Archive for the ‘Business Planning’ Category

Dear Danielle: What Is the Best Approach to Physically Obtain Quality Clients?

Dear Danielle: What Is the Best Approach to Physically Obtain Quality Clients?

Dear Danielle:

I am very new to the Administrative Consulting business although I have almost 20 years of experience supporting senior-level executives. I agree with you that we are so much more than “virtual assistants” and I would like to attract customers who understand that and value what we bring to the table, if you will. Therefore, my question to you is now that I’ve created a website and all other social media accounts, what is the best approach to physically obtain quality clients? Eventually, I may narrow my target but for now, my target is Small Business Owners. Thank you. —ND

Hi, ND. Welcome and thanks for reaching out. 🙂

Sounds like you’ve got the perfect background and a solid body of experience to offer clients. Wonderful!

Of course, there’s much more to business than simply knowing how to support clients and do the work, as you realize.

Learning how to run, manage and market a business and get actual clients (much less good ones) is a whole other skillset and area of education in and of itself.

This is why your question is more of a training one, rather than something that can be answered in a simple blog post.

It requires a more in-depth, systematic process of learning to understand the components, dynamics, and psychology involved.

To get that kind of knowledge and learning, I will refer you to my step-by-step self-paced training guide I created specifically for that purpose: How to Build a Website that WORKS!

This guide is centered around your website because your website IS the critical link in connecting your marketing and networking to actually getting clients, and not just any clients, but the kind of clients you want to reach: quality clients who understand your value.

This involves pre-educating your site visitors so they are in the right mindset, setting the right expectations, and prequalifying clients to help ensure you are productively spending your time in consultation with your most ideal and likely client candidates.

In the process of going through the steps and exercises, my guide also gives you a crash-course in inbound marketing because the two go hand-in-hand. You can’t set up an effective website and conversion system that gets results unless you understand all the components and mechanics involved.

Another thing I show you how to do in my guide is how to articulate your value and write your marketing message (and I have a clever system that helps you do that, no writing talent required; couldn’t be easier).

This is where having a target market is absolutely vital.

If there are any “secrets” in business and getting clients (and there aren’t), this is it.

And that’s because it’s not so much a “secret” as it is an area of misunderstanding and resistance for so many people.

You mention that right now your target is “small business owners.” But that isn’t a target at all, you see.

“Small business owners” is merely a demographic, and a very vague, general one at that which isn’t going to be helpful to you in any meaningful way whatsoever in creating a compelling marketing message and getting those ideal clients who value what you do.

It’s like saying “people” are your target market. That’s literally anyone and everyone in the world — which is the opposite of a target market (which by definition is a specific market).

A target market is simply an industry/field/profession that you cater your administrative support to. That’s it. However, it’s a vitally important component in getting those quality, ideal clients who understand your value that you wish for.

And this is where people struggle because they resist the idea that they actually expand their attractiveness and opportunities if they narrow their focus to one specific group.

Because here’s the thing: you can’t articulate your value in any truly meaningful, compelling way until you know who it is you are providing that value to. And that requires you to decide what industry/field/profession that will be.

Because it’s all relative.

Your value — what you provide, the solutions you offer, how you deliver those solutions and the results you create — all depends on who your audience (i.e., target market) is: who they are, what their commons interests, needs, challenges and goals are, what work they do in their profession, how their businesses are run, who their clients are, how they get those clients, and so much more.

You have to decide who it is you specifically intend to help in order to identify, understand and articulate your value in a way that speaks to these things as it relates to them. Otherwise, all you’ll ever accomplish (by trying to create a message for anyone and everyone) is being generic and forgettable.

To stand out, to create real meaning, to get focus and direction for your message and your marketing, you need specificity.

That specificity (i.e., deciding on a target market to cater your administrative support to) is what is not only going to get you more ideal clients who value what you do, it’s also going to make your business and marketing easier, you’ll have an easier time charging higher fees and making more money, and you’ll be able to get more clients more quickly and easily.

If you haven’t yet, be sure to download my free guide on How to Choose Your Target Market.

Start there, decide on a target market and then get my marketing/website guide, and you’ll be well on your way to getting those ideal, quality clients who absolutely understand how valuable you can be to them.

Dear Danielle: Should I Choose a Name Looking to the Future of My Business or Just Go with Virtual Assistant?

Dear Danielle: Should I Choose a Name Looking to the Future of My Business or Just Go with Virtual Assistant?

Dear Danielle:

I’m just starting out in this adventure and I’m having trouble choosing a business name. I’ve read your blog on Administrative Consultant and I’m intrigued, BUT I’m just starting out and will be doing anything and everything from answering phones to data entry.  Should I choose a name looking to the future of my business or just go with virtual assistant? I appreciate your help with this. — Karen E.

Hi Karen 🙂

I see you that you did notice the name of this organization. That’s good. Because I do need for people to understand that this is NOT a virtual assistant organization. This is an organization for Administrative Consultants.

What that means is if people want to ask me questions, I’m happy to help, but they need to pay attention to details (which is an important qualification in this business) and respect the proper terminology used in this organization.

Here is our position on the VA term: “Virtual Assistant” is a term of employment and has no place in any business owner’s vocabulary. It most certainly has no place in our organization or conversations.

I’m here to help people put on their big girl business britches, not perpetuate detrimental, employee mindsets.

That starts with encouraging them to hold themselves and what they do in higher esteem and not use terms of employment to describe themselves, which is counterproductive to every single effort they must make in starting and growing a business successfully.

Why do I point this out? Because your choice of words and terminology directly impacts everything in your business from getting clients, the kind of clients your marketing and terminology attracts, their correct or incorrect perceptions and expectations about the nature of the relationship, the demeanor and attitude with which they approach the relationship, your ability to command professional level fees… EVERYTHING.

Are there folks out there who aren’t ready to think bigger about themselves and what they do? Yes, of course.

There are also people who aren’t really focused on being anything specifically in business, who are better described as gophers. They are more in business to be this, that and the other and letting clients dictate their roles and what they are in business to do.

For them, the VA term is actually the better fit.

But that’s not who this organization is for. We don’t cater to those folks or old ways of thinking and operating.

Our interest, and who this organization is for, are those who are specifically focused on the business of providing administrative support.

The people who are attracted to the ACA tend to have a more sophisticated view of business and the administrative work they do. They are ready to gain deeper understandings and engage in new ways of thinking and doing things in order to continue to more positively grow their business, strengthen their business skills, get more ideal clients and make more money while operating in a way that allows them to still have plenty of time for a great life.

So, with that understanding in place, here’s my advice:

What will help you answer these questions for yourself is going through the exercise of completing a business plan.

You have to decide for yourself what kind of business you want to be in, what you want your work to consist of and what you want your days to look like.

One question that really helps is asking yourself, why do I want to be in business for myself? What am I hoping to achieve? Is this just to earn a little side money or do I want/need my business to be financially sustainable and profitable enough that I can earn an actual living from it?

And then build your business around the answers to those questions.

It’s not enough to “just want to make some money from home.” Because being able to do that is not as simple as that.

It takes intention and thoughtful preparation and foresight in setting up the business, creating standards around what you want for yourself and from the business, and what kind of work and clients will bring and sustain happiness and joy in your business so you can both do your best work for them AND remain in business for a long time to come.

As far as naming your business, I have a category on my blog called Naming Your Business that will give you excellent some guidance and helpful insights and advice. All of the articles in this category are very important in gaining deeper understanding about the importance of how you name your business and will raise your consciousness around that task.

And then this one specifically will give you some practical tips for coming up with a unique and differentiating name for your business: How to Name Your Business for Success

I would like to address something else as well.

You mentioned answering phones. This idea tends to come from people thinking that being in this business will be the same as being an employee/administrative assistant and nothing could be further from the truth.

I try to get people to understand that how and when they support clients is not the same as when they were an employee and is going to look much different once they are in business for themselves.

For both legal and practical reasons, you can’t be someone’s administrative assistant in the same way you were as an employee. They are just two completely different animals and trying to do so will keep you from creating a real business that has room for enough clients that you can actually earn a real living.

I personally have never answered phones for any client, and I wouldn’t dream of taking on that work because it would keep me tied to a phone day in and day out, which is NOT what I went into business for.

I’m not saying you have to do what I do, but in my experience, most of the people who think they are going to act as their clients’ receptionist really haven’t thought that idea all the way through about what their business and day-to-day life would be like being chained to a phone and computer all day long answering calls for clients.

Most of them, once they really think about it, realize that’s not what they really want to do. It’s more simply that they don’t know what else they could be doing for clients so they can only think in the most general, generic, traditional terms.

So, I always ask people who bring it up: Is answering phones what you really want to be in the business of doing? Have you really considered what that would actually be like and how it would impact your goals and ideals and what you envision for your business and life? Take a moment and try to picture what your days would look like doing that work.

It’s okay if that is work you want to do (you can always change your mind later if you realize it isn’t and chalk it up to a learning experience). Just make sure you are going into it consciously and intentionally with eyes wide open. Because answering phones can very quickly and easily turn you into a receptionist with little time or concentration to do anything else.

And you don’t need a business to do that. You can get a telecommuting job answering phones and still work from home if that’s your aspiration. When it comes to that kind of work, there are businesses already set up to do that work and get clients and you could simply apply for an employee position with them.

There are four posts on my blog in the category Answering Client Phones. Check those out as I think you’ll find them very illuminating on the whole topic.

Which leads me to my next point:

The one thing that is going to help you plan EVERYTHING more easily in your business and with greater intention, clarity and detail, is by choosing a target market.

A target market is very simply an industry/field/profession that you cater your administrative support to.

For example, in my administrative support business, I work with solo attorneys in business, intellectual property and entertainment law. This specificity allows me to very precisely identify in more depth, detail and clarity exactly what kind of work is needed to best support my clients and, thus, structure my offerings more specifically and meaningfully as well.

Deciding on a target market will help you plan, market and get clients so much faster and easier in your business. With a target market, you’ll be able to better identify with more depth and detail the specific kind of administrative support those clients need, what will have the most meaningful impact and results for them, and cater your offerings around that so that you can be their trusted administrative expert, advisor and strategic support partner instead of their receptionist with a ball and chain around your neck.

Next step: Download my free Income & Pricing Calculator and How to Choose Your Target Market guides.

These two exercises will get you thinking more critically about your administrative support business and what you want out of it.

And then I recommend you check out the resources in the ACA Success Store, one of which is the business plan template geared specifically for the administrative support business. These things are going to help you immensely in getting on the right track toward creating a more ideal, profitable,  happy-making business.

I would like to know how all of this lands with you and if you’ve found it helpful so please let me know in the comments. And if you or anyone has further questions on the topic, we can continue the conversation there as well.

Do You Understand the Difference Between a Project-Based vs. Ongoing Admin Support Business?

Do You Understand the Difference Between a Project-Based vs. Ongoing Admin Support Business?

When I started out (and didn’t really understand the concept of providing administrative support as a business), I was what is correctly termed a secretarial service doing one-off projects here and there where I could find them.

Someone would hire me to do their resume, make a flyer or brochure, type some documents, that kind of thing.

It’s equivalent to the business model of a print shop for example.

A customer might be someone who only ever uses you once or it could be someone who is a repeat customer, but still on only an as-needed basis—occasional and sporadic.

The problem as I discovered was it was a paltry income, nothing I could actually live on. It was pocket money at best, and I still needed to work a full time job to pay the bills.

Okay, I thought, how do I make a living at that?

There is no recurring or consistent income when a business is project-based. You never know where your next meal or client will come from or when.

In order to make a living in a project-based business, it inherently requires that it be volume-driven, which comes with its own set of problems.

In a project-based, volume-driven business, you have to CONSTANTLY be marketing and networking and ever on the hunt for your next project, that next not one but five clients, all while you still have work in front of you to do.

It was EXHAUSTING.

It was a huge amount of work just getting those projects and clients I did have coming in here and there. It was this never-ending hamster wheel that left me little time to breathe.

And to have to multiply all those efforts 20-fold? No way. That was NOT the kind of business I wanted.

You also can never make up for in volume what you really need to make a living, not as a solo/boutique business.

The answer would seem to be add more people doing the work.

But that wasn’t a solution that worked for me either because:

  1. I have ZERO interest in being in the people management business, which is exactly what I’d have to do if I added more people;
  2. I would make even less money because my profit margins would be reduced with all the increased costs and expenses. Not only that, but my business would be much more complicated and less easy with all the added administration; and
  3. it would turn the work into an assembly line which is NOT what I want in my business or my life. I believe in artistry and craftsmanship in work product and that’s the quality I want to give to my clients. Churning work day in and day out as fast as possible (which is what you are forced to do in a volume-driven business) is NOT how I want to work or live my life.

It’s not that a volume-driven project business can’t work. But it’s a much bigger and more difficult business to build and sustain. And it’s simply a different business model altogether, one I had not the slightest interest in.

That’s when I started realizing that the way to make better money and more consistent income was to provide support as an ongoing RELATIONSHIP, not a one-off, piecemeal transaction.

Once I got conscious about that, I started building a retainer-based practice where clients paid me in advance on the 1st of every month for ongoing administrative support in their business, not a project here or there. I took on specific areas and roles that were ongoing in their business.

It was a lot more money—money I could actually LIVE on.

It was consistent, recurring CASHFLOW.

AND it didn’t require the constant merry-go-round of chasing after new clients and new work every minute of every hour of every day.

I could live and work in a much more relaxed, sustainable, breathable pace, growing my roster slowly one client at a time.

But I still had a lot of things to learn in my early years. I was still operating with the poor professional self-esteem that many in our industry suffer from: that I wasn’t enough, that admin support wasn’t enough.

Part of the problem was I still didn’t really have a target market.

And without that, I couldn’t really envision, much less paint a picture for prospects, about what admin support could look like in the context of their business and how it could help them in anything except the vaguest, most general (and uncompelling) terms.

So I thought I needed to offer a lot more. I thought I had to DO everything, BE everything, and be ANYTHING a client tried to twist me into at their whim in order to be of value.

First, I added web design.

And then I thought bookkeeping would be a good service to also offer because who doesn’t need bookkeeping?

What I failed to realize is that these are separate businesses in and of themselves.

It’s a full time job to just to provide bookkeeping to a roster of clients.

And design work requires a whole other part of the brain. It requires a switching of gears and lots of creative space that are simply too crowded when you are trying to do too many other things.

Eventually, as I got busier and busier (without really ever getting too far in anything much less making any better money), I realized that I needed to focus on ONE thing, be in ONE business, not multiple businesses.

Trying to be too many different kinds of businesses not only was keeping me from earning well, I wasn’t able to fully commit to any of them and was constantly distracted and pulled in different directions due to too many multiple focuses.

That’s not a recipe for doing your best work for clients.

I also realized that by focusing on ONE business (I got out of the bookkeeping business and then later discontinued doing any kind of design work completely), I did far better, more high quality work for clients, built my business faster, and ended up with far more discretionary time (i.e., freedom and flexibility) as a byproduct.

All of which ultimately benefited my clients in a multitude of ways.

I also realized (and look back now at how foolish I was back then) that if I had just gotten clear about being in ONE business earlier, I would have built my business and made more money so much faster.

Because once I did, I also soon realized that by focusing on the ONE business (admin support), I didn’t have the time or need to do anything else.

So now I’m VERY clear about what I’m in business to do and what I’m not.

If a client needs something I’m not in business to do (e.g., you wouldn’t ask a plumber to fix your car), I point out that they need to talk to the professionals who are in those other professions. If I happen to know someone good, I will refer them.

But I don’t bend over backwards making it my job to find them someone any more than it would be my doctor’s job to find me a lawyer. The only people who think that’s their job are those who are operating their business like an employee (or being trained to).

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 success.

And when that 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.

8 Tips for Transitioning to Your Administrative Support Business from Full-Time Employment

8 Tips for Transitioning to Your Administrative Support Business from Full Time Employment

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 skills 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 and identifying who our ideal clients are and how we want things to work. So, it’s quite common that these clients aren’t necessarily 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 shift 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 intractable 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 absolutely aren’t! They provided invaluable growth and learning experience and helped you better know yourself and improve your business. So, be grateful you had them and remember that when you let the unideal 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. 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).

Dear Danielle: Should I Use I or We in My Business Plan?

Dear Danielle:

On the business plan template, I am having a hard time coming up with the replacement word for “we” and “our” since it is only “I” who will be doing all the work for now. My mentor stated it is not acceptable to put “I” in its place, that I need to put my business name; however, that is so redundant! Any ideas? –MK

I have to disagree with your mentor on this one.

The fact is most of us in boutique firms and solo practices are not completing business plans for the purpose of getting loans or attracting investors. We’re just not that big.

First and foremost, the point of going through the business planning process is to gain clarity and consciousness about our objectives for our businesses and how to best achieve them.

The value of a business plan is not the formatting, it’s the process, or the journey of the process, if you will.

It’s what we learn and gain insight from by going through the process that is the important thing.

The process forces you to get conscious about things and specifically address them that you might not have otherwise.

Therefore, it matters not a whit whether you use “we” or “us” or “I.”

In fact, if you are an “I’ and specifically not a “we” and your business plan is for your purposes, not for loans or investors, I would say use “I” to speak to yourself and make it more personal.

Of course, if your business plan is doubling as something you would be formally presenting, then by all means use whatever form is accepted and expected.

And don’t forget, there’s no law preventing you from directly asking about what they’d like to see, how they’d like it presented and what will help you get what you’re looking for.

Administrative Support IS a Speciality All Its Own

Guess what, people?

Administrative support IS a specialty in and of itself.

You CAN specialize in just administrative support and do as well as any other kind of specialized service professional.

The problem, the reason why clients don’t get it much of the time and why we as an industry are not earning well, is because people continue to call anything and everything “virtual assistance” and lump everything under the sun under the “virtual assistant” umbrella.

When something doesn’t have any definition like that, then it isn’t anything at all, least of all a profession.

And clients don’t pay well for something that is nothing. They view it as merely gopher work.

If people would simply stop trying to call everything virtual assistance and learn to identify, define and separate business categories for themselves (and not let clients define that for them), they could begin to earn better. They could charge one retainer for administrative support and then charge separately for work and projects that fall under different business categories entirely.

A good example of this is the argument I hear new people put forth constantly: “Well, when I was an executive assistant, I also did bookkeeping and web design and copyrighting and this and that and the other.”

So, you’re saying that because employers piled a load of other work onto the shoulders of administrative staff because they were trying to save a buck at your expense, that means as a business owner you should lump everything you know how to do under one banner and offer it as all one and the same?

As an employee, you had no say in the matter and trooped along like a good soldier. And hey, learning new skills and tinkering with new programs can be just plain fun.

But it is neither smart nor profitable to carry that kind of employee mindset over into your business.

If you do, I guarantee sooner or later you will realize the consequences of this and the wisdom of the advice I give you today.

Just as a doctor is different from an attorney, there are different classifications of work and business.

For example, Web design, a separate profession in its own right, is inherently project-oriented work. It immediately differs from administrative support in that respect.

More importantly, it is something that requires entirely different skills, processes, knowledge and talents from administrative support.

For this reason, it is a completely separate category of business and expertise for which you can charge separately as an additional income stream.

No one is saying that you can’t be in business to do more than one thing (e.g., administrative support and web design and bookkeeping, etc.). But that doesn’t make them all the same thing.

You can be in the administrative support business and also be a web designer (or bookkeeper or copywriter, etc.) if that’s what you want to do. It’s just that they are not all one and the same thing.

Once you start grasping this, you’ll begin to gain more clarity about which business you intend to be in and what to more appropriately call yourself.

By making these distinctions clear, it will start you on the path to better earning because you’ll be able to see and think more clearly about what should fall under your administrative support umbrella and what falls under another business category altogether (you can call these “divisions” in your business) and should be charged for separately.

And it’s YOU who needs to make these distinctions and classifications in your business. Don’t let clients dictate these things.

Because that’s the other part of the problem–people in our industry doing (and giving away) all this other work beyond administrative support because clients keep trying to pile everything on without paying extra for it. And it’s keeping you in the poor house.

Of course, this is happening with your consent if you refuse to get conscious about these things. It’s not a partnership if you are being taken advantage of.

By the same token, you aren’t being taken advantage if you are allowing it. If you keep lumping everything under the administrative support umbrella, you will continue to deprive yourself of opportunities to earn better and grow your business in more profitable, sustainable ways.

Dear Danielle: How Can I Target Churches?

Dear Danielle: How Do I Target Churches?

Dear Danielle:

What strategy would you recommend using for targeting churches with the administrative support business? I know a lot of churches depend on volunteers for help, but they might not have the right skills. And while some may have administrators, most do not. I think there is a huge market. –BP

What does your intended market say?

Whether it is churches or any other field/industry/profession, what you really have to do to answer this question is a bit of market research.

Job #1 for every business owner is to get out from behind the computer and get on the phone and actually talk to those in the market you’d like to work with.

Is there interest? Is there need? Can they afford professional fees? Does the research support your belief that there is a huge market? Because nothing else matters unless the intended target market has a need for what you are in business to offer (in our case as Administrative Consultants, that’s administrative support) and the willingness and ability to pay for it.

There are all kinds of ways you can collect information for this market research:

  1. Call around to churches and conduct some telephone market research interviews with the people who would be in the position of making those decisions.
  2. Invite a few out to lunch (one at a time) to pick their brain.
  3. Set up an online survey and invite church leaders/administrators to give their feedback. Can you find out enough about their administrative work that you can create meaningful administrative support plans and compelling messages that will influence their interest? What are their objections and how might you resolve those? You may find that there are certain denominations of churches that have more need and interest than others. You may find certain churches are in a better position to pay; what are their characteristics and is there a large enough group of these churches that you’d easily be able to fill your practice with them as clients? This is the kind of data that can emerge with research, which you can then use to narrow your focus, refine your questions and determine the best methods for reaching the right people.

Good luck!

Dear Danielle: How Did You Arrive at Your Industry Figures?

Dear Danielle:

I recently purchased the Virtual Assistant business forms offered on your website. I am currently working on developing my business plan for my start-up Virtual Assistant business. In one section of the business plan, you list some industry statistics, specifically an estimated number of established Virtual Assistants. Where did you get that information. I have never attempted any type of market research and analysis before, and to be honest, I am at a complete loss and have been stressing over my lack of knowledge. I don’t even know where to begin. –TD

Oh dear, don’t stress over this stuff. Truly, in the scheme of business, industry state are not important.

Let me ask you this: are you doing the business plan for your own purposes or are you intending to use it to seek funding and loan assistance? If it’s for your own purposes, then definitely I want to put you at ease.

First, let me answer your main question on how we arrived at the figure we provided.

Back in 2006, my proteges and I took on the HUGE project of taking count from Virtual Assistant directories and search engine results. Honestly, I don’t know how we survived that “little” task, LOL. We literally looked at every single VA organization and website we could find and took census.

And we didn’t just take things at face value just because it showed up in results or was listed in a directory or someone called themselves a Virtual Assistant.

We deducted from our count any site that was no longer active, and specifically did not include anyone who wasn’t actually a Virtual Assistant (someone who is in the business of providing administrative support to clients) who we determined to be more accurately in another field altogether (e.g., we often found people calling themselves VAs when in fact their entire business was specifically focused on Web design or transcription or bookkeeping–which are completely different categories of business from Virtual Assistance).

So give or take the relatively few anonymous VAs in the world who didn’t have websites or listings, our count really is the most accurate number of those in the industry, increased exponentially to account for the three years that have elapsed since. In two more years, we’ll take another census of the industry and get those counts updated again.

But getting back to your agonizing :), how many VAs there are in the world is of absolutely no consequence for you and your business. It just does not matter. That kind of research and info is only necessary if you are submitting a formal business plan for the purposes of funding or loan assistance. I hereby give you permission to shed not one more bead of sweat on it.

Here’s how I would want you to refocus your thinking on the whole business planning thing… Going through that exercise is very valuable because it gets you to think about and plan things, work ideas and policies out and such, in your business that it might not otherwise occur to you. And of course, you should never, ever just follow a template. You still have to apply your own set of circumstances, your own goals and ideas, as well as your own critical thinking.

The Virtual Assistant business plan template I developed is specifically designed to not only give folks a professional format to follow that they can actually use for funding purposes if they ever need to, but also to get your own creative juices going–not substitute them–and show you a model where you can create multiple revenue streams, passive income and information products all in supplement to your premium craft and trade of ongoing administrative support.

But beyond all that, business planning should most importantly be about what you want for yourself and your life. Your business should serve you and your life first. Your business planning should then be approached from that angle. If you think about it from that perspective, it becomes clearer which parts of the formal business plan to focus your energy and attention on and which parts, not so much. ;) Not to mention, you might be able to have a bit more fun with it.

After that, your highest priority should be on determining a target market on which to focus and doing the homework and research on who they are, what they are doing, what’s important to them, what they need most and where their common challenges and obstacles are. The intersection between your interests and theirs is where you’ll find your sweet spot.