Archive for the ‘Boundaries and Standards’ Category

25 Ways to Get Better, More Ideal Clients

baddog

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do You Want a Job or a Business?

Do You Want a Job or a Business?

People come into this profession with dreams of a lifestyle different than the normal 9-5 grind, to have more freedom and flexibility in their lives—and then they create a business that allows them to have anything but those things.

One of the reasons this happens is because they’re being taught and advised by training organizations to operate like employees.

The most ridiculous thing I read recently is that in managing client expectations and helping them establish trust in you, you shouldn’t “disappear, even for a day or two.”

So let me ask you this:  Do you want a job or a business?

There are lots of ways to manage expectations and instill ever-growing trust in clients.

None of it requires you to operate like an employee.

When you read books like Gerber’s “The E-Myth Revisited,” you learn that the idea is to create a business that operates by system and doesn’t necessarily require you to be the one doing the work.

However, there’s nothing wrong with you being the one doing the work.

Many (perhap even most) people go into self-employed business to practice their craft for reasons beyond money.

It has just as much to do with soul. They get a kind of deeper personal satisfaction they just can’t experience in any other situation. Doing work they love and enjoy brings them a richness of meaning, purpose and spirit in their lives.

Even the wealthy will tell you, you can make all the money in the world and not have to work another day in your life, but it’s an empty, joyless existence without the purpose and fullfillment of actual, meaningful work.

God bless those who love to pull up their sleeves and make their living in a more direct, one-on-one, hands-on way!

But that doesn’t mean they have to sacrifice the desire to have the same kind of freedom and earning potential that other businesses strive for.

There’s a way to be a solopreneur where you can do the work, but do it in a way that doesn’t require you to be at the daily beck and call of clients. You just have to make some mental shifts in your thinking and understanding about what you are and how you work with clients.

The first of these shifts is getting out of the thinking that the only way you are valuable to a client is if you are there to deal with their every need, every whim, day in and day out.

You have to get out of the stuckness that says your value lies in being in daily, constant contact with clients.

There’s a word for someone like that: it’s called employee. And you DON’T have to operate like that.

If you are operating no differently than the secretary who sits outside the boss’ door, only virtually, you’re going to be in for one rude awakening.

Because not only will you drastically inhibit your earning potential, you’ll learn (the hard way) just what a predicament you’ve created for yourself and your clients.

Eventually, when you want to enjoy the fruits of your labor and get away from the office on a whim, you realize you’ve created a dynamic, no matter how loudly you shout about standards, that just doesn’t leave you much, if any, room to do that.

And funny thing about standards… they have to work well in actual, practical application. They can’t be some lofty theory dreamt up by someone who isn’t doing the same work you do every day of the week.

Stop killing yourself trying to live up to that crap.

Your value is not dependent on whether you don’t disappear for a day or two. That’s crazy!

Who wants to live a life as a business owner and independent professional being held hostage to their phone, desk and clients?

There isn’t a single other solo profession out there that tells its denizens they have to operate like that in order to be of value or service.

You only put yourself in that cage if you believe there is no other way to operate or be of service and value.

Your value isn’t in doing everything for clients. Your value isn’t in being an “instant assistant” and being at their beck-and-call day in and day out.

Your value isn’t how much you do, it’s how much what you do selectively for clients helps them grow, move forward and keep their businesses humming along smoothly.

None of that inherently requires you to be in daily contact or to take on the whole kit and kaboodle to do that. You can be of tremendous value and service taking on just a very specific cross-section of the administrative load that clients carry.

I’m also not sure what makes people think that you can’t have a close, personal, connected relationship with clients without being at their on-demand beck and call day in and day out.

Attorneys do it. Accountants do it. Millions of other solo practitioners have real, meaningful, exceptionally trusting and connected relationships with their clients without being joined at the hip on a daily basis. And so can you.

The trick is to:

  1. Establish policies, systems and processes that give you lots of room to move around and not be at the beck and call of clients, and
  2. Only take on clients and work that are the best fit for those policies, systems and processes.

Part of putting order to chaos and managing client expectations is setting up a system and a promise for how things work consistently and reliably so that clients know what to expect ahead of time, each and every time.

Don’t create expectations that will fence you in and that you can’t sustain. You want to set expectations that you can realistically, consistently and reliably live up to. It’s really as simple as that.

And setting those expectations does not have anything to do with nor require you to be under any client’s thumb on a daily basis.

This is what allows you to build freedom, flexibility and space in your practice which in turns truly does serve clients much better.

By taking even just a few specific tasks or areas of work off their plate, you are allowing them to grow their business, move forward and get things done. That isn’t dependent on whether they hear from you each day or not. It’s all in how YOU decide what expectations to set and how YOU want things to work in your business. You can do all of that without being forced to be at your desk, in your office, each and every cotton-picking minute of every day under the thumb of clients.

Let me tell you how I do that in my practice:

First, when I consult with clients, one of the things I discuss with them is the nature of the relationship. I need to make sure they are 100% clear that they are not hiring an employee, that they are hiring an independent professional no different than if they were hiring an attorney or accountant (which is exactly how I want them to view the relationship and how we’ll be working together). I point out that how and when we work together and my availability to them will necessarily be different than working with an employee.

So, that’s setting expectation #1—making sure the client understands the nature of the relationship, how it’s going to work and how it’s not going to work (i.e., I’m not going to be their secretaryor personal assistant sitting outside your door only virtually).

Next, for setting expectation #2, I talk about how our communications will work. They are free to email any time of day or night, but I let them know upfront what my formal business hours and days are (so that they respect this as a business relationship and don’t expect that I’m going to be dealing with anything outside those times or on days that I am closed) and when to expect a reply.

I promise that they’ll get a response to every communication they send me within 24 business hours, even if it’s just a “received” or “gotcha” or “will do.”

And then I follow-through on that promise. That way they aren’t left scratching their heads wondering if I got the message and it keeps the line of communication flowing. It’s that kind of consistency that grows trust.

I explain that all work requests must be in sent via email because that is the sytem which best allows me to track and prioritize and schedule things. They can use whatever tools they need to in order to submit their requests as long as they result in an email in my IN box.

And if a client doesn’t like any of that, if he or she doesn’t care to communicate by email and prefers another method? They’re not a fit and I don’t work with them. Simple as that.

You gotta stop investing so much in clients who can’t go with your flow. Work with and focus only on those who can.

For setting expectations #3, I explain my 3/7 guide. My 3/7 guide is how I set their expectations with regard to turnaround time.  Within that framework, simple tasks that can be accomplished easily are done within a 3-day turnaround.

Most often, things are done far more quickly than that, but I don’t want clients to start expecting that I’m going to instantly respond to each and every thing immediately. That’s not an expectatation that anyone can promise and deliver consistently, and I don’t want to live or work that way. It’s a recipe for unhappiness and unsustainable promises.

The “7″ part of my guide is for larger, more complex or ongoing projects and work. This is where the client and I regroup every 7 days at our regularly scheduled weekly one-hour meeting. During this meeting, I give them status updates, we talk about progress, new goals, brainstorm, you name it. Sometimes we just shoot the breeze.

I think it’s important to note that I only do client meetings on the same day each week. I don’t hold them willy-nilly throughout the week. Like any other professional, this is how I’ve decided it works in my business.

My business, my schedule. It gives me the time I need to focus on client work the rest of the week without interruption to my concentration, and gives me the space I need to move around as I need to in order to stay energized.

This system gives clients a tangible, reliable idea of how things will work consistently.

It manages their expectations in a way that leaves me great freedom and space to enjoy my work, enjoy them, and get things done far better than I ever could working lucy-goosey at the whim of clients.

And I end up serving them far better in the process. That constancy, that reliability and predictability is what gains their great trust—all without being joined at the hip.

Throughout this process, clients and I are having all kinds of fun, productive and effective email communications. There isn’t any lack of connectedness, and they don’t get all up in arms if they don’t hear from me for a day or two because they already know how things work in my business.

In other words, they know what to expect. And when they know what to expect upfront, you don’t have to inform them of your every move, every second of every day.

This is what the business concept of “managing expectations” is about. When you set things up like this, you CAN “disappear” for a day or two with ease without any client notification or upset. I do it all the time!

If you need help understanding what setting expectations is really about and how to do that in your own practice, please post your questions in the comments below.

And if you want to learn how to employ my complete practice management and business set-up systems to live a similar lifestyle, I’ve got it all written out for you in my guide, Power Productivity and Business Management for Administrative Consultants.

I’m absolutely happy to help in this area because I think it’s a great disservice to let those in our industry continue to think they have to operate like employees in order to be of value and service, which deprives them of the freedom and flexibility they could enjoy that every other business owner dreams of.

Originally posted February 10, 2009.

Is the Client Always Right?

Here’s some fodder for conversation:

How do you balance between making things easy/convenient for your prospects and clients and your standards/boundaries around ideal clients? Where do you draw the line between honoring your standards/boundaries and what makes someone an ideal client for you, and being client-centric?

For example, I was reading an article that was telling business owners they should make themselves available in every way possible (phone, email, mobile, IM, etc.) to accommodate everyone’s contact preferences.

I’ve seen this advice a million times over the years and always thought it was crazy.

That might be true for big business, but as a solopreneur/boutique business, I would go insane being interrupted and contacted every which way like that. Which is why my standards around who makes an ideal client include the fact that they are amenable to MY systems first.

If someone only wants to deal with me on the phone and be able to call me any time they like, they are not an ideal client for me because I can’t run my business and do my work under those conditions.

And besides just the operational impracticalities and boundaries, being too available invites disrespect and makes you look desperate. If you don’t respect yourself to have and honor your boundaries, your clients and prospects won’t either.

Another example: I read an article that said to make it easy for clients to remember appointments and other important dates.

If I can automate or systemize that, great. I have no problem doing that.

But, if it this instead turns out to be a needy client who lives in constant chaos and disorganization and has to be constantly reminded and have their hand held all the time, that’s not an ideal client for me and I wouldn’t work with  them. I’m an administrator, not a babysitter, and my ideal clients need to come to the relationship with some responsibility for themselves.

So where do you draw these lines in your business? Do you get similar advice that makes you second-guess or feel guilty for honoring your boundaries and standards around who is an ideal client for you?

What Would You Do: Your Client’s Clients Are Driving You Nuts

What Would You Do?

So here’s a sticky situation that makes for some interesting conversation. I want to hear what your standards and boundaries are around this one:

You have a client you enjoy working with, who is easy to work with, who happily pays your fees and fits into your ideal client category on most things. However, that client’s UNideal clients are driving you nuts. Your client is far less selective than you are about taking on clients (indeed, doesn’t seem to have any standards when it comes to choosing them) and often takes on really annoying, crazy, sucky, uncooperative ones. Problem is you’re the one who is dealing with them most/a lot of the time and it’s making you miserable. You wouldn’t deal with those kind of clients for any amount of money in your own practice, but they are still bringing negativity and dissatisfaction into your business (and zapping your time and energy) by proxy.

What would you do?

Is this client still ideal? Do clients need to share similar values and understandings around standards and boundaries in order for you to be compatible business-wise? Do you put limits on who/what you will deal with for this client as far as that client’s clients are concerned? What kind of conversation would you have with your client when you need this situation to change?

Are You Being Treated Like a Dog?

Are You Being Treated Like a Dog?

I was reading a blog post from a fellow talking about how he communicates with his assistant. It amounted to what I call being grunted at. One or two word commands and directives.

I would never allow a client to talk to me like that. And you couldn’t pay me to work with anyone like that. Not for any amount of money. Because it’s demeaning and dehumanizing.

Countless people in our industry have written to me over the years about feeling demoralized working with clients who treat them like nameless, faceless robots.

Here’s how this happens:

They come into this industry and start their businesses with this crazy idea that they’re supposed to be good little assistants, seen but not heard, doing everything they are told, practically the family dog who’s supposed to fetch and shake and rollover on command.

They work with clients like they’re on an assembly-line, like they’re still that employee waiting to be told what to do, letting clients tell them how their business is going to be run and how things are going to be.

But you are NOT an assistant.

You’re running a business to deliver a specific professional expertise, no different than a doctor, lawyer, accountant, etc.

You are someone with special skills, talents and experience in the art and craft of administrative support. An expert. A specialist.

If you want a happy business and life, put your name and face on your business. Be the expert.

YOU tell clients how you operate and how you will work together. YOU tell them what the policies, procedures and protocols for working with you are. YOU tell them what your standards and values are, where the boundaries are and what the rules and guidelines are.

And in having standards, that includes expecting and informing clients that you expect to be treated with the dignity of a human being and spoken to in complete sentences.

You’re not a robot or a vending machine they are barking orders at or punching orders into.

Don’t allow them to view you as their personal assistant/servant/gopher or substitute employee.

I always use the example of attorney and accountant because that’s exactly how I want clients to equate the nature of our relationship, that it will be like the one they have with their attorney or accountant. How they work together and speak with them is the same way they will be working with and speaking to me.

Dump any client who can’t get with the program. If they want an employee, that’s who they need to hire.

And then, when you are left with the ideal clients who treat you with the proper manner and respect accorded to professionals who are helping them, treat each and every one of them like the VIPs they are.

That doesn’t mean being obsequious and subservient. It means making each one feel special, important and valued. And you’ll be able to do that at a high level for those clients because you aren’t allowing yourself to be demeaned and having your morale and energy zapped by crappy ones.

Oh, and stop calling yourself a virtual assistant. You call yourself an assistant and then are shocked/irritated/perplexed when they treat you like one.

Assistant is a term of employment. Stop using that word. It’s ridiculous in this day and age of business to be using that word.

This is why we are the ADMINISTRATIVE CONSULTANTS Association.

Contracts Have Nothing to Do with Being a Hardass

Danielle KeisterContracts are not merely for legally enforcing “rules and regulations” on clients.

Their first function is to memorialize (in writing) your promises and understandings to each other.

Memories fail. Things are conveniently “forgotten.” Your contract serves as a written memory of what you both agreed on to each other.

The other role your contract plays is in outlining your standards and helping set proper understandings and expectations for the relationship.

With your contract, you are saying, Here is how I expect to be treated with courtesy and respect. And for my part, here is how I will treat you with courtesy and respect as a client…

So it’s just dumb for anyone to tell you to take anything out of your contract that you may or may not enforce legally.

You might as well not even bother with a contract at all then because if that’s the logic, more than half the standard terms and conditions that need to legally be in a contract to be enforceable would get taken out.

And why stop there. There’s no point then in putting anything in writing if you think the only reason for it is whether you’re really going to sue someone or not if they don’t comply.

Shoot, just let clients do whatever they want and dictate everything to you. Because again, by that logic, anything else would be being a “hardass.”

There’s nothing hardass about informing clients that when you are working on retainer, you expect them to give you 30 days notice if they intend to terminate the relationship. (I actually recommend 20 days, which is what I do in my practice.)

The reasoning is that you have reserved space for that client and dedicated priority to them. If they decide to terminate at a moment’s notice, that leaves you in a lurch without being given a courteous, reasonable amount of time with which to try to refill that slot.

It’s like the policy of requiring 24 or 48 hours notice if someone needs to cancel an appointment. By stating it in your policies, you are telling people how you expect to be treated and respected, that your time is valuable.

And that clause (at least in the ACA contracts) works both ways. You are saying to them, I’m not going to leave you in a lurch either. If I determine that our relationship needs to end, I’m going to give you X number of days notice as well.

It has nothing to do with being a hardass or whether or not you would even take them to court if they didn’t honor the agreements they made to you.

It’s about good business, having and honoring your standards, and informing clients upfront what is expected.

Standards Are Determined by You, Not Anyone Else

Standards are determined by you, not anyone else.

It’s pretty presumptuous and egocentric of someone else looking in to question why you’re working when they think you shouldn’t be.

As long as you are working on YOUR terms, by YOUR choice, it’s none of anyone else’s business when, where, how or why you are working.

Take the single mom. I can’t even imagine anymore (since my own daughter is grown now) the difficulties those with little ones still to raise have in growing and operating their business. Mad respect to her because she has responsibilities and timing that can’t be moved around at whim or done according to when someone else says she should or shouldn’t be working.

So, someone in that position might find, in the course of making it all work in her family, that she just does better working predominately at night or on the weekends. Hey, it’s not forever and no one ever said building a business would be easy or that you wouldn’t have to make some sacrifices along the way.

And that’s okay if that’s what she is doing by choice and what works for her.

Now, on the other hand, if you do find yourself feeling compelled to work beyond what you would choose to (long hours, nights, weekends, all your free time) due to extrinsic forces, and your business is running you instead of you running your business, that’s when an examination of your standards, boundaries, policies and operations will help you reclaim control of your life and become more at choice.

For example, you may be taking on the wrong clients and kinds of work.

You might be trying to be too much like an in-house assistant and working with clients like an employee instead of providing strategic—not daily—support as an independent consultant.

Perhaps your policies and procedures are not well-developed and you are letting clients determine those things instead of you.

Perhaps improving the communication about your standards, protocols, boundaries, the way things work and what procedures they should be following, etc., (such as with a client guide and/or new client orientation) and being more deliberate in communicating those things would help your client relationships and work go more smoothly.

Perhaps you are not charging enough which is forcing you to take on too much work in order to make ends meet, which in turn is taking away time for your life.

Perhaps you need to simplify and uncomplicate your administration and operations so that those things don’t overburden your time and attention.

Maybe you like working nights and weekends because it’s when you choose to on occasion, but sending communications at all hours is giving clients the wrong impression that they can impose on you beyond regular business hours. If that’s the case, making adjustments such as when you reply, scheduling your replies for certain hours, or even delaying replies a certain amount of time so as to manage their understandings and expectations will help keep clients from crowding you and overstepping boundaries.

It doesn’t matter when you work. Productivity and inspiration can’t be imposed or “managed.” They can only be facilitated.

What matters is that you are at choice and have the infrastructure and flexibility that allows you to follow your own energies and inspiration and harness them most effectively for you.

Today Is a Great Day to Prep Your 2013 Calendar for Freedom and Success

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 and now is the perfect time to get yours ready for 2013!

1. Block out all your “off” days. 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. I shade out that time because it makes me conscious about not making any appointments on that day.

2. Block out holidays. Go through the year and block out any holidays you plan to be closed.

3. Block out vacations. If you know in advance of any vacations you plan to take off, block those out as well to ensure you don’t schedule anything on those days.

4. Block out your breaks and lunches. 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. It’s important—you can’t take excellent care of others unless you first take excellent care of yourself.

5. Carry over regular meetings. Review this year’s calendar. If you have regular weekly or monthly meetings, be sure and carry-over and repeat them through 2013. Perhaps you have a weekly call with your business coach on Tuesdays at 3pm and a monthly board meeting at 1pm on the third Wednesday of every month. Get all of these regularly scheduled appointments on your calendar for the entire year.

6. Add known events
. Are there trade shows, conferences, training or other events you plan to attend? Be sure and add them to your calendar and it will help support your intention.

7. Mark important dates. Are there client birthdays, anniversaries or other important dates you want to remember on a regular basis? Add them to your calendar!

This article was originally published in our weekly ezine on December 21, 2009.

Dear Danielle: Should My Client Say I Am Part of His Team?

Dear Danielle:

A client of mine has just asked me if I would agree to put my name and picture to be published in a paper magazine as a member of his team. He is a solopreneur and apparently he wants his company to be included in a directory of the industry to be published in the magazine. He doesn’t want to show he works alone (in fact, he doesn’t as I collaborate with him) so he wants my picture and contact info (which is the email address I use with his company’s domain) to be included. Do you see any issues if I accept his request? Thank you in advance, Danielle!Mirna Majraj, MB Asistencia Virtual

Hi Mirna :)

I know you’re in a different country, and I’m not sure what the laws are there, but in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Ireland and the U.K., and many of the European countries, the laws concerning the distinctions between employees and independent contractors (i.e., business owners) are all very similar.

And that is, essentially, no one is part of your business team unless they are an employee. If this is true in your country as well (you’ll want to consult with a lawyer to be clear), you want to avoid any appearance that you are one because there are legal consequences involved.

Here’s how I help people to understand this:  Are they going to include their attorney, their accountant, their designer and every other professional they are a client of in the listing as well? No? Then you shouldn’t be included either.

Your relationship with him is no different than the one he has with any other independent professional who is not an employee, but is a separate business.

If it doesn’t make sense to include them, it doesn’t make sense to include you in that manner either. It’s not the truth and it’s misrepresenting the correct nature of the relationship.

Here’s a blog post that talks a bit more about this (see the comments in particular): What You Need to Know About Subcontractors.

Some might be wondering what the big deal is.

Well, here’s the thing. Forget about legalities; it’s important and worth our while to maintain these boundaries because too often it becomes a “slippery slope” when we don’t.

Every time you allow clients to take liberties when it comes to your standards and boundaries, you’re chipping away at the integrity and foundation of the relationship.

These seemingly inconsequential concessions ultimately lead to detrimental effects in the relationship. Pretty soon, you’ve got a client who seems to think you’re his employee.

If you’re going to be successful and sustainable, for legal and practical reasons, you need to preserve those boundaries and not allow them to become muddied, blurred or misconstrued.

Plus, (and I’m sure he’s innocently not realizing this), it’s just dishonest to allow him to portray you like that.

There’s nothing to be ashamed of in being a solopreneur. In fact, you could be doing him a huge service by helping him see how he can promote that as a competitive advantage, that the fact that he IS a solopreneur who works with key strategic partners and experts allows him to be more agile, flexible and responsive in meeting his clients’ needs. (Suggest he even use that as a script if you want.)

There are an infinite number of ways it can be worded so that he can still include you, but with a more truthful, accurate depiction about who you are in relation to his business (i.e., his Administrative Consultant and one of his key independent experts).

Plus, I’m a firm believer that ideal clients, if they truly value you, are willing to help you as well. And it certainly doesn’t help you to dishonestly pretend that you are part of his “team.” If he thinks about it, he will probably see that he’s asking you to compromise your ethics. And it’s not polite to put you in that position.

That being the case, suggest to him that if he would like to include you in the article or listing, the best way he can help you and your business (and what you must insist upon since you are not an employee) is by including your full name, the name of your business, the link to your business website and/or your contact info.

You’ll be helping him stay in integrity (and maintaining your own) while giving him the opportunity to support your business at the same time.

PS: At the start of your relationship with any client, be sure there is discussion about the nature of the relationship so there is no misunderstanding moving forward. Also, inform clients how they should refer to you and introduce you to others:  as their Administrative Consultant or even simply Administrator. It’s not up to them what to call you and by informing them, you ensure they don’t come up on their own with something that you don’t prefer. The last thing you need is a client introducing you to others as his secretary or assistant.

Every Once In Awhile We Need a Little Reminder

I have to laugh. I wasted some time this past Saturday trying to help a stranger out who emailed me (I get tens and tens of emails every day from people wanting help). Sadly, she ended up being rude, insulting and acting like spoiled, petulant child stomping her feet when she didn’t get the answers she wanted.

In her last message, she said “I’m not even in the same country as you so would hardly be any threat to your market share yet you couldn’t share even a minute piece of helpful information.”

Mind you, I had just spent the course of several emails back and forth with her over a 2 or 3 hour period trying to help her.

(Sweetheart, I’m not looking for new clients so that has nothing to do with it. Don’t blame other people for your inability to understand and lack of business sense and comprehension skills.)

Here’s the funny thing, she had emailed me a month or so back. I replied, but only out of courtesy and gave it as much time and energy as I wanted to give it, which wasn’t much.

See, over the years, I have developed a very keen sixth sense about these things. I couldn’t tell you why exactly, but I just knew that she was someone I shouldn’t expend my time or energy on.

There’s just a way some people ask questions that I just know they aren’t going to understand anything and/or they have some kind of self-entitled, do-everything-and-spell-everything-out-for-me-so-I-don’t-have-to-do-any-thinking-or-work-myself-and-of-course-I want-it-for-free kind of attitude, even if there’s nothing overtly on the surface of their words to indicate that. I just KNOW when I’m dealing with someone like that.

But I ignored my previous gut instinct when she emailed me again and decided that if she put in the effort to reach out twice, I would give her benefit of the doubt. And it got me nothing but a slap in the face.

So yet again, it’s a reminder to listen to your first instincts. Your intuition, your gut, ALWAYS knows when something or someone is not right for you.

But don’t worry. If you forget, there will always be a reminder like this to help you remember. ;)