Archive for the ‘Consulting with Clients’ Category

How I Helped One of My Clients Love Her Business and Clients Again and Make More Money

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. 🙂

Here Is Another Good Question to Ask in Your Consultations

Here Is Another Good Question to Ask in Your Consultations

Self-care is a big theme in my life this year due to having to manage the care of my elderly father for the past five years who has Parkinson’s Disease and Lewy Bodies dementia, on top of trying to manage my business and client work and have some semblance of personal life left.

Life happens, and you will thank yourself to the moon and back for putting smart policies and processes in place now that honor your boundaries, standards, and needs in your business.

Along that vein, choosing clients well plays a huge role in taking good care of yourself, your business, even your other clients—because one bad client causes a host of problems not only for you, but for them as well, in all kinds of direct and indirect ways.

One of the traits to look for in your ideal clients is that they are easy to work with. Clients who are easy to work with are amenable to your systems and processes (because those are what allow you to work well together successfully), and open to doing things in new and different ways than they may be used to doing them on their own.

This, therefore, is a vital topic to address in your consultations if you are seeking to connect with the best-fitting clients possible.

You could frame the question something like this:

“Similar to how you have certain ways of doing things in your business, I also have specific methods, protocols, and systems in place that allow me to best manage my various client workloads and create optimum efficiency. Any new clients I accept onto my roster need to be amenable with these methods and systems and open to some new ways of doing things in order for us to work together effectively. For example, I may need you to adopt a certain format for email subject lines and be consistent about that. Is this something you feel you can do and are open to?”

Something like this will open up an exploratory conversation that can also give you some good indications as to how easy or difficult a prospective client may be to work with.

If they think they are too important, “too busy” to pay attention to details like that, or if they are otherwise resistant or dismissive of what you need from them, that is a red flag you should heed.

They need to understand that in order to work together and for the relationship to work, there are simply some things you are going to need from them in order to do your best work and run a sane and happy practice (which benefits everyone).

If they can’t fulfill that end of the bargain, those are people you should think twice about taking on.

Clients who make you pull your hair out are just not worth the headaches they create in your business and your life.

PS: Implementing a thorough, well-thought out consultation process is one of the BEST things you can ever do for yourself and your business as it will help you get more ideal clients who say YES! to working with you and weed any with whom you don’t wish to work.

No, You Don’t Need to Publish Pricing on Your Website

No, You Do Not Need to Publish Pricing on Your Website

I heard the most ridiculous thing this morning.

Yet another internet marketer was telling people that it’s a matter of respect to publish pricing on your website, that you are being “manipulative” if you don’t publish prices so that a “logical, rational, open-hearted, responsible ADULT” can decide whether it’s in their price range.

This is the kind of thing cheapskates say.

And I’ve got news for them: respect goes both ways.

In fact, what’s manipulative and dishonest is them implying that you are manipulative, dishonest, and not an open-hearted adult if you don’t publish your prices.

Playing to the lowest common denominator is a race to the bottom of the client barrel, folks.

Nothing good comes from listening to those who merely want you to make it easier for them to pit providers against each other on price so they can get something of value for as little as possible.

Let me set you straight. Not posting pricing has nothing to do with being manipulative or coercive.

It’s the fact, plain and simple, that more conversation is needed with a provider before cost can be determined.

Because here’s what “logical, rational, open-hearted” adults also know: their needs are not going to be exactly the same as the next person’s needs and, therefore, cost can vary depending on differing particulars and variables.

  • If you need your fence painted, would you want a one-size-fits all price?
  • If your fence area is much shorter than the mansion down the street whose fence is taller and covers vastly more square footage, would you expect to be charged the same amount of money?
  • And what needs are important to you when it comes to your fence?
  • Are you looking for more of a quick, slap-dash, cosmetic kind of job and aren’t much more invested in it than that?
  • Or are you looking for something that shows more obvious high quality work that involves more prep and skill, but will stand up better to the elements as well as increase curb appeal and property value?
  • Do you need a special kind of paint or color?
  • Is long-lasting, mold-resistent paint important to you (which comes at a higher cost, but requires less maintenance and repainting)?

Do you see how more in-depth one-on-one conversation with a live, actual person here is vital?

There is more probing and questioning a provider must engage in with you in order to identify the needs, values, and results that are important to you individually before they can give you an appropriate price.

I don’t think anyone can call that anything but reasonable, rational and client-centric.

And consider this… how many times when you’ve needed services have you called around and ended up choosing the person/service that you felt the most “good” about, simply based on your actual conversation and interaction with that person/business, regardless of the price and despite how much conversation was needed?

You simply came away feeling like they cared a little more about you as a person than the next provider, about what your goals were, about the quality of their work, about doing a great job for you and making sure you got the right price for your situation.

We’re talking about human to human services here, not boxes of cereal along the grocery aisle.

Professional services (which includes the professional service of administrative support) aren’t commodities on a shelf, one exactly the same as the next.

And value-based pricing, if you follow the methodology I teach, isn’t based on an hourly rate.

The ingredients required to support one client are not necessarily going to be the same ingredients the next client needs. So there isn’t a nice, neat, one-size-fits-all price you can publish.

Providing administrative support, and professional services in general, involves more details than simply buying a box of macaroni sitting on a store shelf.

Out of respect for all parties, you owe it to both the client and yourself to require some further conversation apart from the website so that you can both get certain vital information from each other, determine where and whether you can help, and see if there’s a good mutual fit so that you can then determine what their particular plan of support would cost.

That’s something that has to be done on an individual basis, not on your website.

And rational, reasonable adults — who have a vested interest in finding real solutions and getting the right help and are not merely shopping for the cheapest provider — understand this.

Instead of publishing prices, have a conversation on your website about your approach to pricing and why you don’t publish prices. Rational, reasonable adults are perfectly capable of understanding this.

In fact, it will make perfect sense to them once you bring it to their attention. They’ll actually appreciate it and feel better knowing that you have their best interests at heart, which is exactly why one wouldn’t publish pricing.

It does clients a disservice to treat them all the same (hmm, sort of like they were nothing more to you than interchangeable boxes on a shelf).

But you can’t get more meaningful insight or learn more about them without further conversation.

The happy byproduct of that conversation, incidentally, is that they also get more insight into why they would want to choose you.

And I’ll let you in on a little secret: In a sea of websites all trying to be generically the same (and whose skills and polish tend to be just as low-grade), not publishing prices (and stating the reasons why) will be a competitive advantage that makes you stand out and will attract better, more ideal clients.

It is precisely because my ideal clients are rational, reasonable, and intelligent adults that I do not post pricing on my website. They are smart enough to understand why an actual conversation is in order first.

So, I don’t publish pricing on my website because:

  1. I am not interested in working with every ham-fisted knucklehead who stumbles upon my website.
  2. My ideal clients are rational, reasonable, intelligent adults able to grasp the necessity of further conversation before pricing can be determined and discussed.
  3. Each client is a unique individual who deserves more than a generic, one-size-fits-all solution.
  4. Each client is a human being, not a dollar figure, who deserves my time and sincere interest in learning more about their particular circumstances, goals and obstacles.
  5. I care about providing each client with a custom, personalized — not generic — plan of support that will get them the results they’re looking for and is priced accordingly. That’s not something you can generically publish pricing for.
  6. I don’t sell hours or bill hourly. Because selling hours actually works against achieving the results clients want to see in the most expedient way possible.
  7. The price of one client’s administrative support plan is not necessarily going to be the same as the next client’s, if I’m truly taking their individual needs and interests into consideration and not just trying to make as much money off every one of them as I can.
  8. If someone is only looking for the cheapest provider and my not posting prices helps them move on, that is exactly my intention. It’s part of my organic process for sorting the ideal from the unideal before they contact me.
  9. I don’t offer half-baked quick fix schemes. If my not posting prices helps move them along to someone else, that helps me reserve my time for more ideal, better qualified client candidates and consultations. This is again by design, not accident. (Looking for quick fixes is a telltale sign you’re dealing with a cheapskate who will not only devalue the work, but you and everything else along with it.)
  10. It’s just not that simple.

There is much more to say about this topic in order to fully grasp all the nuances of posting or not posting prices. I encourage you to read more here about the pros and cons of posting/not posting pricing on your website. 

And if you want — if you need — to charge more than $5/hour and you don’t want to be stuck with a poorly earning practice the rest of your life, you need to learn how to price and package your support in a way that speaks to clients and what they care about (none of which requires you to publish pricing or compromise your high standards around client care and discovery), and you need to learn how to have the whole pricing conversation that goes along with that.

I have three products that will teach and show you exactly how to implement those things, step-by-step:

  1. Breaking the Ice: Complete, Step-by-Step Guide for Confidently Leading the Consultation Conversation and Converting Prospects into Well-Paying Monthly Clients Who Can’t Wait to Work with You (GDE-03)
  2. Value-Based Pricing & Packaging Guide: How to Price and Package Your Support Value & Expertise — NOT Selling Hours (GDE-39)
  3. Build a Website that WORKS (GDE-40)

If you want better clients, if you need to improve your skills when it comes to talking with clients about price, if you want to have an easier time getting clients and consultations, there simply no way around it: you must increase your knowledge, understanding, and skill in these three key areas.

How NOT to Choose Your Clients (and What to Do Instead)

How NOT to Choose Your Clients (and What to Do Instead)

One of the best investments you can make in the long-term sustainability of your business, happiness and peace of mind is choosing your clients wisely.

As you grow in your business, your selection process will evolve and your discernment skills will improve.

No matter how young or inexperienced your business is, though, having clients meet at least some minimal criteria before you allow them on your roster will always serve you well.

That’s because choosing to work with shady or otherwise unideal clients will come back to bite you in the butt, one way or another, either sooner or later.

I was reminded recently of a colleague who reached out to me after being approached by a client who raised all kinds of red flags with her.

Being new in business, she asked me what I thought she should do, and I gave her the advice I always give in this situation: trust your gut.

And she, as new people often do, ignored her own wise counsel and all the telltale signs indicating that this was a bad idea and took the client on anyway.

While she found this client’s honesty and integrity questionable, she wanted the experience and was too eager and impatient for clients to let this first one go.

She rationalized this decision by telling herself that it wasn’t her place to judge, that everyone deserves benefit of the doubt, that she would just put blinders on and do whatever honest work she was given and not involve herself in anything beyond that, and that it wasn’t her place to question things.

She wouldn’t engage in anything illegal, unethical or dishonest, she told herself, and what she didn’t know beyond that wasn’t any of her business.

But here’s the thing: It IS your business to question things. You are deluding yourself if you think you can keep it separate and not be complicit.

Well, long story short, this did come back to haunt her, as all her instincts about this client (the ones she chose to ignore) turned out to be accurate.

It came to light that this client was engaging in some disreputable and unethical practices and ended up being sued by several parties.

She was forced legally into all the drama which caused her a lot of stress and anxiety, not to mention diverted her time, attention and energy away from her own business.

Ultimately, this client lost his business and because she had put all her eggs into this one basket, she was left with no client and no income at all. Back to square one.

These were very painful lessons she learned from this experience that caused her serious damage and could have been avoided.

It took her more than a year to start over. But I don’t think she ever gained any confidence back in herself, and it wasn’t long before her enthusiasm for her business petered out and she closed up shop.

The takeaways I hope people can glean from this are:

  1. You can’t separate your values and principles from your business. They are each a reflection of the other.
  2. You can’t associate with dishonest, unscrupulous people and expect to come out unscathed.
  3. You can’t afford to work with shady or otherwise unideal clients. It will cost you in far more ways than you realize with potentially disastrous results you may not be able to recover from. It’s an unwise, unshaky platform on which to build your business and reputation.
  4. All good things come to those who wait. Don’t be so desperate to take on the first client who comes along if they are not a good fit.
  5. Always trust your gut. It won’t ever steer you wrong.
  6. It’s okay to make mistakes. Just be aware that the damage bad clients can do to you can sometimes be devastating. Walk away from any client, immediately, who doesn’t seem like a good fit.
  7. Maintain an abundance mindset. This is not the last or only client in the world. Walking away from problem clients opens you up to attracting better, more positive and ideal ones.
  8. Never put all your eggs in one basket. A good rule of thumb is that no one client should make up more than 20% of your business and income.

What can you do to avoid this trap in your administrative support business?

  1. Sit down now and list the values, standards and principles that are important to you in life. The act of writing things down formalizes these standards and makes them more concrete and tangible. Continue to add to this list throughout the life of your business. Then devise your policies, protocols and procedures around these standards and values.
  2. Create ideal and unideal client profile lists. These lists, again, are extremely useful tools that help you formalize your intentions around choosing ideal clients and avoiding bad ones. As you go along in your business, use these lists to note those traits, behaviors, conditions, etc., that are and are not a fit for you. This will help you be more and more conscious about who you do and don’t want to work with. Any time you are tempted to ignore your standards and gut instincts, pull these lists out for a jolt back to reality.
  3. Always conduct a thorough, formal consultation with each and every client. Don’t take shortcuts with this process. It’s an incredibly important and useful step in helping you identify and choose the most ideal clients for you and your business. (And if you aren’t sure how to conduct a good consultation, you can get my complete, step-by-step guide that will show you exactly how to do it as well as beef up blind spots and make improvements to your existing process.)

You’ve heard some version of the fable of the scorpion and the frog, I’m sure. The bottom-line is this: A slippery eel is a slippery eel. Don’t let one sweet-talk you out of your better judgment.

How about you? Have you ever taken on or been tempted to take on a client you had reservations about? How did it turn out? How did you resolve to do better the next time around? What insights do you have to share with others on this topic?

Too Much Accessibility Is Not a Good Thing

Too Much Accessibility Is Not a Good Thing

Contrary to popular belief, too much accessibility is not a good thing.

This advice column is a good reminder of that.

It uses the example of a co-worker overstepping boundaries, but the same principle applies when it comes to clients: You don’t need to be so instantly available.

In fact, it can actually lead to the opposite effect of what you intend: poor customer service and unrealistic client expectations.

When you respond instantly to every beck and call, you are training your clients to think you have nothing better to do than sit there and jump as soon as they command.

That is NOT a good precedent to set in your administrative support business as it leads to all kinds of boundary overstepping, disrespect (of you and your time as a business owner with other clients to care for), and resentment (and resentment is a relationship-killer).

Keeping some buffer area around you is actually healthy for your business and the relationship.

This is why I’m always advising people in our industry to formalize their communication standards and turn-around times, and then inform clients about those policies and protocols so they know ahead of time how things work in your business and what to expect (as well as what they may not expect).

So whose fault is it when this becomes a problem?

Hint: It’s not the client’s.

That’s like getting mad at someone for calling you in the middle of dinner. You’re the one who answered the phone. They didn’t have a gun to your head. 😉

It’s you who has to adjust the behavior and set the standards.

I don’t let clients call or text me for several reasons:

  1. I don’t want to be chased around and sweated like that.
  2. I’d never get anything done.
  3. I’m not trying to be that technologically connected. Remember: healthy boundaries. Technology should be a tool, not an obsession. There’s a time and purpose for it, but outside of that, I don’t want it taking over and interrupting my life. For me, it’s a conscious decision to keep it to a minimum.
  4. I don’t want to have to chase after a million loose ends scattered all over a bunch of different channels. That just creates more work and chaos that is neither efficient nor a productive use of time and energy. Plus, it allows more room for error. Order is the name of the game.

I inform and instruct clients at the beginning of our relationship that all our communication is to be by email (with separate emails for each separate topic, by the way). Client calls are reserved for our regularly scheduled weekly meetings or by appointment otherwise.

This way, I can use my inbox as the central communication hub, have a “paper” trail (so to speak) for everything, and be able to keep everything organized, sorted and tidy in one place.

So, I tell clients: You can email me any time of day or night, but here is how and when your communications and requests are handled…

(I also explain why these standards are of value and benefit to them: because ultimately, they allow me to provide them with better service and support.)

And then I honor those standards I’ve set and don’t overstep my own boundaries.

Have you formalized your communication and turn-around standards and protocols? Have you incorporated that information into your client guide? Are you going over that information with clients in your new client orientations?

If not, make it a priority to do so now. You’ll thank yourself later, and clients will both respect and be impressed by it.

It demonstrates to them that you have good management skills which gives them greater trust and confidence that you will competently manage and deliver the work you do for them.

And, you’ll be modeling smart business practices that they can implement in their own businesses (with your help).

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: 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, he also 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 and not sure exactly 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 in business) “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 (a/k/a unideal clients), and what red flags to look for and be conscious of moving forward.

We also have to cut ourselves a little slack when we’re new and 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 my 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 you recognized, 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 a slick talker approaches you? Is this the kind of client you really want to be working with? If not, what will you do differently next time? What can you put in place that will help you take on more ideal clients and weed out ones who aren’t a fit?
  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 as well. What I see happening quite often when we are new in business and don’t yet have a firm frame of reference of our value is that 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 water. A lot of this clears up as we gain experience in our 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 are business killers and 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 and cause you anxiety about whether you are going to be stiffed? 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 actions 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 and 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 on-boarding 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, it should be mentioned that 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 can happen 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?