Recently, a colleague shared an excellent article about saying no to unnecessary meetings and respecting our own time more overall. (You can read the full article here.)
I definitely share the author’s sentiments and have written versions of the same message myself many times over the years. (This, for example.)
It’s so important to remember that as service providers, we are running businesses. We are not gophers for clients to do with as they please.
In fact, we have a duty to protect and preserve our important business resources (e.g., our time and energy) and use them most efficiently and effectively so that we can continue to help clients and do our best work for them. A business won’t survive otherwise.
As such, it is up to us to set our own policies and expectations in clients around how and when meetings work as well as what the communication protocols shall be.
Those aren’t things that are up to clients to dictate, and they should not be expecting that as a matter of course.
It reminded me of the time I ran across someone who was very young (no work, business, or life experience to speak of) and brand new in our industry whose first client had her attending all “team” meetings by phone every single morning.
At the time, she defended it and could not be convinced otherwise that it was not her role as a business owner to have clients require her to attend their regular, daily internal meetings.
Eventually she wised up and learned (the hard way) that business owners are not employees, and it most certainly is not any client’s place to “require” you to do anything. 😉
I was also reminded of one of my early clients whose belief that “the customer is always right” was killing her. She came to dread working with her clients because of this unhealthy belief system, and it was creating an existential crisis in her life.
How could she make her living if she was beginning to hate dealing with her clients? She loved her work, just not everything they were “requiring” her to do, particularly when it came to endless meetings.
She was a solopreneur making over $1 million a year. That’s not the kind of money that’s easy to walk away from, but at the same time, her clients were running her ragged and she was miserable. Something had to give.
So I thought I would share the story of how I helped her shed this mindset and the steps we took to turn things around in her business so she could enjoy working with her clients again and not quit her business.
It’s a good example of how we, as Administrative Consultants, are so often in a position to guide and advise clients as a natural extension of our administrative support, expertise, and experience.
Perhaps it will inspire some ideas in your own Administrative Consulting practice on how you can further help clients.
This client was a high-end gala designer who conceptualized, produced, and executed the theme and experience of major fundraising events (think multi-million dollar budgets for $5,000+ a plate balls).
One of the pitfalls of her business was that she was constantly being sucked into endless group meetings with the local boards of these events, sometimes two or more times a week.
And she absolutely hated it.
These meetings were such an unnecessary time-suck and complete waste of productive time.
They ate up far more in travel time and preparation than the meetings themselves, which would sometimes last over two hours.
And more often than she’d prefer, they turned out to be merely bickering sessions between board members who couldn’t agree on anything. What did they need her there for?
Worst of all, attending all these meetings utterly stifled her creative energy—the very thing she was paid big bucks for!
This client was amazing at what she did. It’s a unique form of art in and of itself.
But while she knew what she was doing when it came to her talent, she had no previous business experience or training so dealing with clients, setting boundaries, and managing expectations was all new territory for her.
Since she had no frame of reference, she just assumed, like a lot of new business owners, that the “customer is always right” and whatever they want or ask is how she should be doing things.
One day as she was getting ready and lamenting to me over the phone about having to go to yet another one of these dreaded “dog-and-pony shows” as she referred to them, I asked her, “So why do you keep going? Do you realize you can say “no” to these meetings? YOU are the artist, not their employee. If they want to work with you, they need to conform to how YOUR service works, not the other way around.”
This was an epiphany to her!
She was this amazing, sought-after designer, and it had never once occurred to her that she could refuse to indulge in these endless, ridiculous wastes of her time; that it was, in fact, imperative for her to do so from that moment forward or she wouldn’t be good to anyone, least of all herself.
How could she do her best work for these clients if she allowed them to deplete her?
And if she didn’t put her foot down and start respecting her own time and energy, they certainly weren’t going to either.
Having done this in my own business and having helped a couple other clients by that time in this area as well, I outlined some of the things that could be done that would make a dramatic, positive difference in her business and how she worked with clients.
She resolved right then and there that she simply could not go on as she had been and asked me to help her.
First, since this was project-based work above, beyond, and different from (i.e., not included in) the monthly retainer she paid for my administrative support, I determined an upfront monthly flat fee for my consulting services. I estimated that we would need 3-4 months to fully implement everything.
Through a series of weekly phone calls, we explored and documented the specific issues she wasn’t happy with in her business. During these calls I provided suggestions and helped her see how we could rectify the issues she was experiencing by clearly identifying her standards (e.g., what values were important to her around money, work, clients; what she wanted for her business, for herself, and for her clients) and then implementing policies and procedures and creating tools that worked in support of those standards.
Our work together involved:
- Making a list of the problem issues that were making her miserable and inhibited her creative flow.
- Creating a picture on paper of what she wanted her business to look like, how she ideally wanted things work.
- Formalizing her standards and values around these things on paper.
- Helping her visualize and map out her client and creative processes and the practical steps involved, and charting this out on paper.
- Fleshing out and formalizing new and improved policies and procedures and incorporating them into her client contract.
- Creating a “client bible” (a/k/a Client Guide) that shared with clients her values around the whole client experience and preserving her time and creative energy with smart policies and procedures so she could do her best work for them. This guide worked as a tool that further educated and informed clients and set and managed their expectations about how she worked with clients, her communication protocols, the different stages of her design process, the specific kind and number of meetings that would be involved in her process, as well as what was expected from the clients themselves. For example, with regard to the dreaded meetings, the new protocol that I suggested and she agreed would be perfect was that beyond the initial consultation or two, she did not work or meet directly with boards or committees once she was engaged. She required clients to appoint one to three people that she would be working directly with from that point forward, with one of those people being her primary contact and liaison. This required boards and committees to work out their ideas and disagreements among themselves first on their own dime. This saved her a lot of angst and was a much more efficient and effective process for all involved.
Besides needing to stop the cycle of endless meetings she had allowed her clients to expect, we also identified that how and when they were expecting to communicate with her the rest of the time (i.e., ringing her any time of day and night!) was another one of her problem areas.
Here again, she had the misguided and detrimental belief that she had to be constantly accessible to clients on demand. She thought it would make them “like” and appreciate her more.
But being too available, she realized, was backfiring and actually had the opposite effect of causing them to have no respect or regard for her, which definitely was not her intention.
We set that right by establishing formal communication standards, policies, and protocols that clearly informed clients about her client hours and what forms of communication were acceptable and when.
This was something she hadn’t done before whatsoever!
Going through this process helped her see even more clearly how she was not respecting her own time and value and, therefore, clients weren’t either.
She realized where she was being too informal when it came to certain polite boundaries, and too lax in charging for other things, as well as simply not charging more profitably overall.
It helped her see where she could be charging higher fees and more intentional in how she worked with clients and doing things in a way that worked with HER creative process.
Toward the end of this realigning/re-centering process, we identified areas where my monthly administrative support could be further utilized to help ease even more of her burdens.
For example, with the newly identified and mapped out client-onboarding process we put together, we could clearly see steps that I could take on for her that would free up more of her time and attention such as the contract-signing and payment process, dissemination of the client guide, answering initial client emails and questions, and setting up and administering client files and accounts.
(This increased workload, of course, warranted an increase in my monthly administrative support fee.)
By engaging in the effort to change what wasn’t working for her, she took a stand for:
- her own self-care,
- doing work that was up to her professional and artistic standards, and
- what she needed from clients in order to accomplish those objectives.
She learned that by setting clear boundaries and parameters, she wasn’t saying no to clients (something she was extremely averse to doing previously), she was actually saying yes to providing them with the best experience and outcomes possible.
When clients had a better understanding of the boundaries and protocols expected, they became much easier and happier to work with, and were much happier with her and what she created for them.
The consequence of our work together was literally life-changing for her:
- She realized that “being nice” and forever agreeable to meeting after meeting was not benefiting her or her clients.
- She hadn’t realized before that clients only had meeting after meeting because they didn’t know any better either. Her taking charge of her own business and processes gave them the leadership and guidance they needed (and unknowingly craved) from her as the professional in the relationship. The happy, unexpected byproduct was that they saved themselves all that wasted time and energy as well.
- By better respecting her own time, it helped her also gain more respect for the value of what she created for clients.
- She ended up having more time to take on more ideal projects and do even better work for the clients she served.
- She increased her fees and kept better account of work and value for which she should be charging.
- Because she wasn’t stuck in endless meetings any longer, she had more time to go on the soul-enriching trips around the world that fed her creativity which, in turn, benefited her clients.
- And, perhaps most importantly, her joy and happiness returned which further fueled her creativity and excitement for the work.
I hope this helps you see how you, as the person who provides your clients with administrative support and expertise, are in such a perfect position to also be of help to them in improving and growing their businesses.
I have worked with and observed far too often consultants who simply don’t have the administrative skill and expertise to execute their ideas for clients (much less had anyone like you who could help them do that, hint hint).
As someone who is intimately involved in and familiar with your clients’ businesses, you can be so much more effective in not only sharing advice and ideas for improvements, but also implementing those changes and incorporating them into the administration of the business overall.
It’s why we are Administrative + Consultants. 😉
I have a LOT more to teach you on this.
When you learn how to do all these things in your own business, you can also do them for your clients.
One blog post isn’t going to do it, though; it’s just not an adequate medium for that kind of learning.
My best advice is always to get my entire system because each piece is an integral part of the overall picture. You can’t fully learn one area with the absence of the others.
If you are only able to start with one piece, however, my Pricing & Packaging Guide will show you how to understand and map out different work and revenue streams in your business and how to present and provide that kind of additional support to your clients (and how to make more money yourself doing it!).
Any questions, shoot me an email. I’m always happy to help where I can. 🙂