Archive for the ‘Best Biz Practices’ Category

Another Reason to Stick to Your Standards

Another Reason to Stick to Your Standards

Something reminded me the other day about why you should always do things according to your standards in your business and not to go below them just because a client asks or wants you to.

Many of the biggest, most valuable (but painful) business lessons I learned came unfortunately by working with a good friend of 10 years.

When she was starting up her business, besides setting up all her systems, doing her bookkeeping and providing her with administrative support, I created many marketing pieces for her.

Normally, I would have done these pieces according to my usual and proper design business standards using the appropriate design tools and software (i.e., Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, etc.)

However, because she constantly had changes and didn’t want to have to wait for me to make them (rushing me, being impatient), she wanted to have them done in programs that she herself had (e.g., Word) so she could make textual updates/changes herself.

I made the mistake of accommodating her. And let me tell you, it was an impressive feat to integrate design imagery into a Word document.

There are many reasons why you don’t do this as a designer.

First of all, it is not common business practice to hand over native files to clients. That’s YOUR intellectual property that you earn your living from.

What that means is the files and ownership of the creative piece hold a completely separate value from simply being engaged to create a work for a client.

This is why people are charged separately for those things (or not allowed to purchase rights at all, simply giving them license to use the work).

But in my business adolescence, I did a lot of stupid things.

And that act of “being nice” and accommodating my so-called friend came back to haunt me (or tried to anyway) because later when I had to sue her for the thousands of dollars she owed me, one of the things she tried to use against me was the very fact that these pieces weren’t in professional standard format (i.e., in Word instead of InDesign or Photoshop, etc.).

She failed in this attempt and in the end I got my money, but it was still galling to have done a favor for a client (a friend, no less), gone against my own standards and boundaries to accommodate her wishes and then to have it thrown back in my face.

So next time a client tries to rush you, overstep your processes and standards, have you do sub-par, below-standard, second-rate work, or wants you to ignore details and slide things by, or do anything that goes against your personal and professional standards and ethics, think twice about allowing that.

It won’t sit well with you and it could come back to bite you in the butt in ways you’d never imagine in the present.

Excellence in service and being of service should never come at the cost of your own standards, well-being and self-interests.

Ideal clients are those who allow you to do your best work and respect your standards and boundaries. Anyone else is not a fit.

Dear Danielle: What Do You Think of Odesk and Elance?

Dear Danielle: What Do You Think of Odesk and Elance?

Hello Danielle!

Hope you are having a great day. What do you think of Odesk and Elance as starting places for an Administrative Consultant? I currently am just starting out, just had a baby three months ago so I was thinking of starting out with these sites? Thoughts?  Thank you so much for all you do! —Maekeshia Smith, eOffice Business Solutions, LLC

Hi Maekeshia :)

It depends on what your motivations and intentions are.

If you’re just looking to make some pocket money on the side, then those places might serve your interests.

If you are looking to start a real business making real money (i.e., money you can actually live and operate profitably and sustainably on), oDesk, Elance and the like are no places for Administrative Consultants to be wasting their time.

That said, if you are not still working and need the funding, the little jobs you get here and there in those places could be a way to fund yourself and purchase necessary products, tools and training to grow your real business.

But don’t confuse that work with building your real business, because the kind of clients you need for the latter are not the kind you’re going to find on Odesk, Elance, etc.

Of course, whenever I say that, inevitably someone pipes up to exclaim how they got a great client from those places.

What I say to that is:

a) They are the exception, not the rule, and exceptions do not make for immutable laws of business. If you shop yourself amongst cheapskates, people who want to pay pennies and expect something for nothing (else why on earth would they be shopping for REAL professionals in those places), that’s exactly who you’re going to get. The odds of you finding that diamond client in what amounts to a yard sale are not in your favor. Has it ever happened at any time in the history of the world? Of course. But I would no more tell you to buy lottery tickets to build your business. The ROI is just not there as would cost you more in time and energy bidding and auditioning for “jobs” than you’d earn. There are better, faster, more profitable, effective and productive ways to build a financially successful business built with clients who value what you do for them and pay well for it. Leave Odesk and Elance for the hobbyists who have no business sense and don’t know or value their worth.

b) “Great” is relative. We would have to look closer at their business, under the hood, to see if their “great” is really all that great. Is their business really profitable? How much are they earning from that client? How hard are they working, how many hours a day, only to be barely scraping by? That’s not being profitable. They might think $15, $25, even $35 an hour is “great,” but that’s only because they have no frame of reference other than it is more than they were making as an employee. They don’t understand that the economics of employment are not the same as those of business. I’ve been in this business 20 years and all it takes is a few details for me to know how a business is really doing financially. And actually, their “great” doesn’t have any bearing on what your great is. So first order of business, so we can get real about what kind of money YOU need to earn and what kind of revenues your business needs to survive and be profitable, is to download the free ACA Income & Pricing Calculator.

Bottom line is the only kind of clients you’ll find in those places are cheapskates looking for the cheapest bidder, not ideal clients who value what the work produces and are ready and willing to pay well for it.

Here’s another blog post you should read on this topic: Dear Danielle: Should I Market on Craigslist?

You mention that you are just starting out and that’s the right time to be getting your foundations in place. I don’t know how far along in the process you are, but here are what I recommend for your next steps:

  1. Get your starting forms, documents and contracts in place so you have them and can adjust, update and adapt as you go along. You’ll be ready then when you get that first client.
  2. Get a website up. It doesn’t matter that you aren’t sure what to put on it or what to say right now. Just get it up there! Because otherwise, you’ll just stay stuck in analysis paralysis. The simple act of getting your site up is the catalyst for those next steps. A website is THE most important marketing tool you have in your business (people distrust and wonder what is wrong with a business if it doesn’t have one). It’s an integral and indispensible part of the process of properly educating prospects so you can get those ideal clients you’re seeking. AND I have a guide for building a website that works that gives you my own conversion system that you can implement in your website. It tells you exactly what pages in what order to have on your website and all the other vital elements that are needed to convert more of your prospects into clients and consultations. It also includes my patented 1-2-3 plug-n-play system that will walk you through, step-by-step, in creating your own unique, compelling and irresistible marketing message. It makes the process of writing easy as pie, even if you don’t think you are a writer (because you don’t have to be; this stuff writes itself with my formula).
  3. Choose a target market (i.e., an industry/field/profession you cater your administrative support to). Then gear your message and solutions to that market, and go start interacting with them on their industry blogs, forums and listservs and get involved in their groups, professional associations, events, etc. Be sure to download my free guide on How to Choose Your Target Market that will help you with this process and begin identifying the places to find them.

Dear Danielle: This Charity Is Offering a Low Hourly Rate. Do I Walk Away?

Dear Danielle: This Charity Is Offering a Low Hourly Rate. Do I Walk Away?

Dear Danielle:

I have recently been approached by a local charity that wishes me to work for them for a number of hours per week, but they cannot get away from the number of hours and are offering a very low hourly rate on the grounds that they are a charity and don’t have budget for more. No matter what I do or say they are stuck on hours/hourly rate. Should I walk away? Normally I would, but because it’s a charity I want to work with, it feels different. —Name Withheld by Request

I’m going to give you some straight talking tough love today, okay? :)

Do you want a business or do you want a hobby/charity?

If it’s a business you want, then you’ve got to stop wasting your time.

Not all business is good business—or business at all.

You, your family and the ones you love are your “charity.” They deserve for you to be smart in business—which includes being paid properly for your time, energy and expertise.

And by “properly” I mean at whatever business rate you (not clients) determine is profitable.

People in our industry have got to get off of this bleeding heart kick. It’s one thing to be charitable when you are doing well financially and can afford to give back. But most people in our industry are barely scraping by in their businesses themselves.

(And it’s not because they can’t do better; it’s just that they aren’t taking the time or making the investment to learn what it takes to be a financially viable, solvent, sustainable and humanly manageable business operation).

You’ve got to have a pot to pee in yourself before you can start sharing the wealth, know what I mean?

If you want a real business making real money, you need to start talking to real prospects.

Anyone who can’t pay your fees is not a prospect. Period.

First of all, clients don’t dictate or “offer” you anything. YOU set your fees. They have only to accept them or stop wasting your time.

Second, the reason they can’t get off the hours/hourly rate is because you don’t know how to reframe that conversation and what to talk about instead. And that simply takes investing in the proper learning in how to do that.

You’re trying to talk yourself into accepting this and I’m not going to help you. You’ve come to the wrong place for that. ;)

Here’s what you need to do next to start talking to real prospects:

  1. Stop calling yourself an assistant. You’re running a business now and when you are a business owner, for both legal and practical reasons, you are not anyone’s assistant. Calling yourself an “assistant” is the very first reason that people are approaching you in a non business-like manner and think it’s their place to “offer” you “positions” and “low hourly rates.” That’s because “assistant” is a term of employment, not business, and people only understand the word “assistant” one way: employee. When you call yourself an assistant, you predispose people to balk at your fees because they are expecting to pay employee wages, not professional business fees. You see? You are creating the wrong expectations and understanding in clients right from the start.
  2. Download my free Income & Pricing Calculator so you can get clear and conscious about what you really need to be charging for your business to be sustainable and profitable.
  3. Get a target market. You need a direction for your efforts and to improve your offers. That only comes by focusing on a very specific industry/field/profession and catering your support to that market.
  4. Fix your website so there is an actual prequalifying, conversion process in place. This will help ensure you talk to real prospects who are more likely to be ideal client candidates.
  5. Learn how to conduct a proper consultation. My consultation process shows you what to do before you ever speak to anyone, what to ask and talk about during the conversation, and exactly how to follow-up after, as well as how to prequalify prospects so you can weed out the poor broke duds who waste your time, and filter in the ideal client candidates worthy of your time and attention.
  6. Separate business and charity. Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with helping those you think are doing good work in the world. Just don’t mix your charity work up with your business. Instead of taking on a discount client indefinitely (which impacts not only your profitability and administration, but your other clients who are paying full fee for your quality time and attention), volunteer some hours here and there as you see fit when you have them to spare. And by the way, the more financially successful you are in your business, the longer you’ll actually be around in business and the more time and money you will have to give and help others outside your business. But if you make people who can’t pay your proper fees your clients, your business won’t be around long enough to do anything for anyone. You giving yourself away to those who can’t afford you doesn’t serve anyone.
  7. Alternatively, if you insist on putting yourself on sale, at least do it in a way that will actually benefit your business. Charge them full rate with your normal invoice, and once they pay, you can turn around and write a check back to them for the discounted amount. That is the legal way to actually write that money off as a charitable donation. And in the process, that charity client never takes for granted what you really charge and the fact that they are getting a generous gift, not an entitlement to your time and service at a discount.
  8. Likewise, use your normal and customary contract and go through all your usual processes that you would with any other client. I would also advise that you set a time limit/end date for any discounted charity rate at which time it would go back up to your full fee.

Dear Danielle: Do You Ever Provide Writing Samples?

Dear Danielle:

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

Hi Tajanna :)

Thanks for the question!

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

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

I’m in the administrative support business.

Two different things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the thing:

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

Of course not.

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

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

Are you a writer? Or are you an adminstrator?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you understand the difference?

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 you 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 expect to pay you no more than 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.

What’s Better: Charge Clients Upfront or Collect on the Backend?

What's Better: Charge Client Upfront or Collect on the Backend?

This question was asked on the ACA LinkedIn Group recently:

“Hi! So I’m looking at signing my first services agreement with a client. There will be a big kick-off project and then a monthly retainer. Do I charge the client half up front for the kick off and then have them pay the rest once I deliver? For the monthly retainer, do I have them pay me at the end of the month once my work is done or the beginning before I start? I’m trying getting burned as much as possible. Thanks!”

Here’s my advice:

Upfront, upfront, upfront!

It’s important to remember that you’re in the administrative support business, not the credit and loan business.

As  a service provider, you’re not obligated to extend anyone credit.

Which is what it would boil down to by you doing all work upfront and billing later.

The problems with billing after the fact include:

  • You deprive yourself of cashflow, which is the lifeblood of every business.
  • Clients will take you and the work less seriously and abuse your time more frequently. It’s too easy to blow things off and rack up debt on that which they haven’t paid for yet. When they have made an actual financial investment (skin in the game, as they say), they are more compelled to focus their attention to it.
  • You’ll have more late/non-payers.
  • Having to chase after and deal with those late/non-payers adds to your administrative burdens, creates stress, zaps energy, reduces your morale and spirits, and deprives good clients of your full, positive attention.
  • It doesn’t do anyone any good (including clients) to go into debt to you. The more they owe, the harder it will be for them to get caught up while you’re the one who suffers and pays the price for that.
  • You’re in a far worse position if a client doesn’t pay after you’ve expended your time and business resources helping them than if you were to mitigate possible losses by getting at least some money upfront.

So here’s what I recommend…

RETAINERS

Retainers, by their very nature, are always upfront. That’s the whole point of them. They are typically due on or before the 1st of each month.

In my practice, instead of having retainers due on the 1st, they are due (and processed) on the 25th of the preceding month. For example, April’s retainers are due on March 25.

This is because I don’t want my billing and being paid (along with all that beginning of the month work and bills we have to contend with in our own businesses) competing with the 1st of the month work I do for clients.

I also process my payments automatically… and I never pay myself late. ;)

To do this, I have clients sign a Credit Card Authorization Agreement (AGR-30) at the start of the relationship. By signing this agreement, clients give their consent for you to keep their credit card information on file (because you can’t do that without a consent agreement in place), and for you to automatically process their regular monthly charges.

Once I process the payment every month, I put a courtesy PDF copy of their paid monthly invoice up in a shared Dropbox folder for their business records.

Retainers are the holy grail in this business because it’s where the bigger, more consistent money is. To learn how to make retainers profitable and build a business where you can earn a great living working fewer hours with fewer clients (and get off the nickel and dime project hamster wheel where you always have to chase down your next meal), I highly encourage you to get my Value-Based Pricing & Packaging Guide (GDE-39).

PROJECT WORK

A project is different from ongoing support in that it is self-contained and ends upon completion of the work.

Designing a website is an example of project work because it’s not ongoing. Once the site design is complete, that’s the end of the project.

With project work, clients should definitely be paying at least something upfront, and 100% is entirely acceptable business practice.

With projects, there are a number of ways they can be charged. Getting a minimum or deposit upfront works like earnest money and helps clients respect your time and take the work more seriously.

Requiring payment upfront also helps weed out those who are not serious prospects.

I hate to say it but it’s nonetheless true:  there are dine-and-dash clients that new people in business often fall prey to who engage them to do a bunch of work, and then disappear when the bill shows up. You want to avoid that.

The rule of thumb in my business is that if it’s $1,000 or less, I charge 100% upfront.

If it’s a larger project, we break it up into logical phases and they pay for each phase upfront. If you do it that way, you get paid for work you were engaged to perform and complete, and work only continues beyond that once the next phase’s payment is met.

While you’re at it, if you want to learn all my secret policies and procedures that allow me to run my business 3 days a week while earning a full-time income working with just a handful of clients, be sure to get my Power Productivity and Business Management Guide (GDE-41).

Is this information helpful or eye-opening to you? Let me know in the comments. :)

8 Tips for Transitioning to Business from Full Time Work

Tips for Transitioning to Business from Full Time Work

While you’re still working is the best time to get your business foundations solidly in place before opening your business doors:

  1. Become a student of business. Study up particularly in the areas of practice management in a professional services business, marketing of professional services and all things related to the administrative support business industry (starting with the best resource of all, the ACA website and blog here! ;) )
  2. Create your business plan. Going through the exercise of business planning forces you to think through certain aspects of the business and get clear about why you’re going into business, what your goals and challenges are, how much money you want/need to make, etc., and then formalizing the map for how you plan to get there.
  3. Create a business map (not to be confused with a business plan). This is basically a modeling of what the business looks like in a visual, illustrated format and how it earns its revenues and profits. RESOURCE: The ACA Business Plan Template is tailored specifically for those in the administrative support business! It’s not only a business plan; it’s also a visioning tool for how you want your business to support your life.
  4. Get the practical working pieces together. This includes your contracts, ideal client profile, and beginning policies and procedures. This is also the time to begin drafting your Client Guide, which is a basically a formalizing/documenting of your standards, policies, procedures and protocols. This guide is given to new clients for the purpose of informing them how things work in your practice and how to get the most out of the relationship and work together successfully. This is a particularly useful tool because, while it should be written in positive, client-centric language, what it does is help to outline boundaries and inform clients what the “rules” are (for lack of a better term) so that they don’t think it’s their place to be making them up. YOU have to instruct them about how things work in your practice, not the other way around. It sets proper expectations and helps them view and respect you as a business and professional, not their beck-and-call employee. RESOURCE: One of the reasons many businesses in this industry fail is because they never learned how to structure their operations to handle more than one or two clients at a time. This is where my Power Productivity & Business Management guide comes in. In this guide, I give you all my trade secrets, systems and tools for running a six figure practice that scales with the growth of your roster and makes sure you still have room for a life in the process.
  5. Get your website started. This will always be a work in progress. No one is ever “done” with their website, nor should they be. One should always be working to improve and clarify their educational marketing message for clients. And while you are working is a great time to get the framework up and begin the work of crafting and honing your message. RESOURCE: Build a Website that Works. In this guide I show you exactly how to put your website together using my own proven conversion system for more consults and more clients, and how to articulate your value as I walk you step-by-step in creating your own unique, irresistible marketing message so you can get those lucrative, well-paying monthly retained clients. Throughout all this, you’ll get the bonus of a crash-course in in-bound marketing, business modeling and more clearly identifying your offers and how to position them on your website for best results.
  6. Learn those all-important business skills. Getting clients isn’t at all like applying for a job. In this way, going into business is like going back to college because there are several skill you’re going to need to study and learn if you’re going to be successful. These include pricing and packaging your support; conducting consultations with clients; and marketing and presenting yourself among other things. RESOURCE: I’ve been in this business for darn near 20 years and have packaged up every single bit of my knowledge, know-how and expertise into the ACA Success Store. When I say it has everything you need, that’s not some cheesy marketing line. It actually has exactly all the right information and tools you need to set your business up properly and learn the important skills you need to be successful far more quickly and easily than trying to do it (slowly, blindly) all by yourself.
  7. Take on that first client! While you’re still working can often be a great time to take on that first client. Keep in mind, you’ll only be able to handle so many retained clients (possibly only one, maybe two) while still working a job, and you still need to provide a professional, business-like level of quality and care they would expect from any business. Don’t use having a job as an excuse for providing anything less. That said, I often refer to those first clients as “starter” or “practice” clients. That’s because this is a time when we’re getting our business legs and learning about what we like and don’t like in our business, in clients, and how we want things to work. So, it’s quite common that these clients aren’t neccessarily ones you’ll keep for the long-haul (although that is entirely possible as well). Sometimes we’re lucky and have a client who happily and gratefully grows with us. You’ll also find that as your business standards and boundaries change and improve, as you course correct things that aren’t working in your business, there will also be some clients you naturally outgrow and need to let go. And then there will be others who are just plain intractible and not amenable to any change in your business (and probably weren’t a great fit anyway) and  leave of their own accord. Don’t view those clients as losses or failures. They are absolutely not! They provided invaluable growth and learning experiences and helped you better know yourself and improve your business. So, be grateful you had them and remember that when you let the undeal go, you open up space for the more ideal to flow in and take their place. You won’t grow by clinging to that which is not ideal and absolutely happy-making for you.
  8. Start a slush fund. As you’re working is the best time to start socking away operating capital for the business. This is because for most people, there are only so many clients you can feasibly take on while still employed in a “day job” and still have time, room and energy for all the other things you have to juggle in life. So there comes a transition where, if you’re wanting to go into business full hog, you have to make a leap, and most people don’t yet have a full roster of retained clients when they make that leap. So there’s going to be a period of time once you make the leap and leave your job where you’re working to fill your roster with clients. Having that operating capital (or some other means of income) while you get established can be a lifesaver and help ensure you can pay the bills and not make choices out of desperation (which leads to stepping over of standards) until the business becomes profitable and fully self-sustaining.

Hope that helps!

Dear Danielle: Help! My Client Is Not Referring Me to Others

Help! My Client Isn't Referring Me to Others

Dear Danielle:

How can I get my clients to refer when they are too selfish to share? —Anonymous

This was a question someone asked me on my Facebook page. They didn’t give me any more details than this and I never did hear back from them. However, I thought it was an interesting topic for discussion and wanted to share my thoughts with you here.

At first blush, it sounds like a very one-sided relationship if you have clients who don’t refer you.

But it’s a little too glib to chalk it all up to that.

There’s usually more to things than that and you could be losing out on an opportunity to improve your business by not examining the issue further.

I wanted to find out more so my first question was, “What is it that tells you this is, in fact, what is happening?”

I also asked, “Have you considered having a conversation with this/these client(s)?”

Unless you’ve actually spoken with a client, you can’t presume to know their true feelings, intentions or what’s really going on (if anything). Having a heart-to-heart can clear the air to move forward in a more positive, mutually beneficial direction.

It could be that they just didn’t think about it and it wasn’t anything negative about you (or them) at all.

(Remember, we have to ASK for what we want. We can’t expect people to be mindreaders.)

Now, personally, I don’t like to hound clients for referrals. I prefer they give those of their own accord.

And in a healthy, two-way relationship, they will.

That said, a lot of the referrals I’ve gotten over the years just weren’t who I was looking for anyway so they did me no good.

(Side Note: If you’re new in business, you might not understand this at all. When you’re new, you often think any referral is a good referral. You’re working hard to get established and just want to get any clients and work you can. But once you’ve gotten to a higher level in your business, you become more discerning and choosy about the clients and work that’s of value and interest to you. Fit is always important at any stage, but your definition of fit and what you are interested in, what you find worthwhile, will change and evolve over the course of your business.)

My best leads have always comes from my own networking.

If clients want to make a referral, I ask that they simply direct people to my website (instead of my phone number or email) so that it can do that critical first job of educating prospects and weeding out/prequalifying those I’m not interested in.

By getting them to the website, I save myself a lot of wasted time in conversation with people who may not be a fit.

Plus, directing folks to my website first, those who are interested in what they’re reading and what I have to offer, I’ve just created an opportunity to get them onto my mailing list so I’m only keeping in touch with those who’ve already indicated that first qualifying level of interest.

Those who follow up from there, thus, are vastly better qualified leads and more likely to become clients.

This actually brings up another point…

You have to actually INFORM clients that you welcome referrals and instruct them how to refer others to you and what kind of prospects/clients you are looking for.

This is why it’s also extremely helpful to have a target market and to be very clear about what you do and who you’re looking to work with.

When people know exactly what you are and who you do it for (e.g., NOT a gopher/jack of all trades, but an Administrative Support Specialist), it’s much easier for them to refer others to you and they will remember and be more likely to do so more often.

I would also ask, have you at least gotten a testimonial from your clients?

Instituting a regular and consistent program of feedback from clients in your business is super helpful for your marketing and constant business improvement.

I have a tool in the ACA Success Store that helps you do this and collects information from clients so that testimonials basically write themselves. You can take a look at that here: Client Feedback Form.

I refer to it as a form, but it’s really a plan and system for implementing a program of regular feedback in your business and capturing testimonials and before-and-after case studies.

So, is this something happening in your business as well?

Have you fallen prey to “secret weapon” syndrome and you find some clients don’t want to let anyone know about you because they don’t want to share you with others?

Or might their silence and lack of referrals be an indication of other underlying problems? Are they unhappy or resentful about something?

How is this affecting your relationship with them, and how does it fit in with your standards for your business and around who makes an ideal client?

Tell Fear to Take a Hike

Tell Fear to Take a Hike

So we’ve been having a very insightful conversation over on the forum.

A new member who is in the very beginning stages of her administrative support business was considering offering her services pro bono for a limited time.

She asked the group if this was a good idea.

And the group, of course, validated what she herself knew deep down already—that it would only attract those seeking something for nothing.

Those folks almost never turn into real, viable clients. Even on the rare occasion they do, they inevitably turn out to be the worst kind of clients to deal with.

We explored where this idea might be coming from and the new member confirmed that a lot of it was being new to business and not having confidence just yet.

Confidence is something everyone struggles with to some degree or another, in some aspect or another, depending on where they’re at in their business.

It’s completely normal and doesn’t make you any less worthy of owning and running your own business.

While this might be something you struggle with, what I can tell you for sure is that giving away your services for nothing will not help you grow in your confidence.

In fact, it’ll do quite the opposite and trample all over the professional self-esteem you need to develop in yourself in order to be successful and attract the right kind of clients into your life.

First, in practical terms, here’s why pro bono doesn’t work:

1. It devalues the very thing you are in business to offer and make money from. You never want to bargain with your value that way. If you don’t value yourself and what you have to offer, no one else will either.

2. It only attracts freebie seekers. Trust me, nearly no one ever turned a freebie-seeker into a long-term, retained client. It’s kind of like one-night stands. They just don’t turn into real relationships. And don’t let the one person in the world who is the exception to that rule try to sway you otherwise. Just because they didn’t happen to get killed walking across the freeway doesn’t make crossing the freeway on foot a good idea. ;)

3. It’s a very bad precedent to set in your business. Being a new business owner will require you to hold yourself and the work in high regard. Once you start chipping away at your value, it’s downhill from there in ways you will have never anticipated. Working with folks who are only there to get something for free will have you stepping all over your boundaries and standards and prevent you from gaining the healthy professional self-respect you need to survive in business.

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free. And that’s exactly what those kind of clients think.

Selling yourself short and giving your work away for free will not help you grow your confidence.

What will increase your confidence is charging appropriately and asking for the fee.

At this point, you may be thinking, “Yeah, that’s all well and good, but I have to have confidence in order to do that!” Right?

No, you don’t.

It doesn’t take confidence to build confidence. All it takes is the self-knowledge that lack of confidence isn’t a place you want to stay in, a desire to grow into greater confidence, and a willingness to stretch beyond your comfort zones.

Charging clients is exactly one of the things that builds your confidence as a new business owner.

Not charging clients just keeps you stuck on a much longer, more draining, demoralizing (not to mention unprofitable) path.

How do you think you’re ever going to get it (confidence, money, respect, you name it) if you don’t ever push yourself to expect it and then practice asking for it?

Fear really is your only roadblock.

The crazy thing about fear is that it is self-imposed.

Sure, it’s real, but your confidence will only grow (and grow most quickly) if you put your foot down and simply decide to suck it up and ignore the fear.

Get angry about it even! Tell fear to get the hell out and don’t let the door hit its ass on the way out!

And then ask for that fee.

Once you pick yourself up off the ground and get over the shock of “Wow! They didn’t bat an eye,” your confidence and belief in yourself and what you have to offer will have just leapt over a building.

This is the beginning of your journey into healthy professional self-esteem. You’ll get more and more comfortable (and confident) charging what you’re worth and asking for—and getting—your fee!

Of course, it isn’t always going to be like that. You will get clients who balk at paying. You will get clients who aren’t a fit.

That doesn’t mean you cater to them or step over your standards or change your business to suit them.

And you aren’t going to handle every experience smoothly. You’re going to be rough and imperfect and inconsistent in the beginning.

But that’s all okay because these are the experiences you absolutely do need.

The idea isn’t to avoid them altogether. They are valuable learning opportunities that will help you grow into your consultation skills and get better and better at articulating your value, honing your message and standing firm in your expectations and standards for yourself and your business.

Don’t let fear win. Don’t cave in. You ARE a hero. Overcoming fear is a success worth striving for and celebrating!

Originally posted June 12, 2009.

7 Easy Steps to Get Your Calendar Ready and Rarin’ to Go for 2014

Get Your Calendar Ready for 2014

Have you gotten your calendar ready for 2014?

It’s not too late. In fact, if today is an admin day for you like it is for me, this is a perfect time to get ‘er done and only takes a few minutes.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Block out all holidays for the year. Be sure to block out any extra days as well (e.g., two days for Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve).
  2. Block out all personal days for the year that you plan to be closed (e.g., birthdays, anniversaries).
  3. Block out known vacation dates (or weeks that you intend to take off).
  4. Block out any known business events, trainings, conferences, etc., you plan to attend. Steps 1-4 before anything else is important because taking care of you and your business is always first priority. You can’t take great care of anyone else unless you first take great care of yourself. I’m also an advocate for taking plenty of time off from your business. The more time you take to recharge your energy and creativity, the better your business and clients are for it.
  5. Next, block out your Admin Days for the year. An Admin Day is the one day of the week you devote strictly to your business and personal development.
  6. Then, block out your Client Meeting days/times for the year. For example, Tuesday is the day of the week I use for my weekly retainer client meetings. Each client gets a one-hour time slot, same time each week. I established this practice when I realized how much more difficult it was for me to dive into work as well as maintain work momentum when I had meetings scattered over the course of the week. I’m much more productive when I know I don’t have any other appointments looming over my head and won’t be interrupted.
  7. Rinse and repeat for your clients (if you happen to help organize their calendars).