Archive for the ‘Consulting with Clients’ Category

Do You Want a Job or a Business?

Do You Want a Job or a Business?

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

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

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

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

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

None of it requires you to operate like an employee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stop killing yourself trying to live up to that crap.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The trick is to:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally posted February 10, 2009.

Why Conduct Consultations?

Why Conduct Consultations?

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

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

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

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

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

Because we’re not selling hotdogs, right? ;)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check it out here >>

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

Dear Danielle:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Are Not an Assistant

Are Virtual Assistants Employees or Independent Contractors

Of note from the US Tax Aid article:

You may have an employee if you:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are You Tired of Being Broke?

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

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

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

WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

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

I came across an adage recently that seems very appropriate:

So if not now, when?

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

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

Who Ever Said You Have to Conduct Consultations In Person?

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

You don’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Danielle:

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

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

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

So here are my thoughts on this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Respond When Clients Ask “How Much Do You Charge Per Hour?”

A week ago I promised my mailing list community that I would share with them a script for responding to prospects when the first thing out of their mouth is “What’s your hourly rate?”

I feel you! lol

It can be the most irritating question in the world when it’s pretty much the first words they utter right out of the gate.

But guess what? You have a lot to do with why they are asking that in the first place.

And no, it’s not because you don’t have pricing on your website. Pricing for professional services doesn’t belong on your website. But we’ll discuss that in a moment.

First, I want to preface things by saying that the response to that kind of question is different depending on the context.

For example, selling products is a completely different ballgame than selling professional services. There’s a completely different context and a different process and conversation involved for each of them respectively.

Now, on my blog, we’re always talking about retained ongoing monthly administrative support. This is what is known as a collaborative partnering relationship. It’s not the same thing as selling products or piecemeal project work (i.e., secretarial services). So understand that the scripts I’m going to share with you are for the context of retainer clients (i.e., clients who pay a monthly fee for ongoing, monthly administrative support).

Unless you are selling a cheap commodity, clients need have context in order for your fees to make sense. If there’s going to be any kind of mutually beneficial relationship, you can’t answer that question off the cuff. There’s a bit more to it than that.

There are simply things you need to find out first from the client before you can even begin to understand their needs, goals and challenges, and then devise your support plan recommendation for them.

When the first thing a prospect asks is “What’s your hourly rate?”, that’s a clear sign a) they have not bothered to read your website (and, thus, are not a good prospect), or b) your website has not properly educated them and failed to provide them with enough information (which is more commonly the case)

When you don’t provide your site visitors and prospects with thorough information, you don’t give them any other criteria with which to evaluate the value. They will always resort to the pricing question when that’s the case.

And that’s something you can correct by:

  1. Stop parroting the same tired, boring, homogeneous (and ineffective) party line that EVERYONE else in the industry is reciting chapter, line and verse. You’ve GOT to stop this people, seriously! This is your business, not a high school clique where you’re only allowed to belong if you conform with the crowd. Blending in is NOT what you need to do in business; you need to STAND APART from the crowd, come up with your own message and speak in your OWN voice).
  2. Adding more thorough content and information. Because you don’t want them asking “How much?” Instead, you want them saying, “I”m intrigued. I can see you understand the profession and business I’m in and the kind of challenges and issues I face in moving forward. I’d like to schedule a consultation to find out more about how you can help me achieve X, overcome X or solve X.”

Now, in the context of your business, you’re an Administrative Consultant who works with clients in an ongoing support relationship and so you’re goal is to find retainer clients.

What you need to do in that case is gear all of your information toward that goal, educating clients about what you’re in business to, how you help them, how it works, how you work together, etc.

Think of your website as a form of mini or pre-consultation itself. Have it answer all the questions a potential client could conceivably ask you or want to know.

The more information you provide, the better you prequalify your prospects (because the ones who are not a fit will weed themselves out) and the more likely your ideal prospects will take the next step (i.e., scheduling a consultation).

So you want to provide a nearly exhaustive amount of information on your website… everything except pricing.

There are many reasons why pricing on your website works against you as a professional service provider:

  1. You are not a cheap commodity that can only be quantified by price. When you portray yourself as nothing more than something on a shelf that they can get at one of a thousand other places, the only differentiating factor being your rates, you actually create price-shopping mentality.You want clients who are truly interested in the value of the work in helping them move forward, achieve their goals, overcome challenges and grow their business. By insisting on that standard and holding yourself and what you do in that esteem, you weed out the cheapskates and those only looking for quick fixes. If you make people who can’t pay, don’t want to pay, or who are impatient with your process your clients, you will be the engineer of your own business unsustainability, unhappiness and poverty.
  2. You cut your nose to spite your face. Some people argue that posting prices helps get rid of the price shoppers who waste their time. But when you do that, that’s the thing nearly every visitor to your site zeros in on to the exclusion of everything else that’s more important—including all the information that conveys your value. There are far better ways to prequalify clients, my friends.
  3. You throw the baby out with the bath water. Here again, when you try to get the price-shoppers to weed themselves out, you’re also scaring off all kinds of other perfectly suitable client candidates who may simply misunderstand what things would really cost and mistakenly think they can’t afford this kind of support relationship. They need context, but they’ll never get that far if you scare them off before that can happen.
  4. It’s not the time and place. Ongoing administrative support is a bigger relationship. It requires more of an investment and commitment from the client, and, therefore, requires a bigger conversation. Prospects need context in order to make sense of your fees and that only happens in consultation, not on your website.

So this is what you’re going to say when the first thing out of a prospects mouth is “What’s your hourly rate?”:

I can’t answer that question off the cuff because my goal is to ensure you get the best support you can afford. Your business needs, the challenges you face and your underlying goals and dreams are unique. We need to meet first in a consultation where I can gather more information and learn more about those things before I can create a support plan just for you and tell you what it would cost.

There is a way to provide a frame of reference for potential clients that doesn’t promote price shopping. And that’s by simply letting them know the minimum monthly investment they would need to make in order to work together. So what you would add onto the comment above would be this:

What I can tell you is that the minimum monthly investment any client would need to make in order to have my ongoing monthly support is $X per month.

And on your website, instead of listing fees, you would instead talk about your pricing methodology and its benefits, how and why you bill as you do, and include that statement about the minimum monthly investment they would need to make.

Remember, the goal is to get them in consultation and talk to you further, not your website, so that you can provide needed context for your fees. When prospects ask the rate question, the other thing they’re trying to determine is whether or not they can afford it. Letting them know the minimum monthly amount helps them do that in a way that gets them to look at fees from a more value-based perspective and encourages the opportunity for further discussion.

Now, my wish for you would be to get away from billing by the hour (selling hours) entirely because it cheats you and cheats the client by putting your interests at odds with each other. It’s a very archaic, UN-beneficial way of charging for your value, for you and the client and actually discourages prospects from seeing your value.

Your goals for getting paid for the value of your time and expertise should be in sync with the kind of goals and results the client is looking for from the work and how that work achieves their objectives and helps move them forward in their goals and the pursuits they’re aiming for. And you don’t want that question boiling down to how fast you can kill yourself doing the work so that the client doesn’t have to pay as much. That will be the death of you and your business.

When you employ my value-based pricing methodology, here’s what you get to add to all of the above:

I don’t charge by the hour and here’s why:  hourly billing cheats you because it puts our interests at odds with each other. Billing by the hour, I obviously make more money the longer things take, and you, naturally, prefer things to take the least amount of time possible so that you don’t have to pay so much. That’s a horrible dynamic for us to work together in! And so I don’t. The work that’s going to truly get you results, move you forward and keep your business humming along smoothly can’t be dependant upon a clock. And when you work with me, it doesn’t. I want to achieve real results and progress for you. That can’t happen by selling you hours. Your needs, goals and challenges aren’t cookie cutter and so I don’t offer cookie cutter solutions. Instead, what I do after we meet in our consultation is come up with a support plan recommendation. From there we can hone it until it’s just the right fit. And you will pay one simple monthly fee for that support. That’s it. No worry about hours running out. No overages. It’s easy to budget for and all our focus will be on the work and accomplishing your objectives, not on the clock.

There’s much more to learn and understand when it comes to pricing and how to talk about fees with clients. And I’ve packaged all that up for you in my Value-Based Pricing and Packaging Toolkit, which I encourage you to check out because it has the power to transform your business—and your life! (Be sure to read the testimonials and success stories!).

Dear Danielle: How Do You Respond to RFPs?

Dear Danielle:

I really enjoy reading your blog. My question for you is, how do you recommend responding to an RFP (Request for Proposal)? As a member of other VA forums where RFPs are posted I struggle with knowing exactly how to submit an effective proposal. I did a quick search on your site and didn’t see anything directly mentioning RFPs or responding to them. I could be wrong. I would really appreciate your input. Thank you. —Anita Armas, CustomVA Administrative Services

Hi Anita :)

You must have missed my posts on Facebook here on this just recently, lol.

You didn’t find much on my blog about this because I don’t recommend people pay attention to RFPs whatsoever.

RFPs are the worst way to build your business. Your highest quality potential clients always come from your own pipelines and networking efforts. The lowest quality “leads” come from “job boards” and RFPs. (Hint: As an independent professional, you aren’t applying for “jobs.”)

Clients need to be brought on through your processes and hoops, not the other way around. If you allow them to lead those things, all you’re doing is auditioning to be the lowest priced bidder. Those are never good clients.

Don’t waste your time on RFPs. That’s not how you will build a high-earning, professional administrative support practice.

Here is one of my posts from 2010 for more of my thoughts on the topic.

You can also find more in the RFP category of my blog.

Dear Danielle: How Do I Prequalify Potential Clients Financially

Dear Danielle:

I am just starting out in my own business. I have crunched the numbers and know what I need to charge. I have researched my target market and need to know where in the industry to focus my attention. In other words, who can afford to pay for my services? I’ve seen you use the example for the pre-qualifying process that clients must make a minimum of $75,000. How do you arrive at this number? Is there a formula for this; like a percentage of income for administrative services? I know what my bottom line is. How do I figure out where their bottom line is so I can sift through my research and refine my target. —KT

There’s no formula; $75,000 is just a benchmark that I chose. It’s based on nothing but my experience and the “sense” I’ve developed after being in business for 15 years now.

For example, a solopreneur making only $50,000 a year really is only surviving. While I might love to help them, I simply can’t take on any retained client where money is a problem. That is, I don’t want to work with anyone who is really only making enough to pay themselves, much less anyone else. If paying me comes at great difficulty, that inevitably leads to problems and I don’t like feeling like “the other shoe is going to drop” at a moment’s notice. Know what I mean? So, for me, $75,000 is a bare-bones minimum,  a more comfortable income benchmark to be able to afford my support without much difficulty as it’s closer to the $100,000 a year level. It’s just a rough gauge.

You can choose whatever number you want, as well.

When it comes to prequalifying clients financially, there are lots of ways you can go about that. Maybe you come right out and ask them what their income level is in an online form on your website. Maybe you simply state that the clients you work with need to make a minimum of $X annually. You can choose whatever number you want, although the numbers may be relative to the market you’re focusing on. Maybe that’s $75,000. Maybe it’s $100,000. Maybe it’s $200,000. Some people prefer working strictly with 7 figure entrepreneurs.

There’s no right or wrong here. Just pick a number; you can change it later if you want or need to. The goal, obviously, is to focus on your ideal retainer clients who make enough of a comfortable income to where paying you for your administrative support and expertise poses no difficulty.

(Keep in mind, we’re always talking about retainer clients here on my blog, not project work unless specifically indicated as that’s a completely different animal.)

We cover prequalifying clients at length in my client consultation guide, Breaking the Ice: Your Complete, Step-by-Step System to Confidently Lead the Consultation Conversation and Convert All Your Prospects to Retained Clients (GDE-03). This guide will be of enormous benefit to you so I highly encourage you to check it out.

Don’t feel like you have to do everything exactly the same as me or anyone else, or that you have to do everything “perfectly” (like, what is “perfect” anyway, right?). Once you get started, you’ll start getting a feel for what works for you in your business and even that will change over time as you go along. You will have lots of adjustments and course corrections you make throughout the life of your business.

Dear Danielle: “God’s Work” is Not Getting Me Paid

Dear Danielle,

I’ve been struggling really hard with determining what target market I would like to cater to with my administrative consulting business. I have gone back and forth about it for awhile now. It is so tempting to take work where you can get it, but I know that is not the correct way to go about building a business. My industry experience has been in working with nonprofits, but for business purposes I would like to target start-up nonprofits because I know how much it takes to get a nonprofit off the ground and I can see how I can easily be retained in this case as well. My concern is that I won’t be fairly compensated for my work. I worked with a ministry and I didn’t get paid a dime because sometimes with entities like this, you get caught up in doing “God’s work.” Can you please give me some guidance with this issue? I would really appreciate it. —JS

Thanks so much for submitting your question. I would love to help give you some guidance on this.

First, I want you to download my free guide, Get Those Clients Now!  When it comes to getting clients more quickly and easily, it’s all about the target market. This guide will help you get more clarity around that.

It’s great that you have an idea of who you want to target. Now, you just want to do your homework about viability. Nonprofits can be tricky. While it sounds like you’ve got a great background perfectly suited to support them, you’d just want to make sure you are targeting a niche that actually has money. Because if they can’t afford professional fees, all your wonderfulness isn’t going to help you if they simply can’t pay. I’m not sure how financially secure and solvent start-up nonprofits will be, but that, of course, will be your homework to research and find out.

That said, if you can determine there’s a viable niche in there for you, your marketing message can make all the difference in the world. If you can help them understand how your strategic administrative support will actually help them operate more cost effectively and profitably, and how it will help them accomplish a whole heck of a lot more than they could otherwise, that’s half the battle.

So download the guide; it’ll help you go about that whole process.

Now, may I give you just a little bit of tough love? Please know it’s said with hugs and a heartfelt desire to help you turn things around.

You mention being concerned about not being fairly compensated. Maybe it was just poor phrasing on the fly, but the way it was worded made me wonder if you were maybe taking too passive a role in leading your own business.

Because, it’s not up to clients whether you are “fairly compensated.” YOU are the one who decides what you will charge, how you will be paid and when you will be paid. Your job is simply to inform clients how it all works. If they had gone through a proper consultation process and signed a contract, how did they not know they were a client and were supposed to be paying for your services?

So, if clients were manipulating you into working for free, you want to realize that they didn’t do that to you; you allowed that to happen.

To change that, what you want to do is get more intentional about your business and consultation processes as well as who you take on as clients. Be sure to clearly separate business from any volunteer work you are doing. So, for example, if you had gone through your normal consultation process with this ministry, they should have been clearly informed that you charge a fee for your work, and how and when and what you will be paid for that work. If there was any misunderstanding or ambiguity there, that’s a sign that you need to improve those processes and communications in your business. None of that happens without your passive or active consent. You see?

So if we need to tighten up and intentionalize (my made-up word, lol) your consultation process, I highly recommend you check out my client consultation process guide.

I hope that helps! Let me know in the comments if things improve for you with this advice moving forward. :)