I’m just starting my administrative support business and have really appreciated all of your blog advice and toolkit information. I have run into a slight issue with my first prospective client that I’m not sure how best to handle. She has requested assistance for an annual event she’s planning in late November. We’ve done the initial consultation and I believe we could work well together and there’s a lot of room for growth with her. I had explained that I don’t do hourly billing, but she asked about how many hours per month I would dedicate to her project so I said I estimated around 30 hours per month. I made clear that since I don’t keep strict track of minutes/hours worked that if I end up going over 30 hours a bit that she wouldn’t be billed any extra. I sent her my contract to sign (which didn’t list specific hours, but instead listed the support plan we had determined) and she sent me her contract that states “scope of work will require a minimum of 30 hours up to 48 hours per month.” I absolutely can’t go up to 48 hours a month as then my pricing would be way too low. Do you have any advice on how I should handle this? —Shannon D.
First let me say, none of what I’m going to explain is intended to make you feel bad or that you’re doing things “wrong.”
We were all new business owners once and all started from the same place where we didn’t really know what we were doing. There’s just going to be a learning curve no matter what and it doesn’t make you a dummy or anything like that. And you’re going to have a lot of trials and errors throughout the life of your business.
That said, when people ask ME for my advice, my expertise and my opinions, that’s exactly what they get. They don’t get a bunch of wishy washy “you are free to do whatever you want in your own business…” crap. Um, duh. I don’t think anyone here needs me to state the obvious.
And these discussions are helpful because even though you will still have a learning curve, they raise your consciousness and help you better understand and increase your business knowledge and education moving forward.
Okay, let’s dive in here…
The initial thing that strikes me is that you aren’t yet really clear about what business you’re in.
You say you’re starting your administrative support business, but this really isn’t administrative support. This is more like event management and support which is really a whole other business and industry.
And the reason it’s important for you to get clear about your business is because, well, it affects just about everything moving forward. You have to get clear about what you truly intend to do and be in business if you’re ever going to get any traction.
If I’m a plumber and someone comes to me to fix their car, am I going to take on that work? Why would I do that? Just for the money? How does it serve my business to dillute my energies on work I’m not in business to do and may not have the expertise for? How does that serve the client if I’m really not in business to do that work? Is it ethical for me to take money for something I’m not really qualified to do?
So if you’re going to be a plumber, be a plumber. And direct clients who come to you for things you’re not in business to do to the right professionals. Otherwise, you’ll be spinning your wheels forever.
The other thing I get the feeling you’re not quite clear about is that this is project work, not administrative support.
Granted, it’s over the course of several months, but it’s a project nonetheless because there is a specific ending (the culmination of the event).
Administrative support on the other hand is the collection of tasks, functions and roles that require ongoing attention, management and maintenance throughout the life of the business. Administration isn’t an event, it’s an ongoing relationship. That relationship IS the “product” (so to speak) that you are offering when you are seeking retainer clients.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with taking on project work on the side if you so choose. But it’s very important that you do so consciously, not blindly.
That’s important because here is what tends to happen otherwise:
People in our industry want to have a retainer-based practice with clients who pay a monthly fee in advance every month. However, they end up focusing on and distracting themselves with project-based work instead which is a never-ending hamster wheel that keeps them from ever building the business they really intend.
On top of that, by allowing clients to never commit, they never get the real kind of business they want and dream of.
As the adage goes, you will never get what you don’t ask for and expect.
So if you want a retainer-based practice, that’s really what you need to focus on. You’ll never get there picking pennies up on the ground from non-commital clients and their nickel and dime projects.
If you want retained clients providing administrative support, that’s what you have to expect and make it a standard around who qualifies for working with you. That should also added be on your Ideal Client Profile as an ideal characteristic:
“A client who is ready to commit to working together every month in an ongoing relationship of administrative support.”
Now, we come to the whole hours thing. And as our readers here won’t automatically know, your question initially related to my Value-Based Pricing & Packaging methodology.
So the thing you’re not seeing is that you’re still trying to sell hours.
However, with value-based pricing, there shouldn’t be any talk about hours.
Value-based pricing is about offering a solution and providing results. It’s also about certain values (or morals, for lack of a better synonym) around providing those things.
Let me try to explain:
You say you can only provide X hours per month, but the client wants you to commit to more than that.
Forgetting the fact that hours shouldn’t be what you’re selling, what kind of whole, complete solution can you provide if you are only willing to commit to doing the half the work that’s needed?
Because it’s not any kind of solution if you’re only going to provide something that’s half-baked.
I’m not sure why you would have priced at anything less than what you need to accomplish it. Why would you do that? (That’s probably a whole other great topic for conversation, lol).
I’m not saying you should overextend yourself. But value-based pricing and packaging is contingent upon (among other things) providing a REAL, WHOLE solution and result for clients. It doesn’t help them to sell them something that will only get them half there.
And you won’t create raving fans and testimonials that way either.
So, what needs to happen is that you need to have a REALLY thorough consultation so that you have a very clear idea of what work will be involved, what the client’s needs, expectations and goals are, what results and outcomes they’re looking for, and then price THAT at whatever it needs to be for you to accomplish those things, not the hours.
(And of course that sounds so simple. There is more to it than that, obviously, and my guide shows you exactly how to set parameters and determine what work falls into admin support and which things can be categorized as project work that you can charge for separately, as well as how to talk about pricing and present that information on your website and in other conversations with prospects and clients. My guide also shows you what to talk about with clients INSTEAD of hours; when you do it the way I show you, they understand how much more beneficial and how much more they get from working together this way.)
But you have to be prepared to provide that solution. If you’re not, then it’s really not ethical to take that client on. A half solution is no solution at all.
As far as the whole contract thing, this is where your marketing and message, as well as what you call yourself, are so important because those are the things that are shaping client perceptions and expectations.
This client needs to be properly educated that it’s not her place to be changing your contract. Your contract is your contact. Clients either sign it or they go elsewhere. Obviously you would be more diplomatic, but that’s what it boils down to basically.
But the other thing is that if clients are consistently doing these kinds of things, it means you are not properly presenting yourself a business owner. Fixing that typically entails improving your content and marketing message on your website and framing yourself more like a business and independent professional.
That starts by not calling yourself an assistant, ever. 😉
Let me know if that helps and if you have more questions, feel free to post them in the comments.