Archive for the ‘Consulting with Clients’ Category

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

Dear Danielle: What Are Your Thoughts About this Crappy 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.

***

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.

Why Conduct Consultations?

Why Conduct Consultations?

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

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

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

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

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

Because we’re not selling hotdogs, right? 😉

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check it out here >>

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

Dear Danielle:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Are Not an Assistant

Are Virtual Assistants Employees or Independent Contractors

Of note from the US Tax Aid article:

You may have an employee if you:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are You Tired of Being Broke?

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

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

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

WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

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

I came across an adage recently that seems very appropriate:

So if not now, when?

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

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