Archive for the ‘Business Management’ Category

Creating Space for a Great New Year to Happen

Creating Space for a Great New Year to Happen

I’m not much of a spring cleaner. I’m more of a fall cleaner. This time of year feels buzzy with excitement and possibility. There’s a fresh sense of renewal, energy and optimism. I find it the perfect time to start gearing for what’s coming by making physical — and mental — space for all that good juju to come to fruition.

One of the ways I prepare for success is by purging, regrouping and organizing. Below are a few activities you might to consider starting now as well.

  1. Organizing Emails. I’m an Outlook user. Personally, I like using folders to store and organize emails. The search feature fails to find mail I’m looking far too often to be a reliable method. So what I do is create folders under the Personal Folders/Saved Files section rather than in my Inbox area. The only emails I am a packrat about are those to and from clients. I give each client a folder and under each client, I create subfolders for each month. This has proven to be a lifesaver on more occasions than I can count.
  2. Deleting or Archiving Old Emails. Around the end of the year, I go through my list of folders and archive those of clients with whom I am no longer working. I keep six months of current client folders and archive the rest.
  3. Taking Stock of Your Online Documents. Do a quick run-through of your document files and folders and see where you can better organize, consolidate and purge.
  4. Cleaning Out the Supply Closet. I’m sort of an organizing freak so this is something I enjoy doing periodically. Supply areas are places where we tend to put “stuff” and forget about it. Clean out the old, recycle, give away extra or old equipment to someone who can use it, and create new space (physically and energetically) for the new year with a clean slate.
  5. Streamlining Hardcopy Files. Even with an online business where just about everything is on the computer, there is still a lot of paper in my life. I turn most of that into PDF and store online with everything else. I’ve also gone entirely electronic billing and online bill pay. However, paper is still a fact of life. There are just some things that are easier to read when they are printed out. Scanning printed materials to turn them into PDFs does create an extra job that you might not have time for, and sometimes it’s just not a practical or worthwhile effort. So for the paper that I do keep, I have five different hanging folder filing sections:|
    Green
    – Clients

    Blue – Tax, Licensing and Financial/Banking

    Red – Accounts Payable

    Yellow – Employees/Contractors/Subcontractors

    Clear – Subject files (miscellaneous). For those folders that deal with date ranges, this is a good time to add a new folder for the coming year. For example, say you have a file for bank statements and you keep these in a folder marked with the current year. Now is the time to create new folders for the coming year and stick them in the file. Then at the end of the year, when you are pulling out old files (such as old clients you no longer work with), you can also pull out all your 2016 folders for storage and you’ll already have the new 2017 folders ready to go.

  6. Add some to-dos and automated reminders for December & January to your calendar to revisit your start of the new year tasks.

Dear Danielle: Client Is a No-Show, What Should I Do Now?

Dear Danielle: Client Is a No-Show, What Should I Do Now?

Dear Danielle:

I’m sitting here waiting for a local client to show up in my office to pick up their “rush” job that they wanted me to drop everything for yesterday. I worked on this project for them until well past midnight. They said they would be here to collect my work at a certain time. I’ve been waiting now for over three hours with no sign of them, much less a phone call. I’m fuming! And this isn’t the first time this has happened. How should I handle this? –NT

What I don’t understand is why people in our industry seem to think “local” has to mean “in-person.”

Why treat local clients differently than you would clients in any other part of the world?

It shouldn’t matter where the clients operate or how you initially met them.

None of your business and transactions require you to have an office or do anything in-person. All of your business, local and otherwise, can be conducted “online” (i.e., via email, shared file drive, Skype, delivery, etc.).

I would even tell you it should all be done that way if you want to manage the business efficiently and have more time available for billable work and clients.

Think, really think, about just how much of your business resources are used up doing anything in-person for one client: the scheduling time, the travel to and from, time preparing, time spent getting professionally presentable, the time it takes away from your other clients and paying work, the loss of concentration and interruption of workflow…

In-person work and meetings cost vastly more in any business, even more so ours, because they take up much more time and energy. You can work with 10 x the number of clients — and make more money — in one hour of online time vs. one-hour of in-person time with one client.

If you’re going to do anything in-person with clients, you can charge a MUCH higher premium because it is a special service and consideration outside your normal operating procedures.

Doesn’t matter if a client is local. I don’t allow them to come to my home/office to drop off or pick up documents.

That’s what couriers, delivery services, the mail, and online shared document drives are for.

And I set those expectations upfront before I ever work with them.

I accomplish this by having a client intake/onboarding process.

This involves giving them a New Client Welcome Kit that explains things work in my business and what the policies and procedures are for working together, and then going over these things with them in a new client orientation meeting (which is done over the phone or Skype).

I certainly wouldn’t allow a client to continue to disrespect and abuse my time. Remember, we train people how to treat us. Trust me, you and your business will benefit greatly by nipping this practice in the bud.

So here’s what I would do:

  • Be direct and let this client know that you have an expectation that your time is respected in the same way you respect theirs.
  • Discontinue this ill-conceived idea of doing in-person work and transactions.
  • Draft a letter to your local clients and let them know that you’re implementing new policies and procedures in your business that ultimately allow you to serve them better. Point out that you are discontinuing the policy of office pickups and drop-offs, and that anything that can’t be sent back and forth electronically or via online shared directory in some way, may be couriered (or mailed, or whatever) to and from your office.
  • Adopt a special rush fee policy and get that into your contracts (this is already included in our contract templates from the ACA Success Store).
  • Send an official communication out to all your clients that rush projects may incur extra fees at your discretion.
  • Alternatively, you can also make it a standard in your business not to accept any rush work and require clients to plan ahead within your specified guidelines. (That doesn’t mean you can’t still help out a great client in a pinch if you so choose, but you want it to the exception, not the rule.)
  • Reevaluate your clients and consider firing the bad ones who can’t get with the program and consistently demonstrate a lack of appreciation and respect for you. Just because you have a policy to penalize bad clients doesn’t mean you should keep working with them. They are demoralizing and de-energizing to your business and exact a heavy toll that none of us in solo practice can afford. 😉
  • Start an Ideal Client list and an Un-Ideal Client list. Write down all the traits and characteristics of an ideal client for you (e.g., has no problem working together virtually, respects my time, follows my policies and procedures). Then write down all the traits and characteristics of all the bad clients you’ve had (e.g., disrespects my time, doesn’t show up or follow through when they say they will, is constantly disorganized and in a rush, always wants me to do rush work, but then doesn’t appreciate it when I do, wants everything yesterday…). You get the idea. Keep updating and honing these lists throughout the life of your business. Pull them out anytime you need to remember why you are in business for yourself and what you want for your life and happiness, and any time you are tempted to step over your standards and take on a client who exhibits any of those red flags.

Rushing the Process Is a Recipe for Failure

Rushing the Process Is a Recipe for Failure

I have no clue why this article on Target Canada’s last days piqued my interest, but it is an interesting read.

Who knew that a company as big, established and successful as Target could do anything but succeed. And yet, fail it did — big time — for the dumbest and most avoidable of reasons: rushing the process.

One thing that is underscored for me, as any of my clients would tell you, I’m a stickler for detail, for doing things the right way, for dotting i’s and crossing t’s. Because it matters, even if the correlations and implications aren’t readily apparent.

My motto is “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” It’s a discipline that serves well in every situation.

Sloppiness, laziness and inattention cost you, somewhere, somehow, at some point down the line. It’s what leads to cutting corners, shoddy work and service, and taking shortcuts with standards, values, integrity and ethics.

It’s fascinating to me that someone has to pointedly tell this generation that accuracy is important:

Excerpt: There was never any talk about accuracy.

Of course it’s important! Why would you enter any old thing; someone is paying you to NOT do a job right?

If it weren’t important, you wouldn’t need to be doing the work in the first place. Someone needs to tell you that?

By the same token, the leaders did not provide the time or environment that would allow those they hired to be accurate.

Rush work is always sloppy work. And part of doing things well, of creating the environment that allows you to do your best work for clients, is building in proper lead time so you have the breathing room to be thorough and accurate, to think critically and creatively, and not be rushed, stressed and sweated.

It’s what facilitates strong foundations and proper infrastructure. You set it as a standard in your practice, institute policies and protocols for work and communication accordingly, and then educate and inform your clients about how things work in your practice (thereby setting and managing expectations for a successful relationship).

It’s a standard I have for my life and the work I do, and a model I hope to help clients achieve in their life and business as well.

I have a very relaxed pace in my business. It can definitely get fast-moving at moments, but not in a stressed or rushed kind of way. Clients don’t sweat me, they don’t rush me, they don’t try to tell me how things work in my business. And that’s because I don’t allow it.

Power Productivity & Biz Management for HOW I do that, what standards, policies, protocols and expectations I set up that allow me to do great work is what I share in my Power Productivity & Biz Management guide for those in the administrative support business.

If you are someone who is struggling with being rushed all the time, has clients frequently telling you how things work in your business, who feels the pinch and stress of responding to everyone’s requests, demands and inquiries instantly and finds yourself making regrettable, avoidable mistakes because you’re allowing external forces set the pace in your business, be sure and check it out.

My guide will help you avoid burnout and overwhelm by instilling policies and practices that give you plenty of breathing room so you can do your best work for clients while working at a humane and humanly sustainable pace with lots of time leftover for your life. Instituting these steps and measures will ensure you love your business, clients and work for years to come!

10 Tips for Cleaning Up Your Email, Online and Print Document Files for the New Year

10 Tips for Cleaning Up Your Email, Online and Print Document Files for the New Year

How is your new year going so far? Splendidly I hope!

Following up from my last post on prepping your calendar for ease and success, the next thing I do to gear up for the new year is clean out my email, online and paper files.

This exercise helps me clear space for fresh, new opportunities and possibility — both mentally and in practical terms. Maybe some of my tips will help you, too. 🙂

  1. EMAIL: Organize your email folders according to whatever system you employ. I pretty much always keep my emails organized so I don’t tend to have a ton of work here. How I organize my client emails is by client last name. Under each client, I have folders for each month of the year (e.g., “0116” for January 2016). Labeling them numerically keeps them in sequential order. And because I work with attorneys and we go by client matter, I then have folders under each month for each client matter. It may seem like a lot of work, but when you are dealing with a lot of accounts and information and often having to refer back to different things, this is what works best for me and my clients. The search function, I’ve found, is woefully inadequate, inconsistent and unreliable. I’ve thanked myself on more occasions than I can count for putting in this little bit of effort upfront.
  2. EMAIL: At the end of every month (or on your weekly Admin day), sort your sent and received emails into their respective folders.
  3. EMAIL: In January (this month!), archive your previous year email folders. You can archive the PST file or simply put them into a year folder for each client. For example, create a 2015 folder for each client and move the monthly folders for that year there.
  4. ONLINE FILES: Organize your online file folders similar to your email organizing system. For example, in my practice, each client has a main folder by last name. Under each client, there are matter and subject folders. Under each client matter or subject folder are monthly folders. I use a numbering/dating system that keeps documents organized sequentially. For example: (Matter Number) SMITH 2016 0101 Description. Using this or a similar system, your files will be automatically organized as you work throughout each month so no other effort is required.
  5. ONLINE FILES: In January, create a 2015 folder under each client/matter and move the monthly folders there.
  6. ONLINE FILES: When it comes to documents and files, I try to keep as much electronically as possible. If you’re looking to go more electronic and convert paper documents to PDF, I highly recommend the Fujitsu ScanSnap products as they make quick work of scanning multiple, two-sided pages into PDF. Of course, it’s still very useful to have a flatbed scanner as well and you can get that with a good all-in-one printer. I tend to like HP’s products.
  7. ONLINE FILES: That said, we can’t get away from print documents entirely. For example, I’m not going to tear apart a 100-page health insurance guide and scan it to PDF. That wouldn’t be a good use of my time and when it comes to those kind of things, I prefer them to read them in print anyway. So my tip here is not to get too OCD when it comes converting to PDF just for the sake of going electronic. Be smart about how much time you spend on it and what kind of documents you put the effort into.
  8. PRINT FILES: As far as organizing print files, I have a two-drawer lateral file and hanging files for that. I organize files by subject and color-coded tabs. Clear is for miscellaneous subjects. Green is for clients/income/accounts receivable files. Yellow is for employee/contractor/HR files. Red is for vendors and accounts payable files. And blue is for tax/license/legal/financial files. I tend to keep the green, yellow and blue files all together in their own color sections while I file the clear and red-tabbed folders together alphabetically.
  9. PRINT FILES: In January, create 2015 folders for any subjects that collect a lot of date-related material and archive your documents accordingly. Keep in mind your state and federal rules for how long you are required to keep business files, which generally tend to be 7-10 years.
  10. Add a date and reminder on your calendar to do this again next year.
  11. BONUS TIP: SHRED EVERYTHING! Having been a private investigator in a previous life, safety, security and confidentiality are always concerns of high priority, for myself and for my clients. With that in mind, I keep shredder within arm’s reach of my desk and scanner. If you’re in the market for a shredder, my advice is to ignore the cheap ones. They have smaller feed capacity, get clogged clogged too easily, have their blades warp and burn up their motors too quickly. For just a little bit more money, you can get a better quality one that’ll last for years. I would get one that shreds into little diamonds (not strips) and that has a larger feed capacity (the one I have has a feed capacity of 6 pages at a time).

Power Productivity & Biz Management for Administrative ConsultantsRESOURCE: Get my entire practice management system with more in-depth examples and illustrations over at the ACA Success Store: Power Productivity & Biz Management: The 14 Simple Systems that Will Breathe Freedom, Flexibility and LIFE Back into Your Business and Client Relationships

14 Quick Steps to Prep Your 2016 Calendar for Ease and Success

10 Quick Steps to Prep Your 2016 Calendar for Ease & Success

The new year is two days away and if you haven’t yet, now is a good time to prep your calendar to take 2016 in ease and stride.

One of the ways to facilitate your freedom and success is to be prepared for it. That means taking charge of your time by being conscious about all that you have on your plate and creating space for important actions, events and goals. Your calendar is the starting point for this.

This should take you no more than 30 minutes; if you’re using calendar software, even less time than that.

  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 holidays).
  2. Block out all personal days for the year that you plan to be closed (e.g., birthdays, anniversaries).
  3. Block out all known/intended vacation dates (or any other weeks/days that you intend to take off for whatever reason).
  4. Block out any known business events, training, 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. Using the repeat/recurring function, schedule them through January 2017.* An Admin Day is the one day of the week you devote strictly to your business administration and personal development. For example, Mondays are my “business days” where I am officially closed. I don’t do any client work; instead, I focus on taking care of my own business and use that time for administration and planning, research and development, learning, etc. I shade out that time because it makes me conscious about not making any appointments on that day. If you don’t need a full day, block at least half a day (e.g., Mondays from 8a – 12p).
  6. Then, block out your regularly scheduled weekly client meetings 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 or half-hour time slot, same time each week, with a half hour or 15 minutes of buffer time between meetings. I established this practice when I realized how much more difficult it was for me to dive into work and maintain momentum when I had meetings scattered all over the course of the week. I’m much more productive when I keep them to one day and know I won’t have to interrupt my work and concentration the rest of the week.
  7. Carry over other regular meetings. Review this year’s calendar. If you have regular weekly or monthly meetings, be sure to carry-over and repeat those as well, Perhaps you have a weekly call with your business coach on Tuesdays at 3p and a monthly board meeting at 1p on the third Wednesday of every month. Get all of these regularly scheduled appointments on your calendar for the entire year.
  8. Block out lunches and breaks if you are someone who has trouble remembering to take time away from your desk and computer. This might seem silly and unnecessary, especially since we business owners can eat or take a break any time we like. But if you are someone who has difficulty maintaining boundaries, these can serve as daily reminders to be conscious about taking care of yourself. Taking breaks is super important, not only for your personal health, but the health of your business—you can’t take excellent care of others unless you first take excellent care of yourself. Remember, you want a humanly/sustainably paced business, not a business that leaves you no breathing room and leads to burn-out and overwhelm.
  9. Carry over regular weekly and monthly task reminders and other important to-do’s. For example, downloading and reconciling bank statements.
  10. Mark important dates. Are there client birthdays, anniversaries or other important dates you want to remember on a regular basis? Are there important goal dates and benchmarks you want to be reminded of? Add them to your calendar!
  11. If you have share an online calendar with any of your clients, repeat steps 1-6 there as well so they are aware of when you will be closed/unavailable. Likewise, by adding your weekly client meeting to their calendar for the year (step #6), no one has to spend any further time on scheduling.
  12. Rinse and repeat for your clients (if helping organize their calendars is something you happen to do).
  13. Schedule a To-Do in November to “Prep next year’s calendar.” If you’re using an online calendar, set it with a couple advance reminders.
  14. And while you’re at it, schedule a reminder in December to archive the current year’s documents and emails (more on that in another post).

* This is so that when January rolls around, if you’ve forgotten or been delayed or sidetracked in prepping your calendar in December, you can simply click on each recurring/repeating event and update the end date.

Cheers to a fantastic new year for us all!

Is There Room for LIFE in Your Business?

Is There Room for LIFE in Your Business?

Came across this article about how Sweden shortened their workday to six hours.

Hear, hear!

Germany is similar, with basically a 7-hour workday.

All of Europe really has a much more humanistic approach when it comes to work.

Many businesses are closed on Sundays. Many will close for several weeks during the holiday season. And they take longer lunches with time to actually eat slowly, enjoy their meal, and recharge.

The U.S. has a lot to learn from them because for all the time off people have over there, they are more productive, healthy and well-adjusted.

In my business, there are naturally some days here and there where I am nose-to-grindstone all day doing client work. And I enjoy those occasional balls-to-wall challenges.

But those are the exception, not the rule.

It wouldn’t be humanly sustainable for very long otherwise, and the service and quality of my work to clients would suffer as a result.

That’s why, in my business, I generally have a four to five hour workday.

It’s like that for several reasons.

First, I don’t operate an “assistant” business model. That means I don’t work with clients like a day-to-day assistant (like in the employment world).

I don’t take on work that inherently requires me to be chained to my computer all day, every day, or that can only be done within certain client-imposed hours.

And I don’t provide instant/same-day turn-around on client work requests. I only take on work that can be scheduled within my work management system.

If it’s work that can’t be done within a three-day window, then it’s not work I take on, and the client has to either do it themselves or plan ahead better and provide more lead time in the future.

That’s because it’s a standard in my life to operate my business around my life, not the other way around.

I firmly believe that your business should support your life, not suck the life from you.

And it’s important to me that my work and business be structured in a way that gives me plenty of breathing room so I can do great work and take fantastic care of clients while also having time and space to take care of me.

(Remember, ultimately, taking care of you is taking care of clients. Someone who is overworked, stressed and unhappy is no good to anyone.)

It’s also why I don’t do what I call “wipe your ass” work such as making appointments, answering phones or managing anyone’s day-to-day calendar or inbox.

Never have and never will and my business and income haven’t suffered one bit (in fact, I make more money and command higher fees because of it).

That kind of work is what “assistants” do, and as an Administrative Consultant, I’m not an assistant. Clients need to manage their own calendars, inboxes and personal appointments.

When you take on that kind of work (answering phones, managing client calendars and inboxes), you put yourself into on-demand/same-day timing because that’s what so much of that work entails. When you do that, you end up creating a business that has you working like an employee and requires you be attached at the hip to your computer and email every single day.

Leaving you very little of the freedom and flexibility you went into business to have.

Don’t buy into the BS that you have to be anyone’s personal assistant to also provide admin support and be of value. They aren’t the same thing and are not inextricably entwined.

Those people who think that have only ever known how to work with clients like an employee and don’t know how to think more entrepreneurially about themselves and how they offer their service.

The more you know your target market and their business/profession, the better you can identify and focus on the more important and actual administrative work that moves their business forward, helps them accomplish their goals, and creates real, tangible results.

Beyond that, I let clients do their own ass-wiping. 😉

If they need someone to work like an employee/assistant to them each and every day, then that’s who they need to hire, not me. Those aren’t the clients I work with.

Because I’m not in the assistant business. I’m in the administrative support business. Two completely different things. 😉

Power Productivity & Biz Management for Administrative Consultants (GDE-41)If you’d like to finetune your own administrative support business and work with clients in a way that gives you more freedom and flexibility in your life—which, I might add, also allows you to be more productive and take far better care of them in the process—I share my exact business model and management systems and how to implement them in my guide, Power Productivity & Business Management for Administrative Consultants (GDE-41). Check it out.

Dear Danielle: Should I Upgrade to Windows 10?

Dear Danielle: Should I Upgrade to Windows 10?

Dear Danielle:

Should I upgrade to Windows 10? —TM

This seems to be the topic of the day lately for all us PC users.

And really, it depends. There are so many variables to consider.

A lot of it boils down to personal preference and your own business circumstances.

Although this is more of a technical question (I focus mainly on business operating and marketing principles here), there are definitely some business implications so I’ll share my thoughts.

First and foremost, talk to your technology people.

(Don’t have any? Get some! This is one of the important support relationships to have in business.)

In my business, I call on my “computers guys,” a local father and sons computer and IT business who have been my go-to fixers and advisors on all things computer-related for many years now.

When I asked them about ugrading to Windows 10, here’s what they advise:

“Reserve your free copy, but don’t install it. All new software is buggy, and this one is no exception. We recommend everyone wait for at least six months when a lot of the initial bugs and problems will likely have been identified and fixed.”

As you weigh this decision about whether or not to install, a couple other things to take into account are:

  • How old is your computer?
  • Do you have the system requirements for an upgrade to 10?
  • If you upgrade, will all your other software and tools you use regularly still work or will you have to upgrade them as well?
  • If you install and then have problems, how will that impact your client work and turn around times?

I’ve been hearing horror stories from clients and business associates who upgraded to 10 right away.

I’ve also heard from other people who think Windows 10 is awesome and have had no problems (so far, anyway, lol).

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer.

Personally, I never install new software right off the bat. 

I have too much work to do to deal with the aggravation and time-suck of computer problems and learning curves that are easily avoided by simply waiting a bit longer.

I know from experience that it takes working with things more in-depth before any issues/bugs raise their ugly heads. And that’s usually at the most inopportune time. I have a fast-paced practice and the last thing I need are computer problems stopping everything up.

Plus, I never upgrade right away to the latest (and the “latest” is not necessarily the “greatest” to be sure) because my clients rarely do, and it causes difficulties/incompatibilities in a lot of ways when you are ahead of your client curve.

In fact, you may be surprised that up until a couple weeks ago, I was still running XP and Office 2003/2006 on my primary workhorse computer.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a technophobe in the least. Far from it. You can’t be in this business.

And I have always had all the new stuff on my laptops.

But bad design is bad design.

I just don’t like anything Microsoft redesigned after XP so I kept it on my main computer. If it ain’t broke, there ain’t nothing that needs to be fixed. 😉

It’s like this: Just because something is “popular” and “everyone is doing it,” doesn’t make it good.

Likewise, just because something is new, doesn’t make it good.

But technology marches on and the day finally came that I was forced off my beloved XP and Office 2003/2006, lol.

Now, I have Windows 8.1 on everything and running Office 365.

I am probably going to install 10 on my least-used laptop just to see what it’s all about.

But I most likely will not install 10 on my main desktop work computer for another couple years when I have a new computer built by my “computer guys.”

All in all, in deciding if now is the right time for you to upgrade to Windows 10, take this into consideration as well:

Are you newer in business and have few or no clients? Then this might be a great time to bite the bullet and see what happens.

Because if you do run into problems, they won’t have a big impact and you have more time on your hands to deal with them.

However, if you have a busy client roster and workload, you don’t have the same kind of space to deal with computer issues.

If you can’t afford the time, aggravation and downtime that potential computer problems may cause in your practice, I would say slow your roll and give it another six months.

There’s no reason you have to rush into anything right this second. Windows 10 will still be there and in far better shape than it is right now.

And if/when you do upgrade, be sure to check out all the useful Windows 10 articles I’ve pinned for you that will help you learn all about the new features, tweak your settings and make the best use of it in your practice.

Setting Policies for Great Communication with Clients and Prospects

Setting Policies for Great Communication with Clients and Prospects

It’s true to a certain extent: you may lose some prospects by not getting back to them right away. At the same time, you’d never get any work done if you answered every call the second the phone rang. It can be crazy-making to even try.

As with most things, instituting smart policies and procedures in your business will help you improve your response times and communications. and by informing prospective clients and site visitors upfront so they know what to expect and asking for their understanding, they are going to be more inclined to be patient.

So, here are a few tips for doing just that:

  1. Establish communication policies. Set a standard for responding to inquiries (e.g., “within 24-48 hours”). Decide which inquiries get priority attention (e.g., clients or prospective clients).
  2. Post your office hours and response protocols. Tell folks, on your website and in your voicemails, what days and times your office is “open” and how soon they may expect your return email or call.
  3. Require clients to follow certain procedures. While it might seem like letting clients call you for anything and everything at any time is great service, doing so will actually create conditions in your business that lead to poor performance and reduced quality of service. To be successful, you need to have some boundaries in place that that let you manage work and communications well in your business. Don’t be afraid to tell clients how work requests must be submitted (e.g., you might require that they be submitted by email only) or that phone calls/meeting are done only by appointment.
  4. Get a receptionist. If you worry that a happy, informative Voicemail message isn’t enough, but still need uninterrupted concentration time to get work done, hire an answering service.
  5. Map out a process for qualifying inquiries. There are lots of ways your website can do this work for you so you can reduce the time you spend on unnecessary calls and emails. You can design your website so that visitors are guided toward one action (e.g., submitting a form to schedule a consultation). If you prefer one method of contact over another, emphasize that method and make it the most visible and prominent. Another way to pre-qualify clients is to have them complete an online form that will help you determine if someone meets your minimum criteria for an ideal client and what your next steps should be with that person. In your Voicemail message, ask callers to be sure and visit your website (if they haven’t yet) and give them the url.

Remember, in order to give great service you have to set foundations (policies, standards, protocols, workflows) in your business that enable you to do that consistently and sustainably.

(Originally published August 2, 2010.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My advice to her?

Run away, lol.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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