Archive for the ‘Business Management’ Category

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!

Dear Danielle: Should I Offer Inbox Management for Clients?

Dear Danielle: Should I Offer inbox Management for Clients?

Dear Danielle:

Do you recommend doing inbox management as a service offering for clients? It sort of feels a bit too ‘personal assistant’ to me. I did it for a past client and I didn’t enjoy it, but she was the proverbial client from hell and called on me night and day. I’m now molding my business to suit me. And wondering if you know of Admin Consultants who do inbox/email management. I usually suggest setting up auto-responders. But I guess if the compensation was right then perhaps it’s lucrative… I’m on the fence. Thanks kindly Danielle!Lisa Kelly, Admin Guru

Great question! I love any opportunity to elaborate on this as it’s sort of a lynchpin topic.

I don’t do any email/inbox management for clients and never have for exactly the reason you mention.

I’m not in business to be a personal assistant. I’m a strategic support partner.

That means clients and I are NOT going to be working day-to-day in the same way they would with an employee, nor am I going to be available to them (at their beck and call) in the same manner as an employee… because I’m not one.

I tell them to think of me like they would their attorney or accountant because that’s exactly how I want them to understand the relationship and how we’ll be working together.

And I come right out and tell them that if what they are looking for is a day-to-day assistant, then they need an employee.

What I do explain is that I can’t be in business to be their personal assistant for both legal and practical reasons, but that the time I do free up for them is time they can use to better manage their own inboxes (among other things) and feel less stressed and harried.

Of course, it’s also important to point out that I simply don’t have these kind of misunderstandings anymore now that I am an Administrative Consultant. When you don’t call yourself an assistant (i.e., Virtual Assistant), people don’t confuse you with one. ;)

The problem with offering that as a service is because it necessarily forces you to work with clients in a day-to-day assistant-like capacity.

Not only does that make it easy for the IRS to view you as an employee in that dynamic, but more importantly, I’m not trying to have a business that chains me to my desk every day and turns it into a job. Which is exactly what it would do because I’d have to constantly be monitoring inboxes and managing things.

I purposely never provide any kind of support that puts me in that kind of role. And it’s one of the reasons I have so much more freedom and flexibility than most people in our industry.

No one else has to do that to themselves either. You don’t have to offer those kind of services in order to still be of enormous benefit and value to clients.

In fact, one of the reasons I am of HIGHER value to my clients is because I don’t take on those kind of functions and roles. That frees my time and mental space for more valuable, important administrative work that has far greater impact and results in my clients’ businesses.

It’s not about how much you can do for clients that makes you valuable. It’s about how those things you selectively do for clients improve their businesses and lives.

I also wanted to touch on something else that your question brought up. I sense that you are about to step over your own standards. And my hope for you is that you don’t do that. Because it’s a slippery slope downhill from there.

No amount of money is ever enough to make you enjoy work you don’t like or make it worth turning your business (and life) into a drudgery and hell of your own making.

I urge you to stick to your guns about what you want. It’s the only way you will create the life and lifestyle you want for yourself.

The other thing that will benefit you in running your business your way and avoiding clients from hell is to get clear about your standards, boundaries, policies and procedures.

Start writing down how clients are to contact you, in what ways and within what time frames, how they are to communicate work to you (YOU decide that, not them), what your business days/hours are, and whatever information and protocols you need them to know, understand and follow in order to work with you.

Then inform clients of these things. Use your website to prequalify ideal clients. Talk about how things work in your consultations. Document them in a Client Guide that you give to new clients. Institute a new client orientation and go over these things again formally in that orientation.

These steps will go along way in making sure you work with ideal clients and that none of them turn into the clients from hell.

The industry at large is still so completely mired in employee mindset. They simply don’t know how to operate any other way except to keep being assistants.

So these questions and conversations are always an excellent tool to help them stop thinking of themselves as assistants and begin to think more entrepreneurially about administrative support, because it’s then that they start to see how they can operate differently, get better clients and make more money.

You don’t have to be an assistant to provide administrative support. They are not one and the same thing.

I’ll leave that for everyone to ponder. And if you just had an “aha!” moment from this, please let me know in the comments. :)

All my best moving onward and upward, Lisa!

(If you want more freedom and flexibility in your life and business, get my guide Power Productivity & Biz Management for Administrative Consultants (GDE-41) to learn all my systems, policies and standards for workload management and working with clients. One of the best tools you’ll learn in there is my 3/7 Guideline!)

What Is an EIN?

What is an EIN? How do I get an EIN?

For those in the United States or U.S. territories, an EIN (Employer Identification Number) is an identification number you get from the IRS used to identify a business entity.

This number used to be primarily for those businesses that had or intended to hire employees (which is why it was called the Employer Identification Number).

The IRS relaxed that standard in recent years, and it’s used these days as an all-purpose Federal Tax Identification Number.

This is particularly helpful for sole proprietors because they can obtain and use an EIN now instead of their Social Security number on forms they give to clients and others.

You need an EIN if you:

  • Started a new business or purchased a going one;
  • Hired or will hire employees, including household employees;
  • Opened a bank account that requires an EIN for banking purposes;
  • Are a foreign person and need an EIN to comply with IRS withholding regulations;
  • Formed a partnership or corporation; or
  • Had a change in ownership or structure/formation of a business (such as changing a sole proprietorship to a corporation or partnership).

There is no fee required, you do not need to have employees, and you can obtain an EIN instantly right online.

In navigating these matters, always talk with your accountant and visit the IRS website for the most accurate, up-to-date information and advice.

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.

Whose Fault Is It?

Can I vent a little? Do you mind?

More importantly, there are a few business lessons in this post for you as well (you know I’m always using these experiences as teaching moments, lol).

Whenever you promote something that (gasp) people have to actually pay for, you inevitably get a few unsubscribers from your mailing list.

No problem. This is a good thing. Never, ever worry about that.

Because you want those who begrudge you charging for your time, knowledge and expertise off your list. They just suck up space and create negative energy.

Who knows why they’re even on a business list in the first place because, um, business is about earning money after all. Or did they miss that memo?

I guess they should stop expecting clients to pay them as well, right? I mean, by their logic, we should all be doing everything for everyone for free all the time.

Oh wait, earning money and expecting to be paid only applies to them; everyone else is supposed to be giving to them for free. ;)

Anyway, I digress, lol.

Here’s what I really want to talk about…

So, I get this unsubscribe message from someone who writes about the ACA Industry Survey:

I shared confidential information for the questionnaire and was never offered a copy of the results. Sorry to go.

Here’s what I want you to know (because what a lot of these people like to do is turn around and badmouth you to others, mischaracterize things and spread incorrect information—or flat out lie):

  1. Our survey is confidential. We don’t know who you are when you complete the survey. You aren’t sharing anything “confidential” or personally identifying with anyone.
  2. If you have a problem with sharing your “confidential information,” why did you take the survey in the first place? You chose to take the survey, no one had a gun to your head. This is called personal responsibility.
  3. “Sorry to go.” That’s such passive aggressive bullshit. Because obviously, if you were genuinely and authentically sorry to go, you would have instead sent an email and made some polite inquiry. Business lesson: Don’t be disingenous. It’s not gracious. Get a backbone and tell the truth.
  4. I have no clue who the person writing is. She’s not someone who ever interacts or corresponds with me. I sort of get the impression she thinks I should know who she is, but here’s the thing. If you never open your mouth and speak to people on a regular basis (like on their blogs, forums, listservs, social networking, etc.), no one is going to remember you or know who you are. People can’t get to know, like, trust and remember you, much less build any kind of relationship with you, if you sit there like a bump on a log. (That’s another biz lesson, by the way.)
  5. I am always interested in making sure we do a good job and do what we say we will. So I went to investigate to see if I could piece together what may have happened. I put her name and email address into Aweber and she’s not on our current survey mailing list. Our survey page very clearly states (with several reminders throughout the process) that participants must sign up to the survey mailing list in order to get their free results report. If they fail to follow that step, they won’t get a copy. Simple as that. So, if it’s the current survey this person took, since she’s not on the mailing list, I can only assume that she didn’t complete the survey or the sign-up. Only you are responsible for your ability (or lack thereof) to follow directions or follow through.
  6. It occurred to me that maybe she was talking about a previous year and we archive those lists offline. So I went to the archives and was able to find her name and email—FROM OUR 2009 SURVEY LIST. So she’s waiting over 3 years to bring this to my attention now and wants to act like she was somehow wronged? Really?
  7. We keep meticulous records on this stuff, and our records show she was in fact sent an email from the mailing list back in 2010 with the download link to her free copy. If she didn’t download it, whose fault is that? Here’s how we do this: participants on the mailing list are sent an email with the link to download their free copy once the survey period is over and the report has been compiled. They are informed that they have X number of WEEKS (not days) to download their copy. They are told, in no uncertain terms, that the link will expire after that date and there will be no requests indulged after that point. We even send one or two courtesy reminders. The survey is a huge undertaking that takes a ton of time and energy. We have to automate and systemize in order to manage everything effectively and efficiently (another biz lesson). Plus, you have to keep in mind, this is a free service. It’s a big pain in the ass to be dealing with requests dribbling in the rest of the year from folks who didn’t follow directions in the first place. I and the people who help me in this endeavor have our own businesses to run and other things to do. We simply have to put these boundaries in place. So we spell out how things work, tell folks how to download their free report, give them a deadline with plenty of time to do so, and the rest is on them. If someone doesn’t  download their copy or report problems in a timely manner, that’s on them.

Remember, (here comes more biz savvy) business requires policies and procedures, standards and boundaries.

As Administrative Consultants, reading, paying attention and being able to follow directions and follow through in a timely manner is our stock in trade.

It doesn’t say anything good about your competence or abilities if you can’t do those things.

We all make mistakes; we’re all human. That’s okay. But own your own mistakes and failures and learn from them. Don’t blame others for them.

Dear Danielle: How Do You Stay in Shape in this Business?

In this week’s episode of What Would Danielle Say?, a new business owner writes:

Dear Danielle:

I have a crazy question for you. I’ve just started my business and am also a part-time college student. I find that I’m spending a lot of time sitting on my butt. How do you keep in shape while working this kind of business? —DRF

Not a crazy question at all! It’s a real challenge in our kind of work because we are sitting at the computer for long stretches of time.

I love this question because at its foundation, it’s also really a business question, and I’ll tell you why in a bit.

First, let me address the practical question on its surface.

As with anything, we’re going to find a way or make the time for those things we want most.

And I’m no fitness poster child. I’m working on losing a few pounds that I’ve put on over the years of my business myself. So I can only tell you what I did.

I was confronted one year with the fact that I was no longer in  my 20s or 30s, able to eat whatever I wanted and never gain an ounce. What?! When did that happen? lol

On top of that, as we enter our 40s (and I just turned 49 this year), unless you are one of those blessed women with miracle genes, it’s just not as easy anymore to stay in shape and keep the pounds off. It’s not impossible, but you DO have to work harder and be more conscious about your eating and lifestyle.

That’s when I had my awakening and began to get conscious about what I needed to do to be healthier and lose some weight.

I began learning about nutrition and healthier living and eating.

Luckily, I’ve never had any food addictions or bad eating habits like sweets and junk food. I’ve always eaten pretty healthy foods in a mostly raw, local, whole, organic diet. Where I learned to get clear was in portion sizes and knowing my numbers: the amount of calories I needed to both lose and maintain weight and keep within those daily numbers.

Somehow or another I got turned onto Jillian Michaels. To this day, I’ve never seen a video or watched her on TV. But I came across her book Winning by Losing and it really was the turning point for me. And the reason is because she provides the simple math you need to know in order to lose weight and have more control over your weight.

Since I’ve always been a proponent of local and organic, her message also really resonated with me because she’s a huge advocate of that as well.

I don’t deprive myself of all of life’s pleasures and I’m still able to indulge once in awhile BECAUSE I know my numbers.

So I highly recommend you get Jillian’s book if youi want to become more knowledgeable and in control of this area of your life.

She walks you through crunching your numbers, understanding calories and how to count them, and figuring out your metabolic type (whether you are a balanced, fast or slow oxidizer, which is important to know because it tells you what kind of protein/carb/fat ratios you should be eating in every meal and the kinds of foods that are best for your particular type).

I believe her website also has some free online tools to help you do these calculations as well.

The other thing I do in living healthy and staying in shape run/hike/walk at least 3 miles day and do an exercise routine (another thing Jillian Michaels can give you direction with), 5 days a week.

Now, here’s why this is such a great business question.

Because why do we start our businesses? For most of us, our reasons go far beyond merely helping others and making a living. There are other things that are important to us, often having to do with loftier ambitions, having a more fulfilling life, a higher quality life and lifestyle, being able to be more present in the lives of our children and loved ones. All kinds of reasons.

And one of my biggest philosophies is that your business should support your life, not suck the life out of it.

And so this brings us back to the foundations of our business, how we set it up to be able to live life the way we want, to engineer our work so that we have time for those pursuits, interests and pleasures that are important to us.

I would venture to say that for most people, they are going about their business as if it was a job. They work with that first client or two as if they were an employee, never realizing the future implications and unsustainability of that dynamic.

Eventually, they find that because of the way they are working with clients (as well as some of the work they are doing), they have no room to take on others, their income is drastically limited, they have hardly any time for life…. it just goes on and on.

This is why we have to be intentional about the set-up of our business. to be knowledgeable and have foresight in how our foundations (i.e., our standard, policies, procedures, etc.) affect our ability to live the way we want to live.

So, like me, for example, it’s important for me to be able to have time for my run and exercise every day. It’s important to me that I have space around the work and have a methodical and well-intentioned system for how I handle it so that I am not stressed out every day about deadlines. It’s important to me that I don’t have to leap out of bed every day because I’ve got a pile of work that if I don’t get done in an instant will overwhelm and bury me.

And so I’m intentional in the fact that I am not a substitue employee. I provide strategic support, not daily support. I don’t (and never have) offered day-to-day assistance such as telling clients “I’ll manage your INbox everyday!” or receptionist work or managing calendars. I don’t do same day tasks (and I have a whole system for managing requests and turn-around times).

I’d never have a life or have the kind of freedom and flexibility that I do, if I did any of that kind of work or worked with clients in any of those ways. I’d be chained to my desk all day.

Figure out how you WANT your life to look like every day AND figure out what you DON’T want it to be like. These become the building blocks for your policies and procedures, your standards and the intentional way you choose clients, how you work with them and what work you do (and don’t do) for them.

As you go about that process, you also begin to realize that you need clarity about what you are in business and what you are in business to be/do for clients. (I’m pretty certain for most people, that’s NOT to be a beck-and-call employee.)

I now work what amounts to a 3-day week in my business (yes, you read that right) AND I’m able to provide vastly better care and support to my clients in the process. It’s crazy counter-intuitive, and I love showing people how they have a business like that, too.

If you need help in restructuring your business and laying foundations that will help you create a business and life you want, that supports those things that are important you, I’ve packaged up all my systems and knowledge in this area in my guide, Power Productivity & Biz Management for Administrative Consultants.

What Is the Real Danger?

Pinned this to my “Biz: Inspiration” board on Pinterest:

I love this sentiment!

Though I will say this…

A certain foundational level of routine in my business, operations and standards around the work I do and who I do it for is what gives me the freedom and flexibility TO have adventure in my life.

It’s not routine that’s the enemy. It’s being stuck in a rut doing work that doesn’t inspire you or give you joy.

Work to live doing what you love in the way you want to do it, and set up the infracture (i.e., policies, procedures, protocols, etc.) that facilitates time and space for life and prevents the business from running you instead of the other way around.

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.

3 Simple Things You Can Do in a Day to Get Your 2013 Off to an Organized Start

Three easy things you can do in a day to get your 2013 off to an organized start:

1. Get your calendar (and/or that of your clients) in order. Add holidays, vacations and other planned or desired days off. Mark off your Admin Day, Meeting Day and/or any other regularly scheduled meetings for the whole year. Add any known events (e.g., conferences, trade shows, seminars, trainings, etc.) that you’d like or are planning to attend. Mark off anything else that you know off that you need to reserve or create time and space for and that you don’t want anything else conflicting or interfering with.

2. Clean out your emails and folders. Archive old messages and folders. Create new folders for 2013. (Tip: When in doubt about whether to delete something, think of it like this: If you haven’t dealt with it for nearly a year, you’re never going to look at it again so just purge. You’ll never miss it and you will feel LOADS lighter.)

3. Clean out and organize your paper file drawers and computer files. Create new folders for 2013. Get rid of as much paper as you can, only keeping what really needs to be printed and/or what is most convenient to be read in printed form.

Bonus Tip #4:  Add this to-do to your calendar in November or December so you’ll be sure to have this done again before 2014 comes around.