Archive for the ‘Dear Danielle’ Category

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:

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.

Convo with a Colleague: Finding Clients Starts with This

Convo with a Colleague: Finding Clients Starts with This

A new colleague who was having trouble finding her first client reached out to me the other day.

Many of you coming up have the same questions and challenges so I thought it would be helpful to share our conversation. (I’ll call this colleague “Jane” to protect her anonymity.)

JANE: Do you have any posts on marketing. Specifically article marketing?

ME: Not per se, because it’s really not the most productive effort if you’re doing it in a general way. Writing articles specifically for your target market is more what I talk about. What are you trying to do or looking for with article marketing? If you can elaborate, I may be able to give you some better direction. PS: You can find all my blog categories on the right sidebar of my blog.

JANE: Target market… well I am pretty diverse in my administrative tasks that I don’t really have a target market. I suppose that currently I am a generalized admin. Would love to have a target market, just not sure what that might be right now. I am geared toward graphic design/web building, but… again that can be for anyone. 🙂

ME: Graphic design and web design are different professions/businesses. Are we talking about the administrative support business or the design business (because they aren’t the same thing)? You probably first want to get clear about what business you mean to be in. Until you do that, you’re going to struggle with finding clients. That’s because if you don’t know intentionally/consciously what business you intend to be in, you can’t expect clients to understand what you do either, and there’s no way for them to see or hear you. It also sounds like you haven’t downloaded my free guide on How to Choose Your Target Market. Deciding on a target market is one of the most important first steps in a business.

JANE: (Downloads free target market guide and comes back a little while later.) Well, let me clarify. Those are my interests, but after briefly looking at your guide, it has settled that I would like to work with realtors. Reason being, for one they can afford me. And I can still do the other computer stuff I like: working with websites and designing stuff. However, I have no experience in the field other than I know a realtor who is really successful. Any suggestions on how to break the ice on a field I am not totally familiar with?

ME: That’s great! Doesn’t matter if you have experience with them or not. You can research and learn. In fact, I always tell people, make it your goal to always be learning your chosen target market and what their business is all about and what work is involved in running it almost as if you were going into that business yourself. Because the more you know and understand them, the more you will know what their common needs, goals and challenges are, how you can best support them and how to craft your solutions and offerings geared specifically to their needs and interests.

It also doesn’t matter what your administrative skills are. General is a misnomer. Don’t use that term or terms like boring and mundane and the like in describing what you do. Words like that devalue the very vital and important work we do and in turn makes clients devalue it as well. Administrative skill and sensibility can be applied to any target market. Plus we’re all always growing and improving our skills. So that’s the the angle you want to be looking at things from. The more you learn your target market, the more you’ll know which skills will be need to be applied, honed or acquired. I have blog posts that answer all of your questions. I invite you to explore the blog and settle in for some reading. I think you’ll find it quite illuminating and helpful. Here are a few to start with:

On words to avoid in your marketing, read this category of blog posts:
Don’t Use These Words

On the difference between administrative SUPPORT and project work:
Do You Understand the Difference Between a Project-Based vs. Ongoing Administrative Support Business?

On how to research a target market you have no experience with:
Dear Danielle: How Do I Market to a Target Audience I have No Experience With Yet?

Hope this helps!

JANE: Has anyone told you how AMAZING YOU ARE!!! You are like God-sent. Thanks sooo much. I will be sure to read these.

ME: Aw, thanks. I’m glad to help. 🙂

Dear Danielle: What Is the Best Approach to Physically Obtain Quality Clients?

Dear Danielle: What Is the Best Approach to Physically Obtain Quality Clients?

Dear Danielle:

I am very new to the Administrative Consulting business although I have almost 20 years of experience supporting senior-level executives. I agree with you that we are so much more than “virtual assistants” and I would like to attract customers who understand that and value what we bring to the table, if you will. Therefore, my question to you is now that I’ve created a website and all other social media accounts, what is the best approach to physically obtain quality clients? Eventually, I may narrow my target but for now, my target is Small Business Owners. Thank you. —ND

Hi, ND. Welcome and thanks for reaching out. 🙂

Sounds like you’ve got the perfect background and a solid body of experience to offer clients. Wonderful!

Of course, there’s much more to business than simply knowing how to support clients and do the work, as you realize.

Learning how to run, manage and market a business and get actual clients (much less good ones) is a whole other skillset and area of education in and of itself.

This is why your question is more of a training one, rather than something that can be answered in a simple blog post.

It requires a more in-depth, systematic process of learning to understand the components, dynamics, and psychology involved.

To get that kind of knowledge and learning, I will refer you to my step-by-step self-paced training guide I created specifically for that purpose: How to Build a Website that WORKS!

This guide is centered around your website because your website IS the critical link in connecting your marketing and networking to actually getting clients, and not just any clients, but the kind of clients you want to reach: quality clients who understand your value.

This involves pre-educating your site visitors so they are in the right mindset, setting the right expectations, and prequalifying clients to help ensure you are productively spending your time in consultation with your most ideal and likely client candidates.

In the process of going through the steps and exercises, my guide also gives you a crash-course in inbound marketing because the two go hand-in-hand. You can’t set up an effective website and conversion system that gets results unless you understand all the components and mechanics involved.

Another thing I show you how to do in my guide is how to articulate your value and write your marketing message (and I have a clever system that helps you do that, no writing talent required; couldn’t be easier).

This is where having a target market is absolutely vital.

If there are any “secrets” in business and getting clients (and there aren’t), this is it.

And that’s because it’s not so much a “secret” as it is an area of misunderstanding and resistance for so many people.

You mention that right now your target is “small business owners.” But that isn’t a target at all, you see.

“Small business owners” is merely a demographic, and a very vague, general one at that which isn’t going to be helpful to you in any meaningful way whatsoever in creating a compelling marketing message and getting those ideal clients who value what you do.

It’s like saying “people” are your target market. That’s literally anyone and everyone in the world — which is the opposite of a target market (which by definition is a specific market).

A target market is simply an industry/field/profession that you cater your administrative support to. That’s it. However, it’s a vitally important component in getting those quality, ideal clients who understand your value that you wish for.

And this is where people struggle because they resist the idea that they actually expand their attractiveness and opportunities if they narrow their focus to one specific group.

Because here’s the thing: you can’t articulate your value in any truly meaningful, compelling way until you know who it is you are providing that value to. And that requires you to decide what industry/field/profession that will be.

Because it’s all relative.

Your value — what you provide, the solutions you offer, how you deliver those solutions and the results you create — all depends on who your audience (i.e., target market) is: who they are, what their commons interests, needs, challenges and goals are, what work they do in their profession, how their businesses are run, who their clients are, how they get those clients, and so much more.

You have to decide who it is you specifically intend to help in order to identify, understand and articulate your value in a way that speaks to these things as it relates to them. Otherwise, all you’ll ever accomplish (by trying to create a message for anyone and everyone) is being generic and forgettable.

To stand out, to create real meaning, to get focus and direction for your message and your marketing, you need specificity.

That specificity (i.e., deciding on a target market to cater your administrative support to) is what is not only going to get you more ideal clients who value what you do, it’s also going to make your business and marketing easier, you’ll have an easier time charging higher fees and making more money, and you’ll be able to get more clients more quickly and easily.

If you haven’t yet, be sure to download my free guide on How to Choose Your Target Market.

Start there, decide on a target market and then get my marketing/website guide, and you’ll be well on your way to getting those ideal, quality clients who absolutely understand how valuable you can be to them.

Dear Danielle: Client Is a No-Show, What Should I Do Now?

Dear Danielle: Client Is a No-Show, What Should I Do Now?

Dear Danielle:

I’m sitting here waiting for a local client to show up in my office to pick up their “rush” job that they wanted me to drop everything for yesterday. I worked on this project for them until well past midnight. They said they would be here to collect my work at a certain time. I’ve been waiting now for over three hours with no sign of them, much less a phone call. I’m fuming! And this isn’t the first time this has happened. How should I handle this? –NT

What I don’t understand is why people in our industry seem to think “local” has to mean “in-person.”

Why treat local clients differently than you would clients in any other part of the world?

It shouldn’t matter where the clients operate or how you initially met them.

None of your business and transactions require you to have an office or do anything in-person. All of your business, local and otherwise, can be conducted “online” (i.e., via email, shared file drive, Skype, delivery, etc.).

I would even tell you it should all be done that way if you want to manage the business efficiently and have more time available for billable work and clients.

Think, really think, about just how much of your business resources are used up doing anything in-person for one client: the scheduling time, the travel to and from, time preparing, time spent getting professionally presentable, the time it takes away from your other clients and paying work, the loss of concentration and interruption of workflow…

In-person work and meetings cost vastly more in any business, even more so ours, because they take up much more time and energy. You can work with 10 x the number of clients — and make more money — in one hour of online time vs. one-hour of in-person time with one client.

If you’re going to do anything in-person with clients, you can charge a MUCH higher premium because it is a special service and consideration outside your normal operating procedures.

Doesn’t matter if a client is local. I don’t allow them to come to my home/office to drop off or pick up documents.

That’s what couriers, delivery services, the mail, and online shared document drives are for.

And I set those expectations upfront before I ever work with them.

I accomplish this by having a client intake/onboarding process.

This involves giving them a New Client Welcome Kit that explains things work in my business and what the policies and procedures are for working together, and then going over these things with them in a new client orientation meeting (which is done over the phone or Skype).

I certainly wouldn’t allow a client to continue to disrespect and abuse my time. Remember, we train people how to treat us. Trust me, you and your business will benefit greatly by nipping this practice in the bud.

So here’s what I would do:

  • Be direct and let this client know that you have an expectation that your time is respected in the same way you respect theirs.
  • Discontinue this ill-conceived idea of doing in-person work and transactions.
  • Draft a letter to your local clients and let them know that you’re implementing new policies and procedures in your business that ultimately allow you to serve them better. Point out that you are discontinuing the policy of office pickups and drop-offs, and that anything that can’t be sent back and forth electronically or via online shared directory in some way, may be couriered (or mailed, or whatever) to and from your office.
  • Adopt a special rush fee policy and get that into your contracts (this is already included in our contract templates from the ACA Success Store).
  • Send an official communication out to all your clients that rush projects may incur extra fees at your discretion.
  • Alternatively, you can also make it a standard in your business not to accept any rush work and require clients to plan ahead within your specified guidelines. (That doesn’t mean you can’t still help out a great client in a pinch if you so choose, but you want it to the exception, not the rule.)
  • Reevaluate your clients and consider firing the bad ones who can’t get with the program and consistently demonstrate a lack of appreciation and respect for you. Just because you have a policy to penalize bad clients doesn’t mean you should keep working with them. They are demoralizing and de-energizing to your business and exact a heavy toll that none of us in solo practice can afford. 😉
  • Start an Ideal Client list and an Un-Ideal Client list. Write down all the traits and characteristics of an ideal client for you (e.g., has no problem working together virtually, respects my time, follows my policies and procedures). Then write down all the traits and characteristics of all the bad clients you’ve had (e.g., disrespects my time, doesn’t show up or follow through when they say they will, is constantly disorganized and in a rush, always wants me to do rush work, but then doesn’t appreciate it when I do, wants everything yesterday…). You get the idea. Keep updating and honing these lists throughout the life of your business. Pull them out anytime you need to remember why you are in business for yourself and what you want for your life and happiness, and any time you are tempted to step over your standards and take on a client who exhibits any of those red flags.

Dear Danielle: Should I Choose a Name Looking to the Future of My Business or Just Go with Virtual Assistant?

Dear Danielle: Should I Choose a Name Looking to the Future of My Business or Just Go with Virtual Assistant?

Dear Danielle:

I’m just starting out in this adventure and I’m having trouble choosing a business name. I’ve read your blog on Administrative Consultant and I’m intrigued, BUT I’m just starting out and will be doing anything and everything from answering phones to data entry.  Should I choose a name looking to the future of my business or just go with virtual assistant? I appreciate your help with this. — Karen E.

Hi Karen 🙂

I see you that you did notice the name of this organization. That’s good. Because I do need for people to understand that this is NOT a virtual assistant organization. This is an organization for Administrative Consultants.

What that means is if people want to ask me questions, I’m happy to help, but they need to pay attention to details (which is an important qualification in this business) and respect the proper terminology used in this organization.

Here is our position on the VA term: “Virtual Assistant” is a term of employment and has no place in any business owner’s vocabulary. It most certainly has no place in our organization or conversations.

I’m here to help people put on their big girl business britches, not perpetuate detrimental, employee mindsets.

That starts with encouraging them to hold themselves and what they do in higher esteem and not use terms of employment to describe themselves, which is counterproductive to every single effort they must make in starting and growing a business successfully.

Why do I point this out? Because your choice of words and terminology directly impacts everything in your business from getting clients, the kind of clients your marketing and terminology attracts, their correct or incorrect perceptions and expectations about the nature of the relationship, the demeanor and attitude with which they approach the relationship, your ability to command professional level fees… EVERYTHING.

Are there folks out there who aren’t ready to think bigger about themselves and what they do? Yes, of course.

There are also people who aren’t really focused on being anything specifically in business, who are better described as gophers. They are more in business to be this, that and the other and letting clients dictate their roles and what they are in business to do.

For them, the VA term is actually the better fit.

But that’s not who this organization is for. We don’t cater to those folks or old ways of thinking and operating.

Our interest, and who this organization is for, are those who are specifically focused on the business of providing administrative support.

The people who are attracted to the ACA tend to have a more sophisticated view of business and the administrative work they do. They are ready to gain deeper understandings and engage in new ways of thinking and doing things in order to continue to more positively grow their business, strengthen their business skills, get more ideal clients and make more money while operating in a way that allows them to still have plenty of time for a great life.

So, with that understanding in place, here’s my advice:

What will help you answer these questions for yourself is going through the exercise of completing a business plan.

You have to decide for yourself what kind of business you want to be in, what you want your work to consist of and what you want your days to look like.

One question that really helps is asking yourself, why do I want to be in business for myself? What am I hoping to achieve? Is this just to earn a little side money or do I want/need my business to be financially sustainable and profitable enough that I can earn an actual living from it?

And then build your business around the answers to those questions.

It’s not enough to “just want to make some money from home.” Because being able to do that is not as simple as that.

It takes intention and thoughtful preparation and foresight in setting up the business, creating standards around what you want for yourself and from the business, and what kind of work and clients will bring and sustain happiness and joy in your business so you can both do your best work for them AND remain in business for a long time to come.

As far as naming your business, I have a category on my blog called Naming Your Business that will give you excellent some guidance and helpful insights and advice. All of the articles in this category are very important in gaining deeper understanding about the importance of how you name your business and will raise your consciousness around that task.

And then this one specifically will give you some practical tips for coming up with a unique and differentiating name for your business: How to Name Your Business for Success

I would like to address something else as well.

You mentioned answering phones. This idea tends to come from people thinking that being in this business will be the same as being an employee/administrative assistant and nothing could be further from the truth.

I try to get people to understand that how and when they support clients is not the same as when they were an employee and is going to look much different once they are in business for themselves.

For both legal and practical reasons, you can’t be someone’s administrative assistant in the same way you were as an employee. They are just two completely different animals and trying to do so will keep you from creating a real business that has room for enough clients that you can actually earn a real living.

I personally have never answered phones for any client, and I wouldn’t dream of taking on that work because it would keep me tied to a phone day in and day out, which is NOT what I went into business for.

I’m not saying you have to do what I do, but in my experience, most of the people who think they are going to act as their clients’ receptionist really haven’t thought that idea all the way through about what their business and day-to-day life would be like being chained to a phone and computer all day long answering calls for clients.

Most of them, once they really think about it, realize that’s not what they really want to do. It’s more simply that they don’t know what else they could be doing for clients so they can only think in the most general, generic, traditional terms.

So, I always ask people who bring it up: Is answering phones what you really want to be in the business of doing? Have you really considered what that would actually be like and how it would impact your goals and ideals and what you envision for your business and life? Take a moment and try to picture what your days would look like doing that work.

It’s okay if that is work you want to do (you can always change your mind later if you realize it isn’t and chalk it up to a learning experience). Just make sure you are going into it consciously and intentionally with eyes wide open. Because answering phones can very quickly and easily turn you into a receptionist with little time or concentration to do anything else.

And you don’t need a business to do that. You can get a telecommuting job answering phones and still work from home if that’s your aspiration. When it comes to that kind of work, there are businesses already set up to do that work and get clients and you could simply apply for an employee position with them.

There are four posts on my blog in the category Answering Client Phones. Check those out as I think you’ll find them very illuminating on the whole topic.

Which leads me to my next point:

The one thing that is going to help you plan EVERYTHING more easily in your business and with greater intention, clarity and detail, is by choosing a target market.

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

For example, in my administrative support business, I work with solo attorneys in business, intellectual property and entertainment law. This specificity allows me to very precisely identify in more depth, detail and clarity exactly what kind of work is needed to best support my clients and, thus, structure my offerings more specifically and meaningfully as well.

Deciding on a target market will help you plan, market and get clients so much faster and easier in your business. With a target market, you’ll be able to better identify with more depth and detail the specific kind of administrative support those clients need, what will have the most meaningful impact and results for them, and cater your offerings around that so that you can be their trusted administrative expert, advisor and strategic support partner instead of their receptionist with a ball and chain around your neck.

Next step: Download my free Income & Pricing Calculator and How to Choose Your Target Market guides.

These two exercises will get you thinking more critically about your administrative support business and what you want out of it.

And then I recommend you check out the resources in the ACA Success Store, one of which is the business plan template geared specifically for the administrative support business. These things are going to help you immensely in getting on the right track toward creating a more ideal, profitable,  happy-making business.

I would like to know how all of this lands with you and if you’ve found it helpful so please let me know in the comments. And if you or anyone has further questions on the topic, we can continue the conversation there as well.

Dear Danielle: I’m Not Sure the Administrative Consultant Term Fits, but Neither Does VA

Dear Danielle: I'm Not Sure the Administrative Consultant Term Fits, but Neither Does VA

I had a short, but meaningful conversation on LinkedIn with a new colleague who was wanting to get away from the VA term, but wasn’t sure Administrative Consultant was right for her either.

It’s important to understand the correct underlying definition of a term (not merely the surface words that it is composed of) in order to determine if it is apt and appropriately applies to your own situation.

If you are at the same crossroads, maybe this interaction is helpful to you as well. (I’ve kept the colleague anonymous for privacy.)

COLLEAGUE:

Dear Danielle, I have just had chance to read your LinkedIn summary properly and oh yes I agree. I know I have been calling myself a VA, but I would like to get away from this (it doesn’t feel comfortable with me) as I don’t think it actually says what I do, and I think business owners don’t really understand the potential. It is a descriptive word to bulk us altogether. Although the word consultant I don’t think fits in with what I do either. I have this idea that a consultant comes into a business, suggests ways to improve, and leaves. I’m more of an implementer, but that doesn’t sound right to promote this either. I did speak to a “mentor” once (only once) and he suggested I charge quite low as people won’t pay more for an admin assistant. That was right to begin with, mainly to get me the confidence to work for myself, but now it is a lot different. Anyway, lovely to make acquaintance with you and look forward to hearing further from you.

ME:

Nice to make your acquaintance as well.

Yes, that “mentor” was no mentor at all. No business mentor who knew anything about business (especially a professional service business) would tell you to charge quite low because rule #1 in business is that it must be profitable (or you don’t have a business, you have a hobby).

You can’t be profitable undervaluing yourself (which in turn attracts clients who don’t value you or what you do).

You also see how calling yourself an assistant wrongly influenced his perceptions, right? This is exactly why it doesn’t do anyone in business any good using terms of employment (which is what “assistant” is) to describe themselves.

Have you been to the ACA website? The home page further explains our definition of Administrative Consultant. After reading that, you might find that it does fit for you after all.

For example, the people in our group aren’t just implementers because as experts in administration, our clients also come to us to guide and advise them on their administrative set-ups, operations and workflows. So, in that respect, we are consultants.

Administrative Consultant is the marriage between someone who provides both administrative support AND guidance and expertise on best practices with regard to systems and operations.

Even if right now you still might feel that you are only an implementer, after a few years in business and working with clients, I’ll bet you’ll see yourself differently.

The best clients naturally don’t see you as just their little worker bee (and if that’s all they think of you, they will only want to pay peanuts). They see you as their administrative expert and will look to you for your advice, guidance and recommendations on these matters.

It’s the natural progression of the relationship, which is also exactly what makes us Administrative Consultants.

Either way, I’m sure you’ll find a whole lot of useful insights and confidence-building resources on the ACA website. Check it out here.

COLLEAGUE:

And yes! Just looked at your website and video and that is exactly what I’m doing for one of my clients. Your explanation of Consultant I like for the “all inclusive” role. I will start moving away from the VA term, as I do prefer to work with someone on a long-term basis. Thank you for providing me the explanation and the confirmation I was really looking for.

ME:

Wonderful!

On the topic of confidence and learning how to command professional fees, you might find this category on my blog helpful.

I very much appreciate our conversation today. I know it’s something a lot of people in our industry feel as well, but aren’t sure how to articulate or ask about it. Thanks for reaching out!