Archive for the ‘Being Human’ Category

When Kids Crash Your Video Call

I can’t stop cracking up at this. Utter comic perfection:

The three-year-old parade-stepping into the room. The escaped baby. The mom flying in like she’s sliding into third base (and then backing out of the room on her knees with the kids as if that makes it all less conspicuous). And him looking like, “Please don’t notice. Please don’t notice. Just kill me now.”

I mean, you couldn’t script it better than this, lololol.

Poor guy. Obviously, we try to prevent these kinds of interruptions when we’re on a professional call, but when they happen, all you can do is take life in stride and laugh.

Have you ever had a similar mishap when talking with a client? How did you handle it and what are your best tips for working when kids, family and pets are determined to get your attention?

How to Come Back from Burnout

How to Come Back from Burnout

A recent article I came across on Lifehacker (What Causes Burnout and How to Avoid It) inspired some thoughts about burnout.

Burnout happens to everyone in our business, to varying degrees, at one time or another.

Some of it is the natural ebb and flow of things, and it’s good to be cognizant of that.

It’s also not necessarily a permanent state. There are some underlying causes for burnout that you have some measure of control over.

For example, burnout can happen if we don’t feel appreciated in our work, if we aren’t getting enough positive (or any) feedback from clients, if we’re being treated like a peon rather than a respected administrative partner:

Burnout can also happen when we over-complicate our business. What are some of the things you can examine there?

  • Can your systems and processes be simplified?
  • Are you making exceptions to your normal processes for certain clients? (Maybe it’s time to stop doing that.)
  • Are you billing by the hour and tracking time for clients and submitting time reports to them? Maybe it’s time to stop doing that as well.  (That was a rhetorical question. Yes, it’s HIGH time everyone stops doing that!).
  • Are you charging different rates for different clients? How about deciding what and how you charge and applying it to ALL of your clients?

Every exception you make, every standard you step over, every policy you bend, is making your business (and life) more difficult. More ease goes a long way in curing burnout.

Maybe you aren’t charging enough and constantly being broke is bringing you down. Well, things are never going to change until you do something different.

What could you differently there? RAISE YOUR FEES, SISTAH!

The alternative is to stay broke and unhappy in your business, which I’m going to guess is not what you went to the trouble of starting it for, now is it?

  • If you’ve never done any kind of proper business planning around fees, be sure to download our free ACA Income & Pricing Calculator. This is going to help you get clear and conscious about the economics of business and what you really need to be charging for a profitable, sustainable business that will earn what you need to thrive.
  • Get off the hourly-billing merry-go-round — because it’s killing your business. Watch this video to learn why.
  • Learn how to implement value-based pricing instead in your administrative support business. This will teach you a whole other simpler, yet more profitable, way to run your business and offer your support.

Have you experienced a bit of burnout at any time in your business? What did you feel was the root cause of the burnout? Were you able to overcome it and get inspired again? What helped you?

Get a Free Gravatar to Improve Your Networking and Personal Brand Recognition

Get a Free Gravatar to Improve Your Networking and Personal Brand Recognition

Do you have a Gravatar yet? If not, I highly encourage you to get one right now.

What is Gravatar?

Gravatar (which stands for Globally Recognized Avatar) is a play on the word “avatar” which is a photo, image or other representation of you online. This free service allows you to upload a photo that it then automatically associates with whatever email address(es) you tell it to.

Once you set your account up, your Gravatar will display your photo beside your name whenever you comment or post on a blog, publish articles, set up profiles… a whole host of things.

This helps instantly and automatically identify your online articles, comments and posts on blogs, forums, websites, etc.

This is super helpful to you in your business because it puts a face with a name which makes you more memorable to people (any of whom could be your next potential clients).

By visually branding all your online content with your face, you stick out more. The more your face keeps popping up, the more people start to notice and recognize you wherever they go online.

This helps grow the “know, like and trust” factor exponentially; the more they see your face, the more they feel like they know you and can trust you.

You can upload any image you like; however, I suggest you avoid logos and caricatures. These do nothing to humanize your business.

Stick with a nice headshot. Your image packs a more powerful punch in creating rapport.

And there is no one you-er than you so it’s the utmost in unique and memorable “branding.”

That’s because first and foremost, people do business with people. They notice and look at photos of other people far more than any other kind of image.

It doesn’t even need to be by a pro as long as it’s clear and pleasant: fix your hair, wear something presentable and smile warmly. This will suffice until you are able to get some pro shots taken.

Setting your Gravatar up is quick and easy. You can add as many email addresses as you want and swap out your photo anytime. You can learn about more of its uses and how to do things on their support page.

And, like I said, it’s free, so there’s really no reason not to take advantage of this very handy marketing tool.

Go set your Gravatar up now, then post a comment below to see how it looks!

It’s Not All About the Money

It's Not All About the Money

Saw a headline the other day: Rihanna is NOT happy with people playing Pokemon Go during her concerts.

Some might say, They paid their money. Why should she care whether people are paying attention or not? She’s raking in the dough either way.

Because it’s the same for any of us who give of ourselves to people and care about our craft and what we deliver, whatever our business may be:

It’s not all about the money.

We care about our work, about connecting and helping.

We’re not mindless robots or vending machines. Each of us is a feeling person playing our heart out for clients.

We want to be valued and treated with human dignity and respect and shown some courtesy and appreciation, regardless of the money.

No amount of money is worth playing for an unappreciative audience.

We all deserve to be paid and have clients who always remember that there is a person on the other side of the computer.

(And every client would be smart to avoid the person who is just going through the motions for the money.)

What Are You Proud of About Yourself?

What Are You Proud of About Yourself?

It’s always a great exercise to reflect and engage in some positive self-coaching whenever you need a little pep talk.

It’s also a great way to identify some of your superpowers.

And what are superpowers really but part of the unique value combination that only you bring to the table.

Make these a part of your website and marketing message!

By enumerating these special traits and characteristics, not only are you helping paint a portrait of your personal and unique value proposition, it helps attract your ideal clients and weed out the bad ones. It’s a useful way to organically prequalify clients.

As an example, here are some of the things I’m really proud of:

  1. I have always created my own opportunities. Like when my daughter was a year old and I was ready to get back in the workforce. I was still really young and the job market at the time wasn’t that great. I created my own volunteer opportunity doing admin at a nonprofit family services organization, which allowed me to brush up my existing skills, learn new ones, and gain some more recent references. I treated it just like a job, going in for set hours three days every week for six months, learning everything I could and even helping them improve on some things as well. It was a wonderful experience all the way around and helped me get a really good paying job afterward. Superpowers: Resourcefulness and Ingenuity
  2. I always pay those who work for me. It’s always been important to me walk my talk and treat those with whom I work with respect. As an industry mentor, I’ve heard far too many stories of colleagues getting stiffed by colleagues or otherwise being devalued. I also remember this one rotten client I had way back in my early days of business. This guy was constantly cheating and not paying those he hired to do something for him, not turning in payroll taxes (both those withheld from employee checks and the employer-paid share), paying employees late, even neglecting to turn over child support monies to the reporting agencies — all while buying himself Harleys, condos and spending lavishly on himself at every whim and depriving himself of nothing. He constantly pled ignorance or oversight, and in my naivete, always wanting to give someone benefit of the doubt, I chose to believe him. After counseling him over and over that employee monies are not his to spend, that he was going to get himself in trouble with the IRS and other agencies, that it was short-sighted to use and abuse the people he engaged to do work for him (and I wasn’t going to lie for him or play scapegoat), I finally had to fire him in complete disgust and contempt. I can’t imagine treating people like this. All my people get paid before I take a dime, and that’s the value I live by. Superpowers: Honor and integrity

These are just a couple of things I’m proud of about myself. By enumerating these superpowers, traits and values I hold dear in my marketing message, it gives my prospective clients and website visitors a picture into my character and better attracts the kind of client with whom I want to work.

By spotlighting the fact that I hold honesty, integrity and respect in high esteem, I’m more likely to attract those kind of clients while organically repelling the ones who don’t fit that criteria.

What about you? What kinds of traits and experiences in your life or business are you most of? What unique superpowers do they translate to? I’d love to hear your stories!

Build a Website that WORKS!

PS: If you need help turning your business website into a marketing machine that gets you clients and consults, check out my guide How to Build a Website that WORKS (GDE-40). This guide gives you a crash course in inbound marketing and business modeling, step-by-step instructions for setting up your site architecture based on my proprietary lead capture and client conversion system, and my proprietary plug-n-play system for articulating your value and creating your unique, compelling, education-based marketing message that gets you more clients and consults.

Mistakes Are a Given

Mistakes Are a Given

You can’t quit and give up just because you had a bad experience.

Making mistakes in your first attempts is a given.

These are all part of the journey: the process and the experience of learning and improving.

So you picked a bad client and had to fire him. It happens. The good thing? You now know a lot better than you did before about who you want to work with, what red flags to watch out for, and how to more quickly “catch and release” should it happen again in the future.

Got burned for payment? You do things differently in the future: work with a contract so clients take you and the business seriously; require some if not full payment upfront; stop work immediately upon nonpayment, choose better clients, conduct more thorough consultations, set better parameters, etc.

The point is, don’t let failures stop you from continuing to try, learn and grow. They are actually very valuable, useful allies in that pursuit.

(NOTE: I am loathe to even use the terms “mistakes” and “failures.” I only do so here for the sake of using common language. But really, they aren’t mistakes or failures, they are merely learning experiences.)

Do You Ever Subcontract Your Client Work?

Do You Ever Subcontract Your Client Work?

A very sweet, sincere person wrote to me asking if I ever subcontract any of my work.

She indicated that she has all the experience and qualifications to make the leap to becoming an Administrative Consultant, but hasn’t quite mustered the nerve yet, and was hoping to start off by working with colleagues and for a trusted source first.

Without mentioning names, I share this here to help her and others who are in the same boat.

My answer is that I don’t ever subcontract my clients’ work. I’m highly opposed to that.

I have a couple people who support me in my business, however. We work in an ongoing partnering relationship the same as my clients partner with me, and they pretty much take care of all my needs.

Did you catch the distinction there?

Do you understand the difference between farming your clients’ work out to third parties and having people support you in your business?

If not, please do ask because it makes all the difference between turning your business into just another low-value, commoditized McDonald’s and a high-value partnering relationship where you can command top dollar.

The other thought that pops up for me is that helping others start a business is a little like helping drug addicts.

Don’t laugh; I’m serious, lol.

Because we can only point people to information and resources and give them the right advice, our best advice.

But when it comes down to it, they have to want “it” for themselves (whether that’s sobriety or the self-determined lifestyle of the entrepreneur), and they have to want it bad enough that they just say enough is enough.

So in this case, the lack of nerves, shyness, etc., eventually a person just has to get sick of letting those things hold them back and just charge forward, come what may.

(Does my analogy make sense now?)

In the meantime, here are some other ways to get your feet wet:

  1. First, it has to be said that the best way you’re going to figure out things in your own business is by working with your own clients. There’s just no way around that. Working for others may help bring in some cash, but it’s not a substitute for building your own business and brand and going through your own processes and trials and errors that go with that. All you’re doing working for others is finding excuses to delay the start of your own dreams.
  2. Confidence is a journey. It’s not something any of us necessarily has right out of the gate when we start our businesses. It’s something we all struggle with to some degree and/or at some stage or another. It’s completely normal so you’re in good company! What you’re really feeling is discomfort with the unknown. So, as they say, you want to get good and comfortable with feeling UNcomfortable. Because if you let fear and discomfort hold you hostage, you’ll never get anywhere (in business or life). Confidence comes from actually doing. That doing is where you’ll begin to learn and understand. It’s where you’ll have your greatest a-ha moments and figure out what you want in your business and how you want to do it, and your confidence grows from there.
  3. Even if you haven’t opened your doors yet, go do some local networking. It will be good practice in talking to people and making friends with strangers. Because when it comes down to it, that’s really all it’s about. And that’s how you’re going to get clients, too. When you meet people, you can even be honest and say that your business isn’t open quite yet, and you were just looking to meet other business people and see what kind of administrative needs and challenges they had. That would be a great conversation starter AND you’d be getting some valuable market research at the same time. See, feet wet.
  4. If you’re dead-set on working for colleagues first to get your feet wet, you gotta be active and let yourself become known. The way to do that? Actively ask questions. Contribute to conversions and discussions. If you never speak up, no one is going to see you, much less get to know you. And that’s how colleagues hire other colleagues when they need help… by getting to know, like and trust them and seeing what they’re about. This is how they get a sense of what your skills and strengths are. That only happens if you’re making yourself visible. (This is the same way clients hire us, by the way.)
  5. Class matters. This isn’t directly about how to get your feet wet, but it still bears mentioning. And that is, your manners speak volumes about what it will be like to work with you. The person who contacted me was personable while being professional and she thanked me in advance for my time and consideration which she valued. I really appreciated this because it demonstrated a high measure of polish and class and that she wasn’t just thinking about herself and her needs. These traits are going to serve her very well in business.
  6. The right information will give you more confidence. What I’ve learned from my own journey and what I’ve seen in my 10 years as an industry mentor, when people haven’t gotten the proper information first, when they haven’t gone through the process of setting up proper business foundations, that’s when they have the least confidence and the most fear. Once they arm and back themselves with the tools, information and learning, that’s when their confidence flies, trepidation dissolves and they get excited and can’t wait to get their business started! You can get ALL of this, all the contracts, forms, processes and critical business skill learning guides you need to soar in the administrative support business from the ACA Success Store.

Are You Being Treated Like a Dog?

Are You Being Treated Like a Dog?

I was reading a blog post from a fellow talking about how he communicates with his assistant. It amounted to what I call being grunted at. One or two word commands and directives.

I would never allow a client to talk to me like that. And you couldn’t pay me to work with anyone like that. Not for any amount of money. Because it’s demeaning and dehumanizing.

Countless people in our industry have written to me over the years about feeling demoralized working with clients who treat them like nameless, faceless robots.

Here’s how this happens:

They come into this industry and start their businesses with this crazy idea that they’re supposed to be good little assistants, seen but not heard, doing everything they are told, practically the family dog who’s supposed to fetch and shake and rollover on command.

They work with clients like they’re on an assembly-line, like they’re still that employee waiting to be told what to do, letting clients tell them how their business is going to be run and how things are going to be.

But you are NOT an assistant.

You’re running a business to deliver a specific professional expertise, no different than a doctor, lawyer, accountant, etc.

You are someone with special skills, talents and experience in the art and craft of administrative support. An expert. A specialist.

If you want a happy business and life, put your name and face on your business. Be the expert.

YOU tell clients how you operate and how you will work together. YOU tell them what the policies, procedures and protocols for working with you are. YOU tell them what your standards and values are, where the boundaries are and what the rules and guidelines are.

And in having standards, that includes expecting and informing clients that you expect to be treated with the dignity of a human being and spoken to in complete sentences.

You’re not a robot or a vending machine they are barking orders at or punching orders into.

Don’t allow them to view you as their personal assistant/servant/gopher or substitute employee.

I always use the example of attorney and accountant because that’s exactly how I want clients to equate the nature of our relationship, that it will be like the one they have with their attorney or accountant. How they work together and speak with them is the same way they will be working with and speaking to me.

Dump any client who can’t get with the program. If they want an employee, that’s who they need to hire.

And then, when you are left with the ideal clients who treat you with the proper manner and respect accorded to professionals who are helping them, treat each and every one of them like the VIPs they are.

That doesn’t mean being obsequious and subservient. It means making each one feel special, important and valued. And you’ll be able to do that at a high level for those clients because you aren’t allowing yourself to be demeaned and having your morale and energy zapped by crappy ones.

Oh, and stop calling yourself a virtual assistant. You call yourself an assistant and then are shocked/irritated/perplexed when they treat you like one.

Assistant is a term of employment. Stop using that word. It’s ridiculous in this day and age of business to be using that word.

This is why we are the ADMINISTRATIVE CONSULTANTS Association.

Whose Fault Is It?

Can I vent a little? Do you mind?

More importantly, there are a few business lessons in this post for you as well (you know I’m always using these experiences as teaching moments, lol).

Whenever you promote something that (gasp) people have to actually pay for, you inevitably get a few unsubscribers from your mailing list.

No problem. This is a good thing. Never, ever worry about that.

Because you want those who begrudge you charging for your time, knowledge and expertise off your list. They just suck up space and create negative energy.

Who knows why they’re even on a business list in the first place because, um, business is about earning money after all. Or did they miss that memo?

I guess they should stop expecting clients to pay them as well, right? I mean, by their logic, we should all be doing everything for everyone for free all the time.

Oh wait, earning money and expecting to be paid only applies to them; everyone else is supposed to be giving to them for free. 😉

Anyway, I digress, lol.

Here’s what I really want to talk about…

So, I get this unsubscribe message from someone who writes about the ACA Industry Survey:

I shared confidential information for the questionnaire and was never offered a copy of the results. Sorry to go.

Here’s what I want you to know (because what a lot of these people like to do is turn around and badmouth you to others, mischaracterize things and spread incorrect information—or flat out lie):

  1. Our survey is confidential. We don’t know who you are when you complete the survey. You aren’t sharing anything “confidential” or personally identifying with anyone.
  2. If you have a problem with sharing your “confidential information,” why did you take the survey in the first place? You chose to take the survey, no one had a gun to your head. This is called personal responsibility.
  3. “Sorry to go.” That’s such passive aggressive bullshit. Because obviously, if you were genuinely and authentically sorry to go, you would have instead sent an email and made some polite inquiry. Business lesson: Don’t be disingenous. It’s not gracious. Get a backbone and tell the truth.
  4. I have no clue who the person writing is. She’s not someone who ever interacts or corresponds with me. I sort of get the impression she thinks I should know who she is, but here’s the thing. If you never open your mouth and speak to people on a regular basis (like on their blogs, forums, listservs, social networking, etc.), no one is going to remember you or know who you are. People can’t get to know, like, trust and remember you, much less build any kind of relationship with you, if you sit there like a bump on a log. (That’s another biz lesson, by the way.)
  5. I am always interested in making sure we do a good job and do what we say we will. So I went to investigate to see if I could piece together what may have happened. I put her name and email address into Aweber and she’s not on our current survey mailing list. Our survey page very clearly states (with several reminders throughout the process) that participants must sign up to the survey mailing list in order to get their free results report. If they fail to follow that step, they won’t get a copy. Simple as that. So, if it’s the current survey this person took, since she’s not on the mailing list, I can only assume that she didn’t complete the survey or the sign-up. Only you are responsible for your ability (or lack thereof) to follow directions or follow through.
  6. It occurred to me that maybe she was talking about a previous year and we archive those lists offline. So I went to the archives and was able to find her name and email—FROM OUR 2009 SURVEY LIST. So she’s waiting over 3 years to bring this to my attention now and wants to act like she was somehow wronged? Really?
  7. We keep meticulous records on this stuff, and our records show she was in fact sent an email from the mailing list back in 2010 with the download link to her free copy. If she didn’t download it, whose fault is that? Here’s how we do this: participants on the mailing list are sent an email with the link to download their free copy once the survey period is over and the report has been compiled. They are informed that they have X number of WEEKS (not days) to download their copy. They are told, in no uncertain terms, that the link will expire after that date and there will be no requests indulged after that point. We even send one or two courtesy reminders. The survey is a huge undertaking that takes a ton of time and energy. We have to automate and systemize in order to manage everything effectively and efficiently (another biz lesson). Plus, you have to keep in mind, this is a free service. It’s a big pain in the ass to be dealing with requests dribbling in the rest of the year from folks who didn’t follow directions in the first place. I and the people who help me in this endeavor have our own businesses to run and other things to do. We simply have to put these boundaries in place. So we spell out how things work, tell folks how to download their free report, give them a deadline with plenty of time to do so, and the rest is on them. If someone doesn’t  download their copy or report problems in a timely manner, that’s on them.

Remember, (here comes more biz savvy) business requires policies and procedures, standards and boundaries.

As Administrative Consultants, reading, paying attention and being able to follow directions and follow through in a timely manner is our stock in trade.

It doesn’t say anything good about your competence or abilities if you can’t do those things.

We all make mistakes; we’re all human. That’s okay. But own your own mistakes and failures and learn from them. Don’t blame others for them.

What Do You Think of Yahoo’s Ban on Telecommuting?

So someone asked me the other day about Yahoo recently putting the kabosh on telecommuting (employees who work from home) and what I thought of it.

As an armchair quarterback, my personal opinion is that generally-speaking, I think it’s a dumb move. Study after study show that productivity and morale are boosted in all kind of ways by allowing employees to work from home.

Yahoo is only putting a Bandaid on their telecommuting problems by elminating it. And that’s because the problems they are having are not a failure of telecommuting itself, but with the deeper underlying issues in corporate culture, values and management.

If employees don’t care about the company or their work at home, sitting them in an office isn’t going to change that.

I can see all kinds of opportunities for Yahoo to make make telecommuting work for them and not throw the baby out with the bath water:

  • Hiring better.
  • Having in-person get-togethers and meetings throughout the year.
  • Making better use of technology and incorporating video conferencing so there is more group interaction and collaboration.
  • Oh, and here’s a big one… how about giving a shit about the people and placing importance on the work they do and helping them understand the import and value of that work. I’m willing to bet that there is at least some faction of their telecommuting workforce they view as “lower-level” and were simply relegating them to telecommuting status to cheap out and save a buck. And when that is the underlying motivation, the employees absolutely know at some level they are not valued. So why should they give flying f**k? Loyalty goes both ways. And loyalty, interest and caring aren’t things that can be bought with a paycheck.
  • How about ASKING employees what they value most about a job, what motivates them, and what would help them find more passion, purpose and meaning in their work and being with the company?
  • Give employees the forum to address the issue and come up with solutions. I can just about guarantee they come up with far more creative solutions and ideas!

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There is all kinds of possibility for innovation if they could just shuck their antiquated, old-school employer mentality.

To be clear, I don’t really care about the topic all that much because it’s one of employers and employees. As a business owner (and not a telecommuting employee), it doesn’t have anything to do with me or my clients so I really don’t waste precious time and mental energy worrying about it.

However, I did come across an article on the topic that said something that was interesting to me:

The value in human interaction is greater collective wisdom as a result of improved communication and collaboration.

So, here is my question to you:

With all the technology and resources available to us in this day and age (forums, listservs, group chats, video conferencing, etc.) do you think we as independent professionals who run our businesses remotely lack in any ability to engage in human interaction and nurture greater collective wisdom, communication and collaboration?

 

Let us know what you think in the comments. 🙂