Archive for the ‘Best Biz Practices’ Category

Dear Danielle: Do You Ever Provide Writing Samples?

Dear Danielle:

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

Hi Tajanna :)

Thanks for the question!

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

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

I’m in the administrative support business.

Two different things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the thing:

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

Of course not.

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

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

Are you a writer? Or are you an adminstrator?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you understand the difference?

25 Ways to Get Better, More Ideal Clients

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This question was asked on the ACA LinkedIn Group recently:

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

Here’s my advice:

Upfront, upfront, upfront!

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

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

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

The problems with billing after the fact include:

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

So here’s what I recommend…

RETAINERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PROJECT WORK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 Tips for Transitioning to Business from Full Time Work

Tips for Transitioning to Business from Full Time Work

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

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

Hope that helps!

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

Help! My Client Isn't Referring Me to Others

Dear Danielle:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My best leads have always comes from my own networking.

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

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

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

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

This actually brings up another point…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell Fear to Take a Hike

Tell Fear to Take a Hike

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

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

She asked the group if this was a good idea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, you don’t.

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

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

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

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

Fear really is your only roadblock.

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

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

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

And then ask for that fee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally posted June 12, 2009.

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

Get Your Calendar Ready for 2014

Have you gotten your calendar ready for 2014?

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

Here’s what to do:

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

5 Options for Getting a Business Mailing Address

3 Options for Getting a Business Mailing Address

Your #1 job in marketing is establishing trust. Having an address on your website is an important trust and credibility factor.

When you don’t have one, people wonder what you’re hiding. However, for personal privacy and safety reasons, it’s not a good idea to use your home address.

Here are five options for getting a business mailing address to erase skepticism while keeping your safety and personal boundaries intact:

1. Get a post office box from your local USPS branch. The cost is minimal, it’s a tax deductible business expense and you can apply for, manage and pay for your PO box conveniently online. These days, the post office even allows you to spell out the address which can look nicer on your letterhead than “PO Box ###”. Prices vary slightly from branch to branch depending on location and can cost as little as $8/month. Visit https://poboxes.usps.com/poboxonline/search/landingPage.do for more information.

2. Get a PO box from a USPS Approved Provider. Many of your local businesses (e.g., drug stores, hardware stores, grocery stores, etc.) are also Contracted Postal Units from which you can get a PO box. This expands your options for finding the nearest convenient location. You can use the link above to search, but I’ll be honest, you might also have to just ask around as I’ve found it doesn’t necessarily give you complete results.

3. Get an EarthClassMail Virtual Mailroom. A bit pricey, but this is a really nifty service. You get a address you can use for your business and have mail sent to. They receive your mail and scan it into PDFs which can then be viewed and managed onscreen via your admin panel. Quickly and easily sort through junk mail and have them recycle or shred anything you don’t want. You can store your mail online and have them send you any physical pieces you like. These are just a few of the features and options available. Check it out at EarthClassMail.com.

4. Get a Virtual Office Location. Many similar services are springing up these days that will provide you with a business mailing address and mail receipt and forwarding. One such service is Davinci Virtual Office Solutions (they also offer virtual receptionist services). Check them out for a location near you.

5.  The UPS Store. Get a real street address (not a PO box), package notification and more. You get 24-hour access and with their MailCheck® service you can call in to see if you have mail before you make a trip. Visit TheUPS Store.com for more information.

Dear Danielle: How Do You Introduce Yourself to Clients & Prospects?

Received a great question today on Facebook that I thought would be helpful to share with you here as well.

Earlier in the week, I posted this:

When you’re running a business, you aren’t anyone’s assistant. When you liberate yourself from that term (and stop subjugating your expertise), you’ll get better clients and command higher fees.

This prompted the question from Lisa:

ok when you contact a clientscustomer or prospect how do you introduce yourself hi I’m so and so’s whatif you can’t say Executive Assistant or assistant what do you say?

Here is the conversation:

ME:  What you’re describing sounds like a cold-calling situation. Is that what you mean? If so, I don’t recommend anyone in professional services engage in cold-calling. Cold-calling is selling, not marketing. No one likes a salesman, which is exactly what prospects will identify you as when you cold-call. When you aren’t cold-calling, but instead marketing and networking and getting people to come to you (i.e., visit your website where they can be educated about what you do and who you do it for), this is a non-issue. Or do you mean something else? If you can elaborate, I will try to help.

LS:  No, not cold calling. I don’t offer that service in my business at all! I offer executive assistance and transcription services (I know you hate that word, assistant, but I’m trying to reorganize my business so for lack of another word for now I’ll use it.) I work with CEOs/Presidents/owners (i.e., executives) from small/medium size companies and provide full-service administrative support to them. Some are home-based, some are office-based. I have 2 right now who are my mainstays. They use my services for 40-60 hours a month consistently; been working with them for 2 and 3 years now. I do heavy calendar management for them. When they ask me to schedule a call or meeting with someone, I need to contact the person either via phone or email to coordinate a date/time to schedule the meeting. Since most don’t know me initially, I feel I need to introduce myself and rignt now I’m saying “this is Lisa, so-so’s assistant.” But maybe I could say, “this is Lisa, I work with so-so and assist him with managing his calendar. Here are some dates/times he is available for a call/meeting, etc.” I would like to learn your concept and change my business image to administrative consultant vs. assistant, but because of the services I offer, there’s a gray area that is confusing me and trips me up. I’m revamping my business, website, processes, etc. but am in transition right now. sorry for long message.

ME:  Nothing to apologize for, Lisa. I really appreciate the genuine question and venturing forth. I LOVE helping people transition out of the assistant mode!

So you mean when you are calling people on behalf of a client, right? In that case, I simply say, Hi, I’m Danielle, so-and-so’s administrator. I instruct clients to identify me this way as well, NEVER to call me their assistant, because I’m not.

This will not be a problem with new clients that you educate/orient fresh, as much as it sometimes can be with old clients who are used to thinking of and working with you like their employee and who need to be re-educated. This is just a fact of life any time you change anything in your business or up your standards. Hopefully, no one gives you any flak, but if they do, you can always point out to them that there are legal ramifications involved. You don’t want them to get in any trouble with the IRS which is why it’s important that you not represent yourself in any way as an employee of that client—because you aren’t, they are your client.

Plus, any client who does give you flak, it’s a sure bet they are not viewing or understanding the relationship correctly and need to be set right. Since when would they tell their accountant or attorney or web designer what to call themselves or how to introduce themselves? They wouldn’t and they have no business or say so about the matter when it comes to you either.

It would probably be a good idea to sit down (figuratively) with each of those clients and have a heart-to-heart with them about the changes in your business and what to expect. Alternatively, because obviously there are practical considerations, if you’re worried about upsetting the status quo with any existing clients, you can continue on with them as you are and just focus your changes and new marketing/educating/orienting approach with new clients. But eventually, I guarantee, as you grow in your new mindsets, there will come a day when you will need for those old clients to get on board or let them go. It’s just natural that we will outgrow some folks who can’t grow with us along the way.

I hope this helps everyone! If you have more questions on this, post them in the comments and I’ll be happy to continue the conversation. :)

Stop with the Money-Back Guarantees

Stop with the Money-Back Guarantees

Stop with the “100% money-back guarantee” on your service. You’re not selling a ShamWow, for crying out loud! Your blood, sweat and tears do not come with a money-back offer.

Plus, there are theories of law at play here.

Ideally, you have great skills and do great work for clients. But whether someone likes the work or not is a completely different value from the fact that they engaged you to do the work.

By law, you are entitled to be paid for work you were engaged to do, as long as you made every good faith effort and held up your end of the bargain.

Whether they like the end result is something else entirely. And they aren’t entitled to 100% of their money back on that.

Plus, think about it. You’d have to hold those funds aside and deprive yourself of their use until the end of whatever period you’ve given.

That’s ridiculous!

Clients who don’t like your work have the same recourse we all do:  to express our dissatisfaction and give the provider an opportunity to do better and/or stop working with that provider any further and take our business elsewhere. Simple as that.

It’s up to all of us to do our homework and choose service providers wisely, with quality in mind, not cheapness.

We usually get what we pay for in this life, and when clients cheap out, they shouldn’t be surprised when that’s the kind of quality they get in return. They just aren’t going to get a Rolls Royce for the price of a Ford, no way no how.

You, on the other hand, as a conscientious service provider of integrity who cares about your clients and doing good work can offer to redo any work that a client isn’t satisfied with.

But beyond that, you need to stop prostrating yourself and begging and bribing people to work with you.

You’re offering a service and knowledge work, not selling products that can be returned to the shelves.