Archive for the ‘Best Biz Practices’ Category

Wearing a Stethoscope Doesn’t Make You a Doctor

Wearing a Stethoscope Doesn't Make You a Doctor

So I see this question come across my Google Alerts:

“I have a client who wants to get more calls with potential clients and she wants me to create a plan for this. Any ideas?”

I find these kind of questions irritating when they come from people who are supposedly in the administrative support business.

Why are you even entertaining this kind of request? Oh, are you a marketing consultant/lead generation expert now, too?

It’s exactly like if a customer were to ask their plumber to fix their car.

Plumbers don’t fix cars. That’s not their expertise or the business they’re in. If someone needs their car repaired, they need to go to an auto mechanic.

Just because a client requests something doesn’t mean you are the proper professional for them to be asking or that you need to accommodate it.

This person doesn’t know what business she’s in or where to draw the line.

Her client needs to be informed that this is not administrative work and they need to consult with the correct professional who is actually qualified and in that kind of business (which in this instance, as mentioned, would be some kind of marketing consultant and/or lead generation expert).

(And this client very likely knows this; he/she is just trying to take advantage of someone who doesn’t know any better than to let cheapskate clients who don’t want to pay proper professionals lead her around by the nose on wild goose chases.)

You are needlessly complicating and muddying the waters of your business scope and distracting yourself from that focus.

And contrary to popular belief, trying to be anything and everything, taking on anything and everything, actually keeps you from earning better in your business. (It’s also the dead give-away of a rank amateur. Experts focus.)

Likewise, if you are asking your colleagues for their “ideas” on how to do something, that’s the first clue you don’t have the proper knowledge, background or qualifications, and have no business taking on that work. It’s unethical.

Just because you own Illustrator doesn’t make you a designer any more than owning a camera makes you a professional photographer or wearing a stethoscope makes you a doctor.

There is industry-specific knowledge, education and training, experience and talent that qualify someone for a specific expertise, which is also what defines and distinguishes industries/professions from each other.

Stop wasting clients’ time and money.

You do them a far better service by clearly educating them about what you ARE in business to provide and informing them that they need to consult with the proper professionals in X industry when they need something that is not what you are in business (nor qualified) to do.

And PS: doing so will garner you infinitely more trust, credibility and respect when you do.

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

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

Dear Danielle:

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

Hi Karen :)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I would like to address something else as well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which leads me to my next point:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Don’t Get Clients by Sending Them PMs; Here Is What to Do Instead

You Don’t Get Clients by Sending Them PMs; Here Is What to Do Instead

You don’t get clients by mass-messaging people who don’t know you.

You’re going to waste a lot of time and energy (and annoy a lot of people) that way.

There are far more effective methods that will have people come to you of their own accord and interest.

In the professional services business, it’s not about soliciting strangers and indiscriminate cold-calling.

In our business—the administrative support business—the name of the game is trust and credibility.

And that is established through relationship-building and nurturing the know-like-and-trust factor: allowing a group of people to get to know you and come to you after becoming interested in how you might be able to help them.

When I was having this conversation on LinkedIn, someone asked me:

“I was just thinking about this today! I want to let everyone know about me venturing out on my own, but I don’t want to annoy people either. I thought about sending out an email with some very brief information and then asking them if I can send them more information. Is this a good approach or would you advise a different way?”

This falls in the same category of soliciting people that you don’t know are even interested. It’s a waste of your time, money and effort when 99.99% of these people are just going to toss your letter in the round file.

Instead, I have a Business Letter of Introduction that does this job in the right way so it doesn’t look like you are desperate and begging for business, which turns people off. This letter comes as a free bonus with my Administrative Support Business Set-Up Success Kit (Set-01 in the ACA Success Store).

Beyond that, here are some basic steps to make getting clients faster and easier (and this is where I would have you focus your time and efforts more productively for more fruitful results):

  1. Choose a target market. A target market is simply a field/industry/profession that you cater your administrative support to.
  2. Learn about your target market inside out as much as you can. When you know your market intimately, you can better and more easily identify their problems and pains and cater your solutions accordingly.
  3. Get out there and interact with the people in your target market, online and off! When you have a target market, it also makes it vastly easier to figure out where to find them.
  4. In all of your marketing communications and networking conversations, direct everyone to your website. This is the vital link that educates your site visitors about what you do, who you do it for and how you help and moves those who are actually interested further in the process so that you are wasting your time willy nilly on every Tom, Dick or Harry who isn’t going to ever be a client.
  5. Make sure there is a lead capture system on every page of your website. What this means in simple terms is give your site visitors a gift in exchange for their email address. It could be a free how-to guide, a free report, some free DIY training, a form or e-book, you name it. It just has to be highly compelling and of value and interest to your target market (which is another reason to have a target market: it’s easier to identify what will be of great, specific interest to them.). This is so you can get them on your mailing list and continue to keep in touch with them and nurture the relationship. This is where an autoresponder/list management service like Aweber comes in; it automates this process and allows you to send out personalized messages to thousands of subscribers all at once.
  6. Keep in touch with your subscriber list of client prospects on a regular weekly basis. Consistency is critical here. If you are irregular or there is too much time between communications, they’ll forget who you are and why they are hearing from you. You want to allow people to get to know you so this frequency is very important in keeping those on your mailing list subscribed and interested.

What next? The best place to start is to get my free guide on How to Choose Your Target Market.

Dear Danielle: Do You Use PayPal?

Dear Danielle: Do You Use PayPal?

This was a question posted in my private Facebook community last November. With Intuit Payment Network (IPN) ending next month, it seems like a good time to revisit the topic.

Dear Danielle:

Do you use PayPal for invoicing and payments in your business? Do you recommend them? —GB

Yes, I use PayPal as a payment processor, but I invoice clients with my customized invoice in Quickbooks Pro (which is the comprehensive software program where I do all of my bookkeeping).

I’ve been using PayPal since 2000 and have never had a single problem. It’s super easy to use, integrates quickly and easily with web coding, and it’s established and trusted.

A merchant account is an alternative to PayPal, but I’ve always found them more complicated to use, and not necessarily any cheaper, and in my experience, you don’t get the same level of tech support that PayPal provides.

Personally, I could never be bothered with using them, and when I was still in the web design business way back when, I hated trying to integrate their coding onto websites. So convoluted and difficult and they don’t necessarily care about providing more than a superficial level of support.

Maybe that’s changed. And of course, I have  programmer now that I let handle that kind of work when it comes up.

The other payment processor I use is IPN which is Intuit Payment Network:https://ipn.intuit.com/.

IPN only charges $0.50 per transaction, which is far less of a fee than others including PayPal charge (although personally, I never sweat those kind of fees, they are pennies in comparison AND they are tax deductible business expense that you get to write off at the end of the year which lowers your tax experience).

The only caveats with IPN are:

1) If you are billing a client over $1,500 on an invoice, they will need to be on IPN as well (you can bill guests up to $1,500 though).

2) You need a checking account with unlimited withdrawals and deposit; and

3) To get approved you will need from 3 – 6 months of consecutive bank statements showing an ongoing minimum balance, the amount of which depends on what you expect to bill out via IPN each month. So, for example, let’s say you will be billing $2,500 a month via IPN. To get approved for an IPN account, you will need to keep a minimum balance of at least $5,000 in that checking account for 3-6 months. The minimum balance they’re looking for all depends on the amount you intend to bill and they have different tiers that you’d have to call them directly to find out what your amount would be specifically. But once you get approved, you don’t have to keep that minimum balance anymore because they don’t monitor your bank account.

UPDATE: Intuit is discontinuintg their popular IPN (Intuit Payment Network) come April 2016. The company is encouraging users to move over to their Quickbooks-integrated merchant account product, Quickbooks Payments. There are two plans to choose from to fit your business, and you can also get mobile credit card processing if that’s of interest to you.

Personally, I probably won’t be switching over as PayPal meets all my needs. It’s easy, I trust it, and the costs are comparable.

Rant: I Have Never Seen Bigger Crybabies

Rant: I've Never Seen Bigger Crybabies

Rant warning here. This has been brewing for a couple months now, and I just have to get it out of my system, lol.

There is this crybaby series of articles that Freelancers Union puts out that have been driving me a bit nuts.

Every ezine issue, they feature some sob story from a freelancer about how a mean, evil client stiffed them hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Omg, I’ve never seen a bigger bunch of professional victims.

And now they’ve got this ridiculous “Freelancing Isn’t Free” campaign to get some new laws on the books to protect freelancers from deadbeat clients, as if they themselves play no role in why they aren’t getting paid.

The one thing, the ONE SINGLE PROBLEM at the root of all of this is that these people can’t seem to grasp or get it through their thick skulls that as freelancers they are in business for themselves.

And business owners decide how things work in their relationships with clients. Business owners choose who they work with and who they don’t. Business owners determine what they are paid, when they are paid and how they are paid.

Business owners can either run their business like a business, or they can be morons. The choice is theirs.

What contributes to this mindset of idiocy and victimhood is the word “freelancer.” That word needs to be abolished.

In society at large, people don’t understand that freelancer is merely another word for business owner.

It doesn’t matter if you have a day job and do a little work on the side. When you are doing that side work, you are being in business for yourself and wearing the hat of business owner. There is no in-between classification. It’s either/or. One or the other. That’s it.

So when you’re working your day job, you’re wearing your employee hat and all the rules, laws and taxes that apply to employment are in play.

And when you work for yourself and hire yourself out to people, you are wearing the hat of business owner. Doesn’t matter if it’s part-time, full-time or just a little here and there; doesn’t matter if you use the term freelancer, independent contractor, self-employed or whatever—these are all terms for the same thing: BUSINESS OPERATOR.

The sooner you get that through your head, the better off you will be because THEN you can start running your business like a business the way you should be.

Let Me Demonstrate

There are some common themes running through all of these stories. Here’s an example from the most recent victim article. This “freelancer” says:

“In 2015, I agreed to do some editorial work for a client. The agreement was verbal and, because I trusted her to some extent, we did not have a contract. Shortly after I completed the agreed-upon work, she slightly altered the work I produced, claimed everything as her own intellectual property, and failed to pay the $500 she owes me.”

Her first mistake was not formalizing the agreement in writing with a proper business contract. Whose mistake is that? It’s not the client’s job to do that, it’s hers. And she made the choice not to use one.

While a verbal agreement is still a legally binding agreement, it does make it more difficult should you have to take things to court. So, when you are a freelancer, you are in business, and that means conducting business properly and using proper legal business contracts — upfront, every time, with every client, no ifs ands or buts.

The other problem here is that this freelancer’s client seems to assume that their business arrangement was a work-for-hire one.

This is another reason you always, always use a proper business contract. It’s why I always rail against work-for-hire agreements as well, which is different from a business contract.

When you blindly and ignorantly enter into a work-for-hire agreement you can be giving away all your intellectual property, which you may or may not have bargained for.

The work you do and the ownership of a creative work are two separate legal values. This is why they are stipulated and charged for separately. And ownership of a work cannot be given away without express legal written permission.

If you don’t know what you are doing, are using the wrong kind of contract, or haven’t had an attorney draft or approve your business contacts, you could be signing away all rights to the creative works and proprietary intellectual property that you created!

Because of these critical distinctions in the law, it’s imperative as a business owner for you to get yourself some basic intellectual property education.

For example, let’s say as a business, I have a client with a particular need. I end up developing a tool for that need that ends up being useful for any number of my current and future clients. I realize that I could license use of this tool to others and add a lucrative additional revenue stream for myself, and decide to put it out to market.

However, if I entered into a work-for-hire agreement with a client, that tool could actually be owned by them automatically. Meaning, they could be free to sell it or do anything they want with it, including telling you that you may not sell it or use it with anyone else, and that it belongs to them because you were in a work-for-hire agreement and anything you create in the course of working with them belongs to them.

How would that sit with you?

As a business, I am damn sure not going to hand over ownership of my creative works, inventions and intellectual property or proprietary processes lock, stock and barrel. That would mean I couldn’t continue to profit from them, use them with others, or in any other way adapt them for other uses.

Even if I was a mind to do that, I wouldn’t be giving away that ownership for free. Oh, hell no!

But there would be nothing you could do because you were the fool who entered into a work-for-hire agreement instead of a proper business contract and didn’t set the terms properly.

This is why it’s so important to NEVER blindly enter into any blanket work-for-hire agreement, or ANY kind of work-for-hire agreement in my opinion, and to use proper business-to-business legal contracts that contain the proper languaging and terms when it comes defining the relationship and who owns intellectual property.

Here’s another excerpt:

“Although $500 may not sound like much, I’ve put together many small deals for less than a thousand dollars. If all my clients were to behave this way, my life would be a constant nightmare of living in fear of being shortchanged. Though it may seem disadvantageous to go through the stress of chasing down a couple hundred dollars, that couple hundred dollars could cover my electricity bill, or even groceries for a couple weeks.”

Wahwahwah. Then don’t do things that way. You act like you were prevented from doing things any other way.

Wrong. You made a choice.

On top of running your business like a business and using proper business contracts, upfront, every time, as a business you also have the CHOICE about who you work with.

Vet your clients properly. Put them through a consultation process so you have at least some idea of who you are doing business with and what they may or may not be like. You get to screen and prequalify clients as a business owner.

A proper consultation can help alert you to red flags that indicate someone may not be worth working with.

Stop rushing or bypassing these vital and important business protocols which also, by the way, help clients understand the CORRECT nature of the relationship and give it proper professional respect. These steps play a big role in setting the stage to make sure you get paid, in full and on time, every time. HUGE!

Likewise, who says you have to wait until work is done to be paid? You can charge the full fee upfront if that’s what you want to do. It’s a perfectly usual, legal, established standard business practice and option.

You can also split a project into phases with the payment for each phase due upfront before beginning work on any next phase. Or, you can charge a deposit or a percentage upfront.

Mitigate your losses if you are taking a chance on a client you don’t know and have never worked with before by getting some kind of payment upfront. Likewise, they’re going to take the business more seriously when they have skin in the game.

There Don’t Need to Be Any New Laws

There are already laws on the books to protect you in these matters and you’ve always had the choice to avail yourself of those recourses.

The problem is being a business moron and not conducting business according to how business is conducted.

It’s that YOU don’t understand that as a freelancer you are a business, and that YOU define these things in your contract that you should have been requiring clients to sign upfront.

You’re not a temp, you’re not a “contract worker.” (Tip: A contract worker is an employee, not an independent self-employed business owner.)

Stop letting clients tell you how things work in your business.

And stop accepting “positions” with companies that should be paying you like an employee but instead are stealing from you by illegally classifying you as an independent contractor. (Hint: Business owners don’t work in positions; that’s an EMPLOYEE.)

If that’s what they are doing, turn their asses in to the IRS and your state Department of Revenue and Employment Security Department.

Because if you really are an employee (which is determined according to the federal laws that define these two distinctions and which employers don’t get to just decide arbitrarily), then they are stealing from you your rightful wages and employer-paid share of taxes and benefits.

By not understanding these distinctions, by not educating yourself, by willfully disregarding these things, YOU are equally guilty of perpetuating the problem of deadbeat clients.

Stop being a bunch of wishy-washy, crybaby pushovers who whine about being victimized all the time. You have the power and the choice to do things differently!

Sure deadbeat clients are shitty people; there’s a special place in hell for them. But guess what? You allowed them to treat you that way by all the choices you made.

No one can take advantage of you without your permission. Stop acting like a victim and like you had nothing to do with it, and start running your business like a business.

Take responsibility for the choices YOU made to not run your business like a business, rushing processes, not conducting proper consultations and due diligence, choosing crappy clients, not using contracts, and not getting at least some money upfront. It’s really simple.

Until you take responsibility for that, nothing in your business and life will change.

And listen, I don’t mean to be picking on anyone personally.

It’s one thing to be new in business and learning the ropes and making newbie mistakes. There’s a learning curve. We’ve ALL been there.

Beyond that, though, there is just too much information out there any direction you look to remain ignorant long. These aren’t people who are new making these dumb choices; these are people who knew better and what they should have done and chose not to do it.

I’m equally annoyed with organizations like Freelancers Union that don’t do their job as a professional organization which should be to properly educate their members and the marketplace, so the stupidity continues.

Because 99% of these problems wouldn’t exist if these people understood how business works, how it is properly conducted between two businesses, and that as freelancers they are business owners (not “contract workers” or employees).

I’m sick to death of all these whiny articles collectively because they don’t empower anyone, they just keep them acting like victims who blame others for their problems and many of whom are going to keep doing the same bone-headed things over and over.

Want More Dissections?

Here’s another example:

“Because I knew and trust my contact in NYC, I went ahead and started work without a contract, though I did send my salary requirements and scope of work via email for their records. I was told the contract was in the works.”

Same ol’ song and dance. You don’t do business without a contract and you don’t start work until that contract is signed and everything is agreed upon.

The other problem here is this freelancer uses the phrase “salary requirements.” Um, business owners – which again, is what freelancers are — are not paid a salary. EMPLOYEES are paid a salary. Someone who is in business for themselves charges a fee or rate and tells the client what, how and when they are required to pay, not the other way around.

And another:

“I proceeded to organize vendors, source supplies, find caterers, etc. There was some drama around whether to have the launch party in the office or at a venue nearby. They changed their minds about 6 or 7 times. The indecisiveness was alarming, but I rolled with it and did my work. The entire time I kept asking for the contract.”

You should haven’t kept asking. You should have stopped working and told them that the contract was required before any work was to begin or continue. Period.

This also hints that there was either no consultation conducted or it was a sloppy, not very thorough one. Otherwise, you could have established all the specifications about how the work and decisions were going to be made, who the ONE contact person was that you would be dealing with, etc., and avoided all their internal drama. There is no reason you needed to be part of that.

Moreover:

“Finally, the week of September 21, the majority of the folks from Europe came to town. I had a few meetings and eventually received the contract. The rate was correct, but the terms and conditions were way out of line. I wasn’t about to agree to a six-month non-compete and 90-day payment terms. It just didn’t make sense for the scope of my work! So I redlined the contract and sent it back.”

So let me get this straight, you let them write your contract for you? Ridiculous!

You’re the business owner; your contract is YOUR job. You don’t abdicate that responsibility to clients. Your business requires YOU to set the terms. Clients have only to agree and sign or suggest changes. Or you don’t do business together, simple as that.

Instead, you let the client treat you as if they were your employer and it was their role to call the shots here. WRONG. And stupid. NOTHING should have moved forward until the terms were finalized and YOUR contract signed by the client.

And:

“At this point, I was told that I was only hired for the month of September and not October. They hired an office manager and I was to give her a download on everything I had set up, which I did without complaint. I was now a week out of the job and still hadn’t received payment. When I followed up, I was told there was an issue with my invoice and that the company wanted a work log. I had never been asked to submit my hourly tasks and my rate was a day rate. Furthermore, I had clearly stated overtime fee after an 8-hour day.”

This person clearly doesn’t understand that she is not an employee. She uses employment terminology, lets the client operate as if they were her employer and isn’t understanding how she herself is allowing the lines of employment and business to be blurred.

You aren’t “hired” by clients, you are “engaged” by them. And you don’t get “overtime” as a business owner. Overtime is something employees are entitled to, not business owners.

Instead, business owners stipulate IN THE TERMS OF THEIR BUSINESS CONTRACT BETWEEN THEMSELVES AND THE CLIENT when late, rush or after-hours fees and charges will be incurred.

If you don’t want to be in business for yourself, and you are working with a client as if you are an employee, then you ARE an employee, and they legally need to be putting you on payroll and adhering to employment laws.

On the other hand, if you do want to be in business (which you are, automatically, if you work for yourself at any time), then you have to run your business like a business. There just isn’t any way around this.

But here again, this is yet another freelancer who doesn’t understand that they are a business owner and is letting a client operate with the mentality that they are some kind of employer and dictating things to her, which they have absolutely no legal right to do. She abdicated her own business responsibilities and now that she’s having problems with them is her own damn fault.

I know YOU are going to be smarter in your business, right?

PS: If you want to save yourself these problems and learn how to conduct business properly, be sure to also read my article How to Avoid Getting Stiffed on Payment

Rushing the Process Is a Recipe for Failure

Rushing the Process Is a Recipe for Failure

I have no clue why this article on Target Canada’s last days piqued my interest, but it is an interesting read.

Who knew that a company as big, established and successful as Target could do anything but succeed. And yet, fail it did — big time — for the dumbest and most avoidable of reasons: rushing the process.

One thing that is underscored for me, as any of my clients would tell you, I’m a stickler for detail, for doing things the right way, for dotting i’s and crossing t’s. Because it matters, even if the correlations and implications aren’t readily apparent.

My motto is “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” It’s a discipline that serves well in every situation.

Sloppiness, laziness and inattention cost you, somewhere, somehow, at some point down the line. It’s what leads to cutting corners, shoddy work and service, and taking shortcuts with standards, values, integrity and ethics.

It’s fascinating to me that someone has to pointedly tell this generation that accuracy is important:

Excerpt: There was never any talk about accuracy.

Of course it’s important! Why would you enter any old thing; someone is paying you to NOT do a job right?

If it weren’t important, you wouldn’t need to be doing the work in the first place. Someone needs to tell you that?

By the same token, the leaders did not provide the time or environment that would allow those they hired to be accurate.

Rush work is always sloppy work. And part of doing things well, of creating the environment that allows you to do your best work for clients, is building in proper lead time so you have the breathing room to be thorough and accurate, to think critically and creatively, and not be rushed, stressed and sweated.

It’s what facilitates strong foundations and proper infrastructure. You set it as a standard in your practice, institute policies and protocols for work and communication accordingly, and then educate and inform your clients about how things work in your practice (thereby setting and managing expectations for a successful relationship).

It’s a standard I have for my life and the work I do, and a model I hope to help clients achieve in their life and business as well.

I have a very relaxed pace in my business. It can definitely get fast-moving at moments, but not in a stressed or rushed kind of way. Clients don’t sweat me, they don’t rush me, they don’t try to tell me how things work in my business. And that’s because I don’t allow it.

Power Productivity & Biz Management for HOW I do that, what standards, policies, protocols and expectations I set up that allow me to do great work is what I share in my Power Productivity & Biz Management guide for those in the administrative support business.

If you are someone who is struggling with being rushed all the time, has clients frequently telling you how things work in your business, who feels the pinch and stress of responding to everyone’s requests, demands and inquiries instantly and finds yourself making regrettable, avoidable mistakes because you’re allowing external forces set the pace in your business, be sure and check it out.

My guide will help you avoid burnout and overwhelm by instilling policies and practices that give you plenty of breathing room so you can do your best work for clients while working at a humane and humanly sustainable pace with lots of time leftover for your life. Instituting these steps and measures will ensure you love your business, clients and work for years to come!

14 Quick Steps to Prep Your 2016 Calendar for Ease and Success

10 Quick Steps to Prep Your 2016 Calendar for Ease & Success

The new year is two days away and if you haven’t yet, now is a good time to prep your calendar to take 2016 in ease and stride.

One of the ways to facilitate your freedom and success is to be prepared for it. That means taking charge of your time by being conscious about all that you have on your plate and creating space for important actions, events and goals. Your calendar is the starting point for this.

This should take you no more than 30 minutes; if you’re using calendar software, even less time than that.

  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 holidays).
  2. Block out all personal days for the year that you plan to be closed (e.g., birthdays, anniversaries).
  3. Block out all known/intended vacation dates (or any other weeks/days that you intend to take off for whatever reason).
  4. Block out any known business events, training, 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. Using the repeat/recurring function, schedule them through January 2017.* An Admin Day is the one day of the week you devote strictly to your business administration and personal development. For example, Mondays are my “business days” where I am officially closed. I don’t do any client work; instead, I focus on taking care of my own business and use that time for administration and planning, research and development, learning, etc. I shade out that time because it makes me conscious about not making any appointments on that day. If you don’t need a full day, block at least half a day (e.g., Mondays from 8a – 12p).
  6. Then, block out your regularly scheduled weekly client meetings 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 or half-hour time slot, same time each week, with a half hour or 15 minutes of buffer time between meetings. I established this practice when I realized how much more difficult it was for me to dive into work and maintain momentum when I had meetings scattered all over the course of the week. I’m much more productive when I keep them to one day and know I won’t have to interrupt my work and concentration the rest of the week.
  7. Carry over other regular meetings. Review this year’s calendar. If you have regular weekly or monthly meetings, be sure to carry-over and repeat those as well, Perhaps you have a weekly call with your business coach on Tuesdays at 3p and a monthly board meeting at 1p on the third Wednesday of every month. Get all of these regularly scheduled appointments on your calendar for the entire year.
  8. Block out lunches and breaks if you are someone who has trouble remembering to take time away from your desk and computer. This might seem silly and unnecessary, especially since we business owners can eat or take a break any time we like. But if you are someone who has difficulty maintaining boundaries, these can serve as daily reminders to be conscious about taking care of yourself. Taking breaks is super important, not only for your personal health, but the health of your business—you can’t take excellent care of others unless you first take excellent care of yourself. Remember, you want a humanly/sustainably paced business, not a business that leaves you no breathing room and leads to burn-out and overwhelm.
  9. Carry over regular weekly and monthly task reminders and other important to-do’s. For example, downloading and reconciling bank statements.
  10. Mark important dates. Are there client birthdays, anniversaries or other important dates you want to remember on a regular basis? Are there important goal dates and benchmarks you want to be reminded of? Add them to your calendar!
  11. If you have share an online calendar with any of your clients, repeat steps 1-6 there as well so they are aware of when you will be closed/unavailable. Likewise, by adding your weekly client meeting to their calendar for the year (step #6), no one has to spend any further time on scheduling.
  12. Rinse and repeat for your clients (if helping organize their calendars is something you happen to do).
  13. Schedule a To-Do in November to “Prep next year’s calendar.” If you’re using an online calendar, set it with a couple advance reminders.
  14. And while you’re at it, schedule a reminder in December to archive the current year’s documents and emails (more on that in another post).

* This is so that when January rolls around, if you’ve forgotten or been delayed or sidetracked in prepping your calendar in December, you can simply click on each recurring/repeating event and update the end date.

Cheers to a fantastic new year for us all!

Dear Danielle: How Can I Turn this Employer into a Client?

Dear Danielle: How Can I Turn this Employer into a Client

Dear Danielle:

I work for a small business and the majority of my job is done offsite and remotely. When I came into the business there were no systems in place, no manuals or training tools available and patients accounts were all out of balance. I have worked to restore these areas in addition to the accounts receivables. I am no longer able to ignore the nagging pull to launch out and begin my own administrative support business. However, I feel that I can retain my current employer as a client. I am costing them more I believe. I have been paid by the hour as an employee and it has been a tremendous cost to get things up and running more smoothly. Now that I understand all the inner workings of the business, offered my advice as well as support, I feel my inside job has come to an end. There are many more factors to list but I don’t want to take advantage of your time. Please tell me your thoughts on this. How I should move forward? —Anonymous by request

Hi Anonymous :)

Thanks for your question.

If you feel you can turn this employer into a client, go for it.

Since you asked me, though, I’m going to let you know why former employers don’t make for the best of clients.

  1. Employers tend to want to keep working with you in the same old ways. That’s a problem because when you are running a business, there is necessarily going to be a difference in when and how you work together. You can’t be at their instant beck and call the way you were when you worked for them as an employee. They had your undivided time and attention because you were their employee, being paid to be dedicated solely to them 9-5. But as a business owner, you have other clients to serve, other important duties to attend to (or you will have, and you have to operate and plan your business around that eventuality). You simply are not going to be able to work with them in the same way as you did when you were an employee, not if you are going to grow your business and have time and room to work with other clients. And that’s not a transition that many employers are able or willing to make.
  2. Not all, of course, but generally employers are employers for a reason. Many very specifically want employees who are dedicated solely to their interests and to whom they can dictate hours, roles and duties. Likewise, some workloads simply require in-house dedicated staff. Contrary to popular belief, not every business/client is a good fit for what we do. Trying to fit square pegs into round holes is an effort in futility. Why bang your head against that wall when there are others far more suited to (and interested in) being clients rather than employers?
  3. Past employers tend to resist changes. They only know you and the relationship they had with you in one context — employee. This can be problematic and make it incredibly difficult for them to see you in a new and different light, which is necessary if the business relationship is going to be successful. It is absolutely vital that clients understand the relationship in a business-to-business context and that there is going to be an entirely different dynamic at play. But past employers tend to be stuck in employer/worker bee mindset and want to keep you in that box and treat the relationship like that. What that means is, instead of extending you professional courtesy and respect and viewing you as their administrative expert and trusted advisor, many can be stuck in a pattern of barking orders at you and thinking it’s their place to dictate everything. A client who doesn’t understand he is a client, not an employer, has a whole different demeanor in his communication and behavior, and not for the better. And that just does not work in a business-to-business relationship.
  4. Their preconceived notions or relationship with you can limit their thinking and keep you boxed in. When you start a business and consult with fresh potential clients, it so much easier to educate them and manage their expectations in the way you need them to be because you’re working with a clean slate, so to speak.

That said, if you think this employer has good client potential despite the above, there are things you can do to help facilitate a successful new business-to-business relationship:

  1. Have a consultation process. If you don’t have one, you can get that with my Client Consultation Guide.
  2. Never take shortcuts with your consultation process. What I mean by that is, many people think because they already know and have a previous relationship with a potential client (such as the case with a former/current employer) they don’t have to conduct a full and thorough consultation. And that’s a really bad idea. Because part of what the consultation process does (at least if you are following my client consultation process) is it helps give proper context for your new business-to-business relationship with each other. This helps employers-turned-clients understand the new relationship so they can treat it and conduct themselves accordingly. It helps these past employers view you not as their employee/worker bee, but respect you as a business owner, someone who is going to now be their administrative partner/expert and trusted advisor. It also helps them understand that there are going to be necessary and significant differences in how and when you work together.
  3. Have a Client Guide ready to give to new or prospective clients. A client guide is a map, or decoder ring, if you will, written in friendly, positive, client-centric language that informs clients about how things work in your business, what your policies, procedures and protocols are, what your standards and expectations are for working together, and what rights and expectations they may have with regard to the work and results. This is another tool that helps facilitate a successful relationship moving forward and gives former employers/new clients proper context. It helps them see you as a business and no longer their employee. If you don’t already have one, you will get a free Client Guide Template included as a bonus when you purchase Set-01 (the Administrative Support Business Set-Up Success Kit) from the ACA Success Store.
  4. Have a proper business website and direct your past employer/potential client to it. And by “proper” I mean it is set up and populated with content that will inform and educate prospective clients about what you do, how you do it and how it helps them. This is another way you pre-educate clients in the way you need them to be and set and manage proper business expectations and understandings in them, which in turn helps them view and interact with you as a business owner (and not their employee). If you don’t have a website yet or your current website isn’t getting good results, be sure to check out my Build a Website that WORKS guide. This guide tells you exactly how to create a business website that gets results — i.e., more consult requests and ideal clients.
  5. Always use a contract. This is another area where people do themselves a huge disservice by taking shortcuts. They think just because they already know the person, they don’t have to go through those motions. But here again, a contract is another tool the use of which extends far beyond its mere practical application. Besides making sure the terms of the relationship are clear and in writing, just having a contract and going through the contract signing process helps former-employers-turned-clients understand the new business-to-business context, which helps ensure a successful working relationship moving forward.

There was something else I wanted to address that is a common misstep for new business owners: thinking your value is all about being cheaper than an employee.

Let me say this loud and clear: your job is not to be cheap.

Your job as a business is to deliver a service that improves the life and business of the client. And that costs whatever it costs.

Value, in the context of a professional service business, is not about discounts and savings and two-for-one specials.

Value is about how the results of your work improves their circumstances and makes business and life better and easier for the client, how it helps them achieve their overall goals and objectives.

This is a frequent topic on my blog so I have a little bit of homework for you. I want you to read these blog posts to help you overcome the scarcity/poverty/employee mindset that new business owners are so commonly susceptible to:

In fact, I have a whole category on my blog on this topic that is extremely eye-opening and empowering for everyone: Value Is Not About the Money

And remember that you are not your ideal client. You can’t base your business decisions and fees on what you would pay or could afford to pay.

Because that’s not how your ideal client thinks or operates, and you’ll never build a financially solvent, sustainable or successful business if you stay stuck in that mindset.

Your ideal client is one who is quality-minded and can well afford professional services. This client values administrative support because he understands this is the work that will help achieve his big picture goals and objectives. This client therefore wants a highly-skilled administrative expert and partner (not an order-taker) who will lead, guide and advise him in the administrative process with a view toward results.

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

Is There Room for LIFE in Your Business?

Is There Room for LIFE in Your Business?

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

Hear, hear!

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

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

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

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

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

But those are the exception, not the rule.

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

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

It’s like that for several reasons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a Tale of Two Laundromats Has to Do with YOUR Business

What a Tale of Two Laundromats Has to Do with Your Business

I had to go to a laundromat recently to wash an extra large faux fur comforter as my washer is too small for the job.

Ended up having an engaging business conversation with the owner after sharing with him how I had first gone to another laundromat and immediately turned around and walked right back out.

Why?

Because it was gross and filthy! Looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in years, flotsam left in the washers, garbage cans overflowing, every other machine broken, dirty water all over the floor, no attendant to be found. Disgusting! That’s when I Googled for alternatives and found his place.

So I drove over there, and let me tell you, it was like night and day!

Clean, gleaming surfaces everywhere you looked. Every single washer and dryer extra large and roomy… and NOT broken. A sparking clean restroom. A little “convenience store” counter to buy supplies and munchies if you like. And the owner there sweeping the floor, wiping down and checking machines, picking up lint.

He immediately recognized I was new and came right over to assist me. This was the Ritz-Carlton of laundromats compared to the first one I went to!

I told the owner how impressed I was with his place, how awful the other one was and how I had immediately left.

He thanked me so much and was truly touched as he takes great pride in his business.

He said it might be a little higher priced, but you pay for quality.

“Yesssss!” I exclaimed.

I added that I didn’t think it was all that expensive anyway (my complete wash and dry was only $7 total) because if you go to a crappy laundromat with broken, inefficient machines, you’d end up pumping in way more time and money than that.

Perfect example of how the so-called “cheap” comes out expensive.

He couldn’t agree more and told me how one time some guy from the other laundromat I had first gone to had come in and was badmouthing his place to all his customers, telling them how expensive this place was and how much cheaper it was at the other (crappy) place. The owner told the guy, “Hey, I don’t know what you’re trying to do, but my customers are free to go wherever they choose.”

I said, “But you know what? Don’t you change a thing. Because you have different markets. Their market is not YOUR market. I am very happy to pay well for a clean, safe place, state-of-art machines that actually work and do the job right the first time, and a helpful, friendly owner like you.”

So many great things about this:

  • Knowing who your market and ideal client are (hint: it’s not the short-sighted, penny-pinching miser who cares about nothing but saving a buck at the expense of everything else).
  • Understanding your value in relation to what your market and ideal client values.
  • Pricing profitably so you can provide great quality and customer experience.

Be thinking about how this translates in your business:

  • What can you do (or continue to do) in your business to give your clients and prospective clients a great experience dealing with your company?
  • How does pride in your work and service show up for your clients?
  • Do you see the correlation between pricing well and being able to take great care of clients?
  • Are you pricing at a level that allows you do great work, focus on ideal clients and give them a great experience?
  • How well to you understand who your market and ideal clients are? Who do you WANT to be your clients?