Archive for the ‘Consulting with Clients’ Category

What We Mean by “Partnering” with Clients

What We Mean By Partnering with Clients

Partnering is a word we use often in our industry.

Sometimes people (both in and outside our industry) don’t know what we mean when we use that word in relation to administrative support. They don’t understand why a partnering relationship is useful to them.

We’re actually talking about a few things when we use the term partnering:

  1. We’re referring descriptively to the personal, one-on-one, ongoing relationship between two people (as opposed to an occasional, impersonal one where the work is a one-time or sporadic series of transactions with no deeper relationship than that).
  2. We’re referring to fit and chemistry.
  3. And most importantly and beneficial to clients, we’re talking about the sympatico, intuitive, shared body of knowledge and understanding that occurs when a client works with an administrative support partner in an ongoing relationship.

This is the only way to get to know and understand a client and his/her business at any deeper level.

The benefit and value of this, of course, is that clients get someone who “learns” them: who they are and how they think, how they like things done, what their frustrations and annoyances are, what their challenges and obstacles are, what their idiosyncratic workstyle is, and what their bigger picture goals and aspirations are.

It’s only in that kind of personal, ongoing relationship that an administrative partner can learn to anticipate her client’s needs in a variety of ways. As they get to know each other more and more, an administrative partner can work and think more independently on behalf of her client and complete work with that “big picture” context and understanding of the client’s business in mind.

The client then doesn’t have to repeat him/herself over and over to every different person and can feel more confident and at ease in letting go and allowing things to get done on his/her behalf.

This makes the client’s life infinitely easier, and he/she has more time to focus on other things.

By investing in the relationship for the long-term, clients eventually get someone who is always working in a way that supports their needs, their interests, their ways and their objectives in mind, just as the client would themselves.

The longer they work together, the more that knowledge and understanding grows, and the easier it is to work and do more together.

But that only happens within an ongoing, one-on-one relationship.

A cog in a wheel is just that — a cog.

A cog’s ability to think critically and act independently (which is of huge benefit to clients) is extremely hindered. The left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing (or only knows a very limited or isolated part).

Working in that context requires a lot more effort from the client, which can add to their exhaustion and overwhelm and burden.

It certainly doesn’t free up more of their time because they have to oversee and micro-manage all the myriad moving parts.

If they had an administrative partner, on the other hand, someone who takes on certain roles and functions accordingly, that is tremendously freeing for clients.

It’s important to keep in mind that clients don’t know everything and are often too close to their own businesses to see the forest for the trees (as we all are).

As someone who is able to get to know a client’s business nearly as well as they do themselves, by virtue of that deeper, ongoing relationship, an administrative partner can be immensely helpful and valuable to the client by being able to see and bring to attention those things which the client might not know or see from their perspective.

That said, we shouldn’t expect that clients already know and understand this value. They might think, I just need someone who will do what I tell them to do.

But that is a cog, a trained monkey — not an administrative partner.

That’s why it’s always our job as Administrative Consultants to help our potential clients understand how administrative partnering and working in a long-term, continuous — not transactional — relationship can be tremendously valuable to them.

Like any of us, so often it’s the case that they simply don’t know what they don’t know. So the more you develop and lead the client through your own processes, the more you define the roles and functions you can take on for them, the easier you make it for them to see and understand that value.

Flunkies and gophers are a dime a dozen. Their value and usefulness is also extremely limited. Clients don’t expect to pay them much more than that either. 😉

But that’s not what you are as an Administrative Consultant.

As Seth Godin so elegantly puts it: You are not a task rabbit. You’re a professional doing unique work that matters.

RELATED ARTICLE: I’m Not Your Partner?

RESOURCE: If you want a bit of extra help articulating to clients the value and benefits of working together, you can also direct them to the ACA Client Guide.

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What has been your experience with this? Do you ever have trouble articulating your value to clients? Do they ever have trouble “getting” it?

Your Consultation Will Make You or Break You

Your Consultation Will Make You or Break You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s Not How This Works, That’s Not How ANY of This Works

That's Not How This Works, That's Not How ANY of This Works

You know, we always see these articles constantly telling clients who want to get help from those of us in the administrative support business that they need to instruct us on this, tell us how to do that, yada yada yada… as if how the consultation will proceed, how our businesses and processes work, what we do and don’t do and how we do it are all up to them — like they were hiring an employee.

And all I can do is shake my head as I read these confounded articles and think:

“Um, no. That’s not how this works. That’s not how ANY of this works.”

First of all, clients aren’t (or at least shouldn’t be thinking they are) hiring a trained monkey.

Second of all, if a client is talking to anyone who doesn’t have the faintest idea of her own processes in her own business, that is not someone any client should be engaging with.

The client will be pulling her hair out before the month is out trying to elicit any form of independent thought or critical thinking from the person who is waiting to be told what to do every step of the way.

That’s no help to clients in the least little way.

Figuring it all out or having to tell you how to do everything isn’t a burden clients should need to bear.

That’s YOUR job as an independent administrative expert and business owner: to have your own consultation process that you lead clients through that works to elicit the information YOU need to form a picture of the client and their business, develop a plan of support, and guide, recommend and advise clients on where and how you can help them and the best place to start.

Of course, I should clarify that these articles are always written about “virtual assistants,” not Administrative Consultants.

That’s because people only understand the word “assistant” one way: employee.

So it’s no wonder they are confused.

But this is business — not employment — so they need to be disabused of the notion that they’re running things.

One way you do that is by not calling yourself an assistant in the first place.

They’re the client, not the dictator of how our businesses and processes work. It’s not up to them to tell you how things will proceed.

It’s their place to contact you to inquire whether you might be able to help them, and for you to inform them what the next step is in your process of finding that out and then leading them competently through your systems (as any independent business owner would).

Yet another example of why smart people in the administrative support business do not call themselves assistants. 😉

Dear Danielle: What Are Your Thoughts About this Deadbeat Client?

Dear Danielle:

I recently experienced every startup business owner’s nightmare. One of my clients (a fast talker) was extremely upset because I had to resort to threats of involving my business attorney. It is absolutely outlined and spelled out in all of my contracts. He went off on me, tried to avoid payment, but I did not back down. He refused and did not pay the late fees that are also outlined in my contract as well, then had the audacity to tell me, “I’ve been in business for 35 years and never seen such aggressive payment policies.” I reminded him how I bent all my rules for him from the start in order to accommodate his needs, drastically lowered my pay, and okayed him to pay upon invoice vs. upfront for projects. After he found that I was not going to back down and accept the loss, the funds miraculously appeared in my account. However, he did not pay the late fees he had incurred. He is someone I will always run into as we are associated with the same Chamber. Not only did he insult me countless times, but he left some very rude messages. I stayed calm the entire time and continually reminded him of the contract we had gone over together and signed, and how with any business, his included, no one will render services without payment. My attorney advised me to take the loss for the fees because he eventually paid and to let it go, especially considering how low the amount was from start. Needless to say, after a long disturbing message from client, he says, “We will no longer do business. Don’t call us anymore.” I laughed thinking, he can’t be serious? Surely, he couldn’t have thought there would be any more services after that. Ultimately, I thought about it; he knew I had just begun. What he didn’t know is that I have many years of experience behind me. Just because a business is up and coming, that doesn’t mean you’re illiterate as to how business should flow. I am now considering that he may taint my good name with lies to cover what he has done. What are your thoughts? —Chaunte’

I’m guessing while you are justifiably upset, you may also be feeling a bit beat up and second-guessing yourself, wondering if you were out-of-line in any way.

I don’t know the backstory here so I’m not entirely sure what happened, but if you did work he engaged you to do, you are certainly entitled to be paid.

That said, I call these first clients (the ones we take on when we’re new and not entirely sure what we’re doing just yet) “practice” clients.

We learn a lot from these initial clients, particularly what we don’t want in our businesses, who we want to avoid working with in the future (i.e., un-ideal clients), and what red flags to look for and be conscious of going forward.

We also have to cut ourselves a little slack when we’re new, forgive our missteps and possible clumsiness.

The good news is that we can learn from these experiences, gain clarity about how to do things differently next time, tweak and adjust our processes and infrastructure accordingly, and improve our finesse.

Since you asked for thoughts, I’ll share a few in no particular order in the hope that you find some useful ideas…

  1. The first thing I keyed in on was your characterization of this client as being “a fast talker.” This seems like the first red flag to appear that you recognized, and yet you took him on anyway. It would be worthwhile to do a bit of soul-searching and ask yourself why? If it was clear to you that this client was a bit of a “Slick Willy,” what made you ignore that red flag and not trust your first instincts? Will you ignore your intuition the next time this kind of client approaches you? Is this the kind of client you really want to be working with? If not, what will you do differently next time?
  2. The other related thing that stood out was your mention of how you bent over backwards for this client, gave him discounts and breaks you normally wouldn’t, and stepped over your own policies and self-interests. Why? Because no good ever comes from this; all it does is teach clients how to treat us poorly and take us for granted. So it would be good to ponder and examine what might be going on here. What I see that often happens is when we are new (and I had a very similar problem when I was new in business myself), and we don’t yet have a firm frame of reference of our value, we tend to overcompensate. We don’t think what we offer is enough; we think we need to “prove” ourselves. In fact, this is the worst thing we can indulge in when we’re new because the worst kind of clients smell that neediness and desperation like blood in the water. A lot of this clears up as we gain experience in business and working with clients. But often a person can go out of business before they can gain the insights, professional self-esteem and confidence to overcome these debilitating tendencies. This is why I always tell people that they can’t afford to work with crappy clients, not for any amount of money — they’re business killers. They can destroy a person’s morale and confidence in the blink of an eye.
  3. This does not sound like a joyful experience whatsoever. If you have clients you have to threaten with attorneys and legal action, there is something very wrong. Sure, you might be in the right, but do you really want a life and business working with people who are not honorable, that you can’t trust, who disrespect you with nonpayment? I’m guessing not. So, one important step to avoid this in your business moving forward is to start two lists: one for all the traits and characteristics of your ideal client and one for all the traits and characteristics of your UN-ideal client. Continue to add to these lists with every new client experience throughout the life of your business. It will be a constant work in progress; the point is that it is one of the very best exercises in getting clear about who you do and don’t want as clients so that you heed red flags and trust your gut in the future. As you consult with new clients, keep those lists handy. They’ll remind you whenever you’re tempted to step over your own standards about who you do and don’t want to work with (and more importantly, why).
  4. Yes, it’s good to have proper contracts with legal language that spells out what the recourse and late fees will be if a client doesn’t pay. At the same time, this should always be a very last resort for the very worst case scenarios. The best course is to avoid working with crappy clients in the first place. The better, more productive, focus is not to underscore every legal point to hammer clients over the head with them, but to improve the ways in which you get clients and how they are educated all along the way. This is why we have a website and steer clients there first so it can pre-educate them and set the proper context. It’s why we have a specific consultation process to further instill proper mindsets and education, as well as determine fit, before we take on clients. It’s why we need to get clear about the business we intend to be in (e.g., do you want to be in the project business where everything is a transaction, or in the business of ongoing administrative support where there is a more personal relationship and where you can charge an upfront retainer?). It’s why we are discerning about the clients we take on and go through specific, intentional steps in onboarding new clients (e.g., having a Client Guide and conducting a new client orientation with new administrative support clients). It’s why we get clear about our own standards, values and goals and what is important to us in our businesses — so that we can establish the policies, procedures and protocols that support them.
  5. I agree with your attorney. Even though you may be entitled to them, forget about the late fees. It sounds like you got the principle amount. This client is not worth allowing him to suck any more of your precious attention. To continue to let it take up space in your mind is giving energy to the wrong thing, to your detriment. For your own sake, forget about this client and move on.
  6. Deadbeat clients can happen to the best of us, particularly when we’re new. At the same time, clients often don’t pay because they aren’t happy with something. Did he give any reasons for why he wasn’t paying? Did you ask him? A lot of times some honest dialogue and meaningful probing can unearth what the real problem is. Barring a client just being a jerk and thinking he can take advantage (which it sounds like this client was), it’s very useful to us to forget about being in the right and make a sincere attempt to see things from the other person’s perspective when an issue crops up (which it can even in the best client relationships). The insight and feedback we can gain is like gold to our businesses — as long as we make good use of it.  So don’t shy away from direct, honest, respectful dialogue with clients. Don’t be afraid to ask — and hear — what could I do differently? What would make this better for you? You can use it to figure out where your blindspots might be and improve your systems and processes (for them and for you).
  7. One way to avoid deadbeat or otherwise un-ideal clients is to have a website. I noticed you don’t have one yet. While I get that people often want to take on clients before they have a website in place to start making money right away (and there is no shortage of morons out there telling people they don’t need a website to start their business), I would argue that this is a mistake. It is not to your benefit in any way for you to be doing business without a website. In so many ways, your website IS the business. Your website isn’t just a way to market what you have to offer. Its other value to you is that it provides a tool with which you can properly educate clients and set and manage their expectations and mindsets before you ever start working together. This is what will get you more consults with more (and better) clients.  To take on clients without the benefit of a website where you can send them to get informed about how things work in your business, what business you are actually in, who you are looking to work with (and who you’re not), etc., is like charging into battle without a gun. Your website can help you prequalify and attract more of your ideal clients, educate them in the way you need them to be so they enter the relationship with the right expectations and mindsets and understandings (and respect!), and weed out those who are not a good fit for you so your time is not wasted.
  8. It’s important to note that this was a project client, not a retained client where you were providing an ongoing relationship of administrative support. These are two completely different business models. It’s worth getting clear and intentional about which kind of business you want to have because the kind of clients you get, the way you work together, how you get them, how you make your money, and the processes you go through with each are very, very different from each other.
  9. Another way to get more intentional about the business you consciously choose to be in and the kind of clients you want to work with is to choose a target market. A target market is simply a field/industry/profession that you cater your administrative support to (like attorneys or financial advisors or coaches or speakers, etc., etc.). The benefit is that when you know specifically who you’re focusing on, you can get clear (more quickly and easily) about how to craft your solutions, how to market them, and where to find and get clients more quickly and easily. When you have a target market, you don’t have to take on projects with any ol’ client for not enough money. It helps you get more of your ideal clients and provide more ideal solutions designed specifically for them (which allows you to command higher fees).
  10. We always get a do-over. Each and every day is a new chance to learn, improve, do differently and grow.

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What about you? Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? How did you resolve it and what did you change moving forward?Save

How to Manage Last-Minute Work Requests at the End of the Month

In view of recent inquiries from colleagues, today I’d like to point you to one of my classic posts that relates to setting and managing client expectations through the policies and procedures you institute in your practice, and working with clients in a way that honors your standards and boundaries around self-care, effective business management, and quality of work and client-care.

Dear Danielle: How Can I Handle Last Minute Work Requests at the End of the Month?

How to Talk About Mistakes with Clients Before They Happen

How to Talk About Mistakes with Clients Before They Happen

You are going to make mistakes.

I can tell you this right now with absolute, 100% certainty.

It’s just a fact of life as a human being.

They may not be convenient. They are often messy and untidy, but mistakes and imperfections are the patina of life.

At the very least, you have to accept this. You might even embrace it and have it work in your favor.

Talking about mistakes with clients before they happen and how those situations are handled can be really useful in any truly authentic consultation discussion.

In fact, as crazy as it sounds, talking frankly about mistakes actually puts clients at ease.

They trust you more because you aren’t making far-fetched promises they know in their heart simply aren’t feasible.

Someone who says they never make mistakes is full of it (or delusional).

No matter how attractive fantasies and wishful thinking are, we all recognize this at a very basic level.

And so you become someone much more trustworthy and believable in their eyes when you admit the truth of the matter.

That’s not to say you should be telling clients, “Yeah, I’m gonna make mistakes left and right, all day long.”

You wouldn’t be a competent professional worth paying if that was the case.

The point is that while you should absolutely be at the top of your game and always giving your best to clients, there are going to be occasions when a mistake happens.

You might misunderstand something or lack information. It’s also not always clear when you need clarification and you proceed with what you think is the complete picture.

Whatever the case, there are simply going to be occasions (and they should occasions, not the norm) when either external or internal factors foul you up.

When it comes to conducting consultations with prospective clients, you want to get a feel for how they will handle those situations as well as be upfront and clear about how you expect to be treated in any circumstance.

Talking about these situations before they come up lets new clients know how to behave if/when they occur. At the same time, it helps you weed out potentially wrong-fitting clients and bring everyone’s attitudes and expectations to a more conscious level of awareness and mutual understanding.

This is what is formally called in business as “managing client expectations.”

What I like to tell prospective clients is basically this:

“I am exceptionally good at what I do. I can absolutely, confidently declare this. I’m also human and once in awhile, I am going to make a mistake. I very much need and want to know if/when that happens so I can fix it and work to ensure it doesn’t happen again where that’s possible. I welcome your input and feedback. To make sure our relationship remains happy, mutually respectful and most importantly, helpful to you, I look to work with clients who aren’t so quick to be upset, but rather will trust and have confidence in the fact that I will make things right once it is brought to my attention. And I will always strive to earn and maintain that trust and confidence. At any time that I fail to maintain your trust and confidence in my service and abilities, I would fully expect that you’d want to end our relationship. In any situation, I always, always expect to be treated and spoken to respectfully, with the same courtesy, respect and professionalism that it is my standard to extend to you and all my clients.”

This, of course, is always delivered conversationally, but those are the main points I like to cover.

We then have a discussion about their thoughts on the subject. Based on their tone and responses in this discussion, I can usually tell (or at least simply decide) if someone seems like he or she would be a good client to work with, one who will be likely to maintain calm composure, respect and professionalism towards me in the event a mistake is made.

[Important Side Note: You naturally want clients with whom you can have great relationships. Plain and simple, it’s just not profitable or energizing to work with poor-fitting, abusive clients. And so you choose clients well as best you can. That’s all any of us can do, and it’s one of the important reasons to conduct thorough consultations. But if it turns out a client isn’t so great to work with, you always have the option of ending the relationship. You are never stuck. Always remember that.]

Unrealistic expectations are often rooted in impossible ideas of perfection. In talking about mistakes when I conduct consultations with clients, and how they should be viewed, I like to use proofreading as an analogy.

I explain that the value of a proofreader is not that he or she is going to be absolutely perfect 100% of the time. That’s unreasonable and humanly impossible. We should never proofread our own work because we can’t see our mistakes much of the time. Even if you give that work to five other people, each of those five people is going to miss something, guaranteed. So while all of us (including clients) might work and strive for perfection, we always need to keep in mind that it’s not “perfectly” attainable. Likewise, the value in great proofreading is not that the proofreader will never, ever miss something. Even if they are pretty darn close to being perfect, their true value is that they have a firm command of the language and rules of grammar, punctuation and usage to know what to look for in the first place. Skill is important, but without that knowledge and sensibility at the core, there would be no skill.

So this is the part of the conversation I have with clients during our consultation to help shape their expectations and feel them out with regard to how they deal with mistakes (or any other situation for that matter) and what ideas they may have about perfection.

The more you conduct consultations, have these discussions and work with clients, the more you’ll develop your own green and red flag intuitions for deciding who is likely to be a great client, and who is more likely to be a demoralizing soul sucker with unreasonable standards of perfection.

(Hint: Prospects who have realistic expectations about mistakes and give all indications of being able to maintain an even keel and professional demeanor towards you tend to make for better, more ideal clients. 😉 )

Breaking the Ice: Your Complete, Step-by-Step System for Confidently Leading the Consultation Conversation and Converting Prospects into Well-Paying Monthly Clients Who Can't Wait to Work with You (GDE-03)

If you are looking to grow a practice of ideal clients who pay you a monthly retainer fee for your administrative support, check out my guide on successfully conducting client consultations: Breaking the Ice: Your Complete, Step-by-Step System for Confidently Leading the Consultation Conversation and Converting Prospects into Well-Paying Monthly Clients Who Can’t Wait to Work with You (GDE-03). In this guide, I share with you my entire, fool-proof system—based on 20 years successful experience in this business— for getting every client I want, every time.

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.