Archive for the ‘Best Biz Practices’ Category

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.

Dear Danielle: Client Thinks He Shouldn’t Be Billed for Time on the Phone

Dear Danielle: Client Thinks He Shouldn’t Be Billed for Time on the Phone

Dear Danielle:

Do you bill your clients for time that you speak with them on the phone? I have a client who wants to have phone meetings twice a week. A phone meeting with him can run from 15 minutes to an hour. Yet, he feels that I should not bill for that time. Instead, I should only bill for the time that I am “actually doing work.” (His words…not mine.) —Anonymous by request

Warning, this may be a little ranty, lol

And just to be clear, it’s no way directed toward the person asking the question. I give them all the props in the world for having the courage to ask. That’s how we get help, by asking.

What gets my dander up is more about the ridiculous, ignorant information that continues to be spouted out by business morons that create this kind of thinking in clients and colleagues in the first place.

The idea that in this day and age people in our industry are still asking questions like this as if they need permission from anybody about what they’re allowed to do in their business tells me there’s still an insane amount of employee-mindset going on.

NEWSFLASH: Talking with clients IS part of the work.

When you talk with clients on the phone, that’s part of the service product you’re providing to them.

You are expending business resources (your time) and that time comes at a cost to your business.

You are being a brainstorming partner and sounding board. You’re also presumably offering your own input, ideas, opinions, feedback and expertise in those conversations, which are service products and value your client is benefiting from.

So, um, yeah, you should be charging for that. And it’s not up to ANY client to dictate what you do or don’t charge for or how you charge. If he doesn’t want to pay for it, then he shouldn’t be given it.

Now, all that said, this question points out a few things that are going on in this person’s business that need to be addressed.

  1. This client sounds like he thinks you’re some kind of employee. That means YOU haven’t done a proper job of educating him before ever working together about the fact that you are an independent professional—ahem, a BUSINESS—providing a service and expertise, no different than if he were to hire an attorney or an accountant or a coach, etc. You have GOT to set your prospects and clients STRAIGHT about this right from the get-go (which means you have to get this straight first yourself). You are not an employee. Period. End of story. That’s not how business works. There is no such thing as a 1099 employee. When clients are operating under no delusions about this, they approach the relationship with a more appropriate professional demeanor and respect, and they expect to pay for services they are provided.
  2. You haven’t defined your policies and procedures and your boundaries and parameters thoroughly. This is really business planning 101, which makes me wonder if you’ve done any of that. If you haven’t, go back now and do that. It’s important if you want happy clients and a happy, profitable and long-lived business! How you bill; what you bill for; what is included in the service and what is not; how many phone calls a client is allowed each week; what time limit they get per call; whether or not phone calls are by appointment only and need to be scheduled or not; how regular communication is to be conducted (e.g., email only)… these are just some of the things you need to clarify in your business. And then put all that information in a Client Guide to be given to every new client at the start of the relationship. (By the way: Set-01 The Administrative Consultant Business Set-Up Success Kit in the ACA Success Store includes a New Client Welcome Kit guide and Client Guide template to help you get this sorted in your business.)
  3. The fact that this client is complaining about being charged for phone calls now tells me you did not properly inform him upfront, before working together, how things work in your business. Of course, when you haven’t set your policies and procedures in the first place, how can you inform them upfront, right? Which is why you have to get clear about them first (see #2). You want to eliminate any misunderstandings and surprises as much as possible because those all too frequently become relationship killers.

And while it’s not any client’s business to tell you how to run yours, this does point to several of the reasons I don’t advocate selling hours as a billing methodology:

  1. It puts your interests at odds with each other. You only make more money the more hours you charge, and clients don’t like what they view as being nickeled and dimed.
  2. If you work fast, you are penalized financially while clients are getting the value and benefit of that speed without paying for it.
  3. Everything becomes a transaction which becomes the focus instead of the results, goals and objectives that together you wish to achieve.

Learning how to price, package your support, and talk about fees with clients is an area of business education in and of itself—part art, part science. There is a way to make sure you are paid for the time and value of the service you provide to clients without using time as the measurement and without clients feeling like they are being nickeled and dimed.

I teach a methodology called Value-Based Pricing that unties your earning ability from the hands of the ticking clock, and brings you and the client’s interests back into alignment so you can begin working more truly together with the same goals, intentions and motivations.

The fantastic byproduct of this methodology is that clients never again complain about being charged for this or that because it’s all part of the package.

You can learn more about all that and get my Value-Based Pricing and Packaging self-study guide here >>. (Be sure and watch the video!)

If you have any questions about any of this, please post in the comments and I’m happy to keep the conversation going there.

Hope this helps! (And if you have your own question on a different topic for me, please feel free to submit it here.)

How Do I Deal with a Client Who Constantly Misses Appointments?

How Do I Deal with a Client Who Constantly Misses Appointments?

A good question came up on one of the LinkedIn groups I belong to about a topic that is a frequent source of vexation for people in our industry:

“I have a client that is continuously scheduling my time and then when it’s time to “meet” she is otherwise engaged with family, etc. I understand “things come up,” however this is becoming a pattern. She is not very versed in the world of business and I’m not into giving my time away. This has happened three times now. I plan to begin billing for this time moving forward and want to put a policy in place. Thank you in advance for any guidance or words of wisdom you can share with me!!”

This falls under the category of “we teach our clients how to treat us.”

If a client normally respects your time and keeps their appointments with you, it’s easy to be understanding when life gets in the way and they are unable to give you sufficient notice when they need to cancel or reschedule a meeting with you.

However, once you recognize a pattern, and it’s causing you wasted time, irritation and resentment, that’s when you need to nip things in the bud.

Here are a few ways to help prevent this problem in the first place, as well as what to do when it does occur:

  1. Work with ideal clients. It’s fine to add a policy for the sake of clear understanding and communication (and you would not legally be able to impose fees if that language isn’t in your contract), but there’s something else to consider here: why would you want to work with the kind of clients who would only respect your time under threat of penalty? And what if the added charges don’t deter or change the behavior? You’d still have a PIA (pain-in-the-ass) client causing problems and negative energy in your practice. Examine whether that client is really worth continuing to work with.
  2. Run your business like a business. That means having a professional web presence, proper email and signature lines, formal business policies, documents and procedures, etc. The more you present yourself as a business, the more clients will respect it (and you) as such.
  3. Always have clients sign a contract. A contract isn’t just for legal purposes. It’s also to help clients take you and your business seriously, to view your business as a business. People who see you as a professional are more likely to respect your time.
  4. Include a section in both your contract and your New Client Guide that talks about the importance to the relationship of respecting each other’s time, what your expectations are of them (and that you will extend the same to them) and what the policies are around canceling and missed appointments. For example, how much notice do you ask clients provide if they need to cancel an appointment (this is common courtesy and respect)? Do you charge for missed appointments, and if so, how much? How long will you wait for a late-arriving client before you will no longer meet with them for that day? By informing them upfront what your policy is on this, you are indicating the value and respect you place on your time (as well as that of your other clients and priorities). Personally, I wait no more than 10 or 15 minutes; after that, they will need to reschedule their appointment for the following week. So, this is the other thing that contracts are for: formalizing what your expectations are for each other and the relationship and informing clients how things work in your business.
  5. Don’t be so quick to always instantly respond to clients. I know this sounds counter-intuitive because you want clients to feel you are responsive, but there is such a thing as being a too-eager beaver. When that’s the impression clients have, they think you have nothing better to do than sit there waiting for them to tell you to “jump.” You undermine your own authority in that way. Establish a communication standard in your business of 24-48 hours turn-around time in your replies, whether you have other clients or not. This helps set proper business expectations and clients will respect your time more appropriately.
  6. Don’t let clients slide. As soon as you realize you’ve clearly got a client who has no regard for you or your time, you’ve got to have a conversation about what is going on. Be prepared to fire any client who continues to abuse your time after this conversation. Because by letting them continue to do so, you are teaching them that your word, your time and your value mean nothing and they are free to do as they please and you’re just going to keep taking it. If you don’t respect your boundaries, clients won’t either.
  7. Re-examine your business, your standards, and who you are choosing as clients. If you have clients who continuously abuse your time there are two things going on: a) you are not working with ideal clients (and starting an Ideal Client Profile list is going to help you tremendously), and b) there are areas in your business, how you are presenting it and how you are working with clients that is contributing to this problem. This presents you with a good opportunity to improve your business, who you accept onto your client roster, how you might better communicate your needs and expectations of clients, and how to identify and get better, more ideal clients. Because if you are working with clients too informally, too loosey-goosey, and not being selective about who gets a place on your roster, those are definitely underlying root causes.

How Do You Know If a Potential Client Will Be a Good One?

How Do You Know If a Potential Client Will Be a Good One?

Someone on one of the LinkedIn groups I belong to asked this question not long ago:

I have a client that I really don’t think can handle a virtual work situation. She doesn’t communicate well, doesn’t want to set aside time that I can ask questions about work. She expects me to understand everything the first time she tells me. I could go on. I want to learn from this situation and compile some questions I can ask future potential clients to determine if they can work virtually with me. Any ideas?

My advice to her?

Run away, lol.

You already see the red flags. This is not someone who is likely to make for a good client, and will probably end up making you pull your hair out.

Start a list called Unideal Client Profile. Then, list each characteristic you’ve listed in your post.

Whenever you are tempted to step over your standards and ignore when your gut is telling you someone is not a good client candidate, take that list out to remind you why you don’t want to take on any client like that.

Unideal client are far too costly and unprofitable to work with. They cost your business far more than you realize, and not just monetarily.

The psychological toll they take is not anything you can afford.

Every unideal client takes up 3-4 times the space in your practice that an ideal client does because an unfit client generates huge negative energy that drains you while ideal clients create positive reciprocal energy that invigorates you.

You also want to start your Ideal Client Profile and add the opposite of these characteristics to that list.

Every time you realize a positive or negative attribute of a prospect or client, add those to your lists. This is an exercise you should conduct throughout the life of your business.

These lists help you get conscious and intentional about the clients you choose by documenting and formalizing your standards around who is the best fit for you—and who isn’t.

You never want to take on any ol’ client just for the money. That’s where 90% of problems start in the first place.

And you can’t serve well and do your best work for any client who simply isn’t a good mutual fit. It would actually be unethical to take that kind of client on.

The other part of this is using your website to prequalify prospective clients.

So in the course of your website content and marketing message, you want to make clear the kind of clients you’re looking to work with, who you work best with, what kind of clients benefits most from working with you and this way of working together (this is your ideal client) as well as who doesn’t (your unideal client, the client who isn’t a good fit for working with you). These Ideal and UN-Ideal Client Profiles help you with that.

There’s a whole host of other ways you can prequalify clients, but this is a start.

These steps will help you avoid wasting precious time in conversations and consultations with people who don’t fit that initial level of qualification as a good client candidate.

(And if you want to save yourself all kinds of angst and wasted time, money and effort and start getting more ideal clients and more action from your website, check out my Build a Website that WORKS guide.)

If You Have a Complaint, Press the Red Button

If You Have a Complaint, Press the Red Button

Ha ha! This is good for a Friday laugh.

On a business note, however, I hope you aren’t viewing complaints as things to be avoided.

Obviously, no one likes an asshole. And assholes don’t get helped very willingly as they make it hard to embrace them.

A lot of the time, they are really more interested in complaining and making you their scapegoat than being actually helpful and constructive.

And you want to be smart enough to understand that you do not need to twist yourself into pretzels and change your entire business to suit one unreasonable soul.

That said, DO overlook the delivery and emotion of the complaints and view them as feedback.

Pick out the golden kernals of truth because they are opportunities see where something in your flow might be broken and help you improve your service and business.

Come join our ACA Facebook group where we have lively, useful discussions on this and other business topics.

A Little Bit of Mailing List Etiquette

A Little Bit of Mailing List Etiquette

This situation has happened enough times that I thought it would be a public service and good mentoring to address it for everyone…

Every once in awhile out of the blue I will receive an ezine email from a colleague. And I immediately unsubscribe.

Why? Because I never signed up for it.

And how do I know that? Because I intentionally do not ever subscribe to the ezines and mailing lists of colleagues.

In response to my unsubscription, it’s also not been uncommon that the colleague whose mailing list/ezine I have unsubscribed from will send me a nastygram.

These have run the gamut from making personal attacks to the childishness of a five year old: Well, if you don’t want to be on my mail list, then I don’t want to be on yours.

(I have news for them, if that’s their level of business maturity, I will unsubscribe them myself.)

Here’s the difference: They subscribed to my list. I didn’t subscribe to theirs.

This is nothing personal either. Let me tell you why I don’t subscribe to the mailing lists of colleagues AND why you don’t need me on your mailing list:

  1. I’m not your target market. I am not a client or a prospect.
  2. As mentioned, you signed up for my mailing list; I didn’t sign up for yours. Signing up to someone’s mailing list does not grant you automatic permission to sign them up to yours.
  3. As an industry mentor, I am dealing with far more people than you. If I subscribed to everyone’s mailing lists “just to be nice” and avoid the morons getting bent out of shape if I don’t, my inbox would be inundated, and I’d never get anything done.
  4. You are not my target market. When I’m wearing my industry mentor hat, granted, the things I have to teach and share do apply to you. But that’s why you signed up to my list, not the other way around. When I’m wearing the hat of business owner in my own administrative practice, I’m only interested in being on the mailing lists of my target market and my own mentors, not colleagues.

So, as a rule, I do not sign up to any colleague’s mailing lists or ezines. As I’ve said, this is nothing personal.

It’s also not something to get upset about. That’s just silly. If you think about it, those people who get upset are only thinking of themselves; they certainly aren’t considering the other person’s needs and wishes. And that’s the complete opposite of good marketing and business.

What IS important here is that you understand the dynamics and etiquette of mailing lists when it comes to your business, target market and potential clients.

You’re going to annoy a whole lot of people by signing them up to your list without their permission. That is bad marketing/mailing list/ezine practice all the way around. Just don’t do it!

Mailing lists are not about you adding people to your list yourself simply because you know them or had a conversation with them.

And just because you signed up for someone’s mailing list or ezine doesn’t give you the right to add them to yours.

Mailing lists are about letting people self-subscribe… providing information and resources that are of value and interest to them so that they opt-in to your mailing list of their own accord.

It’s okay to connect with people on social media: follow them on Twitter; friend them on Facebook; connect on LinkedIn and so forth.

But never, ever add someone to your mailing list without asking. Instead, give people a reason to join your list and then invite them to your website where they can opt-in themselves.

And remember who your real audience is. You don’t need anyone and everyone on your list. You don’t even need a huge list. You just need the right people on there which includes those who want to be there and made the choice to be.

That’s how it works, folks. 😉

Speed vs. High Quality & Dependability

Dear Danielle: How Do I Respond to this Client Inquiry?

Biz Question? Ask Danielle

Dear Danielle:

A prospective client contacted me recently saying she found me on the ACA website. She said she was looking to “hire a VA as soon as possible.” Her entire approach was as if she was hiring an employee and spouted off a list of “job duties” before she’d even asked ME what MY process is for consulting with clients. It’s like she didn’t even bother reading my website. I’d appreciate your advice on answering this type of email. —Anonymous

Well, she’s already a disrespectful moron if she says she found you on the ACA site, but is calling you a VA, because no where on your site or the ACA website does it say you are a VA. You quite clearly identify yourself as an Administrative Consultant.

And I say “disrespectful” because it is ill-mannered to call someone by anything other than the name/title they give. That’s a sign of a self-centered person, someone who is already disregarding you right out of the gate.

For me, this would be a red flag because people who are oblivious like that are not ideal clients.

People who don’t read my website are also not ideal clients because it shows that they don’t pay attention and are going to be difficult to work with.

If it were me, it’s entirely possible I wouldn’t even bother responding because I don’t even know how to deal with people who get such basic, intrinsic etiquette wrong like that. It would be like if she called me Diane instead of Danielle. I see no need to waste my time and energy on people who don’t arrive at the table with proper attention to certain manners and details.

I know from experience that kind of person would not be a good fit for me because I would be having to constantly point out all kinds of other obvious things to them beyond that, and they would annoy and exasperate me.

But that’s me.

The thing is, I can’t advise everyone on how they should respond to all their various individual inquiries specifically.

That’s your job in your business.

And it wouldn’t help solve the issue anyway.

What’s really going on is that your website content is very vague and generic so it’s not doing a good job of pre-educating your site visitors about what you do and who you do it for.

There’s nothing there now that is setting proper expectations and understandings so they approach the relationship in a professionally respectful and business-like manner (hence their employer-like demeanor).

And there are no systems in place on your site to help prequalify ideal client candidates and weed out those who aren’t going to be a fit. (Is this really a viable prospect? Is this person even in your target market? )

You’re going to get a lot of random inquiries like this until those things change.

What is going to help you is a) getting clear about what you want to do in your admin support business, b) getting clear about what specific industry/profession you want to cater your admin support to (this is called a target market in business terms), and c) fixing your website and implementing a strategy and conversion system for getting more of the exact kind of clients you’re looking to work with.

And you’re going to need the kind of guidance and learning in fixing your website that I can’t provide you with in a blog post or email. It takes more than that. It’s why I packaged up all my knowledge, experience and expertise in how to “sell” administrative support and get ideal clients in my guide, Build a Website that Works.

This is more than a website guide. It’s a marketing guide, a content guide and conversion system all rolled into one–because a website isn’t just an online brochure. It’s an integral part of the process of getting clients and getting the right clients. It’s the critical link between your marketing and networking and getting those all-important consultations. And not just consultations from anyone, consultations with the best, most ideal prospects who are more likely to become actual paying clients.

You can get my guide and save yourself a lot of wasted time, energy and flailing around blindly trying to copy what everyone else is doing (who, by the way, don’t know any better than you right now themselves), or you can keep struggling. That’s up to you.

Once you get clear about those things, you’ll know exactly how to inform those folks who may or may not be who you’re looking to work with (whichever the case may be), how you might help them and what the next steps in your process are.

How to Leave a Bad Client Relationship When You’re Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place

How to Leave a Bad Client Relationship When You’re Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place

This post was inspired by some recent correspondence with a colleague who shared that she was mired in an unhappy relationship with a client who is far from ideal.

She dreads hearing from this client and rushes through this client’s work to get it over with as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, she stated, she can’t afford to let this client go as it is her only source of income at the moment.

What I told her was that she couldn’t afford to NOT get out of this relationship… quick. It’s keeping her stuck and zapping her energy and morale.

What’s also important here, but not commonly talked about, is that we all have a moral duty to work with ideal clients and let go of the unideal ones.

We are not walking in integrity taking money from people we don’t care for and, thus, for whom we are not doing our best work. You’re not serving their best interests, and it’s not fair to them to keep them on.

Staying in a bad relationship also steals your life from you.

It keeps you from moving forward and opening space for the better and more ideal.

You are holding yourself hostage by letting fear rule your decisions.

I totally understand practicalities, though.

If you feel you are stuck between a rock and hard place financially, here’s what you can do strategically if you don’t feel at choice (yet) to let go of a client you are not happy working with any longer:

  1. First, take a moment to be in gratitude. Thank the universe for providing this client to you and for all the business lessons and experience you gained. You can still be grateful even while you recognize you have outgrown the relationship and that it’s time to move on.
  2. For the moment, keep doing what you’re doing with that client. Gradually, when and where you can, make changes that are more to your liking. They don’t have to be drastic. Sometimes, it’s the smallest tweaks that can have the biggest, most positive impact. And with each small success with these changes, you will feel empowered and gain courage. Always announce these changes (without asking for permission) and put them in the most positive, client-focused terms as possible. For example, “In order to better serve my clients, I am now…” “I’m doing this so that you can experience better…” Anything that improves your life and business is always in the best interests of your clients, but you don’t want to explain things from that perspective. You always want to relate that information in terms of how it better serves them, not you. Understand?
  3. Simultaneously, work your BUTT off to get new and better clients, taking them on under all your improved and heightened standards, policies, procedures and pricing, and doing everything in the way you wish you would have with that client who is no longer a fit.
  4. Once you’ve got yourself in a better position financially, you can give that unideal client an opportunity to adapt to how you are doing things now in your business. Write a formal message letting them know that you are making changes to how you are doing business and working with clients, and outline what those changes are. If the client isn’t willing to accept those changes, you can very genuinely thank them for your time together, wish them well and let them go, happier trails to everyone.
  5. Finally, be cognizant of the ways you contributed to the unhappy relationship. Many people fail to realize that bad clients are often created by a) not being discerning and choosing clients carefully in the first place, and b) spoiling them with unsustainable practices. They promise these clients the moon, work with them in ways they can’t possibly keep up with once they have more than one client and don’t set boundaries and parameters for clients to observe. In recognizing these problem areas, you can improve and avoid them in your future relationships. That’s called growing and maturing as a business owner and service provider.

Have you found yourself in an unideal situation with a client, but don’t feel free to change things or move on due to financial constraints? Please do share your story in the comments below as it is very helpful to others in the same boat. They find validation that they are not the only one going through this. And I would love to know, as well, if this information has helped you get unstuck.