Archive for the ‘Business Management’ Category

Another Reason to Stick to Your Standards

Another Reason to Stick to Your Standards

Something reminded me the other day about why you should always do things according to your standards in your business and not to go below them just because a client asks or wants you to.

Many of the biggest, most valuable (but painful) business lessons I learned came unfortunately by working with a good friend of 10 years.

When she was starting up her business, besides setting up all her systems, doing her bookkeeping and providing her with administrative support, I created many marketing pieces for her.

Normally, I would have done these pieces according to my usual and proper design business standards using the appropriate design tools and software (i.e., Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, etc.)

However, because she constantly had changes and didn’t want to have to wait for me to make them (rushing me, being impatient), she wanted to have them done in programs that she herself had (e.g., Word) so she could make textual updates/changes herself.

I made the mistake of accommodating her. And let me tell you, it was an impressive feat to integrate design imagery into a Word document.

There are many reasons why you don’t do this as a designer.

First of all, it is not common business practice to hand over native files to clients. That’s YOUR intellectual property that you earn your living from.

What that means is the files and ownership of the creative piece hold a completely separate value from simply being engaged to create a work for a client.

This is why people are charged separately for those things (or not allowed to purchase rights at all, simply giving them license to use the work).

But in my business adolescence, I did a lot of stupid things.

And that act of “being nice” and accommodating my so-called friend came back to haunt me (or tried to anyway) because later when I had to sue her for the thousands of dollars she owed me, one of the things she tried to use against me was the very fact that these pieces weren’t in professional standard format (i.e., in Word instead of InDesign or Photoshop, etc.).

She failed in this attempt and in the end I got my money, but it was still galling to have done a favor for a client (a friend, no less), gone against my own standards and boundaries to accommodate her wishes and then to have it thrown back in my face.

So next time a client tries to rush you, overstep your processes and standards, have you do sub-par, below-standard, second-rate work, or wants you to ignore details and slide things by, or do anything that goes against your personal and professional standards and ethics, think twice about allowing that.

It won’t sit well with you and it could come back to bite you in the butt in ways you’d never imagine in the present.

Excellence in service and being of service should never come at the cost of your own standards, well-being and self-interests.

Ideal clients are those who allow you to do your best work and respect your standards and boundaries. Anyone else is not a fit.

Building a Business Simply Takes Time

Building a business just takes time. There’s no way around it.

Because growing a business is more than just getting clients and providing the service.

It’s learning about (and implementing and practicing and honing) practice management and how to operate effectively, profitably and productively.

It’s learning how to conduct consultations that get results.

It’s learning how to price, package and market.

It’s copywriting and learning how to create an effective marketing message and implement a conversion strategy.

It’s learning how to manage clients and set and manage expectations.

It’s setting up infractures and getting clear about your standards and ideals and the things that will keep your business sustainable, growing and moving forward.

Growing a business is not an event, it’s a process, an evolution, a journey. And these things are simply going to take time.

So you have to be prepared for the long-haul. None of it is going to happen overnight and most of it simply CAN’T happen overnight. That’s just not how it works.

Why do I mention this?

Because our industry is plagued by internet marketers who prey on our peoples’ hopes and dreams of business ownership with false expectations that they can start a business in only 30 days, get 10 clients in 10 days and be an overnight sucess.

And when they doesn’t happen, they become discouraged and dejected, thinking they are doing something wrong.

The only thing they did wrong was buying into bullshit.

So this post is to let them know that all of this is going to take time and yes, it’s completely normal.

25 Ways to Get More Ideal, Well-Paying 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, un-ideal 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 help your business grow and thrive:

  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 instantly 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, and a process helps screen those folks out. Better clients know and expect that there will a process and that it’s essential to getting the best help and making sure there’s a mutual fit.
  6. Never take on work or clients just for the money. This is where 90% of the problems start in the first place.
  7. Have standards. For example, choosing to work only with 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 un-ideal because you haven’t properly managed their expectations. When you don’t thoroughly inform them about how things work in your business, they somehow think it’s their place to make up their own rules (wrong!). Similar to raising children, if we are too permissive, over-promise, or establish policies that we can’t humanly sustain on a consistent basis (such as 24-hour, on-demand, instant assistance), we can turn clients 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 burning you out in the process because you have no room to breathe or have a life? Set your policies accordingly.
  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 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 9 am and 5 pm 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’re often our own worst enemy. We go to the trouble of identifying our standards and boundaries, and then step over them or allow clients to. Stop that! These things are 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. Anytime you are tempted to step over your standards, pull this list out to remind yourself why that’s never a good idea.
  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 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 un-ideal 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 want to pay peanuts and 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 (attorneys, accountants and consultants are good examples). Just like you, these are people who have a specific expertise and solve specific problems. In our case, you want to position yourself as an administrative expert who can get results and help them accomplish their goals, not some order-taking worker bee. Why? Because people don’t see worker bees as experts. They see them as pawns. And experts aren’t pawns, they’re partners. The marketplace doesn’t expect to pay much for a pawn, but they DO expect to pay well for an expert who has valuable skill, expertise, insight and support to share with them. So reframe your marketing message to position yourself as their administrative expert (not their gopher), and you’ll get better, more well-paying 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 you and respect the relationship.
  23. Raise your rates. When you’re cheap and there is no barrier to entry for working with you, you get cheap, un-ideal 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 un-ideal 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. Un-ideal 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; you can’t afford the psychological toll they take. You have to let go of the bad and un-ideal 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. And what is the essence of marketing? Words: the words you choose and the way you use them. Marketing is about educating, setting expectations and getting the right clients to see and understand you and the relationship the way you need them to. The words you choose to call yourself have a direct influence in that. 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 that message. When you do, you’ll get better, more well-paying clients.

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!

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, as well as establishing boundaries, 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.

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.

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.

How to Set Up Your Email for Marketability

Email Setup: Do This, Not This

I get a lot of emails from people in our industry. And I can’t help but notice some of the things they do in their email that is costing them trust, credibility, connection and ultimately business.

Some don’t use an email address on their own domain. Or, they have an email on their own business domain, but don’t have an email signature and just sign off with their name.

Here are some recent examples of the problems that are caused by ineffective email set-up:

  1. I had someone sign up for class with a hotmail address. This was someone I didn’t already know so I emailed her hoping to get to know each other a bit. I didn’t hear from her for over two months until three or four days before the class was to begin! And even then, she didn’t even know I had emailed her because the email account she signed up with wasn’t one that she checked. Lesson: This is just one reason you want to stick with one email address and use it consistently across all channels and accounts. If you are going to use an email in any kind of business dealing, it had better be one you keep on top of if you expect anyone to do business with you.
  2. I had someone email me with only her first name (for the purposes she was emailing me, her full name was needed). Her name wasn’t in her email address. She had no email signature block. It wasn’t displayed in the from field. And she used a burner email account instead of an email on her own domain. Lesson: If I’m a potential client, I am gone. I’m not going to waste a second of my time hunting around for these details.
  3. Same issue with another email. This one at least was on her own domain, but she had no signature block and when I went to her website, she had no last name anywhere on her site! Lesson: Your clients and business associates are not mind readers. How on earth are they suppposed to figure out who you are? They won’t. Because neither I nor your prospective clients are going to waste their time. And they’re going to wonder what is wrong with you that you are being evasive about your last name in the first place. You’ve just generated ill will and mistrust in your dealings with them.

Your email is an extension of you and your business. You should be taking as much care with the details and the image you are presenting in your email as you do your website, and you should be using your business email with EVERYONE and EVERYTHING.

Your email is a marketing and networking tool and generates traffic to your website. If someone, be it colleague or client, forwards one of your messages to someone else, you want it on your own domain and with a proper set-up and signature.

Worst case scenario, when they have no other information about you, an email on your own domain can lead people to your site whereas a burner email account tells them nothing and leads them nowhere.

Think about how your email and email address appears to your recipients. Take an inventory of your email set-up and if you’re missing anything in the list below, fix it pronto.

1. Set up your primary business email in your domain’s admin panel. I’m here to tell you that if you are stuck here, it’s stopping you up in other places in your business as well. I guarantee it. So get it sorted and figured out first thing so you can move forward with the rest of your business.

2. Be sure the enter your FIRST then LAST NAME where it asks for your name in the user account info when setting up your account up in your email client (e.g., Outlook). NOT your last name first and NOT your business name. This is what your recipients will see in the from field when they receive your emails.

From Field

This is super important for many reasons. First and foremost, when you are emailing, you are dealing with people, not machines. When you introduce yourself to someone in person, you tell them “My name is Jane Doe.” You don’t say, “My name is Doe, Jane.” When your email comes across their INbox, you want it to read like a human being, not a machine. This makes makes it more personable as well as easier for people to remember you. Second, you don’t want to use your company name first for the same reason. People do business with people, not nameless, faceless organizations. Having your email display your name makes it personal and facilitates rapport. And if you’re using your business domain, they will easily be able to see what your business and website are.

3. Create an email signature block that is automatically inserted whenever you create a message in your business email account. This should include your name, your company name and your address, contact information and links to your website and/or social networking accounts. This is important. People like at-a-glance information. They don’t like to have to hunt around. So even if your contact information is on your website (which it should be), you want to always be thinking about the convenience of your recipients by putting that info right in front of them. Likewise, do not rely on a VCF card. Lots of people don’t like them or use them, and they often get your emails caught in spam filters.

4. OPTIONAL: For double points, include a headshot and/or your company logo image hosted on your own domain servers. Email signatures with an image included can really bring life to your messages. Images create visual interest, rapport and increase memorability, all of which makes your messages stand out. You don’t want an embedded image because those often get stripped from your messages at the recipient’s end or can get your email caught in spam filters. Better to link to an image hosted on your own servers so that it displays properly and your messages reach your recipients without unnecessary difficulty. If you aren’t sure how to do this, refer to this article on “how to insert an Internet image in my signature.”

5. Include a call-to-action. A call to action is not a tagline or slogan. It’s an instruction that tells people specifically what to do next. If you currently have a free report, giveaway, ezine, blog or something that people can sign up for, put that call-to-action in your signature block (e.g., “Visit {YOUR SITE] to get your copy of my free report [TITLE]”). If you don’t have any lead generation mechanisms (which is what those free offers are), then your call-to-action should be telling them to visit your website. So you could say something like “Visit [YOUR WEBSITE WITH ACTIVE LINK] to learn how you can have/get more [BENEFIT] with my administrative support.”

That should get your creative juices flowing. Can’t wait to see your improved emails!