Archive for the ‘Competence and Qualification’ Category

Competitive Advantage Isn’t About the Competition

Competitive Advantage Isn't About the Competition

You all are smart enough to understand that “competitive advantage” has nothing to do with your colleagues, right?

“Competitive advantage” is about emphasizing those unique traits, attributes, experiences, perspectives and strengths that help your ideal clients connect with you.

It’s what helps bring your educational marketing message to life and stand out from the sea of rote, repetitive scripts that everyone else parrots.

It’s about illuminating your uniqueness, giving your right clients a reason to choose you, making it easier for them to recognize your special, extra sparkle and discern that you’re the right fit for them.

It’s not a competition with your colleagues.

It’s a communication that happens between you and your potential clients.

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Have you thought about or identified your unique and extra attributes that clients enjoy when they work with you? Is this something you struggle with? Let me know your thoughts or questions in the comments. Maybe we can help. 🙂

Your Consultation Will Make You or Break You

Your Consultation Will Make You or Break You

Without a proper consultation process in place, you’re going to lose more clients than you get.

A proper consultation process is one of the ways you demonstrate your competence and professionalism to clients.

When everyone else is lamely giving 15-30 minute consults, a thorough consultation system turns you into a standout and gives you competitive advantage over everyone else.

Plus, if you want more monthly retained clients (where you get paid a higher fee for your ongoing monthly support), you simply must have a much longer, deeper conversation; 15-30 minutes just doesn’t cut it.

A good consultation system helps you set the proper tone for the business relationship moving forward so that clients take you and your business seriously and understand that they’re dealing with a business, not an employee.

It’s also going to instill greater trust and confidence in them by virtue of seeing that you conduct things in a proper business manner. It shows them that you know exactly how to expertly glean from them the info you need to determine how to best help them and where to start. This reassures them that they are dealing with a competent business professional who is going to handle the relationship and work you do for them just as professionally.

A thorough consultation helps you better identify how you can help each potential client and helps you get more of your ideal clients.

So, if you don’t have a consultation system in place, if you’re not sure of yourself when it comes to conducting consultations, if you’ve been lacking confidence and want to walk potential clients more assertively through that initial conversation, be sure to check out my client consultation guide:

Breaking the Ice: Your Complete Step-by-Step System for Confidently Leading the Consultation Conversation and Turning Prospects into Well-Paying Monthly Clients Who Can’t Wait to Work with You.

This is my own proprietary system I’ve developed and honed over 20 years in this business.

In this guide, I’ve packaged my entire step-by-step process for you in an encouraging, easy to follow plan that tells you exactly how to structure the entire process — before, during and after.

My success rate with this system has been out of every 10 clients who go through my consultation process, I have my pick of 8-9 of them wanting to work with me.

And colleagues who have followed my process often tell me how impressed their prospective clients were and how it made all the difference in those clients choosing to work with them.

Knowing how to do something is half the battle. This guide will help increase your confidence ten-fold and take all those nervous jitters that come with not really knowing how to proceed with this all-important conversation.

You Don’t Have a Portfolio

You don’t have a portfolio when you’re in the admin support business because admin support is a service, not a tangible, visible product (like design is).

Rather, your “portfolio” is the experience clients get dealing with you.

It’s your service, your communication, your responsiveness, your policies, processes and procedures, your systems, your standards, how your website looks and works, what your testimonials say, your case studies…

These are all demonstrations—samplings and examples—of your expertise, competence, professionalism and the service experience clients will get should they decide to work with you.

And if they are positive, if they are smooth, if they are well-executed, those are the things that instill confidence and trust in your potential clients.

Dear Danielle: What If I Don’t Have 5 Years Experience?

Dear Danielle: What If I Don't Have 5 Years Experience?

Dear Danielle:

I have been a Licensed Massage Therapist and Energy Worker for the past 25 years. It has been a good ride, however, I am ready for the next chapter. For 20 of those years, I was self-employed. Which means I do have some business back ground. I am very focused and pay attention to detail. Recently, I moved from Colorado to Oregon. I took a job working at a dry cleaners and am wanting a bit more from my life. I started looking at becoming a ‘virtual assistant’ when I ran across your web site. I can totally see the difference and I really resonate with what you say with regard to an Administrative Consultant. This is what I want to attract into my life. I also enjoy your sense of humor. So much of what you have to say, I am in alignment with. However, I was reading where you state that you have to have at least five years of administrative experience. I took a few steps back when I read that. As I stated, I do have some business back ground. I also worked on an as needed basis as an event planner. But I do not have the five years background in  Administration. Basically, I am just beginning to look into the idea of working from home in this capacity. I would still need to continue working at the cleaners for awhile. I would love to hear your thoughts on pursuing this as my next adventure. If I do not have the experience you are suggesting that I have, are there courses that you would recommend? I would appreciate your feed back as to how, or if I should proceed forward with this. —Name Withheld by Request

Let me clarify a few points that I think will help you.

First, this isn’t a regulated industry. Meaning, there are no special training or licensing requirements to start an administrative support business.

Anyone can start an administrative support business if that’s what they decide to do. There are no “business police” who are going jump out of the bushes and arrest you.

That said, like any industry, we do have our standards and expectations for those who would enter our ranks.

As a profession, we want to encourage those who are professionally and competently qualified to be in this business.

There are people out there who think all they need is a computer and Internet and anyone can do this work. And that’s simply not the case.

Would you hire a lawyer without a law degree? Or a web designer who had never designed a website before? Or a contractor who’d never built a home before?

But it’s more than mere skillsets. There are certain sensibilities and critical/analytical thinking skills that are only gained from actual experience and can’t learned from a book or a class.

That’s what the five-year actual experience standard is about. It’s more of benchmark.

We want our profession to be respected and to be taken seriously. Those who aren’t qualified end up having a negative impact on the industry’s reputation.

So as a profession, we do have an opinion about who should be in this industry.

BUT no one can tell you that you can or cannot start an administrative support business.

Just go in with your eyes open. Clients are demanding. Their businesses are important to them, rightfully so. They don’t want to be anyone’s guinea pig learning on their dollar. If you’re in business, they expect you to already have a business-level of qualification and expertise.

That said, if you feel that you are competently skilled and qualified and able to support clients at a professional level, then go for it. No one can tell you otherwise.

The question to ask yourself at this point, though, isn’t what YOU want to do, it’s what do other people need that you have the skills to do that they will pay for? That’s where you’ll find a more profitable path for figuring out what kind of business is best for you.

How to Set Up Your Email for Marketability

Email Setup: Do This, Not This

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Field

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

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

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

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

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

What is “Expertise?”

People would much rather work with experts than with generalists.

That’s because their perception is that an expert can help them better (which, if the professional truly is an expert, they can).

People will pay more for experts as well.

But what makes someone an expert? What is “expertise?”

Here’s a list of characteristics I’ve started to help define what “expertise” means and get you to thinking about your role as an Administrative Expert.

What Is Expertise/What Makes Someone an Expert

1. Specific (e.g., administrative support is a specific and separate expertise from, say, web design or bookkeeping).

2. Experience

3. Training/education

4. Creativity

5. Talent

6. Critical thinking

7. Business knowledge/acumen/sensibility

8. Understanding of clients and the market

Do you have any others to add to the list?

Dear Danielle: Do I Have Enough Experience to Be an Administrative Consultant?

Dear Danielle: Do I Have Enough Experience to Be an Administrative Consultant?

Dear Danielle:

I only have 2 years experience as an executive assistant and 6 years as a receptionist/data entry clerk. Could I still be an Administrative Consultant? Any suggestions are helpful. –BT

Well, it’s not really for me to say. It’s what the marketplace has to say.

What I mean is, yes, as an industry, those of us in it definitely have thoughts, opinions and expectations about what the qualifications should be for those who want to enter our ranks. Generally, we want to protect the reputation and credibility of the profession to protect interests of ourselves and clients alike.

Ultimately, however, this is an unregulated industry so no one can tell you that you may or may not open an administrative support business if that’s what you want to do.

That said, clients have very demanding expectations. So the better question might be, do you have enough experience that you will be professionally qualified enough to meet those demands?

Business savvy also plays a critical role here because if you don’t know how to run and manage business well, that also will directly impact your service to clients and their satisfaction.

If you don’t have a sufficient level of these things, are you prepared to deal with the extra difficulty and rejection you might face? Do you have the stamina, perseverance and tenacity to keep working on whatever you need to work on to get to a level that is marketable?

The less skill and experience you have, the much more difficult a path you face. It will be much harder for you to command the kind of fees that will earn you a real living and it may take you much longer to get established.

You can be the most likable person on the planet and have no problem developing rapport with prospective clients, but when it comes right down to it, the proof is always in the pudding. Clients get frustrated (and do not work long) with those who don’t have a business level of skill, competence and business management sense and ability.

What I might personally suggest is that it might be a good idea to stay in the workforce a few more years. Grab every opportunity to grow in your administrative support skills and at the same time become a student of business (and I don’t mean enrolling in an MBA program; simply start reading business books).

Use this time now to start thinking about a target market and studying what kind of administrative needs and challenges that market has and how you can support those needs and solve those challenges.

Lay the foundation of your business now so that when the time is right and you’ve got enough business knowledge and marketable expertise under your belt, you will be more prepared for success.

Then again, maybe you feel you’ve already got what it takes. If so, go for it. ;)

Are You Dripping with Friends?

The term “drip marketing” comes from the direct mail industry.

Studies indicate it takes at least 7 to 10 points of contact before a prospect even remembers a business, much less buys from it.

So, the idea is to mail a series of printed promotional pieces (drip) to current and potential customers, and thereby keep the company in front of their eyeballs long enough to establish brand awareness and develop them into leads.

That sure doesn’t sound very warm and fuzzy, though, does it? In fact, it sounds pretty impersonal and a little too cold and calculating.

People want to be cared about.

They want to connect with other human beings, not be a cog in someone’s marketing machinations.

That said, you’re still a business. You have to somehow find a way to get in front of your would-be clients or customers. Marketing is a necessary evil.

But guess what? It doesn’t have to be evil. Let me tell you how you can create authentic drip campaigns driven by heart (you might even be doing one of these already):

  1. First, shift your perception. Instead of “marketing,” look at these efforts simply as a way to make new friends (prospective clients/customers), help those you are already friends with (past and current clients/customers) and continue to nurture and solidify those relationships. People do business with and refer those they get to know, like and trust. So what you’re really doing in all your reaching-out efforts is simply allowing people to get to know the real you and leaving a door open for them to enter a little further.
  2. One way you can do this is to publish an ezine for your target market. An ezine (electronic newsletter) is a form of drip marketing because it allows you to keep a line of conversation going with your audience on a regular basis. It’s a heck of lot cheaper and easier to publish than a print newsletter, and there’s a much greater return for the effort. The keys to a successful ezine are:

    a) make it about your target market (what do they want to read about? What are their challenges and obstacles? What advice, tips and solutions will be of value and interest to them? How can you make it fun?), and
    b) publish regularly—weekly, every other week or at least once a month. You know you’re doing something right when readers email you when an issue is missing or late!

  3. Publish a blog. Like an ezine, frequency is key. It doesn’t have to be on the same kind of schedule as an ezine, but you should post regularly to maintain a momentum of interest. Posting twice a year just isn’t going to cut it. If you do blog, you can be more personal and less formal, the content less structured. It’s another avenue for allowing prospective clients/customers to connect with you as a person, which makes you much more relatable and approachable.
  4. Offer a free e-course via a series of autoresponders. Say you have some sort of how-to guide that you’ve been offering as a single download. Divide each step/section/bullet into separate messages to be sent out one at a time each week. If you have 10 messages, that’s 10 weeks you can be helping those on your list and keeping in touch with them. Encourage questions and feedback, which will help you better understand their needs and challenges and develop further useful content and information for them.
  5. Continue to consistently keep in touch with your list subscribers. Send out a message whenever you come across news and information you think will be helpful to your target market. Send a message linking to an article you think is of interest to them. Tell them about happenings or products you recommend. Let them know whenever you have a special event or offering for them. Periodically spotlight one of your skills or services they might not be aware of and how it might help them in their business. Make a list of all the reasons you could contact those on your list. The possibilities are endless. Continue to add to it as you come up with ideas. There’s nothing wrong with letting folks know what you do and what you have to offer them. Just try to strike a balance. Remember that the point is to be helpful, not spam them with constant marketing and self-interested promotion. The simple act of being a helpful, knowledgeable resource for them promotes you in all the best ways possible.

All of this is about creating rapport and trust. When you show people who you are and what you are passionate about, you instill rapport. When you demonstrate that you understand their business problems, needs and interests, you demonstrate your competence and authority and show that they can trust you. Nothing evil about that! It’s simple consideration. Commit to more of that.

RESOURCE: Aweber is the most versatile autoresponder service out there in my book. Not only can you use it to deliver your ezine, it can be used for all kinds of other purposes including capturing subscribers, managing unlimited lists, communicating with those lists (separately or together) via sequential and scheduled broadcasts, setting up automated message campaigns, distributing blog post notifications and even incorporating those messages with social media. The reporting features are phenomenal and it integrates nicely with shoppingcart systems. Its double opt-in policy makes it one of the very top rated services for email delivery and open rates.

Don’t Be a Non-Listener

I like what Keith Ferrazzi had to say recently:

Failing to listen well is rude. I don’t care whether you’re talking to the Queen of England or your intern. It very loudly communicates, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” And as a master relationship builder, it’s your job to care.

As an Administrative Consultant, it’s your job to listen well.

This includes all forms of listening, not only with your ears.

Being attentive to written details and instructions is a form of listening that’s absolutely essential to what we do. It’s a critical demonstration of your competence and qualification.

This should not be confused with asking clarifying questions when you need more information to get an accurate picture and understanding.

That’s actually a sign of attentive listener who wants to do a great job.

It’s when a person can’t follow simple instructions and ask for all kinds of hand-holding, particularly when the answers to their questions are right there in the instructions… that’s a waste of everyone’s time. Which is both incompetent and inconsiderate.

 

I have to be ruthless about how my time is expended. I’ve got too much on my plate and take care of lots of people and moving parts. So do clients.

Out of self-care and preservation, I have to write people off who don’t respect my time and attention by abjectly refusing to pay attention and read/follow instructions.

No one is going to want to work with you or keep working with anyone who has a problem listening (in all its forms).

 

This Is One of the Most Important Skills You Need to Have

One of the most important skills an Administrative Consultant needs to have is the ability to pay attention to details and follow instructions.

To clarify, I am in no way, shape or form suggesting that you should be an automaton merely taking orders from clients. (On the contrary! Your role as a business owner and Administrative Consultant is to exercise initiative and critical thinking.)

You’re running a business. It’s your role to take clients through your processes and always be investigating and probing as much as you need to determine where and how to best support them administratively.

That said, you are still in the business of providing support and helping clients accomplish the things they want to accomplish.

Very often, they want those things done a certain way for their own intentional reasons.

By all means, gain clarity and deeper understanding of what your client is thinking — and why — because that is definitely going to help you be of greater service to them.

If you know of a better way or have an idea you think might be helpful, you should share your advice and suggestions.

In the end, though, at least when it comes to practical matters (barring anything unethical or illegal, naturally), the client has the final say about what they like and how they want things to end up. It is their business, not yours.

Let’s take our members forum as an example to show you what I mean…

On the forum, we’re trying to create a particular experience so there are a few seemingly insignificant details that we are persnickety about.

We provide registrants with very precise, clear-cut instructions so they can complete their profiles accordingly.

One of those details is that we ask registrants to enter their location with city, state (or province, etc.) abbreviation and then their country so that it appears exactly like this: Anytown WA, USA.

Note that we specifically leave out a comma between the city and state, but do have one between the state and the country. It’s not the traditionally correct way one would normally format that kind of information, but this is how we want it — consistently.

Once in awhile we’ll have someone register who doesn’t get that detail right the first time.

Some ignore the instruction and don’t complete their location at all.

Or they’ll put a comma where we specifically ask them to leave it out.

Or they’ll spell out their state instead of abbreviating it.

Or they’ll only enter their state.

Or they’ll leave off the country.

We give them once or twice to get things right, but every so often we’ll get someone who will do everything BUT follow directions and enter things the way we ask.

This is always utterly perplexing to me because to my mind, it couldn’t be clearer or simpler.

We tell them explicitly what we want there and provide an example.

Yet, after three, four or more attempts, they still just can’t get it right.

They aren’t paying attention and keep trying to make up their own rules.

So how does that relate to working with clients?

Everything!

Because if you have a habit of not paying attention to details and following specifications, you end up frustrating the client and wasting their time.

They have nothing to feel bad about in wanting things they want them, but when your inability to follow through on those wishes forces them to repeat themselves over and over, it makes them feel like a nag and they resent it.

Plus, when that is the case, you are not demonstrating competence.

They lose confidence in your abilities.

They won’t trust that they can rely on you to get things done properly.

They’ll feel the need to start double-checking your work.

All of which ultimately makes you difficult to work with.

They didn’t choose you so you could create more work and hassle for them, right?

In the case of my forum, we tend towards giving everyone the benefit of the doubt first.

But if they repeatedly can’t get it together, we begin to form the impression that this isn’t someone we should be representing.

We are constantly advocating for our members and touting their graces and competence to clients so we need for our members to actually be those things.

When someone can’t follow directions, especially when it comes to the simplest of things, over and over, we have to question their qualification and whether they are someone to whom we should be lending our reputation.

It’s not an indictment on the registrant as a person, but we are a professional organization after all.

We have a standard of excellence and competence we adhere to so we really need members to put their best foot forward and inspire our confidence in them.

And the same goes for your clients. They need you to inspire their confidence.

You don’t have to be perfect. You’re not a machine, and you will make mistakes every once in awhile.

And that’s okay because that’s not where your value lies. In fact, I advise you to have a conversation about that with prospective clients in your consultations.

But what is important is that overall you demonstrate a pattern and consistency of proficiency so they can trust in you.

When they have a specific detail they want adhered to in a certain way, honor that.

Because if you can’t, you create distrust and unease for them, and eventually they’ll start looking for someone else who doesn’t make it such an ordeal to work together.