Archive for the ‘Consulting with Clients’ Category

Dear Danielle: I Lost Two New Clients; What Went Wrong?

Dear Danielle: I Lost Two New Clients. What Went Wrong?

Dear Danielle:

I thought I had landed two retainer clients recently. Well, last week one fell through before it started, and I just received an email giving me 30 days notice from the other. I’m so disappointed! How do I deal with this? —CC

Yes, this can definitely be disappointing, but don’t give up!

One of the things I had to realize when I lost one of my first clients is that nothing is static. Eventually there comes a day when a client may not need me any longer for whatever reason.

There are all kinds of reasons a client may not need you or decide not to work together any longer:

  • They are going out of business;
  • They are retiring;
  • They are going into another kind of business;
  • They haven’t been able to make a success of their business and can no longer afford you;
  • They have grown their business to a level that they simply need a full-time employee or in-house staff;
  • They have changed and they (or you) realize you are no longer a fit for each other;
  • You are unwilling to engage in activities you consider sketchy or unethical or dishonest;
  • Your business has grown and/or your standards have improved and they are unwilling to let go of old expectations and accept these changes;
  • They pass away (God forbid)

This is why it’s important to maintain a constant marketing effort and presence, even when your practice becomes full.

There is some good that can come out of this.

First, remember to stay focused on abundance, not scarcity.

These are not the only two clients in the world. There are a million other people out there and you WILL meet many, many others.

And you’re going to get better and better at figuring out where your right clients are, who your audience is and where to find them.

Everyone flails a little bit when they are new so these are just very normal—even necessary—growing pains that are preparing you for your future success.

Second, don’t take any of this personally. There ARE useful, productive things you can learn here. Use this as an intelligence-gathering opportunity and poll these two clients for their feedback.

See if you can get the first client to open up and share with you (in the interest of improving your consulting skills) why he/she decided against working together.

You may find it has nothing to do with you.

Or, you may get some golden information that will give some insight into what your potential clients value that will help you improve the next time around.

You may realize where you can improve how you educate new/prospective clients, beef up your website content, and better manage expectations upfront.

Then, do the same thing with the second client.

Find out, if you can, why they chose to end the relationship after only 30 days.

What went wrong? Did they find something off-putting? Did they not get what they expected? What were they expecting? What was it that led them to expect that?

Preface your inquiry with the explanation that you honor their decision and aren’t trying to change it; you simply value their feedback and would be very grateful for any information they’d be willing to share to help you improve.

Here again, perhaps you find that their terminating the relationship had nothing to do with you. If this is the case and they actually were very happy with your service, but had to leave for other reasons, be sure to ask for a testimonial. Ask them why they chose you in the first place and what they appreciated about working with you (however briefly).

In both of these cases, the info you glean can also help you improve your prequalifying processes. The better you can screen for ideal clients, the more you’ll be able to avoid this kind of disappointment and wasted time and effort on the wrong ones.

So be thinking about why these clients may not have been a fit for you in the first place.

  • Are you consulting with anyone and everyone without any discernment or qualifying criteria?
  • Do you have an ideal client profile? (If not, you need to start one today.)
  • Did these clients meet many/most of the traits on this profile?
  • What kind of qualifying information did you try to ascertain before you deciding to meet with these clients in consultation?
  • Did you conduct a full and complete consultation with each one?
  • Did your consultation last more than 15-30 minutes? (You can’t possibly get any deep degree of information in only 15-30 minutes; it very often takes that first half hour alone just for clients to get comfortable and let their hair down.)
  • Are there any traits and characteristics you would now consider red flags in future prospective clients?
  • Moving forward, what questions can you ask in advance to better determine if a potential client is more likely to be a fit and a good candidate for spending time in a consultation?
  • What kind of information can you add to your website content to that will better inform your site visitors and manage their perceptions, expectations and understandings (and thereby improve your prequalifying efforts so you get more ideal clients who are more likely to become long-term clients)?

You see, there’s always something positive to gain and grow from with every experience, even the disappointing ones.

If you are someone who would like to learn how to conduct more successful consultations with positive outcomes as well as improve your prequalifying processes, be sure to check out my Client Consultation Guide.

Dear Danielle: I Have a Bunch of Questions

Dear Danielle: I Have a Bunch of Questions

Dear Danielle:

Thank you so much for all of your offerings through the Success Store! Getting my company planned and put together has been much easier thanks to you than it might have been.  I just need some clarification:

  1. How exactly do referrals work?  I am giving a two-hour free referral bonus to any client who refers another paying client. What do you think of that idea?
  2. What marketing tools have you found the most effective?  I am on unemployment which is not enough to make ends meet, and I have had to get things for my business by raiding my grocery money (maxed out credit).  I am trying to get a micro-business loan, but have not done so yet. Are online directories and search engines the way to go?
  3. How did you find your industries small prospects for sales calls?  Do we have to worry about “Do Not Call” lists if someone uses one phone number for everything?  How much “cold calling” did you do to get started?
  4. About your website screening intake form:  I could not find your business website, nor could I find anything in the store about an intake form.  Is there another resource or should I just pull together my own and tweak it through experience?
  5. If a client asks for a particularly dicey project that I am not sure I can handle, how do I address that without looking incompetent, undersupplied technologically, or setting myself up to fail?

I apologize if you have already addressed these issues. Thanks for your help! –AJ

Whew! I’ll do my best to answer these and keep ’em short and sweet…

1. How do referrals work and what about giving a referral bonus?

A referral is when someone (could be a client, could be a colleague, could be a business associate… anyone) refers/recommends/tells someone about your business.

What do I personally think about paying people to refer you? I don’t advise it.

Let referrals come organically through the good will and high esteem you generate from doing good work. Those recommendations and referrals will carry far greater weight because of it.

Plus, keeping track of referrals and rewards just creates another needless task and complication in your administration that you don’t need.

Here are a couple blog posts that expand on this topic that I think you’ll find helpful:

Dear Danielle: How Do I Advertise for Referral Partners?

Tips for Harnessing the Power of Referrals

2. What marketing methods are most effective? Are online directories and search engines the way to go?

It doesn’t hurt to be in directories, but you don’t need them.

And SEO is the least effective way your most ideal, qualified client prospects will find you. It’s not the thing to waste your time focusing on right now at this stage of your start up.

Your best leads will always come from your own incoming marketing pipelines. And how do you do that?

In our business (as it is with most professional service-based businesses), networking is hands-down the most effective marketing strategy.

Not ads. Not cold-calling. Not direct mail.

The great thing about networking is that it doesn’t cost anything but your time. And that’s not a cost, it’s an investment because those efforts will ultimately pay with new clients and prospects.

The reason networking is so effective is because people look to work with those with whom they have established some kind of relationship and feel some kind of rapport.

Every opportunity you have that lets a group of people get to know, like and trust you is going to make it that much easier for you to attract clients.

Of course, the key to networking successfully starts with a target market. Otherwise, you’ll wear yourself out networking anywhere willy nilly.

Be sure you download the free ACA guide on How to Choose Your Target Market, which elaborates a bit more on what a target market is and how it will make growing your business and getting clients much faster and easier.

3. What cold calling did you do to get started and how did you find prospects for sales calls?

None. I didn’t look for any.

I never did cold calling and I don’t advise you do either.

People don’t like to be sold to; it’s completely the wrong strategy.

Professional services are a bigger ticket item and requires more relationship building and nurturing than that.

Sure, you might hear some people say they got this client or that project all from a sales call. But those are the exceptions, not the rule.

I can just about guarantee you don’t have the kind of money and energy to ever make cold calling a worthwhile ROI.

Even if you get one project, it isn’t going to come close to covering all the time, energy and effort you put into getting it.

And think about it. Do you really think you can keep putting in that kind of work just to get one or two nickel-and-dime projects? You need bigger money and bigger clients to stay in business and be profitable.

There are MUCH better, faster, more effective strategies for getting clients, one of which is deciding on a target market to focus on and then getting involved with that industry in every way you can (online forums, business groups, events, etc.). The more you interact, the more they get to know, like and trust you.

4. Is there a resource for an online intake/consultation request form?

If I’m understanding your question, I think you are referring to an online form you have clients fill out to request a consultation.

Having a form like this on your website will help screen and prequalify prospects.

By asking a few simple questions, this form can help you determine what stage of readiness a potential client is at, whether or not they are in your target market, and whether they can afford your services.

Depending on the questions you ask and how they fill out your online consultation form (which has the dual underlying purpose of helping prequalify clients), this can tell you what level of priority or attention to give a potential client or whether to guide them to further information on your website to learn more before moving on in the process.

For example, if someone is only “browsing,” you may not want to waste your limited time and effort on a consultation. You may instead want to send them to a white paper you have prepared for these kind of instances, and invite them to subscribe to your blog or ezine.

Many clients are not ready to work with us immediately so it’s all a process.

Here is a blog post that talks more about how the consult form can act a prequalifier: One Way to Sort the Ideal form the Unideal.

As far as a resource, I recommend you get my Client Consultation guide. Not only does it give you usuable examples of an online intake/consultation form and questions you may want to ask, it will walk you through the entire consultation process from start to finish: from targeting clients, identifying your ideal client profile, prequalifying clients, how to conduct the actual consultation conversation and what questions to ask, how to follow-up afterward and what the next steps are once you take on a new client. It’s VERY thorough!

5. How do I handle a request for something I don’t know how to do (or do well)?

First, you have to distinguish what kind of business you are in.

Are you in the secretarial business where you’re simply doing one-off, transactional, piecemeal project work?

Or are you in the business of administrative support?

Because the two are completely different business models.

Once you answer that question, it will help answer subsequent questions about what kind of client needs that work, what work is entailed and so forth.

When you know what you do and who you do it for, and educate clients accordingly, this kind of thing isn’t as much of an issue.

However, let’s say you are in the administrative support business and the client asks if you do X thing.

Honesty is always best so tell them if it isn’t something you know how to do or that you have limited experience/knowledge with it.

That said, you can always let them know that you are willing to learn how to do it (IF you are interested in doing so, that is).

Or, you might look at this project or work and think to yourself: You know, this really doesn’t fall under administrative support at all and isn’t what I’m in business to do. They really need to be working with someone who is in the X business.

In that case, you might offer to help them locate the proper professional who IS in business to do that thing.

Or, in yet another example, perhaps you have a separate division in your company that does this thing, in which case you would take them through those separate processes for intaking that kind of work or project and charge them separately for it.

You have to always remember that administrative support is not a catchall term for “anything and everything.”

Just because a client asks doesn’t mean you’re supposed to comply. They need educating.

If you were a plumber and someone asked you to fix their car, that wouldn’t make any sense, right?

And you’d inform them very simply and helpfully that what they need is an auto mechanic, not a plumber.

Same thing here.

YOU have to decide what administrative support consists of in your business and what doesn’t.

When you have that clarity yourself, you shouldn’t have any qualms about letting clients know when something doesn’t fall under the umbrella of your support.

Always be clear and upfront with clients about what’s what in your business. You’re not going to look bad in any way for not taking on or knowing how to do something or needing to refer them to another kind of professional entirely when that’s the case.

The only time you will look bad and create ill will is by not being honest and straightforward.

I hope that helps! Let me know if you questions on any of this. :)

Dear Danielle: Do You Ever Feel Pricing Remorse?

Dear Danielle: Do You Ever Feel Pricing Remorse?

Hi Danielle:

I wanted to know if you had ever felt what I call “pricing remorse” when you were starting out? Let me explain. A colleague recently contacted me to help with a project. After receiving all the information and discussing the details, I initially felt the project was too small and not really worth my time. Instead, I decided to help. I sent the colleague my pricing (using your pricing guide, I calculated what I felt was reasonable for my time & effort) and project requirements. Shortly after, the colleague graciously thanked me and declined. This left me feeling a bit shocked, but also kind of guilty. I started to doubt myself and the questions began to flow. Was I asking too much? Should I have asked for more information? Did I not do my job to convey my skills properly? During our conversation, did I come off as an apprentice? Was this the unideal or cheap client Danielle spoke about? So on and so on. I heard you talking in my head saying, “Don’t devalue yourself” but I’m still left with a bit of guilt. Any thoughts/suggestions, as always, are greatly appreciated. —Name withheld by request

Thanks for your question.

It’s been so long ago, I don’t remember if I had “pricing remorse” per se. But I of course had my own learning curve when I first started out, definitely.

When I was new, I was charging waaaaay too little. What I eventually realized is that instead of second-guessing what I was charging when I got rejections, I was talking to the wrong prospects in the first place. My fees weren’t the problem.

Once I started charging more, and got clear about who I was specifically looking to work with (i.e., my target market), I got better clients. This is practically an immutable law of business.

And I quit wasting time and energy on the wrong audience.

But let me tell ya, there were a whole lotta learning experiences in there before I figured all that out, lol.

So, first thing is I want you to know is these are perfectly normal growing pains in a new business. You’re figuring out where your footing is so there’s naturally going to be some feelings of being unsure of yourself.

Knowing that, I hope it will be easier for you to just embrace the unsureness, knowing that with each conversation and interaction you have with each potential client is going to help you get your business bearings and build your confidence. It’s all part of the journey.

I am a little unclear about what you’re really feeling. You mention “guilt,” but guilt over what? What do you have to feel guilty about? I’m not sure I’m understanding what you mean by guilt.

There’s nothing to feel guilty about in determing your fee and asking for it. There’s no wrongdoing in that.

Maybe what you mean is you feel rejection, that in reality you were hoping to get the project, and it hurt when they declined, and now you’re thinking should have asked for less. Is that more the case?

Either way, I do have some thoughts to help you explore all angles here.

First, before you let a rejection bring you down, we need to remember the situation were talking about. This was for a project, not a retained relationship of ongoing support.

And it was for a colleague, not an ideal client in your target market.

Always remember who you’re target market is. Colleagues are not your clients.

One of the reasons colleagues are not your clients is because we’ve got a whole lotta people in this industry who think they should be paying bake sale prices. These are not serious prospects. You can’t set your fees according to what non serious prospects want to pay.

So don’t fret over a situation that wasn’t even with someone in your target market for ongoing support in the first place.

My feeling is that our first instincts usually end up being the best. You gave her a price that you felt was right. All you’re doing now is second-guessing yourself. There’s no reason to do that over something that wasn’t even a real piece of business in the first place.

All of this does lead me to wonder, given that your initial reaction was that the project wasn’t of interest, why did you bother wasting your time then?

I mean, you are always free to do whatever you want in your business. Of course. At the same time, you always want to remember the standards you have set for yourself and your business. When we start stepping over our standards, trying to make a fit out of that which isn’t a fit, that’s when we create problems for ourselves.

Lastly, when it comes to pricing, and conducting consultations, and then having the pricing conversation with clients in a way that gets you more yeses, there are some tips I could give you, but they wouldn’t help you because you haven’t yet purchased my client consultation guide (GDE-03)  or my pricing and packaging guide.

You wouldn’t have the right context and these are topics that are more involved than I can help you with here in this format.

You really need to invest in that learning if you want to grow from this situation and my guides are going to help you immensely with that. I’m really hoping you do that, for your benefit. Because when you get the knowledge and learning to navigate these conversations, you’re going to have a lot better results and more successes—in any kind of client scenario.

Dear Danielle: This Charity Is Offering a Low Hourly Rate. Do I Walk Away?

Dear Danielle: This Charity Is Offering a Low Hourly Rate. Do I Walk Away?

Dear Danielle:

I have recently been approached by a local charity that wishes me to work for them for a number of hours per week, but they cannot get away from the number of hours and are offering a very low hourly rate on the grounds that they are a charity and don’t have budget for more. No matter what I do or say they are stuck on hours/hourly rate. Should I walk away? Normally I would, but because it’s a charity I want to work with, it feels different. —Name Withheld by Request

I’m going to give you some straight talking tough love today, okay? :)

Do you want a business or do you want a hobby/charity?

If it’s a business you want, then you’ve got to stop wasting your time.

Not all business is good business—or business at all.

You, your family and the ones you love are your “charity.” They deserve for you to be smart in business—which includes being paid properly for your time, energy and expertise.

And by “properly” I mean at whatever business rate you (not clients) determine is profitable.

People in our industry have got to get off of this bleeding heart kick. It’s one thing to be charitable when you are doing well financially and can afford to give back. But most people in our industry are barely scraping by in their businesses themselves.

(And it’s not because they can’t do better; it’s just that they aren’t taking the time or making the investment to learn what it takes to be a financially viable, solvent, sustainable and humanly manageable business operation).

You’ve got to have a pot to pee in yourself before you can start sharing the wealth, know what I mean?

If you want a real business making real money, you need to start talking to real prospects.

Anyone who can’t pay your fees is not a prospect. Period.

First of all, clients don’t dictate or “offer” you anything. YOU set your fees. They have only to accept them or stop wasting your time.

Second, the reason they can’t get off the hours/hourly rate is because you don’t know how to reframe that conversation and what to talk about instead. And that simply takes investing in the proper learning in how to do that.

You’re trying to talk yourself into accepting this and I’m not going to help you. You’ve come to the wrong place for that. 😉

Here’s what you need to do next to start talking to real prospects:

  1. Stop calling yourself an assistant. You’re running a business now and when you are a business owner, for both legal and practical reasons, you are not anyone’s assistant. Calling yourself an “assistant” is the very first reason that people are approaching you in a non business-like manner and think it’s their place to “offer” you “positions” and “low hourly rates.” That’s because “assistant” is a term of employment, not business, and people only understand the word “assistant” one way: employee. When you call yourself an assistant, you predispose people to balk at your fees because they are expecting to pay employee wages, not professional business fees. You see? You are creating the wrong expectations and understanding in clients right from the start.
  2. Download my free Income & Pricing Calculator so you can get clear and conscious about what you really need to be charging for your business to be sustainable and profitable.
  3. Get a target market. You need a direction for your efforts and to improve your offers. That only comes by focusing on a very specific industry/field/profession and catering your support to that market.
  4. Fix your website so there is an actual prequalifying, conversion process in place. This will help ensure you talk to real prospects who are more likely to be ideal client candidates.
  5. Learn how to conduct a proper consultation. My consultation process shows you what to do before you ever speak to anyone, what to ask and talk about during the conversation, and exactly how to follow-up after, as well as how to prequalify prospects so you can weed out the poor broke duds who waste your time, and filter in the ideal client candidates worthy of your time and attention.
  6. Separate business and charity. Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with helping those you think are doing good work in the world. Just don’t mix your charity work up with your business. Instead of taking on a discount client indefinitely (which impacts not only your profitability and administration, but your other clients who are paying full fee for your quality time and attention), volunteer some hours here and there as you see fit when you have them to spare. And by the way, the more financially successful you are in your business, the longer you’ll actually be around in business and the more time and money you will have to give and help others outside your business. But if you make people who can’t pay your proper fees your clients, your business won’t be around long enough to do anything for anyone. You giving yourself away to those who can’t afford you doesn’t serve anyone.
  7. Alternatively, if you insist on putting yourself on sale, at least do it in a way that will actually benefit your business. Charge them full rate with your normal invoice, and once they pay, you can turn around and write a check back to them for the discounted amount. That is the legal way to actually write that money off as a charitable donation. And in the process, that charity client never takes for granted what you really charge and the fact that they are getting a generous gift, not an entitlement to your time and service at a discount.
  8. Likewise, use your normal and customary contract and go through all your usual processes that you would with any other client. I would also advise that you set a time limit/end date for any discounted charity rate at which time it would go back up to your full fee.

Do You Want a Job or a Business?

Do You Want a Job or a Business?

People come into this profession with dreams of a lifestyle different than the normal 9-5 grind, to have more freedom and flexibility in their lives—and then they create a business that allows them to have anything but those things.

One of the reasons this happens is because they’re being taught and advised by training organizations to operate like employees.

The most ridiculous thing I read recently is that in managing client expectations and helping them establish trust in you, you shouldn’t “disappear, even for a day or two.”

So let me ask you this:  Do you want a job or a business?

There are lots of ways to manage expectations and instill ever-growing trust in clients.

None of it requires you to operate like an employee.

When you read books like Gerber’s “The E-Myth Revisited,” you learn that the idea is to create a business that operates by system and doesn’t necessarily require you to be the one doing the work.

However, there’s nothing wrong with you being the one doing the work.

Many (perhap even most) people go into self-employed business to practice their craft for reasons beyond money.

It has just as much to do with soul. They get a kind of deeper personal satisfaction they just can’t experience in any other situation. Doing work they love and enjoy brings them a richness of meaning, purpose and spirit in their lives.

Even the wealthy will tell you, you can make all the money in the world and not have to work another day in your life, but it’s an empty, joyless existence without the purpose and fullfillment of actual, meaningful work.

God bless those who love to pull up their sleeves and make their living in a more direct, one-on-one, hands-on way!

But that doesn’t mean they have to sacrifice the desire to have the same kind of freedom and earning potential that other businesses strive for.

There’s a way to be a solopreneur where you can do the work, but do it in a way that doesn’t require you to be at the daily beck and call of clients. You just have to make some mental shifts in your thinking and understanding about what you are and how you work with clients.

The first of these shifts is getting out of the thinking that the only way you are valuable to a client is if you are there to deal with their every need, every whim, day in and day out.

You have to get out of the stuckness that says your value lies in being in daily, constant contact with clients.

There’s a word for someone like that: it’s called employee. And you DON’T have to operate like that.

If you are operating no differently than the secretary who sits outside the boss’ door, only virtually, you’re going to be in for one rude awakening.

Because not only will you drastically inhibit your earning potential, you’ll learn (the hard way) just what a predicament you’ve created for yourself and your clients.

Eventually, when you want to enjoy the fruits of your labor and get away from the office on a whim, you realize you’ve created a dynamic, no matter how loudly you shout about standards, that just doesn’t leave you much, if any, room to do that.

And funny thing about standards… they have to work well in actual, practical application. They can’t be some lofty theory dreamt up by someone who isn’t doing the same work you do every day of the week.

Stop killing yourself trying to live up to that crap.

Your value is not dependent on whether you don’t disappear for a day or two. That’s crazy!

Who wants to live a life as a business owner and independent professional being held hostage to their phone, desk and clients?

There isn’t a single other solo profession out there that tells its denizens they have to operate like that in order to be of value or service.

You only put yourself in that cage if you believe there is no other way to operate or be of service and value.

Your value isn’t in doing everything for clients. Your value isn’t in being an “instant assistant” and being at their beck-and-call day in and day out.

Your value isn’t how much you do, it’s how much what you do selectively for clients helps them grow, move forward and keep their businesses humming along smoothly.

None of that inherently requires you to be in daily contact or to take on the whole kit and kaboodle to do that. You can be of tremendous value and service taking on just a very specific cross-section of the administrative load that clients carry.

I’m also not sure what makes people think that you can’t have a close, personal, connected relationship with clients without being at their on-demand beck and call day in and day out.

Attorneys do it. Accountants do it. Millions of other solo practitioners have real, meaningful, exceptionally trusting and connected relationships with their clients without being joined at the hip on a daily basis. And so can you.

The trick is to:

  1. Establish policies, systems and processes that give you lots of room to move around and not be at the beck and call of clients, and
  2. Only take on clients and work that are the best fit for those policies, systems and processes.

Part of putting order to chaos and managing client expectations is setting up a system and a promise for how things work consistently and reliably so that clients know what to expect ahead of time, each and every time.

Don’t create expectations that will fence you in and that you can’t sustain. You want to set expectations that you can realistically, consistently and reliably live up to. It’s really as simple as that.

And setting those expectations does not have anything to do with nor require you to be under any client’s thumb on a daily basis.

This is what allows you to build freedom, flexibility and space in your practice which in turns truly does serve clients much better.

By taking even just a few specific tasks or areas of work off their plate, you are allowing them to grow their business, move forward and get things done. That isn’t dependent on whether they hear from you each day or not. It’s all in how YOU decide what expectations to set and how YOU want things to work in your business. You can do all of that without being forced to be at your desk, in your office, each and every cotton-picking minute of every day under the thumb of clients.

Let me tell you how I do that in my practice:

First, when I consult with clients, one of the things I discuss with them is the nature of the relationship. I need to make sure they are 100% clear that they are not hiring an employee, that they are hiring an independent professional no different than if they were hiring an attorney or accountant (which is exactly how I want them to view the relationship and how we’ll be working together). I point out that how and when we work together and my availability to them will necessarily be different than working with an employee.

So, that’s setting expectation #1—making sure the client understands the nature of the relationship, how it’s going to work and how it’s not going to work (i.e., I’m not going to be their secretaryor personal assistant sitting outside your door only virtually).

Next, for setting expectation #2, I talk about how our communications will work. They are free to email any time of day or night, but I let them know upfront what my formal business hours and days are (so that they respect this as a business relationship and don’t expect that I’m going to be dealing with anything outside those times or on days that I am closed) and when to expect a reply.

I promise that they’ll get a response to every communication they send me within 24 business hours, even if it’s just a “received” or “gotcha” or “will do.”

And then I follow-through on that promise. That way they aren’t left scratching their heads wondering if I got the message and it keeps the line of communication flowing. It’s that kind of consistency that grows trust.

I explain that all work requests must be in sent via email because that is the sytem which best allows me to track and prioritize and schedule things. They can use whatever tools they need to in order to submit their requests as long as they result in an email in my IN box.

And if a client doesn’t like any of that, if he or she doesn’t care to communicate by email and prefers another method? They’re not a fit and I don’t work with them. Simple as that.

You gotta stop investing so much in clients who can’t go with your flow. Work with and focus only on those who can.

For setting expectations #3, I explain my 3/7 guide. My 3/7 guide is how I set their expectations with regard to turnaround time.  Within that framework, simple tasks that can be accomplished easily are done within a 3-day turnaround.

Most often, things are done far more quickly than that, but I don’t want clients to start expecting that I’m going to instantly respond to each and every thing immediately. That’s not an expectatation that anyone can promise and deliver consistently, and I don’t want to live or work that way. It’s a recipe for unhappiness and unsustainable promises.

The “7″ part of my guide is for larger, more complex or ongoing projects and work. This is where the client and I regroup every 7 days at our regularly scheduled weekly one-hour meeting. During this meeting, I give them status updates, we talk about progress, new goals, brainstorm, you name it. Sometimes we just shoot the breeze.

I think it’s important to note that I only do client meetings on the same day each week. I don’t hold them willy-nilly throughout the week. Like any other professional, this is how I’ve decided it works in my business.

My business, my schedule. It gives me the time I need to focus on client work the rest of the week without interruption to my concentration, and gives me the space I need to move around as I need to in order to stay energized.

This system gives clients a tangible, reliable idea of how things will work consistently.

It manages their expectations in a way that leaves me great freedom and space to enjoy my work, enjoy them, and get things done far better than I ever could working lucy-goosey at the whim of clients.

And I end up serving them far better in the process. That constancy, that reliability and predictability is what gains their great trust—all without being joined at the hip.

Throughout this process, clients and I are having all kinds of fun, productive and effective email communications. There isn’t any lack of connectedness, and they don’t get all up in arms if they don’t hear from me for a day or two because they already know how things work in my business.

In other words, they know what to expect. And when they know what to expect upfront, you don’t have to inform them of your every move, every second of every day.

This is what the business concept of “managing expectations” is about. When you set things up like this, you CAN “disappear” for a day or two with ease without any client notification or upset. I do it all the time!

If you need help understanding what setting expectations is really about and how to do that in your own practice, please post your questions in the comments below.

And if you want to learn how to employ my complete practice management and business set-up systems to live a similar lifestyle, I’ve got it all written out for you in my guide, Power Productivity and Business Management for Administrative Consultants.

I’m absolutely happy to help in this area because I think it’s a great disservice to let those in our industry continue to think they have to operate like employees in order to be of value and service, which deprives them of the freedom and flexibility they could enjoy that every other business owner dreams of.

Originally posted February 10, 2009.

Why Conduct Consultations?

Why Conduct Consultations?

I am so absolutely stoked and enthused about the new and improved version of my famous client consultation guide!

I added a ton more educational content while streamlining and simplifying the information into more easily digested chunks. Getting the knowledge and skills to confidently conduct consultations (and get those prized retainer clients nearly every single time) has never been easier.

I’m the type who doesn’t rest and will continue to hone and improve things until I am satisfied. And I am so totally pleased as punch with this latest incarnation!

(If you don’t have it yet, you can get it now for only $47, but it goes back up to it’s regular full price of $67 on Friday.)

So what is this guide all about? Why do we conduct consultations in the first place?

Because we’re not selling hotdogs, right? 😉

Providing ongoing support is a bigger relationship that requires more of a commitment from clients. Therefore, it requires a bigger conversation.

The consultation process plays a vital role in creating your ideal business for a number of reasons:

  • To prequalify prospects;
  • To break the ice, establish rapport and get to know each other;
  • To better understand the client’s business and his or her unique needs, goals and challenges;
  • To see how you might help and where your support can be best leveraged in their business;
  • To determine chemistry and fit;
  • To provide context for your fees so clients more clearly see and understand the value of working together;
  • To educate clients and set proper expectations and understandings;
  • To set the tone of the professional relationship; and
  • To demonstrate professionalism and instill trust and credibility.

The other reason to conduct consultations is to get the kind of clients you want—like those all-important retainer clients.

Retainers are the holy grail of most service-based businesses because it’s where the bigger, easier money is:

  • Retainers provide you with more consistent, dependable cashflow every month;
  • In a retainer-based practice, it only takes a handful of clients to earn well;
  • A retainer-based practice is simpler, easier and less hectic to run because you’re working with fewer clients, there’s less administration, and you aren’t having to constantly chase down your next meal like you do in a project-based business;
  • You always want to maintain a marketing presence even when your client roster is full, but marketing a retainer-based practice is far less frantic because you only need a handful of client to earn really well;
  • Because it’s an easier, less frantic business that requires fewer clients to earn well, you have more room to grow and be more at choice in taking on side projects and developing other income streams; and
  • With a retainer-based practice, you will have more time for life beyond your business. That’s one of the biggest reasons most of us went into business for ourselves, right?

There is no reason for you to continue struggling with getting clients or conducting consultations. My guide takes all the guesswork out and tells you exactly what to do and how to do it, including those two biggees:  how to talk about fees and how to deal with the most common client objections. And just having a step-by-by process to follow (complete with diagrams and checklists) will infuse you with greater confidence. You be gung-ho to conduct your next consult!

Check it out here >>

Dear Danielle: Client Is About to Ask Me to Pose as an Employee

Dear Danielle:

HELP! I have a new client I am trying to sign who I think is about to ask me to pose as an employee. Their first project requires us to meet with one of their clients in person tomorrow. I received an email saying they wanted to set me up with an email under their domain and wanted to talk before tomorrow’s meeting. I know my gut says this probably isn’t the best for my company, but I really can’t tap into why exactly. In other words, it seems wrong, but I don’t know what to say when they call as to why. On their end I know that they deal with sensitive data from their client so they probably want to present a united front and not make it seem like this client’s data is in the hands of a third party, but it is. Thoughts? —Anonymous by request.

First off, I want to to validate your feelings. Anything that a client requests that does not sit well with you is nothing to second-guess yourself about. It doesn’t matter if they don’t like it or if anyone else disagrees. If something in your gut is saying, “no, this doesn’t feel right” then it’s not right for you.

What you are feeling that you can’t quite put your finger on is the fact that, whether they realize it or not, a) this client is basically asking you to be is a liar and b) asking something that’s inappropriate of an independent professional (which deep down makes you feel disrespected as a business owner).

They need some additional conversation and education about the fact that you are not a substitute employee.

The best policy is to be firm, clear and upfront.

You might say something like, “Oh, I see there is some misunderstanding about how we work together. Since I am an independent company from yours (rather than an employee), I use my own email address when I deal with people on behalf of my clients.”

If they need further clarification, explain the fact that when people work with vendors and independent professionals, those are companies that are independent of theirs. As such, and for their own protection, there cannot be any appearance that those vendors and independant professionals with whom they work are employees.

Likewise, along with the privilege of being a business owner, you also have a responsibility to operate ethically and legally according to those business protocols and guidelines that are laid out for us under the law.

Hopefully, that will be sufficient, but if they press you a bit further, you could have them consider this:  Would they be asking their attorney or their accountant or their whatever to use an email address through their domain?

Of course not! It would be a highly unusual and inappropriate request. I don’t think it would ever cross their mind to ask.

Well, as an independent professional, you are no different. So why do they think it’s okay to ask you to do that? If they want an employee, that’s who they need to hire.

This is not a common dilemma for Administrative Consultants, but it is for those who are still calling themselves virtual assistants.

People equate the word “assistant” one way—employee. And the virtual assistant industry has miseducated the public to view VAs as under-the-table substitute employees.

This is why what you call yourself is an important part of setting the right understandings, expectations, perceptions and context.

Moving forward, this could be a good time to review your website, marketing message and other client-educating materials (e.g., Client Guide).

Make sure prospects and clients are getting thoroughly and properly educated so there are no misconceptions or confusion about the nature of the relationship.

In your consultations, have a frank discussion about the relationship and how it will be different from working with an employee.

And of course, never refer to yourself as an assistant. When you are a business owner, you are not anyone’s assistant. You are an independent expert who specializes in administrative support.

Here are a couple other posts that may be helpful to you on this topic as well:

Dear Danielle: Should My Client Say I Am Part of His Team?

You Are Not an Assistant

Are Virtual Assistants Employees or Independent Contractors

Of note from the US Tax Aid article:

You may have an employee if you:

Provide training — If you provide training to your workers, this is a good indication that they are really employees.

Pay them for their time – An independent contractor simply does work in his or her own way. There is little need for meetings, especially team-building ones, except for progress reports.

Instruct on minutiae – Don’t tell your IC how to do his job. I know you spent a lot of time developing your step-by-step procedures, but requiring your IC to follow them means you have an employee, not an IC.

Require certain hours –You cannot require that an IC be “open” or “available” during any specific hours that they are not paying you.  The IC should have her own system in place to track time if she’s charging hourly instead of by package.

Furnish software or supplies –Do not provide any software, supplies, cell phones, or even a special email address in which to conduct business or the IRS could decide that you have an employee. It is tempting and I have done it myself, but I am second thinking this due to this rule.

Assign a title  Don’t list your ICs on your website, office door, or anywhere that indicates they are part of your business.

Are You Tired of Being Broke?

Today is the last day to save on my Consultations that Convert class on April 18. Register by midnight tonight and pay only $67. After that, registration goes up to full price

How many of you struggle with conducting consultations, knowing how to get people into consultation, how to proceed with the conversation, what questions to ask, how to convert prospects into paying clients and how to follow-up effectively? If you have it all figured out, this post isn’t for you and you can stop reading.

But if this is an area you need help with, I have to ask you: 

WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

Aren’t you sick and tired of always being broke? When are you going to invest in yourself and your success by getting the training you need to finally start making some durn money?!

I came across an adage recently that seems very appropriate:

So if not now, when?

Of course, you can always just keep on doing what you’re doing and spend the rest of your life hoping you can glean what you need to learn in dribs and drabs. (How’s that working out for you?) But that’s no way to take charge of your life and start building the business of your dreams. It’ll take you FOR-EVAH that way.

Take the bull by the horns NOW and get the education you need to start landing those clients once and for all. I’m giving you the opportunity to get this business skills training at a bargain. Get your registration in by midnight tonight; you’ll save some money and you’re going to come away with the skills to convert your prospects into paying clients!

Who Ever Said You Have to Conduct Consultations In Person?

Who ever said that you have to conduct consultations in person just because a potential client is local?

You don’t.

You might meet people locally in person, but that doesn’t mean you have to conduct your actual consultations with them that way.

In fact, there are lots of reasons to conduct all your consults by phone, regardless of location. For example:

  • In-person consultations cost double the time and energy.
  • Managing expectations is an important part of successful relationships. If you conduct a consult from your home office, prospective clients may get the wrong idea once you begin working together, whether it’s thinking (wrongly) they can drop in any time they please, having clients show up at your doorstep unexpectedly, or having clients always wanting to meet in person after that once you’ve set that precedent.
  • Conducting consults outside your home office (e.g., local coffee shop), can be distracting and you may not be able to stay focused and concentrate and do as effective a job of the consultation in that environment.
  • Likewise, in that environment, a client may not open up to you as much in a public place as they might if you were both enjoying the privacy of your own personal offices and meeting over the phone.

YOU get to inform prospects how you do things, not the other way around. 😉

Dear Danielle: How Can I Refuse a Client without Getting Into Legal Trouble?

In this episode of What Would Danielle Say?, LH from the United States writes to ask:

Dear Danielle:

I am in the process of starting my Administrative Consulting business and am at the point where I need to develop policies and procedures. I was reading your post of Oct. 23, 2012 (You Do NOT Have to Take the Good with the Bad) about being able to choose which clients you want to work with and having the right to refuse any client you choose. How exactly do you go about refusing a prospective client diplomatically and without setting yourself up for legal troubles? Have you ever had an experience like this? —LH

I asked LH to elaborate a bit more on what legal troubles she was referring to:

I’m thinking, for instance, if I were to say to a prospect that I didn’t think we were a good match for a business relationship because of the type of business they are in. I have not run into this problem and I’m just thinking generally and hypothetically because I know how crazy people can get over the least little thing. I wouldn’t want to end up being sued for “discrimination” when it would be a simple matter of conscience. I hope that as I continue to narrow my target market (I’m still in the startup phase) that problem would be eliminated. But I like to consider all the random “what ifs” just to make sure my bases are covered. I guess you can say I have the “prepare for the worst but expect the best” attitude.  I would love to know your thoughts on the issue.

So here are my thoughts on this:

Basically, it’s a non-issue and you’re borrowing needless worry. Don’t do that. 😉

Let me put your mind at ease. You are not obligated, legally or otherwise, to take on any client who is not a fit for you. As you stated very well yourself, it’s a matter of conscience and ethics.

You can’t do your best work or have a mutually happy-making relationship with any client who foundationally is not a great match for you. It’s for their benefit as much as yours that you decline clients who are not ideal.

You already understand this. I think you maybe just needed some confirmation and validation. Amirite? :)

So how this would normally play out is that you present lots of in-depth, educational content on your website so that your ideal clients are drawn to you, recognize themselves in your descriptions and see that you are just the right person who knows how to help them with their administrative needs, goals and challenges.

In this way, your website content also becomes part of your front-line pre-qualification system because it organically helps weed out those prospects who are not a fit at the same time it is attracting your ideal prospects, getting them interested and moving them to the next step.

Next, you have a consultation and part of your consultation process might entail that potential clients complete a form or preliminary questionnaire so you can gather information before you meet and further determine (again, as part of the whole pre-qualifying process) if this is a prospect who fits your ideal client profile.

If they do, that’s when you proceed to meet in a consultation where you ask your questions and talk, see if there’s good chemistry and get the info you need to find out whether this is someone you can help and want to work with or not.

If after going through all those steps, it turns out you don’t want to take that person on as a client, that you’re not a fit for whatever reason, you simply inform them that after considering all the information, you aren’t going to be the best person to meet their needs.

I also like what you also said about it being a matter of conscience. It’s diplomatic and it’s the truth so include that. It let’s them know you’re looking out for their best interests and that it’s nothing personal.

Be sure to provide them with the links to the ACA Directory and the Client Guide so that they can continue in their search. And if you happen to know of a specific colleague who might be a better fit, refer them to that person as well.

Perhaps you’ve discovered they were confused entirely about what you are and do and need another kind of professional entirely so be sure to give them that advice to  aid them in their search. (And if that is the case, it means you need to go back to your website and improve the message because it is clearly not doing it’s job of thoroughly and properly educating visitors about what you do, who you do it for and how you help them.)

Now, ideally, your prequalifying processes weed those folks out and determine whether someone is a good client candidate long before you expend your valuable time in consultation. That is the purpose and goal of having a system of intentional prequalification. This will be particularly important later in your business when you are more established and have less time to spare in what I call “practice” consultations. You will want to reserve your time and energy only for the most ideal of prospects so always be honing and improving upon your prequalifying systems.

This is another one of the places that having a very specific target market is going to make a dramatic difference in your success. When you know specifically the profession and the profile of the kind of client you want to work with, you can create much more extensive, compelling copy to attract them to you and move them through the process of becoming a client. And when you know who you ideal AND non ideal client is, it will be easier for you to recognize the red flags that start waving when you are dealing with a non ideal potential client so that you can head things off before you waste any time in consultation.

I have a couple of products that will help you tremendously in these areas.

I’ve explained the basic outline of consulting for retained clients, but there’s obviously much more to the entire process and a certain methodology to things that makes them effective. You need to know how to talk with prospects, how to set up your prequalifying systems, how to lead the conversation and what questions to ask that will best facilitate moving your ideal prospects to becoming monthly-paying retainer clients.

Breaking the Ice: Your Complete Step-by-Step System to Confidently Lead the Consultation Conversation and Convert Prospects to Retained Clients

Breaking the Ice: Your Complete, Step-by-Step System to Confidently Lead the Consultation Conversation and Convert Prospects to Retained Clients (GDE-03)

You also mention needing to establish policies and processes and I have a product for setting up a lean, mean, streamlined biz mo-chine that both enables you to take better care of clients AND gives you more time, freedom and flexibility for your own life. This guide gives you policies and processes and shares some standards to adopt for streamlining and simplifying your administration and operations:

Power Productivity & Biz Management for Administrative Consultants: The 14 Simple Systems that Will Breathe Freedom, Flexibility and LIFE Back into Your Business and Relationship with Clients

Power Productivity & Biz Management for Administrative Consultants: The 14 Simple Systems that Will Breathe Freedom, Flexibility and LIFE Back into Your Business and Relationship with Clients (GDE-41)