t merely an online brochure. When you have a proper website that informs, educates and markets you like a business, it’s a powerful influence in the clients you attract and how those clients approach you in a proper business context. It helps set expectations and prequalify clients so you get more ideal business people contacting you. The image it presents, the message it conveys, and the process it takes them through set a precedent that is going to attract either ideal or unideal clients to you. If you want better clients, have a better website.
  17. Stop marketing yourself like a substitute employee. Face it, if people are approaching you like a potential employer instead of a client, it’s because you aren’t educating them properly. If you don’t want clients who treat you like their substitute, beck-and-call, under-the-table employee they don’t pay taxes on, then you have to stop marketing yourself like one. Model your marketing message more like that of other independent professionals like attorneys and accountants. You want to position yourself as someone with the expertise of administration, not some order-taking gopher. Reframe the message and you’ll get better clients.
  18. Have a consultation process. And I don’t mean some penny-ante 15-minute chat. That is NOT going to help you or the client whatsoever. I’m talking about a full and proper consultation process that begins before a prospect ever contacts you. Not only does this process help you prequalify prospective clients for mutual fit, it also helps them take your business more seriously.
  19. Always use a (proper) contract. A contract is a relationship-preserver as well in that it helps everyone remember and honor their agreements to each other. A contract helps clients respect you as a business, and a respectful client is an ideal client.
  20. Have a Client Guide. Formalize your policies, procedures and prototols into a written Client Guide that you give to all new and current clients. Part of setting and managing expectations is making sure you are informing clients about how things work in your business. None of us are mindreaders and neither are your clients. If you want your relationship with clients to go smoothly and ideally, you have to inform them of what that means, how things work in your business and what is expected of them (remember, it’s a two-way street; it’s not all about their needs).
  21. Conduct a New Client Orientation with new retained clients before you begin working together to go over and clarify the information in your Client Guide and answer any questions they may have. Do this with existing clients as well whenever your business undergoes significant changes. This further supports your efforts in educating clients about the nature of the relationship, setting and managing expectations, how things work in your business and what the standards, policies, protocols and procedures are for working together.
  22. Issue formal announcements to all your clients whenever there is a change in your business. Whenever you make changes or improvements to your business and how you do things, don’t mention these things in passing. Make it formal. Send out a formal business communication to your clients on company letterhead as well as any ezine and blog you publish. Here again, you’re reinforcing the business aspect of your relationship and treating the business like a business which then influences how clients treat and respect you and the relationship.
  23. Raise your rates. When you’re cheap and there is no barrier to entry for working with you, you get cheap, unideal clients. It’s an immutable law of business that when you raise your rates, you get better, more ideal clients. It’s a way to sort the wheat from the chaff in prequalifying clients.
  24. Face difficult conversations. It will only be worse for both of you the longer you wait. However, the quicker you are to face difficult conversations, the more often those relationships can be turned around for the better. You can learn many new positive things and possibly keep a client .
  25. Let go of unideal clients quickly. They’ll keep you buried in the muck and you’ll never grow or move forward if you continue to work with them. Unideal clients are highly unprofitable to work with and suck up three times the space in your practice compared to ideal clients. They cost your business far more than you realize and you can’t afford the psychological toll they take. You have to let go of the bad and unideal to make room for the better and more ideal.
  26. Bonus Tip: Stop calling yourself an assistant. Who you attract is all about your marketing. Marketing is about educating, setting expectations and creating perception. The words you choose to call yourself influence how clients perceive you and understand the relationship. The fact is, people only understand the word assistant one way: employee. So when you call yourself an assistant, you’re telling them you are some sort of employee. When they think you’re an employee, they want to treat like one. And when you call yourself an assistant, causing their perception to be that you are some sort of substitute employee, you predispose them to balk at your fees because they only expect to pay you like an employee. If you want more ideal clients, it’s not enough to change how you work with clients  and insist that you’re a business owner. You have to stop calling yourself a term that contradicts all those efforts. When you do, you”ll get higher quality prospects and more easily command higher, properly professional fees because you haven’t created a disconnect in their understanding and perception of the nature of the relationship right from the get-go.

Friends Don’t Let Friends Jump Off a Cliff

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Last week I came upon a post where a colleague was offered an “epic business offer” to work 16 hours a week for three months—um, FOR FREE—until the client’s business launched.

Once the business launched, she was told, the client “planned” to “promote” her to paid intern status.

This client was in her target market and she felt could potentially open doors to other clients within that industry.

What she wanted to know from the group was if they had this same opportunity, would they accept it.

And every single person on there was all “Yeah, go for it!” “I’d jump on it in a heartbeat!”… rah-rah sis koom bah.

What?!

I thought I was on a business forum.

Obviously I was mistaken because not one person spoke up about the fact that this wasn’t a business deal whatsoever.

Potential is not a form of payment. And clients don’t “promote” you to anything; you’re not an employee.

This was a con for free work by some slimeball preying on a new business owner’s naivete and lack of business experience.

Hope springs eternal. But REAL friends don’t let other friends jump off a cliff.

The ol’ “dangling carrot” is one of the oldest ploys in the book by those who would devalue others.

If their “epic” deal is so great and such a sure thing, they should be investing in it themselves by PAYING for the services of others fairly and squarely. Let them play games with their own business’s time, money and profits.

If you are ever presented with an “epic opportunity” such as this, let me assure you, it is anything but.

Before doing anything foolish and wasting your precious business time and resources on those who don’t deserve you, take a look at these entertaining videos and blog posts that will really open your eyes:

1. Please Design a Logo for Me. With Piecharts. For Free. Hysterical, but quite illustrative blog post by David Thorne on the kind of client who tries to get free work with the lure of “great potential” and “future business.”

2. Pay the Writer. Video clip of Harlan Ellison rant about people expecting writers, creatives and others in service-based professions (like ours) to give their work for free.

3. The Vendor Client Relationship in Real World Situations. Video humorously illustrating how cheapskate clients try to get you to work for free just because you’re in a service-based business.

4. Are You on Sale? Stop Giving Yourself Away for Free. One of my own blog posts on the topic of illegal internships.

5. Don’t fall for dangling carrot syndrom. Another of my own blog posts about not falling for unbalanced “opportunities.”

Free does not pay your bills. It doesn’t pay your electricity. It doesn’t keep a roof over your head. It doesn’t put gas in your car. It doesn’t buy food. It doesn’t take care of your kids or give them opportunities.

You deserve better and those who depend on you deserve for you to be paid and hold yourself in higher esteem.

Say no to spec work and giving yourself away for free. Think long and hard before you devalue yourself (and teach others to devalue you) like this.

Anyone who wants you to work for free is not a legitimate prospect. Walk away.

How Do I Terminate a Client Who Is No Longer a Fit for Me?

Today’s conversation came from a thought I posted on our Administrative Consultants Facebook page:

Your “mistakes” are a necessary part of your business growth (and I use quotes because they aren’t really mistakes, they are learning experiences). You will take on a lot of what I like to call “practice” clients in the beginning. One thing, though, that has the ability to kill your spirit and morale—and possibly your business entirely—is continuing to work with a bad, unideal client. So, have standards around who is worthy and entitled and a fit to work with you. Choose clients thoughtfully, carefully and deliberately. Do your best to prequalify ideal clients (and weed out unideal one) before you ever begin working together with what knowledge and self-awareness you have at the moment. None of us is perfect or has a crystal ball and sometimes we take on a client who turns out to be not so great later. And sometimes we just outgrow some clients. Either way, never prolong a bad relationship, no matter how much you need the money because the psychological cost is far greater than you can afford. Let those clients go quickly and just feel the weight lifted off your shoulders and that of your business.

And what that means is, you do the best you can with what you have at the time.

You have much more business savvy today than when you first started. And you will continue to learn and grown every day. It’s impossible not to.

That doesn’t mean you won’t make some mistakes, have some missteps, do some second-guessing, and ignore your gut, red flags and the advice of others along the way.

These “mistakes” include clients we choose.

It’s a sure bet that the kind of clients you deem ideal in your business today are not at all the same as those you chose in the beginning. Heck, for most people new in business, any client is a good client.

But then they live and learn. They realize they are not a fit for everybody and not everybody is a fit for them. That’s the beginning of their inklings about standards and getting smarter and more self-aware about who they work best with. They learn through their experiences the kind of clients they want to avoid working with in the future.

In response to this post, Kellye Dash (who permitted me to share the convo with you) wanted to know this:

How do you terminate a client? That’s my challenge. I had a client that questioned every task, every minute billed. She had very little patience too. Every month, I found myself crediting time just to satisfy her. Every month! Yes, I know bad-bad-bad! I let it go on too long and, after several months, the client terminated me! It was not a good situation and I was very upset about it as I felt that I bent over backwards for her. I knew it was bad after about a month in, but felt tied. I wasn’t sure how to end the agreement already in progress in the best possible way. I struggle with how to avoid it from the very beginning. I always meet/speak with potential clients, assess their needs then follow up with the proposal/agreement. How do I decline servicing them if I can tell its a bad match?

So, what Kellye wanted to know wasn’t how to terminate clients, but rather how to avoid bad clients in the first place. And I’ll share with you what I shared with her:

  1. Have a consultation process. And I’m going to plug the ACA consultation guide here because it is the absolute best in our industry and will save you from a WORLD of hurt in the future. A consultation process isn’t just about the phone call itself. There are things that need to happen and be set in place before a client ever contacts you, as well as things that happen in the follow-up that make all the difference in the world in attracting and working with ideal clients and setting the tone for a successful relationship moving forward. My guide lays that blueprint out for you step-by-step, including how to follow-up and what to say in every kind of client scenario:  the ideal client you want to work with, the maybe client, and the unideal client you determine is not a fit and don’t want to work with. Mind you, I don’t just tell you exactly what to do, I explain why these steps are in place so that you gain a really deep understanding and knowledge of this aspect of your business and client psychology.
  2. Get conscious about your business standards and formalize them in writing. This includes clearly outlining your business policies and procedures as they are an important aspect in communicating your standards and boundaries, working more easily with clients and facilitating a more successful relationship. If this is an area you struggle with, my Power Productivity and Biz Management guide can help you. In it, I share my own business policies and management techniques that not only allow me to take exquisite care of my clients, but that also allow me to actually live a very flexible and freedom-filled life (one that most people only pay lip service to, but aren’t actually doing).
  3. Market more like an attorney. It’s a sad fact, but most people in our industry market thesmelves like employees, not independent professionals in a certain expertise. This creates the very first disconnect and misalignment in expectations and understandings. You want clients who treat (and pay) you not only as a peer and administrative expert. Instead, because of your marketing message, you get clients who think you’re merely some sort of substitute employee and want to treat and pay you as such.
  4. Stop making your marketing message all about the money. Besides marketing like employees, the other thing people do in our industry that is causing them problems is making their value ALL about how little clients pay. Think about it. Go to just about any website in our industry and see what the message is. It’s all about how much cheaper they are than an employee, how much the client will save, freebies here, discounts there… Is it any wonder they attract nothing but nitpickers and penny-pinchers? Their own message TELLs clients to think that way. That marketing message is a cattle-call for every cheapskate and freebie seeker out there, the worst kind of clients to deal with. Your value is not in saving clients a dime. Your value is in how much they gain from working with you, how your work and your unique, personal approach improves their business and life and helps them grow and succeed. Talk about THOSE things. (And if you can’t think of anything more valuable about working with you except that you are cheap, then you need to go back to the drawing board.)
  5. Raise your rates! Remember: you are not your ideal client. Price your services according to what your business needs to be profitable and the ability of your IDEAL client to pay, not what you can afford to pay yourself. You can’t afford to work with anyone who can’t afford you. Not charging enough attracts all the worst clients. It is an immutable law of business:  the higher you price, the better kind of clients you attract. This is because your pricing is also part of your marketing positioning. Cheap pricing you get cheap clients.
  6. Stop selling hours and instead price the overall solutions and results. When you use time as the measurement of performance (instead of results), you are training clients to focus on time and so they naturally end up nitpicking your hours. I’m going to point you to my Value-Based Pricing Guide because it is the only one in our industry that can truly teach you how to stop selling hours entirely and instead price and package your support based on value and expertise (the concept and adaptation of this methodology for our industry originated with me).
  7. Use your website as a tool for attracting and prequalifying ideal clients. Your website shouldn’t be just a pretty placemarker on the internet and it shouldn’t be parroting the same industry rhetoric that clients see on everyone else’s website. It should be working to support you in your standards, educating your prospects (to find more fit), setting expectations and understandings for a successful relationship, and prequalifying ideal clients (and avoiding unideal ones). When your site is set up properly for these purposes, you will attract more clients and better, more ideals ones at that. If this is an area you struggle with and your website just isn’t doing much for you, I recently released my proprietary web design blueprint and conversation system for building a website that actually works in our industry. It also includes a plug-n-play process for creating your own unique, compelling marketing message.

Now, all that is about how to avoid bad clients in the first place. But how about when you need to terminate a client? What do you say?

Well, if you use the ACA Retainer Agreement, there is language included that gives both you and the client the option to end the relationship with 20-30 days notice (you decide which).

If you decide that a client relationship is not working for you any longer for whatever reason and you want to end it, you simply exercise your option to terminate the relationship.

I have ended a few client relationships over the years and for me, I’ve found that being honest, to a degree, is the best approach.

What I mean by that is, maybe you absolutely can no longer stand or tolerate a client. Hey, it happens. You chose wrong, ignored red flags and then lived to regret your choice to take on a wrong client.  Does that mean it’s a good idea to tell them exactly how you feel about them? Of course not. It wouldn’t serve you or them.

You don’t have to elaborate or go in-depth. Keep it professional and be heart-felt where/if you can.

There are lots of reasons why a client is no longer a fit, all of which are perfectly legitimate and can be framed in the nicest, most professional way.

For example, maybe they are growing in different directions in their business or you are making changes in yours and you can no longer support or accommodate their needs.

You can even just simply say (particularly if it’s a bad situation), “I feel we are no longer a fit for each other and I think the time has come to end our relationship. I will continue to support you for the next X days according to the terms of our contract.”

And you honor your end of the agreement, do what you can or are willing to do to be helpful and just let them (and all the angst) go. Quickly and cleanly.

Let me know how all this sits with you and any thoughts or questions that come up. I’m happy to continue the conversation in the comments as this is a topic many people struggle with.  :)

Want Better Clients? Do These Two Things

Want Better Clients? Do These Two ThingsWant better clients? Raise your rates.

The worst clients, the ones who create the majority of the problems, are the loudest whiners and least appreciative, are the ones who pay the lowest rates.

When you raise your fees (or simply charge properly professional fees period, not cheap employee level wages), you will get a whole other (higher) caliber of clientele.

Want better clients? Stop calling yourself a virtual assistant.

Assistant is a term of employment. And people who think you are an assistant are the ones who expect the cheapest rates.

That’s because they do not see you as an independent professional in the expertise of administration. They see you as their little “virtual worker” and expect to pay you like one.

Continuing to call yourself a virtual assistant is like calling yourself a teapot. You have keep explaining that even though you call yourself one, you aren’t one.

How much sense does that make?

Why make your conversations and relationships more difficult than they need in the first place by calling yourself:

a) something that you aren’t (and as a business owner, you aren’t anyone’s assistant), and

b) that sets all the wrong perceptions, connotations and expectations that make it harder for you to get the respect you want and the professional level fees you need?

Here’s what else happens…

When you stop calling yourself an assistant, you also begin to stop thinking like one.

It’s the beginning of a huge mindset shift that occurs and you begin to start thinking more like a business owner, administrative expert and leader in your own business.

That shift in your own self-perception and identity is what also leads you down the path to better clients and higher earning.

What Would You Do: Your Client’s Clients Are Driving You Nuts

What Would You Do?

So here’s a sticky situation that makes for some interesting conversation. I want to hear what your standards and boundaries are around this one:

You have a client you enjoy working with, who is easy to work with, who happily pays your fees and fits into your ideal client category on most things. However, that client’s UNideal clients are driving you nuts. Your client is far less selective than you are about taking on clients (indeed, doesn’t seem to have any standards when it comes to choosing them) and often takes on really annoying, crazy, sucky, uncooperative ones. Problem is you’re the one who is dealing with them most/a lot of the time and it’s making you miserable. You wouldn’t deal with those kind of clients for any amount of money in your own practice, but they are still bringing negativity and dissatisfaction into your business (and zapping your time and energy) by proxy.

What would you do?

Is this client still ideal? Do clients need to share similar values and understandings around standards and boundaries in order for you to be compatible business-wise? Do you put limits on who/what you will deal with for this client as far as that client’s clients are concerned? What kind of conversation would you have with your client when you need this situation to change?

Dear Danielle: How Can I Refuse a Client without Getting Into Legal Trouble?

In this episode of What Would Danielle Say?, LH from the United States writes to ask:

Dear Danielle:

I am in the process of starting my Administrative Consulting business and am at the point where I need to develop policies and procedures. I was reading your post of Oct. 23, 2012 (You Do NOT Have to Take the Good with the Bad) about being able to choose which clients you want to work with and having the right to refuse any client you choose. How exactly do you go about refusing a prospective client diplomatically and without setting yourself up for legal troubles? Have you ever had an experience like this? —LH

I asked LH to elaborate a bit more on what legal troubles she was referring to:

I’m thinking, for instance, if I were to say to a prospect that I didn’t think we were a good match for a business relationship because of the type of business they are in. I have not run into this problem and I’m just thinking generally and hypothetically because I know how crazy people can get over the least little thing. I wouldn’t want to end up being sued for “discrimination” when it would be a simple matter of conscience. I hope that as I continue to narrow my target market (I’m still in the startup phase) that problem would be eliminated. But I like to consider all the random “what ifs” just to make sure my bases are covered. I guess you can say I have the “prepare for the worst but expect the best” attitude.  I would love to know your thoughts on the issue.

So here are my thoughts on this:

Basically, it’s a non-issue and you’re borrowing needless worry. Don’t do that. ;)

Let me put your mind at ease. You are not obligated, legally or otherwise, to take on any client who is not a fit for you. As you stated very well yourself, it’s a matter of conscience and ethics.

You can’t do your best work or have a mutually happy-making relationship with any client who foundationally is not a great match for you. It’s for their benefit as much as yours that you decline clients who are not ideal.

You already understand this. I think you maybe just needed some confirmation and validation. Amirite? :)

So how this would normally play out is that you present lots of in-depth, educational content on your website so that your ideal clients are drawn to you, recognize themselves in your descriptions and see that you are just the right person who knows how to help them with their administrative needs, goals and challenges.

In this way, your website content also becomes part of your front-line pre-qualification system because it organically helps weed out those prospects who are not a fit at the same time it is attracting your ideal prospects, getting them interested and moving them to the next step.

Next, you have a consultation and part of your consultation process might entail that potential clients complete a form or preliminary questionnaire so you can gather information before you meet and further determine (again, as part of the whole pre-qualifying process) if this is a prospect who fits your ideal client profile.

If they do, that’s when you proceed to meet in a consultation where you ask your questions and talk, see if there’s good chemistry and get the info you need to find out whether this is someone you can help and want to work with or not.

If after going through all those steps, it turns out you don’t want to take that person on as a client, that you’re not a fit for whatever reason, you simply inform them that after considering all the information, you aren’t going to be the best person to meet their needs.

I also like what you also said about it being a matter of conscience. It’s diplomatic and it’s the truth so include that. It let’s them know you’re looking out for their best interests and that it’s nothing personal.

Be sure to provide them with the links to the ACA Directory and the Client Guide so that they can continue in their search. And if you happen to know of a specific colleague who might be a better fit, refer them to that person as well.

Perhaps you’ve discovered they were confused entirely about what you are and do and need another kind of professional entirely so be sure to give them that advice to  aid them in their search. (And if that is the case, it means you need to go back to your website and improve the message because it is clearly not doing it’s job of thoroughly and properly educating visitors about what you do, who you do it for and how you help them.)

Now, ideally, your prequalifying processes weed those folks out and determine whether someone is a good client candidate long before you expend your valuable time in consultation. That is the purpose and goal of having a system of intentional prequalification. This will be particularly important later in your business when you are more established and have less time to spare in what I call “practice” consultations. You will want to reserve your time and energy only for the most ideal of prospects so always be honing and improving upon your prequalifying systems.

This is another one of the places that having a very specific target market is going to make a dramatic difference in your success. When you know specifically the profession and the profile of the kind of client you want to work with, you can create much more extensive, compelling copy to attract them to you and move them through the process of becoming a client. And when you know who you ideal AND non ideal client is, it will be easier for you to recognize the red flags that start waving when you are dealing with a non ideal potential client so that you can head things off before you waste any time in consultation.

I have a couple of products that will help you tremendously in these areas.

I’ve explained the basic outline of consulting for retained clients, but there’s obviously much more to the entire process and a certain methodology to things that makes them effective. You need to know how to talk with prospects, how to set up your prequalifying systems, how to lead the conversation and what questions to ask that will best facilitate moving your ideal prospects to becoming monthly-paying retainer clients.

Breaking the Ice: Your Complete Step-by-Step System to Confidently Lead the Consultation Conversation and Convert Prospects to Retained Clients

Breaking the Ice: Your Complete, Step-by-Step System to Confidently Lead the Consultation Conversation and Convert Prospects to Retained Clients (GDE-03)

You also mention needing to establish policies and processes and I have a product for setting up a lean, mean, streamlined biz mo-chine that both enables you to take better care of clients AND gives you more time, freedom and flexibility for your own life. This guide gives you policies and processes and shares some standards to adopt for streamlining and simplifying your administration and operations:

Power Productivity & Biz Management for Administrative Consultants: The 14 Simple Systems that Will Breathe Freedom, Flexibility and LIFE Back into Your Business and Relationship with Clients

Power Productivity & Biz Management for Administrative Consultants: The 14 Simple Systems that Will Breathe Freedom, Flexibility and LIFE Back into Your Business and Relationship with Clients (GDE-41)

You Do Not Have to Take the “Good with the Bad”

I want to emphasize this:

You never, ever, ever have to settle for anything less than ideal in your business or “take the good with the bad.”

It saddens me to no end that anyone would have that defeatist, hostage mentality.

You will never live your best life believing that.

Business IS personal.

So I want you to know that you never have to do business with anyone you do not personally care for or who doesn’t treat you right.

You’re not a Walmart. And even they have the right to refuse service to anyone they choose.

You always, always have the right to choose who you work with, no matter what you do.

Your business success depends on you working with your most ideal clients. To work with anyone else is folly and will have you circling the drain faster than you can blink an eye.

And there’s this, too:

Be in integrity for your life and your needs as well as those who come to you.

You can not serve anyone well or honorably that you do not have good feelings toward and it is unethical to take their money.

Dear Danielle: How Do You Respond to RFPs?

Dear Danielle:

I really enjoy reading your blog. My question for you is, how do you recommend responding to an RFP (Request for Proposal)? As a member of other VA forums where RFPs are posted I struggle with knowing exactly how to submit an effective proposal. I did a quick search on your site and didn’t see anything directly mentioning RFPs or responding to them. I could be wrong. I would really appreciate your input. Thank you. —Anita Armas, CustomVA Administrative Services

Hi Anita :)

You must have missed my posts on Facebook here on this just recently, lol.

You didn’t find much on my blog about this because I don’t recommend people pay attention to RFPs whatsoever.

RFPs are the worst way to build your business. Your highest quality potential clients always come from your own pipelines and networking efforts. The lowest quality “leads” come from “job boards” and RFPs. (Hint: As an independent professional, you aren’t applying for “jobs.”)

Clients need to be brought on through your processes and hoops, not the other way around. If you allow them to lead those things, all you’re doing is auditioning to be the lowest priced bidder. Those are never good clients.

Don’t waste your time on RFPs. That’s not how you will build a high-earning, professional administrative support practice.

Here is one of my posts from 2010 for more of my thoughts on the topic.

You can also find more in the RFP category of my blog.

Dear Danielle: This Client Just Won’t Change

Dear Danielle:

I’m wondering if you have any ideas on how to work with clients who are resistant to the changes you want to implement. I have a great client (also my biggest client) who seems to want to stay on an hourly model where I feel like an employee (which we all know is not the ideal arrangement). I keep trying to implement systems to make billing more efficient so I don’t have to hunt down piecemeal information from him on a constant basis just to generate some client invoices for him. He just will not do it. Aside from that, we have a really great rapport so even though he’s getting to the stage where he will need to hire an in-office assistant, I’d like to keep our relationship for the bigger items that help him run his business efficiently. I just can’t seem to find a way to get him to see my point. —KI

Omigosh, I can so relate to your question. I’ve had clients like this myself. I think we all have at one time or another. The signs aren’t always obvious, no matter how well we conduct our consultations. Sometimes, it just takes working together a bit before this kind of issue becomes more clear.

This is an issue that really boils down to growth, fit and working with ideal/unideal clients.

If you will indulge me for moment, I’d like to muse just a bit.

When we’re new in business, we often take on any clients we can get.

As we grow in our business, we begin to learn and become more clear and conscious about what we like and what we don’t like, as well as who we like to work with (and work best with) and who is… uh… more challenging, shall we say, lol.

As a result, the clients we take on later in our business look very different from the clients we had back when we were just starting out.

Sometimes those early “starter” clients stay and grow right along with us through the years. This is always awesome!

And then there are some clients we outgrow for one reason or another. Sometimes it’s because we brought them on with unsustainable practices and expectations and as we improve upon our operations, policies, standards, boundaries and raise our rates to be in more alignment with our value and financial needs, those clients balk, resist and leave.

That’s perfectly fine. I like to call those “practice clients” and they really did help you learn more about yourself and your business and to grow. So bless them and let them be on their way (or, ahem, be proactive and politely show them the door) because when you hang on to clients who no longer fit, they take up double, even triple, the space and prevent your more ideal clients from coming into your life.

This client is sounding like someone who is no longer a fit, no longer ideal for you. I have had clients like this myself. They say they want and need the help and are open to your ideas, but then never want to implement any of them or refuse to make any necessary changes. This, of course, makes things more difficult and time-consuming (not to mention, frustrating!) when they abjectively refuse to use better or even proper technology tools or make shifts in how they do things.

As a consequence, they also just never seem to grow or evolve. It’s extremely difficult to be or stay energized with clients like that. They just keep doing the same old things and getting the same old results.

If you continue working with that kind of client, it really just becomes an exercise in treading water, going through the motions. You lose all motivation for looking out for improvements or contributing ideas for their business because they have shown that they just aren’t interested. Why should you keep wasting your time and energy, right? It’s de-energizing and demoralizing and you get no joy or satisfaction when you are deprived of being able to contribute in these ways.

It’s always a delicate dance we have with clients. We want to care and help our clients do amazing things or make amazing strides. We’re just wired like this. But you can’t care more about their business than they do themselves. We can offer ideas and make suggestions, but ultimately, it’s the client’s business, not ours, and they are the ones who get to decide what they want to do and what they don’t. If someone is just not interested in changing how they do things, there isn’t anything you can do to change their mind. And it’s just not worth the aggravation trying, trust me.

And, to be clear, these aren’t awful people. Like you say, you two have a great rapport. It’s entirely possible to have a client with a great personality and with whom you get along great, beyond their stubborn inability to make improvements or do anything differently. I’ve had clients like that as well. What we didn’t have was a business relationship that energized me and made it a joy to work with them. It’s not all about the money, as we all know.

This is why it’s always a good idea to choose clients carefully through our consultation process and to let clients go if/when they are no longer a fit.

So, you have to let go of the idea that you are going to change this client. It just isn’t going to happen. And you need to decide if you are okay with that and working in your current “comfortably numb” going-through-the-motions kind of way. If it wasn’t bugging you, though, my guess is you wouldn’t be writing this question to me. My guess is you also need or are afraid of losing the income, which is why you haven’t nicely let this client go yet.

It’s all well and good to tell people to let go of clients who are no longer a fit. And that’s absolutely my best advice. But I know that it’s easier said than done. You have bills to pay and mouths to feed, after all. I get that. So here’s a practical way to grow toward that conclusion if that’s the direction you want to take.

  1. Continue to formally document and get conscious about your standards, policies, boundaries and ideal/unideal clients. Put those things in writing. Keep honing and adding to them (this will be ongoing throughout the entire life of your business). AND be sure to INFORM clients what those rules, boundaries, policies and procedures are. This is where your New Client Welcome Guide comes in.
  2. As you grow, you can implement those new standards and policies incrementally. Send out a blanket email to all your clients, informing clients as soon a possible about any change. People do much better with change when they are kept informed. But do not overly explain or have belabored personal conversations with each individual client. Simply inform and let them know you look forward to continuing to work and grow together. The choice is theirs beyond that. When you take out the invitation to conversation, clients actually react better to these changes and accept them as a matter of course. It’s when we think we need to overly explain things that they (perhaps unconsciously) get the idea that your changes are open for debate.
  3. Whenever you up your game, elevate standards and make changes, expect that you will lose some clients. You will never grow if you stay stuck doing things or working with people who don’t energize you. What may surprise you is that many of your clients will congratulate you and wonder why you hadn’t done this sooner. ;)
  4. When it comes to things like pricing, give clients plenty of notice (30 to 60 days days minimum). This gives you time to gauge which clients might be considering leaving, and put additional effort in bringing on new clients to replace any outgoing ones. And, of course, bring on all new clients at your new fee levels, standards and policies.
  5. Fear-based decision making is never a good idea or good advice. But that doesn’t make it any less of a reality. So in a worst case scenario, when you absolutely can’t risk losing the income and you have the room, there is always the option to maintain the status quo with current clients and instead put all your focus and energy into bringing on new, ideal clients at your new standards and rates. This will put you in more of a position of financial choice. Then, for each new client you bring on, let go of an unideal client. Do this one by one until you have replaced your roster with more ideal, better-fitting clients.
  6. I also suggest you purchase my Value-Based Pricing & Packaging Toolkit. In the videos and the workbook, I show you how to talk about value-based fees and what to point out to clients so they see and understand the benefits to them of working this way.

And moving forward:

  • Stop calling yourself an assistant. Another of the benefits I’ve found since using the term Administrative Consultant is that there’s more of an immediate respect, openness and even an expectation for my ideas and directions. As a consultant, people inherently understand that you have expertise and therefore expect that your suggestions are valuable contributions to make their business better. It’s a completely different framing and context they have as opposed to how they view you when you call yourself an assistant. And as a business owner, you aren’t an assistant anyway. ;)
  • Along with being a business owner and not an assistant, understand that there are some things in your business that you get to tell clients. You can’t be in business to use old, ineffective, archaic methods and technology or do things in the most difficult, time-consuming, inefficient and complicated ways. That’s counter-productive to your business and the other clients you serve. So remember, that you always get to inform clients that, no, that’s not how you do things in your business or for clients. There are going to be some tools or ways of doing things that aren’t negotiable, that you get to direct. For example, does a client get to walk into a print shop and tell them what tools they are to use, how to do the work or what information they will supply? Of course not. Every business, including yours, has ways of doing things, has certain information they need from clients, certain current methods, systems and technology they use to be most productive, efficient and effective and so they can do their best work and achieve the best results. You can’t start working in the dark ages just because one client can’t adapt. Clients can either get on-board with progress or find someone else. ;)

Remember, too, that your growth in business is always a good thing for clients because ultimately it helps you help them better. And your positive growth in your standards, policies, systemization, etc., is actually a model and encouragement for those clients who are stuck themselves in their businesses.

Dear Danielle: “God’s Work” is Not Getting Me Paid

Dear Danielle,

I’ve been struggling really hard with determining what target market I would like to cater to with my administrative consulting business. I have gone back and forth about it for awhile now. It is so tempting to take work where you can get it, but I know that is not the correct way to go about building a business. My industry experience has been in working with nonprofits, but for business purposes I would like to target start-up nonprofits because I know how much it takes to get a nonprofit off the ground and I can see how I can easily be retained in this case as well. My concern is that I won’t be fairly compensated for my work. I worked with a ministry and I didn’t get paid a dime because sometimes with entities like this, you get caught up in doing “God’s work.” Can you please give me some guidance with this issue? I would really appreciate it. —JS

Thanks so much for submitting your question. I would love to help give you some guidance on this.

First, I want you to download my free guide, Get Those Clients Now!  When it comes to getting clients more quickly and easily, it’s all about the target market. This guide will help you get more clarity around that.

It’s great that you have an idea of who you want to target. Now, you just want to do your homework about viability. Nonprofits can be tricky. While it sounds like you’ve got a great background perfectly suited to support them, you’d just want to make sure you are targeting a niche that actually has money. Because if they can’t afford professional fees, all your wonderfulness isn’t going to help you if they simply can’t pay. I’m not sure how financially secure and solvent start-up nonprofits will be, but that, of course, will be your homework to research and find out.

That said, if you can determine there’s a viable niche in there for you, your marketing message can make all the difference in the world. If you can help them understand how your strategic administrative support will actually help them operate more cost effectively and profitably, and how it will help them accomplish a whole heck of a lot more than they could otherwise, that’s half the battle.

So download the guide; it’ll help you go about that whole process.

Now, may I give you just a little bit of tough love? Please know it’s said with hugs and a heartfelt desire to help you turn things around.

You mention being concerned about not being fairly compensated. Maybe it was just poor phrasing on the fly, but the way it was worded made me wonder if you were maybe taking too passive a role in leading your own business.

Because, it’s not up to clients whether you are “fairly compensated.” YOU are the one who decides what you will charge, how you will be paid and when you will be paid. Your job is simply to inform clients how it all works. If they had gone through a proper consultation process and signed a contract, how did they not know they were a client and were supposed to be paying for your services?

So, if clients were manipulating you into working for free, you want to realize that they didn’t do that to you; you allowed that to happen.

To change that, what you want to do is get more intentional about your business and consultation processes as well as who you take on as clients. Be sure to clearly separate business from any volunteer work you are doing. So, for example, if you had gone through your normal consultation process with this ministry, they should have been clearly informed that you charge a fee for your work, and how and when and what you will be paid for that work. If there was any misunderstanding or ambiguity there, that’s a sign that you need to improve those processes and communications in your business. None of that happens without your passive or active consent. You see?

So if we need to tighten up and intentionalize (my made-up word, lol) your consultation process, I highly recommend you check out my client consultation process guide.

I hope that helps! Let me know in the comments if things improve for you with this advice moving forward. :)