Archive for the ‘Competence and Qualification’ Category

Veddy Interestink

You can draw your own conclusions, if there are any to be made, but I find this pattern very interesting (and it’s definitely a pattern)…

Our professional association is geared strictly and specifically for those in the administrative support business.

We are administrative experts. We specialize in providing ongoing administrative support to clients they work with in one-on-one, continuous relationships.

We spell out very clearly on our home page, registration page and a number of other places that we do not represent virtual staffing agencies, secretarial services or multi/team VA businesses (so please don’t try to join if you are running one of those businesses).

I don’t know how much more clear we can make it.

Nothing against those kinds of businesses, but they are completely different business models and not the same thing whatsoever.

They operate differently. They provide a very different solution from what we in the administrative support business provide. And they get to profitability and financial success in completely different ways.

Our work and our conversations are geared specifically and exclusively toward the folks who want to learn how to best run a solo practice working directly with clients one-on-one and becoming financially profitable and successful (don’t ever listen to those folks who say a six figure solo practice is impossible because it’s not!).

Yet, almost to a one, on the occasion when someone running a virtual staffing agency or multi/team VA business registers for our community, they are the ones who inevitably fail to follow directions and who it’s clear haven’t read a darn thing. Literally.

I could get rich taking bets that anytime a VSA registers, they aren’t going to follow directions. It happens nearly every. single. time.

And then they get indignant when they’re not approved.

For God’s sake, you can’t read, you don’t pay attention, you didn’t follow directions, you register anyway when the criteria clearly excludes you because you aren’t a solo administrative support provider who works directly with clients, and you want to get pissed off at us? How crazy it that? You’re the one wasting both our time.

On the other hand, those who are actually in the solo administrative support business consistently as a group demonstrate an ability to pay attention.

When they apply, it’s clear they have read the things that are indicated to be read because they subsequently follow directions correctly.

As a group, they show a superior command of spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc.

They exercise better judgment and discernment and they provide very articulate, intelligent, thoughtful responses to questions that are posed.

What a joy it is to deal with those folks! And what a joy it is to represent them as an organization!

If I was a client, I’d be very concerned about the competence and qualification of anyone who couldn’t demonstrate those things.

Look, if the criteria excludes you, it excludes you. Why waste your time and ours?

And if you can’t at least demonstrate competence with us by reading carefully and following directions, how can you expect us to represent you to the clients who comes to us seeking competent, qualified Administrative Consultants?

We can’t in good conscience tell the marketplace that we stand for a high standard of excellence if the people we accept are unable to operate to that standard.

Should We Expect Colleagues to Demonstrate Competence?

Someone new registered for the forum a couple weeks ago.

She met all the minimum criteria and was approved to complete her profile.

Her username had to be changed since she did not follow the registration directions for that (obviously rushing through too fast to actually read them or just didn’t care to honor our request).

When she sent her email to us that she had placed the membership seal on her site, the link she provided showed that she had not in fact actually done that. What she did was place our logo on her site. This was the second step where she didn’t follow directions.

My administrator gave her the standard reply in those situations (“that is not an approved use of our logo and must be taken off the site; please refer back to the instructions for placing the approved membership seal code on your site and let us know when you have made this correction… “).

When she emailed us back that she had made the correction, her profile was double-checked to make sure all steps had been followed (standard procedure).

Unfortunately, she had yet again failed to follow just about every instruction, wasting everyone’s time and attention in the process.

Here’s the message I sent her:


“My administrator has passed this onto me to handle. I’m afraid you have failed to follow several of the instructions. We’ll give you one more try to get things right (you’ll need to go in and read the instructions thoroughly this time). We won’t be able to approve your membership if you are unable to do so. We need members to demonstrate a professional level of competence, qualification, which includes the ability to pay attention and follow directions. That may sound harsh, but as a professional organization, we uphold a promise to clients that we takes very seriously: the the administrative support experts in our group are the best of the best. Not following directions, repeatedly, does not convey to us that level of competence.”

Now, to her credit, this person did not get hysterical like so many do, blaming us for their own failings. She did, however, reply that while she appreciated the chance for “one more try,” it wouldn’t be necessary.

This is a very tame example. You wouldn’t believe some of the ugly hate mail I get when people are not approved.

In this case, we didn’t even “reject” her. We were willing to give her another opportunity to take things a little more seriously, not rush through the instructions, and show us — demonstrate — that she is a competent professional who is able to handle the demands of taking care of clients to a professional standard.

Here’s my frustration in these instances:

We don’t know these folks from Adam or Eve. It’s their job to show us (demonstrate) that they are skilled, competent, qualified professionals.

Would you go to a job interview on your worst behavior, wearing your sloppiest clothes, talking like a street thug?

Would you expect to get the job if you filled out forms incorrectly or didn’t pass any tests you had to undergo?

Of course not.

So why are these people so insulted when the first face they present to us isn’t one that inspires the greatest of confidence?

This society where everyone thinks they are entitled to be catered to and coddled and have everything handed over to them baffles me.

It’s not our job to give them the benefit of the doubt.

If they can’t follow the simplest of instructions here, what on earth are clients going to get?

We can’t represent those who don’t take this seriously or who otherwise don’t demonstrate a level of professional skill and competence.

Our word has to mean something when we tell clients that they are going to connect them with skilled individuals from our group.

We also have an obligation to our members to uphold our standards of excellence and qualification to ensure their reputations as well. You are judged by the company you keep.

If a client has a bad experience with someone who touts our name on her site, our other members may suffer from that association.

The client may think if that’s the level of competence in one, the apple may not fall far from the tree, so to speak. They might not want to hire anyone else from our group after that.

And frankly, no one (not clients, myself, my administrators nor members and colleagues) wants to deal with someone who is a pain in the ass because they consistently don’t pay attention or have to be constantly asked to please follow directions.

We welcome all administrative experts who are in business to provide ongoing administrative support, but they have to step up to the plate and put their best professional foot forward.

So what do you think? Is that too much to ask?

What happens if there are no standards of excellence or at least a minimal display of the most basic ability?

Do you think clients want to partner with anyone who is difficult, defensive and frustrating to work with this respect (because they don’t read thoroughly, need to have requests repeated over and over to them, and don’t follow specifications or directions according to the client’s wishes)?

Some Valuable Tips for Responding to Request for Service Providers

So I was looking for a print layout designer recently.

I used a few different places and was inundated with an avalanche of responses.

You’d think that would be good news — lots of choice!

The problem is the sheer volume of responses to sort through was a daunting task.

Fortunately, that job was made much easier by the majority of the responders themselves who couldn’t follow the simplest of instructions or provide the basic information I asked for.

If you ever respond to project requests and requests for services providers, I want you to know what those on the receiving end go through so you can step up your game accordingly and not be one of the ones who gets tossed immediately and unceremoniously in the round file.

  1. Don’t make me hunt. If your portfolio is poorly organized and I have to dig around too much to find something relevant, I won’t bother. Convenience for the client is the name of the game. Don’t disrespect their time. Have a well categorized portfolio that loads fast. Provide direct links to just the relevant pages if at all possible. Trust me, your helpfulness and organization in this respect will impress. It will speak volumes about your polish, professionalism, intelligence and service.
  2. I don’t care about your resume. If I didn’t ask for one, don’t send me one. I’m looking to hire a professional, not an employee. Pros don’t submit resumes. What matters most to me is seeing examples of your work and a demonstration of your qualification, competence, talent and skill. If you’re a designer, I’m looking to see what your style is and whether you understand and demonstrate a knowledge of design principles in  your work, as well as polished level of service and customer care. That tells me loads more about what it will be like to work with you more than any resume ever could.
  3. Don’t send me irrelevant information. For example, web design is not print layout design. I don’t want to know all about your web design services if I’m looking for a print designer. Don’t send me your web design portfolio. If I specifically ask about print layout design, just send me what I asked for. Because when there are a million other people capable of respecting my time, sending me just what I asked about and able to follow simple directions and requests, you will not get a second look. All that shows me is that you are going to be difficult to work with because a) you can’t provide the most basic level of service and responsiveness, which b) will mean that I will potentially have to keep repeating myself and asking for what I need/want over and over.
  4. I’m not going to have a meeting (especially not an in-person one) to see if you can provide the services I’m asking about. I need to first determine whether there is a compatible fit at the most basic level. I don’t have time to waste in a consultation if I can’t first determine that you meet some basic criteria. So the first step is qualifying/screening the responders and finding someone with the talent and expertise I’m seeking. From that pool, I will then determine who I want to schedule consultations with. Consultations come after the qualifying process. That goes for me and that should go for you as well in your own business.

You have to put yourself in the shoes of the client. One request for a designer can yield hundreds and hundreds of responses. It’s overwhelming.

So us clients must whittle things down, if only for our sanity, but also because we have other things to do.

Respect your prospective client’s time and demonstrate that you will be a joy to work with.

You do that by following directions, complying with simple requests for information in the manner indicated, provide thorough information.

It’s okay to be yourself (in fact, having a personality will help you stand out from the crowd), and it’s okay to go a little beyond the scope in providing the requested info, as long as all the requested information is provided first. Just don’t go overboard and make sure anything additional you provide is relevant.

Dear Danielle: Is Certification Necessary to Start an Administrative Support Business?

Dear Danielle:

I have wanted to start my own administrative support business for a while now. I’ve been with the same large corporation for 12 years, some of that time spent in the Medical Law department, as a human resources assistant and about six years as an executive assistant juggling multiple managers. Prior to that, I worked from a woman’s home as her assistant as she ran her own company bringing in over $400,000 gross per year. I have the experience, I have the drive and motivation; I learn quickly; I’m resourceful; I am able to work independently and have a record of excellent customer service and problem solving skills.  I am concerned that not having a certificate from a college may hinder client selection. From your experience, are degree-less virtual ssistants making a living out there? Do you know of a legitimate online Virtual Assistant certification? —CR

Fabulous! You’ve state just about everything you need to start an administrative support business: experience, drive, resourcefulness, ability to learn quickly and excellent customer service and problem-solving skills.

The only other requirement is going to be excellent business sense. Because running a business and doing the work and taking care of clients are two completely different things.

I’ve written extensively on the subject of certification. You do not need anyone’s piece of paper to “certify” that you have the administrative expertise to offer your services.

I say this as someone who has been in this business for nearly 15 years and never once been asked by a single client ever about certification.

Most of the certification programs in our industry are a joke. I’ve even had colleagues go through some of these programs where the administrators themselves can’t spell, litter their correspondence with typos, and get their own exams wrong.

Plus, there’s a proliferation of opportunists and exploiters out there who are just using these programs as personal sales vehicles. They’ll certify anyone willing to pay.

Save your money.

There is only one thing you need to prove to clients and that is done by simply demonstrating your qualifications, competence and service in all that you do.

Your site, your messages, your writing and articles… every bit of it is an example of your skills, expertise and professionalism.

When you demonstrate a professional level of expertise and competence, no one is going to ask you about certification. Those questions only come when prospective clients don’t see those things exampled on your website, your business image, your content and your communications.

When you DO demonstrate those things in all those places, you instill credibility and trust. They don’t need to ask because they already get that sense of your competence through all your displays of marketing, presentation and interaction.

No piece of paper will prove those things. And any certification you get becomes meaningless if you don’t demonstrate on a daily basis, in everything you do, the qualities that the certification is supposed to “prove.”

Here are some other posts I’ve written on the topic of certification and demonstrating competence:

Are You Trying Too Hard?
Demonstrate Your Competence
Dear Danielle: What Can You Tell Me About Credentialing?


It sounds like you’ve got all the qualifications and experience you need to open an administrative support business and offer a professional level of skill and service. Learning to be a good businessperson may take some additional skills and education, if you don’t have those already.

Don’t bother with certification, though. Just become a good student of business.

Read business books. Find business mentors (like me). Ask lots of questions.

If you do take some kind of course, I recommend those on business management and marketing, not a certification course.

Good luck to you and thanks for the great question. We need more highly skilled and competent people like you in our field. 🙂

Dear Danielle: Is Training Necessary?

Dear Danielle:

I am  currently  writing my business plan. I have been working in the Administration field as an administrative assistant since I graduated from college in 2000. My question to you is: does one need to enroll in a specialed training to persue a career in this profession. –PV

Depends on what you mean by training. Are we talking about skills training or business education?

As far as skills, you don’t necessarily need training to go into the administrative support business. If you feel you have the background and the skill level that qualifies you to do this work, then go for it. You’re going to be acquiring new skills and improving upon others all the time and as you work with more and more clients.

Of course, skills training is never a bad idea. Anytime you can improve your skills or your business knowledge, that’s only going to increase your value to clients. And this is a competitive market. Clients won’t shell out their hard-earned money to folks who don’t have a masterful, professional level of administrative skill and know-how. If you have little or no skill level, you’re going to have a very difficult time in this business.

Now, I do want to point something out to your attention because it’s going to be critical to your success in this industry. Spelling, grammar punctuation… all of it is very, very important.

I notice in your question, you have what I presume is a typo (“specialed”), an incorrect capitalization (“Administration”) and a misspelling (“persue”).  I’m personally not concerned so much with a typo here and there. That happens to the best of us. We’re not perfect and we’re not robots. We can check and double-check our work and still miss one or two occasionally.

However, grammar, spelling, punctuation, proper capitalization… those things are critical because it indicates a level of literacy that is going to be important in everything you do as an administrative support provider and business owner.

Your work and skills are a reflection on you and your business as well as on your clients when you are working on their behalf. There is simply no room for a less than stellar command of the written word.

It’s important because: a) clients don’t want the work you do for them to have these kinds of errors, and b) everything you write and type is a reflection of your competence.

If you don’t demonstrate competence in all that you do, it’s going to cast you in an unprofessional/unskilled light and undermine your ability to establish trust and confidence in your would-be clients.

Clients will see these errors and assume that the work you do for them is going to be subject to typos, misspellings and incorrect usage.

So if written (and oral, for that matter) communication is where you lack proficiency, then I would definitely encourage you to do whatever you need to do to improve in that area.

What most people lack when they enter this profession is business knowledge.

A lot of it you will learn from trial and error in the School of Hard Knocks.

That’s okay. It will be a much longer, harder road, but you will learn some very important, valuable business skills and lessons from those kind of experiences.

You will learn some good things from your colleagues who have been in business longer.

At the same time, you will also learn some not so good things from people who don’t have any more knowledge or experience in business than you do, nor achieved any kind of track record of established business and financial success, but seem to think that their opinion or guesses somehow qualify as smart business advice.

So be smart about who you take advice from. Try not to be the blind person following other blind people. ;)

Dear Danielle: Can the Visually Impaired be a Virtual Assistant?

Dear Danielle:

I am with a state vocational commission that enhances employability, maximizes independence, and assists in the development of the capacities and strengths of people who are blind and visually impaired. Would it be possible for a person who is blind or visually impaired to do the job as a virtual assistant. Many of our consumers have the skills and desire that is needed for these types of jobs. With assistive technology, such as a screen reader for the computer, accessibility is not a problem.  –CD

Great question, and thanks for asking.

There are first some basic understandings that need to in place so we can communicate properly.

First, this is a business one goes into, not a “job.”

Further, we do not use the term “virtual assistant” here.

“Assistant” is a term of employment and has no place in the vocabulary of business ownership.

We are Administrative Consultants. An Administrative Consultant is someone who is in the business of administrative support and works directly and collaboratively with clients in a one-on-one relationship.

If you are asking in the context of whether someone with some physical challenges can start an administrative support business providing administrative support to clients, my answer is ABSOLUTELY, as long as they have the administrative skills and extensive, real-world administrative experience, and are equipped with whatever assistive technology they will need to communicate with clients and perform services.

The business side of things is another skillset they will also need to learn if they don’t already have it.

If you are asking the question within the context of a “job,” then we aren’t talking about the same thing.

What you’d be referring to in that case is correctly terms “remote working/telecommuting.”

In that situation, the person is an employee of a company and is supervised, directed and paid a wage dictated by the employer.

Since that is not what we are, I can’t be of assistance there. My suggestion would be to search under the keyword “telecommuting.”

Caveat: Most telecommuting jobs advertised on the internet are scams. Typically, they will require a fee upfront and the person never receives the materials. Or they might receive materials, and it turns out to be bunch of worthless information. Or, they take the “training” or jump through whatever other hoops they just paid their hard-earned money to jump through, and then are never given a job and/or never hear from the company again. If someone is interested in a telecommuting job and not going into business for themselves, my advice would be to contact virtual staffing agencies or larger brick-and-mortar companies and explore opportunities with them.

How NOT to Promote Your Services by Cold-Call Emails

I received an email from someone today wanting to sell me on her transcription services. Nothing wrong with that in and of itself. However, this person’s delivery was such a turn-off and showed such a lack of business polish that it got immediately deleted. There are some excellent business and marketing lessons I thought I would share with you, though…

Mistake #1 – Nonprofessional Email Address:  The first mistake is that she emailed me from an AOL address. I don’t know you from Adam, (therefore, the trust factor will be zero) and you expect me to think you are a competent, reputable, trustworthy professional when you don’t use a professional email address from your own business domain?

Mistake #2 – No Signature Line or Other Identifying Information:  There was no signature line or any other kind of identifying information anywhere in her email. No business name. No contact info. No website address. No tagline. Nothing! How on earth is anyone supposed to determine this person’s credibility and legitimacy? And I’m supposed to want to do business with you?

Mistake #3 – Trying to Negotiate the Whole Deal Right Then and There: To her credit, this person did relate some important facts and information about her services and qualifications. Good, this is stuff I would be interested in. But, instead of leaving things there–giving just enough to pique my interest–she goes on to tell me her rates and terms, what file formats she will and won’t accept, yada yada yada. Talk about a turn-off.

Your first contact, especially a cold one, should never include discussion of costs and terms and all the other minute business details. It’s not appropriate at that stage (some would even say it’s vulgar and unpolished), and you kill any possibility of a relationship.

People don’t want to be “sold” to. Everyone likes to learn of a new resource, but don’t be presumptuous, and don’t club them over the head with something they never asked for or you will be viewed as an intrusion. The goal is to invite further conversation. Give folks just enough (not everything) that they may be intrigued enough to contact you, or at least save your message for future reference.

Mistake #4 – No Website:  There just is no excuse in this day and age for any business not to have a website. This just cannot be stressed enough. And if you want to argue or debate that, well, all I can say is, good luck to you. It’s gonna be a long, hard haul.

Mistake #5 – Desperation:  Neediness is so unattractive. This person gave a whole paragraph about how she would do a trial run (the way it was worded, that sounded to me like “free”), and would go to great lengths to keep an accurate record of every minute of her time on tasks.

Ew. When I hire someone, I want a confident, competent professional, not an obsequious lapdog. Geez, you might as well stick a sign on your back that says, “use me and abuse me.”

Have some dignity. Respect your work and your business, and others will, too. If you’re as great as you say you are, your skills will stand on their own merits. Show some class and business polish, and you will engender trust and rapport in those you wish to work with. You don’t have to beg and bribe people to work with you.

You Get Back What You Put In

I always have to chuckle at folks who are so shocked when their inquiries are not met with fawning attention.

What am I talking about?

We get hundreds of requests for membership to my Virtual Assistant association each month. Not everyone is a fit because we have a very defined, specific scope of who we represent. Who is not a fit is often made painfully clear to us.

For example, we sometimes have people apply for membership who can not spell. And I’m not talking about a typo here or there—-we’re seeing stuff sometimes that literally borders on illiteracy. It’s very sad, but we can’t help those folks, and our organization can not and will not represent them.

We sometimes get folks who clearly are not Virtual Assistants, although they think they are. Sorry, but if you’re in the web design business, you’re a web designer, not a Virtual Assistant, and the same goes for bookkeeping, transcription and transaction-based secretarial services.

We also sometimes get folks who don’t bother to read the instructions, and then want to consume our time with questions that are already clearly answered on that page.

You get back what you put into this life. And in this same vein, if someone can’t be bothered to read what we’ve outlined so that they know what steps to take and what will happen next in membership process, we aren’t going to be bothered to assist them.

As professional Virtual Assistants, you are going to be called upon to utilize critical thinking. You need to pay attention. You need to be masterfully skilled. And to have courtesy extended to you, you have to extend that courtesy in the first place (such as reading the information that is clearly indicated to you to read).

We have standards around competence and quality, folks. You are absolutely not entitled to waste someone else’s time. And no client is going to waste a precious second of their time, energy and dollars on anyone who doesn’t have the competence to pay attention and demontrate professionalism and copetence.

The Importance and Discipline of Diligent Communication

Excellent communication — not merely good or okay communication — is so important in your business relationships.

I would venture to say it’s even more important for us in the administrative support business because we may never meet our clients, colleagues or associates face-to-face.

One aspect of beyond-excellent communication is consistently following through in your responses to emails and voicemails.

I’m not talking about the occasional message or response that falls through the cracks; that happens to the best of us.

What I’m talking about is establishing consciously-devised standards and policies for handling correspondence in your practice.

This includes being in the habit of making sure those who correspond with you know that their message was received.

There is nothing more frustrating and annoying than sending someone a message and hearing nothing but crickets in response.

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

You’re left wondering whether the recipient is taking whatever action might have been required, or if they even got the message at all.

This kind of poor communication creates extra work for those who trying to correspond and work with you.

It doesn’t put you in a good light and definitely doesn’t engender any confidence in your competence and follow-through abilities.

Don’t do that to your clients and associates — or yourself, for that matter.

Establish a timeliness standard in your business and then be disciplined about sticking with it.

If you have a 24-48 hour turnaround, make sure you demonstrate a pattern of consistently responding to all messages within that timeframe.

Also devise processes and procedures that allow you to keep track of messages and follow-up appropriately and efficiently.

Even if you don’t have to do anything, you should still acknowledge receipt of the message. This can be accomplished with a simple “got it” or “received” or “noted.”

That quick, effortless action can mean all the difference for the person at the other end.

It will definitely work wonders on keeping clients happy and instilling trust and confidence in them that you are on top of things.

Observations on the Differences Between Professionals & Wannabes

In my position as an industry leader and mentor, I’m in daily contact with all kinds of folks in our industry and those who would like to enter our ranks.

From this vantage point, I’m afforded a very unique perspective of the vast differences between those who are qualified and those who really aren’t.

There is a chasm of difference between someone truly qualified to be in this business and do this work, and those who think all they need is a computer, fax and telephone line in order to enter the field.

People with the qualifications to be in this industry earned their knowledge and skills working in administrative capacities in the workplace, most often for many years, before starting their administrative support business.

You don’t get the same questions from qualified professionals that you do with those who have little or no administrative experience. The latter ask the most rudimentary of questions, indicating they are still learning things that are the most basic requisites for providing professional services.

When clients hire us, they aren’t looking to train us. Professionals who are in business are expected to already have a professional-level command of the services they are hired to perform.