Archive for the ‘Best Biz Practices’ Category

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?

Dear Danielle: Should I Upgrade to Windows 10?

Dear Danielle: Should I Upgrade to Windows 10?

Dear Danielle:

Should I upgrade to Windows 10? —TM

This seems to be the topic of the day lately for all us PC users.

And really, it depends. There are so many variables to consider.

A lot of it boils down to personal preference and your own business circumstances.

Although this is more of a technical question (I focus mainly on business operating and marketing principles here), there are definitely some business implications so I’ll share my thoughts.

First and foremost, talk to your technology people.

(Don’t have any? Get some! This is one of the important support relationships to have in business.)

In my business, I call on my “computers guys,” a local father and sons computer and IT business who have been my go-to fixers and advisors on all things computer-related for many years now.

When I asked them about ugrading to Windows 10, here’s what they advise:

“Reserve your free copy, but don’t install it. All new software is buggy, and this one is no exception. We recommend everyone wait for at least six months when a lot of the initial bugs and problems will likely have been identified and fixed.”

As you weigh this decision about whether or not to install, a couple other things to take into account are:

  • How old is your computer?
  • Do you have the system requirements for an upgrade to 10?
  • If you upgrade, will all your other software and tools you use regularly still work or will you have to upgrade them as well?
  • If you install and then have problems, how will that impact your client work and turn around times?

I’ve been hearing horror stories from clients and business associates who upgraded to 10 right away.

I’ve also heard from other people who think Windows 10 is awesome and have had no problems (so far, anyway, lol).

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer.

Personally, I never install new software right off the bat. 

I have too much work to do to deal with the aggravation and time-suck of computer problems and learning curves that are easily avoided by simply waiting a bit longer.

I know from experience that it takes working with things more in-depth before any issues/bugs raise their ugly heads. And that’s usually at the most inopportune time. I have a fast-paced practice and the last thing I need are computer problems stopping everything up.

Plus, I never upgrade right away to the latest (and the “latest” is not necessarily the “greatest” to be sure) because my clients rarely do, and it causes difficulties/incompatibilities in a lot of ways when you are ahead of your client curve.

In fact, you may be surprised that up until a couple weeks ago, I was still running XP and Office 2003/2006 on my primary workhorse computer.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a technophobe in the least. Far from it. You can’t be in this business.

And I have always had all the new stuff on my laptops.

But bad design is bad design.

I just don’t like anything Microsoft redesigned after XP so I kept it on my main computer. If it ain’t broke, there ain’t nothing that needs to be fixed. 😉

It’s like this: Just because something is “popular” and “everyone is doing it,” doesn’t make it good.

Likewise, just because something is new, doesn’t make it good.

But technology marches on and the day finally came that I was forced off my beloved XP and Office 2003/2006, lol.

Now, I have Windows 8.1 on everything and running Office 365.

I am probably going to install 10 on my least-used laptop just to see what it’s all about.

But I most likely will not install 10 on my main desktop work computer for another couple years when I have a new computer built by my “computer guys.”

All in all, in deciding if now is the right time for you to upgrade to Windows 10, take this into consideration as well:

Are you newer in business and have few or no clients? Then this might be a great time to bite the bullet and see what happens.

Because if you do run into problems, they won’t have a big impact and you have more time on your hands to deal with them.

However, if you have a busy client roster and workload, you don’t have the same kind of space to deal with computer issues.

If you can’t afford the time, aggravation and downtime that potential computer problems may cause in your practice, I would say slow your roll and give it another six months.

There’s no reason you have to rush into anything right this second. Windows 10 will still be there and in far better shape than it is right now.

And if/when you do upgrade, be sure to check out all the useful Windows 10 articles I’ve pinned for you that will help you learn all about the new features, tweak your settings and make the best use of it in your practice.

Dear Danielle: Sole Proprietor or LLC?

Dear Danielle: Sole Proprietor or LLC?

Dear Danielle:

Would you recommend filing a state business license as a sole proprietor or an LLC when doing business as an Administrative Consultant? I’ve looked on the Nevada state business sites and am unable to find the information needed. Please advise and thank you in advance. —Tiphenie Montes

Hi Tiphenie :)

So here’s the thing. States aren’t in the business of advising you about what corporate formation you should seek. That’s why you aren’t finding that information.

You might find something on their websites that explains what the different corporate forms are to choose from in your state, but they aren’t going to tell you or advise one way or the other which one to choose or which one may be best for your business.

That’s a question for an attorney or CPA in your local area or state.

Whenever it comes to legalities, it’s so important to talk to the proper, licensed professionals. No colleague, even the most experienced and knowledgeable one, is qualified or licensed to give you advice on that kind of thing.

And you definitely don’t want to rely on the guesses and “legal opinions” of unqualified, unlicensed laypeople because that could cause you some serious harm or get you into legal hot water at some point or in some way or another.

When you start a business, you are by default a sole proprietor (or a partnership if there is more than one owner). And there’s no special incorporating you need to do for that (although, you may still need to register the business with your local and/or state agencies, but you’ll have to research that as every city/county/state is different).

If you do incorporate, there are possibly some protections and advantages. There is also a lot more filing and reporting obligations and tax designations you may also need to determine.

You might hear around the industry that LLC is the most common form of incorporation for our kind of service-based business. However, that’s a generalization that doesn’t take into account your specific and unique business circumstances and information and the kind of work you are doing in your business and how you are doing it.

If you were to talk to a CPA or attorney, it’s possible they might tell you that depending on your stage in business, incorporating is too soon or not the right time just yet, or may be overkill, or may not give you the kind of tax breaks or protections you thought you might get.

There are just SO many variables unique to your business and your circumstances that have to be weighed and considered by those who are licensed and qualified to advise you properly.

So I can’t recommend highly enough that you do that so you can make the best decisions for your new business based on the right information from the right people. It would be irresponsible and unhelpful for me to tell you otherwise. And I wish for the best for you as well so I won’t tell you otherwise. 😉

Here is another blog post that touches a little bit more on this topic from another angle that you may also find some helpful tidbits in:

Dear Danielle: How Do I Pay Myself?

Also, just to let everyone know, you get an Introduction to Business Formations guide included when you purchase the Administrative Consultant Business Plan Set (FRM-32) from the ACA Success Store.

Thanks for the question. Hope this has been helpful. :)

Punishment Fees Are Not Good Business

Punishment Fees Are Not Good Business

Punishing clients with the threat of charging them more money to get them to stop doing something you don’t want is a terrible business practice and a rotten dynamic to create in your relationship.

Paying you should feel good. It should feel like a reward for getting something great that they gain from, that improves their life and business.

Instead, you are training them to view paying you as a negative experience, a punishment.

I get that sometimes we take on bad clients. Sometimes when we are new, we sometimes expect clients to just “know” how our business runs and how they are to interact with us. And yes, you do need to put certain terms in your contract (such as late fees and interest rates and in what situations they will be applied) in order to have legally enforceable contracts.

But here’s a better idea:  choose better clients. 😉

Don’t take on just any client, and never take on clients just for the money. That never ends well.

Get clear about who an ideal client is in your business and who is not. Write those things down.

List what red flags to watch out and listen for that tell you someone is likely to be a pain in the ass who doesn’t respect you or your business. And then don’t work with those people.

Pay attention to your gut when it tells you someone isn’t going to be a fit. Don’t ignore it and step over your standards.

Stop being desperate. Be more discerning about who you allow on your client roster.

Do more prequalifying.

Conduct more thorough consultations (get my guide that shows you EXACTLY how to do that).

Get clearer about what your standards, boundaries, policies and procedures are in your business. 

Then do a better job of communicating those things to clients by writing them down in a Client Guide, giving it to every new client, and then going over that information with them (in the case of retainer clients) in a New Client Orientation before you begin working together.

Fire any client who can’t get with the program and continues to ignore your policies and processes and/or disrespect you.

Bad clients are unprofitable. Working with bad clients is never worth the trouble. It’s also unethical to work with bad clients because you can’t do your best work for any client you don’t have good feelings for and are drained by.

They eat up far more space in your business than you realize with the negative energy and problems they create. The psychological toll that takes costs more than any money you might be able to recoup. 

Dear Danielle: I Have a Bunch of Questions

Dear Danielle: I Have a Bunch of Questions

Dear Danielle:

Thank you so much for all of your offerings through the Success Store! Getting my company planned and put together has been much easier thanks to you than it might have been.  I just need some clarification:

  1. How exactly do referrals work?  I am giving a two-hour free referral bonus to any client who refers another paying client. What do you think of that idea?
  2. What marketing tools have you found the most effective?  I am on unemployment which is not enough to make ends meet, and I have had to get things for my business by raiding my grocery money (maxed out credit).  I am trying to get a micro-business loan, but have not done so yet. Are online directories and search engines the way to go?
  3. How did you find your industries small prospects for sales calls?  Do we have to worry about “Do Not Call” lists if someone uses one phone number for everything?  How much “cold calling” did you do to get started?
  4. About your website screening intake form:  I could not find your business website, nor could I find anything in the store about an intake form.  Is there another resource or should I just pull together my own and tweak it through experience?
  5. If a client asks for a particularly dicey project that I am not sure I can handle, how do I address that without looking incompetent, undersupplied technologically, or setting myself up to fail?

I apologize if you have already addressed these issues. Thanks for your help! –AJ

Whew! I’ll do my best to answer these and keep ’em short and sweet…

1. How do referrals work and what about giving a referral bonus?

A referral is when someone (could be a client, could be a colleague, could be a business associate… anyone) refers/recommends/tells someone about your business.

What do I personally think about paying people to refer you? I don’t advise it.

Let referrals come organically through the good will and high esteem you generate from doing good work. Those recommendations and referrals will carry far greater weight because of it.

Plus, keeping track of referrals and rewards just creates another needless task and complication in your administration that you don’t need.

Here are a couple blog posts that expand on this topic that I think you’ll find helpful:

Dear Danielle: How Do I Advertise for Referral Partners?

Tips for Harnessing the Power of Referrals

2. What marketing methods are most effective? Are online directories and search engines the way to go?

It doesn’t hurt to be in directories, but you don’t need them.

And SEO is the least effective way your most ideal, qualified client prospects will find you. It’s not the thing to waste your time focusing on right now at this stage of your start up.

Your best leads will always come from your own incoming marketing pipelines. And how do you do that?

In our business (as it is with most professional service-based businesses), networking is hands-down the most effective marketing strategy.

Not ads. Not cold-calling. Not direct mail.

The great thing about networking is that it doesn’t cost anything but your time. And that’s not a cost, it’s an investment because those efforts will ultimately pay with new clients and prospects.

The reason networking is so effective is because people look to work with those with whom they have established some kind of relationship and feel some kind of rapport.

Every opportunity you have that lets a group of people get to know, like and trust you is going to make it that much easier for you to attract clients.

Of course, the key to networking successfully starts with a target market. Otherwise, you’ll wear yourself out networking anywhere willy nilly.

Be sure you download the free ACA guide on How to Choose Your Target Market, which elaborates a bit more on what a target market is and how it will make growing your business and getting clients much faster and easier.

3. What cold calling did you do to get started and how did you find prospects for sales calls?

None. I didn’t look for any.

I never did cold calling and I don’t advise you do either.

People don’t like to be sold to; it’s completely the wrong strategy.

Professional services are a bigger ticket item and requires more relationship building and nurturing than that.

Sure, you might hear some people say they got this client or that project all from a sales call. But those are the exceptions, not the rule.

I can just about guarantee you don’t have the kind of money and energy to ever make cold calling a worthwhile ROI.

Even if you get one project, it isn’t going to come close to covering all the time, energy and effort you put into getting it.

And think about it. Do you really think you can keep putting in that kind of work just to get one or two nickel-and-dime projects? You need bigger money and bigger clients to stay in business and be profitable.

There are MUCH better, faster, more effective strategies for getting clients, one of which is deciding on a target market to focus on and then getting involved with that industry in every way you can (online forums, business groups, events, etc.). The more you interact, the more they get to know, like and trust you.

4. Is there a resource for an online intake/consultation request form?

If I’m understanding your question, I think you are referring to an online form you have clients fill out to request a consultation.

Having a form like this on your website will help screen and prequalify prospects.

By asking a few simple questions, this form can help you determine what stage of readiness a potential client is at, whether or not they are in your target market, and whether they can afford your services.

Depending on the questions you ask and how they fill out your online consultation form (which has the dual underlying purpose of helping prequalify clients), this can tell you what level of priority or attention to give a potential client or whether to guide them to further information on your website to learn more before moving on in the process.

For example, if someone is only “browsing,” you may not want to waste your limited time and effort on a consultation. You may instead want to send them to a white paper you have prepared for these kind of instances, and invite them to subscribe to your blog or ezine.

Many clients are not ready to work with us immediately so it’s all a process.

Here is a blog post that talks more about how the consult form can act a prequalifier: One Way to Sort the Ideal form the Unideal.

As far as a resource, I recommend you get my Client Consultation guide. Not only does it give you usuable examples of an online intake/consultation form and questions you may want to ask, it will walk you through the entire consultation process from start to finish: from targeting clients, identifying your ideal client profile, prequalifying clients, how to conduct the actual consultation conversation and what questions to ask, how to follow-up afterward and what the next steps are once you take on a new client. It’s VERY thorough!

5. How do I handle a request for something I don’t know how to do (or do well)?

First, you have to distinguish what kind of business you are in.

Are you in the secretarial business where you’re simply doing one-off, transactional, piecemeal project work?

Or are you in the business of administrative support?

Because the two are completely different business models.

Once you answer that question, it will help answer subsequent questions about what kind of client needs that work, what work is entailed and so forth.

When you know what you do and who you do it for, and educate clients accordingly, this kind of thing isn’t as much of an issue.

However, let’s say you are in the administrative support business and the client asks if you do X thing.

Honesty is always best so tell them if it isn’t something you know how to do or that you have limited experience/knowledge with it.

That said, you can always let them know that you are willing to learn how to do it (IF you are interested in doing so, that is).

Or, you might look at this project or work and think to yourself: You know, this really doesn’t fall under administrative support at all and isn’t what I’m in business to do. They really need to be working with someone who is in the X business.

In that case, you might offer to help them locate the proper professional who IS in business to do that thing.

Or, in yet another example, perhaps you have a separate division in your company that does this thing, in which case you would take them through those separate processes for intaking that kind of work or project and charge them separately for it.

You have to always remember that administrative support is not a catchall term for “anything and everything.”

Just because a client asks doesn’t mean you’re supposed to comply. They need educating.

If you were a plumber and someone asked you to fix their car, that wouldn’t make any sense, right?

And you’d inform them very simply and helpfully that what they need is an auto mechanic, not a plumber.

Same thing here.

YOU have to decide what administrative support consists of in your business and what doesn’t.

When you have that clarity yourself, you shouldn’t have any qualms about letting clients know when something doesn’t fall under the umbrella of your support.

Always be clear and upfront with clients about what’s what in your business. You’re not going to look bad in any way for not taking on or knowing how to do something or needing to refer them to another kind of professional entirely when that’s the case.

The only time you will look bad and create ill will is by not being honest and straightforward.

I hope that helps! Let me know if you questions on any of this. :)

Setting Policies for Great Communication with Clients and Prospects

Setting Policies for Great Communication with Clients and Prospects

It’s true to a certain extent: you may lose some prospects by not getting back to them right away. At the same time, you’d never get any work done if you answered every call the second the phone rang. It can be crazy-making to even try.

As with most things, instituting smart policies and procedures in your business will help you improve your response times and communications. and by informing prospective clients and site visitors upfront so they know what to expect and asking for their understanding, they are going to be more inclined to be patient.

So, here are a few tips for doing just that:

  1. Establish communication policies. Set a standard for responding to inquiries (e.g., “within 24-48 hours”). Decide which inquiries get priority attention (e.g., clients or prospective clients).
  2. Post your office hours and response protocols. Tell folks, on your website and in your voicemails, what days and times your office is “open” and how soon they may expect your return email or call.
  3. Require clients to follow certain procedures. While it might seem like letting clients call you for anything and everything at any time is great service, doing so will actually create conditions in your business that lead to poor performance and reduced quality of service. To be successful, you need to have some boundaries in place that that let you manage work and communications well in your business. Don’t be afraid to tell clients how work requests must be submitted (e.g., you might require that they be submitted by email only) or that phone calls/meeting are done only by appointment.
  4. Get a receptionist. If you worry that a happy, informative Voicemail message isn’t enough, but still need uninterrupted concentration time to get work done, hire an answering service.
  5. Map out a process for qualifying inquiries. There are lots of ways your website can do this work for you so you can reduce the time you spend on unnecessary calls and emails. You can design your website so that visitors are guided toward one action (e.g., submitting a form to schedule a consultation). If you prefer one method of contact over another, emphasize that method and make it the most visible and prominent. Another way to pre-qualify clients is to have them complete an online form that will help you determine if someone meets your minimum criteria for an ideal client and what your next steps should be with that person. In your Voicemail message, ask callers to be sure and visit your website (if they haven’t yet) and give them the url.

Remember, in order to give great service you have to set foundations (policies, standards, protocols, workflows) in your business that enable you to do that consistently and sustainably.

(Originally published August 2, 2010.)

If You Want to Win, Focus

If You Want to Win, Focus

Watching SharkTank (episode 23) and Robert Herjavec shared some very astute insight/advice with a pair of entrepreneurs who were trying to be and do too many different things, solve too many different problems:

“Man, you are fighting soooo many battles. Look, a guy that used to work for me, he was at one point the eleventh fastest man in the world. I run five miles a day so I used to say, ‘Hey, let’s go running.’ And he would say to me, ‘I can’t run five miles.’ I’d say, ‘Come on, man, you’re in great shape; you can run five miles.’ ‘I don’t run five miles. I run a hundred meters as fast as I can. That’s my job.'”

Back to the entrepreneurs, he continues…

“I’m not sure what your job is. You’re doing a performance shoe. Then you’re doing email software. Then you’re doing a NASCAR shoe. You’re fighting too many battles. If you want to win, just run the hundred meters. Focus.”

This is a problem a great many people in our industry suffer from as well.

They’re providing administrative support. Then they’re also trying to be in the web design business. And the bookkeeping business. And the graphic design business. And the desktop publishing business. And the marketing business. And the IT business…

They are fighting too many battles.

You don’t have to be this, that and the other, and trying to be will keep you from excelling, gaining traction and succeeding in any of them.

If you want to win, focus.