Archive for the ‘Collaboration Not Competition’ Category

Come Join Our New ACA Facebook Group

Hey, are you in the administrative support business?

Then come join our new ACA group forum on Facebook!

I’m finding there is a lot more interaction and engagement on group pages.

AND because we have it set to private (only members can view the discussions), you can feel safe in asking any ol’ “dumb” questions you like without fear of any clients and prospects seeing them.

Your colleagues and I would love to have you there and get to know you. 🙂

Dear Danielle: Should I Be Concerned that a Colleague Has the Same Biz Name?

Dear Danielle: Should I Be Concerned that a Colleague Has the Same Biz Name?

Dear Danielle:

I have a question regarding my business name. I started my business on August 17, but just found out that there is another business in our industry with a name similar to mine. I know that this probably won’t matter, but I am in one state and she is in another. My long term goal is to go international, but right now, I am concentrating on local clients. By the way, I have business cards, a business license, etc. Should I be concerned about this? If so, what do you suggest I do? Thank you in advance for your advice. –FT

You are right in assuming that it doesn’t necessarily matter that you are in two different states.

This is especially true in our industry where we don’t have any geographic boundaries from each other.

If the person with the pre-existing, established use of the name takes their business interests seriously and is intent on protecting their trade name rights, you could be in for some legal problems and expenses.

In fact, the laws governing trademarks, trade names, trade dress, etc., matters requires them to defend their rights or they forfeit them.

When you’re in business, there are lots of important areas you have  a responsibility to understand.

They may be boring, complicated and not so fun, but they are imperative nonetheless because they protect us and the marketplace, keep things fair, and give us some parameters to ensure we can all play nice and get along with each other.

So the first thing I advise you to do is go to USPTO.gov and study up on the trademark and copyright information listed there.

I’m going to post some info we share in our forums on this topic and why it’s in your best business interest to come up with your own unique business name.

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO FIND YOUR OWN UNIQUE NAME

In our industry, we have no geographical boundaries from each other. Therefore, having a unique business name is even more important.

When starting an administrative support business, beyond just the impoliteness of stepping on a colleague’s toes (someone who was there first), here is why it’s important for you to have a unique business name:

1. You don’t want to get sued. A colleague with established first use of an existing trade name has legal rights and can sue you for infringement, and possibly even damages. It costs a lot of money, time and energy to defend yourself. If you lose (which you can by either default or because the court finds in the complainant’s favor), it can cost even more. If they win a judgment against you, they may be able to go after your personal assets, garnish wages, get an injunction to freeze bank accounts and force you to disgorge any monies you earned while using their IP (intellectual property). This is not “mean”; it’s business, and every business has a right to defend its rights and its turf if it feels it’s been infringed upon. Likewise, every business has a duty and self-preserving interest to make sure it is not infringing. It’s just not a ball of wax you want to even potentially find yourself in.

2. It’s not a great way to be welcomed into the community. Ours is a relatively small, tight-knit community. People will know you are infringing on one of their comrades. How do you think they will look upon you? And imagine if it were you… how would you feel if someone new came into the industry and started using your business name, the one you’ve been using for X years and around which all your identity and marketing has been based? It would not feel good. Trust, good will and polite society can not exist where we allow this kind of thing to occur. It’s just not cool, much less professional or ethical.

3. You don’t want to be confused with another business in the same industry. It’s going to be really important to differentiate yourself from everyone else, and that includes having a unique business name and identity. It doesn’t do you any good to be using someone else’s established business name if traffic and name recognition is going to be diverted to someone else who was there first.

4. You don’t want to have to redo everything (e.g., website, marketing materials, etc.). If you are caught infringing, you can be compelled to relinquish domains, destroy or hand over other intellectual property, and it’s going to be a lot of work and more money to start all over again.

STEPS TO ENSURING YOU DO NOT INFRINGE

So, what do you do? A bit of homework is in order. To make sure you come up with a unique name and do not infringe on the established trademarks and trade name rights of any of your colleagues, there are things you can and should do:

1. Search industry directories. Make sure no one else is using the same or similar name already.

2. Search the uspto.gov database. Check to see that no one else is already using the same or similar trade name. Bear in mind that while federally registered trade names have even further protections and recourses, a name does not have to be registered there to be protected. Changing a letter or word is not going to help you if the name can be considered to be substantially the same and/or would still create confusion.

3. Conduct a search for the name (or the predominant unique identifier) in several different search engines. Use Google, MSN, Yahoo, Chrome and any others you might think of. Better to be thorough now than sorry later. Example: If you want to use Dizzy Admin, you should search for  “Dizzy Admin,” “Dizzy Administrative,” “Dizzy Administration,” “Dizzy Administrative Consulting,” “Dizzy Administrative Consultant,”“Dizzy Business Support,” ““Dizzy Virtual Assistant,” “Dizzy Virtual Assistants,” “Dizzy Virtual Assistance,” etc. If someone else in our industry, regardless of where they are located, is using “Dizzy” (which is the relevant novel/ substantive part of the name), forget about using it.

WHAT TO DO NEXT

Once you find a name that is unique and that in no way can be confused with anyone else’s existing, established trade identity in our industry, you’re home free.

If you think you were the first to use the name, contact the colleague and see if you see if you can work things out.

If you know you were not the first, contact the colleague with the same or similar name, and see how they feel about it.

And then consult an attorney about whether it would be a wise course of action to pursue the name anyway, what the possible ramifications are, and what it might cost to defend or protect yourself. ;)

Dear Danielle: Should I Hire an Employee, Work with a Colleague or Bring in a Partner?

Dear Danielle:

I wanted to know your advice on growing. I am just on the verge of maybe needing help. Do I hire a colleague with her own company, hire an employee, or bring in a partner? I just don’t know. I feel like hiring is taking me out of the industry that I hold so near and dear to my heart. Also, do you have advice on how to select a person to bring into your business. I have had some offers from people, but they’re not familiar with the industry. Not sure if this is a good or bad thing. Could be good to teach someone from ground zero, but also time-consuming. –LE

Here’s what I find myself reminding colleagues of frequently:

Just because you’re solo doesn’t mean you need or should be working alone.

Being a solopreneur doesn’t mean you need to do everything yourself.

It simply means that the stock you’re trading is in your own intellectual capital and your unique personal skill, talent, know-how and experience.

Those aren’t things you can delegate, but you can certainly surround yourself with the right professional support so that you can focus doing what you do with your clients and let those who support you do the rest.

Those supporting you might include:

  • A bookkeeper so that you aren’t expending your time on that work (and also ensuring that it’s done correctly);
  • An accountant to make sure you stay in compliance with any financial or taxing agencies and to give you the best financial management advice; and/or
  • A business attorney to draft and/or review your contracts (both those in your own business as well as those others may want you to sign), run your legal questions by, and get advice on situations that hold potential liability for you and any other business matters that arise.

I also recommend that colleagues get their own Administrative Consultant, staff or a combination of both.

When you work with someone who you develop a relationship with over time, the possibilities are endless with regard to the support they can provide.

As they get to know you and how things work in your business, they’re able to support you in a way and to a degree that you just can’t get by outsourcing individual tasks here and there to people you don’t work with consistently.

On top of that, there’s greater ease and efficiency when you have someone you work closely and continuously like that.

You may even identify non-critical parts of the work you do with clients that don’t require your particular brand of expertise that you can have them do for you.

Of course, the relationship is always between you and your client and I never recommend outsourcing that.

When clients hire you, it’s for your brain, your critical thinking, your creativity and your expertise. Never abdicate that. It’s part of your value and part of the thing that makes your business distinctive.

But that doesn’t mean that parts of the work can’t be delegated within your own house to an employee or your own Administrative Consultant whom you have hired because they have impeccable skills and in whom you have absolute confidence. In fact, I will tell you that you will always be stuck within a certain income level if you don’t ever get your own help.

As already mentioned, another way to get support is to hire an employee or two.

You really don’t need much help in order for that support to make a hugely significant difference in your business. And there are all kinds of ways to get that kind of help.

You can hired paid interns from local colleges. You can participant in state work-study programs (where the state will repay you a percentage of whatever wages are paid to the student employee).

Of course with employees, there is more administration and taxes and reporting requirements involved, but if you have a professional bookkeeper, you should have them take care of processing paychecks and so forth.

I personally like a combination of both. I like to have someone in-house who can take care of filing and other things that just require a physical presence. Once a week or two for a few hours, just light clerical stuff. Someone like that you might not even end up paying more than $600 in a year in which case you wouldn’t be required to formally process that person as an employee.

But for the bigger, more important meat-and-potatoes work, if you will, I definitely recommend hiring the best, most highly skilled person you can afford.

Training just takes too much time and energy. And it doesn’t happen overnight.

Think about your own background. It took years to establish the kind of skill and expertise you now possess. How much time and energy will you have to invest before that unskilled, untrained person becomes a real, viable asset to your business rather than a drain? Just something to think about.

Which is why hiring a colleague (who is themselves a business owner) is the better option in my book.

As far as bringing on a partner, I can only offer my opinion which is emphatically: NOOOOOOO! Don’t do it!

Seriously, I have never seen a business partnership end well.

There are far too many agreements and understandings and potentialities to take into consideration.

And it seems it’s always the one thing you didn’t think about ahead of time that ends up causing a rift.

There can really only ever be one captain of a ship. Two will inevitably bump heads, want to steer in different directions or be the boss.

And regardless of legalities, the person who started the business always feels (at least emotionally) that they “own” more of the business and that feeling of “more ownership” often causes resentment with the other partner.

Decision-making, conflicting workstyles, having to compromise, differing visions or opinions… all of these things become more tedious and cumbersome. They complicate and slow down the business.

On top of that, the business now has to earn for two owners instead of just the one: you.

I don’t think you need a partner. I think you just need the right professional advisors, and business support and strategies.

On the Topic of Low Rates

Why is it that whenever the subject of low rates comes up (i.e., people charging rates that could not be remotely profitable, especially for what they are delivering to clients), there are always several people who bring up the words judgment and competition?

The idea of competition is such a pedestrian notion to me. It’s non-existent in my world. I don’t compete with anyone but myself.

It’s never had anything to do whatsoever with who was attracted to me and my services or how I obtained clients. And regardless of what anyone else thinks, it has nothing to do with how you attract and obtain clients either.

A lot of what you hear in these conversations are excuses and rationalizing.

And that’s too bad, because those who don’t charge profitably are being deprived of an opportunity to learn how they could do better in their businesses.

Instead, they are actually encouraged to continue being mediocre and operate in ignorance and poor understanding of business principles instead of being empowered to become more knowledgeable in business and gain more confidence in themselves and what they offer.

When people don’t charge properly, they rob their business of being financially solvent and profitable.

Undercharging also attracts the least desirable clients, who make the business so much harder and less pleasant to run.

Low prices also train clients to devalue you and expect something for nothing.

If people could get over this ridiculous idea that the topic has anything to do with competition, we could instead have more meaningful conversations that might actually help folks learn more about running their business better.

I guarantee you, nearly every single person undercharging has not done any business planning whatsoever.

With proper business planning, they would see how short their rates fall in building a self-sustaining, profitable business.

They would begin to see that they don’t have to work with everyone, only the people and markets that are the best fit. And that they could actually make more money doing so.

Granted, most new business owners are unsure of themselves, and lack confidence, which is a large part of the issue.

Lots have absolutely no business training or experience whatsoever.

But with knowledge comes power, and as they grow in their business smarts and begin to work more with clients who value what they offer and are willing to pay for it, their confidence grows as well.

These things grow in stages; it’s always a journey.

But we can’t help people in their journey when conversations are effectively shut down by tedious, ignorant attitudes and those who don’t have the fortitude to say something different.

Dear Danielle: Oh, No! There’s Another Virtual Assistant In My Town

Dear Danielle:

I just discovered there’s another virtual assistant in my town! I’m afraid she might not like having competition in the same area. She’s apparently very active in the business community, and I’m really worried that this could put a damper on my own networking possibilities. What should I do? —NC

Actually, I view this as a positive because having more than one person in our industry in the same area can lend credibility to what we do in the eyes of the business community.

Having colleagues in your local area can also be an advantage because you can combine your efforts in raising awareness of the industry in your local business community and collaborate together in educating them.

It just might prove to be very fruitful for you to bring your local colleagues togetehr and talk about ways to lay that foundation and how to share efforts and costs of promoting the industry in your community (this is what’s known as co-opting advertising).

You could all put a presentation together, and shop it around to the various local business groups that offer any number of opportunities to do this. In my area, there are the Chamber of Commerce, networking groups, business associations, district associations, Toastmasters clubs, various industry groups and associations, etc.

And if you are a shy person, having colleagues to share the presenting makes it easier and you feel more confident.

By focusing on getting the information out there, it becomes education rather than advertisement.

The brilliance of this is that by making what we do as administrative experts well-known, your own personal business will benefit.

Who do think they’ll be calling when they need our brand of services (which your presentation has convinced them they need)?

Why, the people who gave them the info in the first place!

So, don’t think of colleagues as competition.

There are more work and clients to go around than you can possibly imagine. And you personally need (and can work with) only so many.

The businesses and industries we currently serve are only a fraction of those we could be helping grow. We have only begun to scratch the surface.

And one person’s non-fitting client can be the next one’s ideal client. 😉