Archive for the ‘Dear Danielle’ Category

Dear Danielle: Is There a Formula for Raising My Rates?

Dear Danielle,

Happy New Year!  I hope all your dreams will be actualized in 2019! My question relates to raising rates with current clients and if there a formula to follow. In the past I have used the script you provided in your blog post Raising Your Rates, and I must say it has worked like a charm. I love all the advice you provide on the blog in this category, especially about not letting fear get the best of you when you offer high quality service. Over the last couple of years, I have restructured my administrative consulting business. I offer a core service in two niche markets. During this time, I have retained five clients and have had great success. With each new client,I have incrementally raised my rates. This gets me to my question: The first client I retained almost two years ago is THRILLED with my service. Not only did I meet the contractual obligations, but went above and beyond. I really hit the ball out of the park with this client. They are often singing the praises about my administrative consulting firm. Since their two-year anniversary is approaching, I was planning on raising their rates. Is there standard protocol to follow (like tipping a server at a restaurant)? I thought I would raise my rates (REMOVED)%. This is a number I picked because when I see a vendor, utility, or dental plan increase by this amount, I think, “that’s fair,” but any higher, I feel like I am being taken advantage of. Next, I looked up the cost of living increase on Google. It is 3% each year for 2017 and 2018. That makes me wonder, would I be undercutting myself with a (REMOVED)% raise and should I increase to (REMOVED) %? Vacillating to the other end of the spectrum, I am obsessed with client satisfaction. I don’t want to raise the rate so high they feel taken advantage of. We have a dynamic relationship. Would seeing the numbers help? The client’s current retainer is $(REMOVED)/month. As I solicit new clients, they will pay $(REMOVED)/month for this service. However, I am not ready to lose this client. I truly value your guidance in this situation. Thanks again for all you do for our community!Name Withheld for Privacy

Thank you, and happy new year to you as well! And thanks for the great question which I’ve been chomping at the bit to answer for you.

First, congratulations on your well-earned growth and success. That is absolutely wonderful to hear!

I also want to let you know that I am keeping your name anonymous and removed certain info from your question for reasons I will explain below.

The short, quick answer is that there is no formula for raising your fees. I know people love to be given formulas, but it’s not that simple.

It’s also highly illegal for members of a profession/industry to discuss rates or setting standards or minimums or formulas when it comes to pricing as these things violate antitrust laws. Those kind of conversations constitute what is termed “collusion.”

The state and federal agencies that oversee these laws take violations very seriously so we never want to run afoul of them.

It doesn’t matter how big or small a business is, whether they are sole proprietors or big corporations, or how much money they make, we are all subject to these laws.

As they will tell you: ignorance is not a defense. This means you can be prosecuted for violations whether you were aware or not.

This is why I am always trying to educate our industry on this topic. Read this post for a bit more in-depth info: Dear Danielle: Why Can’t You Just Give Us a Ballpark Figure When It Comes to Pricing?

So for all the other colleagues out there, the bottom-line is this: STOP asking others what you should charge!

Not only are you putting yourself in danger, you are putting others as well as our entire industry in jeopardy. Your pricing is for you and you alone to determine.

The good news is that we don’t have to discuss specific numbers to help each other learn and grow in our business smarts and profitability.

Here are the things I would want you to give some thought to:

1.

Don’t compare what you do to a utility. You are not a commodity; you are a professional service provider.

Your value is relative to how you improve the life and business of each of your clients, not how much they pay for a box of cereal on a shelf.

Here are a couple of posts to help people better understand and remember what their real value is to clients (hint: it’s not how much/little clients pay or how much money you save them):

How has your work helped them advance, grow and improve in their business? What goals has it helped them achieve or get closer to? How much more time and freedom do they have since working with you?

When it’s time to raise your rates, be thinking along these lines and taking note of them, not just how much your workload may have increased, although that is certainly relevant as well.

People know that when they get more, they pay more. The benefit of connecting what they have gained by working with you, however, is that it helps keep them in a positive mindset toward fee increases, particularly when they are increased for more abstract reasons (such as cost of living) and not necessarily increased workload.

How you determine your fee increases and how much to increase them by is entirely up to you. There is no right or wrong way to do it.

2.

I’m concerned that you have one-price-for-all.

If you are providing administrative support, you are providing a variety of tasks, functions, and roles for each client, each of whom is unique and whose support areas, needs, levels, and objectives are all going to be different from the next client.

When you are providing a value-based service, there shouldn’t be anything cookie-cutter about your pricing. Each client’s needs and support plan should be evaluated and determined on an individual basis. This is something I show people how to do in my Value-Based Pricing Guide.

It doesn’t tell you what to charge or give you a formula. It will show you what factors to take into account, how to identify/categorize support plan areas and set parameters and boundaries, and give you as systematic an approach as you can get for determining your pricing around your support plans that is fair and profitable for both you and your clients.

3.

Capture their “before” picture at the start of every new client relationship.

When you consult with potential clients and onboard new ones, be sure to include a step where you obtain as complete a picture as you can of their current challenges, difficulties, pain points, and obstacles, as well as their desired objectives and outcomes BEFORE you start working together.

(If anyone reading this doesn’t have a consultation process in place, you NEED one now! Get my Consultation Guide for an easy, step-by-step plan that shows you exactly what to do before, during and after.)

Not only does this help you create case studies/stories for your website, it’s also incredibly useful insight to have when it’s time to raise your fees.

By better identifying what each client actually values and what they’re trying to accomplish through your work together, you can use that information to set benchmarks and emphasize those accomplishments.

They also inspire clients by helping them remember what life was like before they had your support and how far they have come and what a smart decision they made in choosing you.

4.

Survey clients for their feedback and suggestions on a regular, consistent basis.

This is something else that is useful when presenting fee increases as it can help you connect the dots from your work directly to what the client’s values, goals and objectives are.

I recommend getting client feedback at least every year for established clients, and more frequently (e.g., every three to six months) for new clients.

One caution, though: Don’t raise fees at the same time of year that you survey clients for their feedback and suggestions. Do these two things at different times of the year.

5.

Similarly, if you have my Value-Based Pricing Guide, you know that I also recommend reviewing every client’s support plan at regular intervals.

For new clients, you are going to do this more frequently because there is a lot of ramping up and getting to know the work and each other and fine-tuning of things in that first year of working together.

For them, I suggest reviewing their support plan internally every two to three months initially in that first year.

You want to make sure you are honoring the parameters you both agreed to and identifying any scope creep that you have not have taken in account and then adjusting accordingly at the next fee increase.

With established clients, you may decide that an annual support plan review is sufficient for your purposes.

6.

Keep clients informed upfront all along the way with plenty of notice.

Let new clients know that there may be a period of adjustment in the first months/year of working together and that you will be reviewing their support plan every so many weeks or months.

If there are areas that have been or need to be added on or increased (or been eliminated or significantly decreased, for that matter), let them know that the fee they pay may be affected.

And let established clients know that their support plans are reviewed regularly as well (e.g., annually or every six months).

The key is to inform all clients upfront that their support plans are reviewed at specific intervals and that there will be periodic fee increases as you deem necessary or appropriate

You want them to understand that what they pay is relative to the support areas and parameters you have agreed to, and as those change and evolve or increase, you will be examining them and adjusting pricing accordingly.

At a very basic level, all I can say is this: You know your clients. You know what you do for them. You know when you feel like you are doing more than what you are charging for. You know how they are benefiting from your work. And you know when it’s time for raise fees for the profitability of your business and in keeping with the value you are providing.

When you start to feel those nigglings, that is always the correct time to review and adjust.

Always be reviewing and evaluating internally, and then on whatever regular schedule that you determine, implement your fee increases.

For Example

Let’s say you like to go through your annual feedback process with clients around May or June when business generally tends to slow down somewhat for everyone and they have more time to reflect.

You could then time your annual fee increases for January.

Whenever you time these events, I suggest you always give clients 30-60 days’ notice of any support plan adjustments/fee increases.

This gets them used to the idea, gives them time to ask any questions they have, and ensures no one is surprised or caught off guard. That’s the only thing that would really create ill will.

By giving courteous notice, it’s only going to help you adjust things in the best way possible for both you and each of your clients.

The bottom-line: Never surprise clients with things coming out of left field.

Everyone appreciates a heads-up so they can plan and budget accordingly, and your fee increases will be far more well-received.

Dear Danielle: Are We Management Consultants?

Dear Danielle:

Thank you so much for the information you make available. I have purchased a couple of your products so far. I am just starting out and I won’t be calling myself a VA. Instead I refer to myself as Virtual Consultant. After getting a better understanding of what an Administrative Consultant is from your website, it seems we are like management consultants. Do you agree or disagree with this? Kind regards. —SC

Hi SC and welcome to the ACA.

In answer to your direct question, I would disagree. There’s a reason the name of this organization is Administrative Consultants Association. 😉

I am not an advocate of the word “virtual.” It’s a silly, idiotic word that doesn’t belong in the vocabulary of a proper business.

If you are going into business to provide the service of administrative support, then you are an Administrative Consultant, not a management consultant or “virtual” consultant (What even is that? Could be anything and does nothing to clearly and immediately tell your marketplace and would-be clients what your focus is and what you do.)

Administrative is the key word here. If you leave it out, you are not conveying the specific skill and service you are in business to provide.

A management consultant is something entirely different. If that’s what you want to go into business for, that’s up to you, of course. But to be clear, that’s not what we do here at the ACA or as Administrative Consultants.

An Administrative Consultant is someone who provides administrative support and works with clients directly in ongoing, long-term, one-on-one relationship.

Here are a few blog posts that elaborate a bit more on these points:

Dear Danielle: We Loathe the Virtual Assistant Term
What Makes Someone an Administrative Consultant?
Dear Danielle: Should I Use the Word Virtual in My Biz Name?

It seems you have an aversion to the word “administrative” for some reason. Why is that?

Is it because administrative support is not the service you want to provide? If so, there is nothing wrong with that; however, that’s not what this organization is here to help with.

The Administrative Consultants Association is exclusively for Administrative Consultants: people who are in the business specifically of providing ongoing, collaborative administrative support and working directly one-on-one with their clients.

If all someone does is “manage” and they don’t actually provide administrative support themselves, that person is not Administrative Consultant.

Hope that helps shed a bit more understanding. Let me know if you have more questions.

Dear Danielle: Does This Business Allow for Expansion?

Dear Danielle: Does This Business Allow for Expansion?

Dear Danielle:

I’m a student who has been assigned to research a startup business. As a business administration major, this is something that interests me, so it is more than assignment. Does a company such as this allow for expansion from being one person to expanding with several employees? Thank you for your time. —RT

Hi RT,

Thanks for the question.

A person can create any kind of business they wish. That should go without saying. However, Administrative Consulting is a solopreneur business model, not a “team” or “staffing” one. That’s because the primary value being imparted is the personal one-on-one relationship.

People running this kind of business are not interested in managing employees and all the attendant problems and responsibilities that come with that much less creating a company the size of which inherently requires employees.

Administrative Consulting is a deeply personal and collaborative one-to-one relationship with clients. It’s ideal for people who are interested in a boutique-sized solo business working directly in one-on-one relationships with just a handful of (ideally, well-paying) clients.

You don’t need employees to do that and it would actually make things more unnecessarily complicated, disjointed, and expensive while reducing profit margins.

This is not the kind of business for people who want to turn the work into an assembly line. That is completely opposite to the value that is created when working together in a long-term, ongoing, one-on-relationship with clients.

That said, I have always advocated the idea that being solo doesn’t mean you do literally everything yourself. It simply means that YOU are the product; it’s your unique combination of skills, talent, experience, insights, and know-how that your clients are “buying,” so to speak.

However, in the same way that clients partner with us for administrative support, an Administrative Consultant can and should have her own Administrative Consultant to support her behind the scenes as well, along with having relationships with her own accountant, bookkeeper, business attorney, web designer/programmer, etc.

Most of us also belong to networks of colleagues we can refer to on those occasions when we may need or want to bring in an extra hand or two. But those are incidental instances and provided by people who run their own independent businesses and are not employees.

This kind of business and relationship doesn’t need a lot of chefs dipping their fingers in and ruining the stew, if you understand my analogy. It just needs the leverage of a few key relationships to be successful.

I always say this as well: Anyone who can make it as a solopreneur is better poised to succeed in any larger future business incarnation. Because if you can’t do it as a solopreneur, being bigger is not going to help anything.

Dear Danielle: Client Wants Me to Cut My Fees By $200 a Month

Dear Danielle: Client Wants Me to Cut My Fees by $200 a Month

Dear Danielle:

I recently had a contract client who could no longer afford to pay me the regular contracted amount because of a slowdown in her business so she asked that I drop my price about $200 until she was back on her feet. How should I deal with that? She’s been my client for 3 years and she’s always paid on time and every penny. I agreed to the cut but not sure for how long. Any words of advice? —KP

It sounds like this is a good client with whom you’ve had a happy, healthy business relationship thus far.

It also sounds like this client is paying some sort of monthly fee, if I am surmising things correctly.

And there’s no reason to throw all that away.

BUT there’s also no reason why this client’s financial woes should be your problem. Especially since you aren’t sure how long it will continue.

There IS a compassionate, client-centric way you can offer to help this client out during what I assume is only a temporary predicament without sacrificing your own business needs and well-being.

And it starts with this handy phrase: You don’t get what you don’t pay for.

That’s obviously not very client-centric the way it’s phrased, but the solution in its meaning is, very simply, to take something off the table.

What that means is, if you are selling hours, take $200 worth of hours away from their retainer. Only work up to the number of hours they have paid for.

If they can only pay for 15 hours instead of the usual 20, then they should only get 15 hours of support, not 20.

Alternatively, if you are using my value-based pricing methodology (which is a faster, more effective way to make an impact and give clients more readily apparent, targeted results), take a $200 task/function/role away from the monthly support plan.

Have a conversation with the client, identify what the most important functions are to their operations during this financial lean-time, and then offer to remove/temporarily suspend a $200 value task/function/role that is least necessary and will have the least impact on their continued smooth functioning and profits.

Give them two or three options of what could be removed for $200 less a month, and let them decide which one to sacrifice.

It’s also possible during this discussion that the client realizes even more the value of what you do for their business and decides to find the money to keep paying your full fee for full services to continue.

If this were me, I would also be curious about the reasons for this client’s financial down-turn.

If they were open to sharing, it’s possible I would have some ideas and insights on what we could do and where we could focus our work to create some new/fresh revenue.

Perhaps you even saw this coming, but the client had previously been resistant to exploring your ideas, trying something new, or doing things a little differently than they were used to that might have helped them improve financially. They might now be a bit more receptive to hearing you out.

I would, however, certainly expect to be paid for any additional work/consulting I provided. It’s up to them to decide where their priorities are.

No reasonable client would expect you to work for free.

And despite any client’s best (or unrealistic) intentions, they don’t have a crystal ball no matter what grand promises they make.

So the best policy is to go about things in a way that serves your business interests.

Keep in mind that you have an obligation to safeguard your financial well-being and business profitability not only for yourself, but for your other clients as well.

It doesn’t serve them for you to be giving away time, energy, and work for free to someone who isn’t paying fully for it.

And don’t even think about letting this client pay on credit (a la “I will gladly pay you tomorrow for a hamburger today”).

You won’t be doing them, yourself, or your other clients any favors by letting them go into debt to you.

If they are already in financial straights, owing you or anybody else more money is only going to bury them further.

Remember, you teach people how to treat, value, and respect you.

Lower your fee for this client if you want to help and keep them on your roster; just make sure you also take away an equal amount of work from what you provide them with.

And have another conversation with this client to reset the expectations around what they will and won’t get for the reduced monthly fee.

I also suggest giving the client a definite time limit on this special arrangement.

Give it a month or two and inform the client that you will need to review and discuss things again at that time to determine whether or not it’s still feasible/profitable/in your business interests to continue the arrangement.

If there’s no improvement in sight, you may even decide that, while you wish this client well, keeping them on your roster is no longer profitable for you.

If any of this is helpful, one way you could return the favor is by letting me know in the comments. I would truly value that.

And if you or anyone else has more questions on this, please feel free to ask in the comments, and I’ll be happy to continue the conversation and share my further insights and advice.

Dear Danielle: Do I Need to Move If I Want Clients in Another City?

Dear Danielle: Do I Need to Move If I Want Clients in Another City?

Dear Danielle:

Thank you so much for the Pricing calculator you sent me to download. I have been travelling a bit between Cape Town and Johannesburg. Herein lies my dilemma. My entire family apart from my eldest son lives in Johannesburg. So do I set up in Cape Town or in Johannesburg. I do believe that business prospects are better in Johannesburg but don’t like Jo’burg very much! I have already lined up two clients in Cape Town (the plot thickens). What to do…what to do….? I absolutely love your blog and find it incredibly useful and informative. Thank you so much for all the effort you put in to educate. Kind regards. —L. W.

Hi L.W. 🙂

Thanks for letting me know how useful the ACA resources are to you. I’m very glad to hear it.

Even though we live in two different countries (I’m in the U.S. and you’re in South Africa), the great thing about our kind of business is that a) the principles of business are pretty universal no matter what country you’re in, and b) business laws in developed countries around the world are quite similar.

This is of great benefit to us because it makes speaking the same business language pretty easy.

And, since the administrative support business is an online business, that means you don’t work with clients or even have to meet them in person.

Not that you can’t get clients from meeting them locally. It’s just that due to the nature of the business being online, you aren’t restricted to your geographic or local physical location when it comes to finding and getting clients.

The world is literally your oyster as far as clients go, if that’s your preference.

Although, I will say, my clients and I find a lot more ease in understanding, communication and working together by being in the same country or state. As far as business goes, I personally don’t have any desire or need to work with international clients.

But different strokes for different folks. If you aren’t able to find all the clients you need in your general vicinity, you have the entire rest of the world to prospect at your fingertips.

All that is to say, you don’t have to live in Johannesburg to get clients from there.

As far as what city you are legally allowed to claim as your business’s official operating address, that is something you will definitely want to research as there may be legalities and business/registration rules and requirements involved particular to your local area.

Some relevant questions might be:

  • What city do you reside in officially/most of the time? What address do you currently use on tax returns?
  • Are you a sole proprietor/operator or is your business incorporated?
  • If your business is incorporated, are you allowed to register it in any city you like?
  • What are your preferred city’s business registration/taxing requirements? Must you actually reside there to register/incorporate/operate there?
  • What are the (federal/state/county/local) laws/rules about where you must reside for your business to be registered there?
  • If you legally have the option to choose one city or another, are there benefits to registering in one over the other?
  • What are the business registration fees/requirements in each?
  • What are the taxing requirements in each?
  • What kind of reporting does each require?

Getting answers to these questions from the proper governing agencies in your area will help you decide where your business is to be based/registered.

Beyond that, as far as getting clients from Johannesburg or anywhere without having to resort to the time and energy-consuming analog ways of meeting them (i.e., in person), what is going to be of tremendous help to you is to narrow things down to a target market.

A target market is simply an industry/profession that you cater your administrative support to.

Once you decide who to focus on, you can then figure out all the online ways and places to begin connecting and interacting with people in that field, getting to know them, and allowing them to get to know you through your active presence and participation.

If you haven’t yet, be sure to download my guide on How to Choose Your Target Market. It elaborates more on this topic and has some exercises that will help you immediately begin to start connecting with potential clients.

Let me know if this helps you or if you have any further questions. I’m happy to shed more light on this topic.

Dear Danielle: Client Won’t Stop Calling Me Her Assistant

Dear Danielle: Client Won't Stop Calling Me Her Assistant

Dear Danielle:

Hi there! I am looking for your advice on a matter. I quite often will attend meetings or business functions with my clients. They tend to introduce me as their “assistant,” even though I have brought it to their attention that I am not an “assistant.” What would you suggest I have them introduce me as? Or how to go about ensuring it doesn’t continue to happen? —KP

Hi KP 🙂

Good question. It’s one I get a lot from people who are trying to transition away from the “assistant” model to administrative business owner.

The first thing you can do immediately is add a component to your Client Guide and new client orientations that instructs clients on exactly what to call you and how to introduce you to others.

In my own practice, I tell clients to refer to me as their administrator (for short) or Administrative Consultant (for more formal situations).

Next, put together a form letter/email and send it out to all your current clients so everyone is equally informed and updated at the same time and no one is singled out.

The side benefit to this kind of communication is that seeing it come from your business as a general communication helps underscore the fact that they are working with a business, not an employee.

Which leads us back to the original question: what to do about a client who continues to call you this when you have repeatedly asked them not to.

On the one hand, it could be an innocent mistake.

It is sometimes difficult to rid clients of old habits when they’ve been with us awhile. In which case, a heart-to-heart conversation with the client would be in order.

You could start the discussion, for example, with something like this:

“We’ve talked a few times about what I prefer to be called and how I ask my clients to refer to me when introducing me to others. This is something that’s important to me and my business. I’ve noticed that you still call me your assistant in those situations. Is there a reason why? What can I do to help you remember how to introduce me?”

I would very intentionally incorporate use of the words “client” and “business” to help this client understand the nature of the relationship. Because it’s also often the case that they simply haven’t been properly educated about that (which is on us, not them) and so they very innocently, but still mistakenly, may think you are an assistant.

And then listen to what they have to say and work toward a solution.

Of course, if you have a client who doesn’t give a good darn about your feelings and wishes, you have to ask yourself, “Is this a client who respects me? If there’s no mutual respect, is this someone I should be working with?”

Here are some blog posts that expand on this topic further that I think you’ll find helpful:

Dear Danielle: How to You Introduce Yourself to Clients and Prospects?

How to Have Clients Help Promote Your Business

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

Thanks for the question, KP. Let me know if this was useful to you. 🙂

***

Have you ever been in this situation? How did you handle it? Do you think my tips will help you better educate your clients and navigate this in the future?

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

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

Dear Danielle:

I recently experienced every startup business owner’s nightmare. One of my clients (a fast talker) was extremely upset because I had to resort to threats of involving my business attorney. It is absolutely outlined and spelled out in all of my contracts. He went off on me, tried to avoid payment, but I did not back down. He refused and did not pay the late fees that are also outlined in my contract as well, then had the audacity to tell me, “I’ve been in business for 35 years and never seen such aggressive payment policies.” I reminded him how I bent all my rules for him from the start in order to accommodate his needs, drastically lowered my pay, and okayed him to pay upon invoice vs. upfront for projects. After he found that I was not going to back down and accept the loss, the funds miraculously appeared in my account. However, he did not pay the late fees he had incurred. He is someone I will always run into as we are associated with the same Chamber. Not only did he insult me countless times, 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?

Dear Danielle: I Worry About Communicating Effectively with Clients

Dear Danielle: I Worry About Communicating Effectively with Clients

Following up on a conversation I had a few weeks ago with a colleague, Sue worried that her communication skills wouldn’t be up to par.

Dear Danielle:

My background is 25 years in admin. I feel I would be good as an Administrative Consultant, but my worry is effective communication skills with possible clients as in explaining processes, etc. —“Sue

ME: Hi Sue. What kind of processes, in what context, do you worry about communicating?

SUE: Well, any process really. I sometimes have trouble verbally getting things across, so this worries me when trying to explain any processes from CRM to email systems.

ME: How about when it comes to the written word? Do you feel more at ease with that? Do you prefer one mode of communication over the other? Or is it communicating thoughts and ideas generally you feel you have trouble with?

I won’t mislead you. Excellent communication skills are extremely important in this industry. Everything we do in our work involves communication in one way or another. And you can’t be afraid of the phone or talking to clients. It’s a basic necessity for being in business.

That said, the great thing about our line of work and the way we deliver it is that we don’t necessarily have to talk to clients on the phone once we get past the initial stages of consultation and onboarding. Having a weekly telephone meeting is particularly beneficial with new retainer clients and something I strongly recommend during those first 3-6 months of working together. Beyond that, however, you can keep most or even all your communications to email if that’s what you prefer. It’s what I do in my own practice and it works just fine.

I’ve helped hundreds of colleagues over the years with this same issue. New people come into our industry, see others who are more advanced in their businesses, compare themselves unfavorably, and come to the conclusion that they must not be good communicators. They think everyone else they see is doing it so much better, that it comes much more easily to them.

But here’s the thing: with the exception of some naturally talented people, most of them didn’t come out of the gate like that. It’s the result of time spent honing, practicing and improving. Like any skill, communication is a muscle you can build and better and better at the more you practice.

In my observation and experience, nine times out of 10, it’s not that someone is a poor communicator, it’s simply that they’re unsure of themselves and lack confidence. After all, they’re doing something new that is equal parts exciting and daunting, and it’s pushing them outside their comfort zones. It’s natural to sort of trip over things when you don’t quite know what you’re doing yet and are still in the process of finding your feet.

The good news is that these are simple growing pains that everyone goes through and which can be alleviated with a helping hand and good guidance. It’s why I put together my business products and guides in the ACA Success Store. Instead of feeling your way around in the dark, these show you exactly how to proceed with consultations, what to say and do in them and when, how to set up your practice management for ease and dependability, how to price and package your support so that more clients say yes to working with you, and so forth.

Having a plan, an example, a blueprint/playbook, if you will, gives you the clarity to proceed confidently at every phase. This lends confidence to your communications. And each new interaction you have in your business with prospects and clients gives you valuable practice and you get better and better each time. In turn, your communication becomes more clear and straightforward because you don’t feel you are fumbling along doing something new.

SUE: I think that pretty much sums me up. I have always lacked confidence, and when nerves get the better of me, that’s when I stumble. I think this will help a great deal.

ME: I really feel like that’s all it is: new business jitters. Give yourself some credit! After all, you contacted me, a perfect stranger, out of the blue and didn’t have any trouble explaining yourself. Get yourself some of my guides so you have a roadmap to follow, and I think you’ll feel much more confident about how to proceed with things.

***

Are you new(er) in business? Can you relate to Sue’s situation? How did getting some guidance help you find your voice and confidence in your business?

Dear Danielle: What If Our Term Is Not Well-Known in My Country?

Dear Danielle: What If Our Term Is Not Well-Known in My Country?

A new colleague from the U.K (I’ll call her Sue) came to me recently with a few questions and topics, one of which I’ll address today as I think it will be helpful to many people.

Hi Danielle. I came across your ACA website and it’s given me food for thought to go from VA to Administrative Consultant. I really appreciate you taking time out to talk to me. I’m doing research about admin consultancy as I’m not sure how well known it is in the U.K.

Thanks for reaching out, Sue. 🙂

Our conversation has inspired this blog post that I think will help you (and others) greatly.

What you’re really wondering is: If people in my country have not heard of “administrative consulting,” if it’s not well-known, how viable of a business will this be for me?

It’s good to be thinking about how a new business will succeed. The problem is you’re focusing on the term instead of the solution we’re in business to offer.

What you want to ask instead is:

Are there businesses in the U.K.? Do those businesses have administrative work they must stay on top of on a regular basis in order to run smoothly?

There is your answer. 😉

Whether a term or industry name is known in the marketplace or not is not important. I wouldn’t want you to waste your time and energy in that direction as it is irrelevant and plays no part in your ability to get clients, help those clients, and earn well.

It doesn’t matter whether they’ve heard of our industry before or are familiar with the terms we use. (Your term IS important, but for other reasons that have nothing to do with getting clients. You can learn more about that in these blog posts).

The only thing that matters is that you understand them, know what their overarching need/problem is, and have a solution to fill that need and solve that problem: namely, the need for more time in their business, the need to free up mental bandwidth and creative space, and the need for an administrative expert and support partner who can help take care of their administration which in turn will free up their time to grow their business (not to mention just live and enjoy life).

EVERY business needs admin support. It’s the very backbone of every business in the world. There is absolutely no shortage of clients who could use and benefit from our support. Every country has businesses, and every business has administrative work, systems and operations that require tending to throughout the life of the business.

BUT, while every business has administration it must take care of in order to keep organized, running smoothly and moving forward, not every business is the right fit or needs the solution we’re in business to offer.

The key, and the more productive effort, therefore, is to better understand what demographic in the business world has the greatest need for what we do and how we do it (our “solution”) and will in turn place greater value on it and be more willing to pay well for it. THOSE are the businesses that are the best fit for our kind of business.

Generally speaking, big companies have the kind of workloads that inherently require full-time, in-house, dedicated staff, and they have the resources to house and pay for them. They don’t really need us.

If they are even remotely interested in us, their typical motivation is to merely offload isolated, non-core functions as cheaply as possible. They could care less about the personal relationship, which is exactly what allows us to deliver our greatest value and impact. When there isn’t a real need, they don’t place much value on the service. And you can’t afford to be cheap, not if you expect to stay in business, be profitable and earn well.

So it’s important to understand who is the best fit (who has the highest and greatest need) for what we do so that you aren’t wasting your time barking up the wrong trees and making things more difficult for yourself.

An administrative support business works and earns best (and more easily) when there is a direct, personal one-on-one ongoing relationship, what we call a “collaborative partnership,” with each client.

In our business, the demographic that best fits that bill are the solopreneur/boutique/lifestyle businesses.

These are the business owners who are commonly running their businesses from home offices (like us), who like being solo/boutique-size; who need administrative help and support (as every business does), but have no interest in “big business,” having employees or managing people; who ARE their business; who are more interested in a particular quality and unencumbered way of life while earning well.

They’re the perfect fit because we can provide that one-on-one, right-hand personal admin support remotely and without needing to be an employee; the size and model of their business benefits most and works best within this dynamic; and because they need it the most, they place a higher value on it.

Now that you understand which demographic is best suited for our solution and why, the next step is to narrow things down to a specific target market, which is simply an industry/field/profession that you cater your administrative support to.

Why do you need to do this, you probably wonder?

Because your value depends on the business/industry/field/profession you are talking to.

How you speak to one group and craft solutions for them is necessarily different from one group to the next.

By narrowing things down to a specific industry/field/profession, you can more quickly and easily identify what their common needs, interests, goals and challenges are, come up with a compelling marketing message for them, and craft your admin support offerings more meaningfully around those things in a way that more powerfully speaks to and attracts clients.

Plus, you simply can’t work with everybody, any more than you can be all things to all people. To stand out, to be attractive, to be memorable and interesting, you have to get specific.

As Seth Godin says (and I’m fond of quoting): “You can be a meandering generality or a meaningful specific.”

The other benefit for you, of course, in choosing a specific industry/field/profession to cater your admin support to is that you can more quickly and easily pinpoint where to start looking for and interacting with those clients.

None of that requires that they know what you are called or have heard of our industry before, only that you know who they are.

If you haven’t yet, be sure to download my free guide on How to Choose Your Target Market. It elaborates further on this topic and walks you through some exercises to help you narrow things down and decide.