Archive for the ‘Demonstrating Your Expertise’ Category

Are You Being Phoney-Baloney?

Are You Being a Phoney-Baloney?

It’s not necessary to be a phoney-baloney in your marketing to get clients.

If you’re a solo, don’t pretend you’re a bigger company.

When it comes down to it, that’s just plain dishonest, a lie.

Is that really how you want to start your valued new client relationships?

And what kind of clients will you end up with based on false pretenses?

What happens to trust once they find out they’ve been snookered, manipulated?

Trust, credibility and rapport are established through honesty and by demonstrating your competence, professionalism and capabilities through your writing, the presentation of your website and other marketing collateral, and the polish and effectiveness of your policies, processes and protocols.

I get that people want to help clients see how skilled, competent and credible they are, and that some think the only way to do that is to portray themselves as bigger as if they have more people involved in their business than there actually are.

But dishonesty is never the answer.

Engaging in false presenses belies your own low professional self-esteem and the belief that you are not enough, that the way you operate your business as a solo is not enough.

It’s also presuming that prospective clients have any problem with it.

Imagine the better fitting clients you would get, client it would be more joyful to work with, simply by sharing honestly the size of your business and how you operate, and being the real you.

I have two categories on my blog here with posts that will help you learn how to instill trust and demonstrate your competence without being dishonest or unethical:

Trust & Credibility
Demonstrating Your Expertise

Check ’em out!

You Don’t Have a Portfolio

You don’t have a portfolio when you’re in the admin support business because admin support is a service, not a tangible, visible product (like design is).

Rather, your “portfolio” is the experience clients get dealing with you.

It’s your service, your communication, your responsiveness, your policies, processes and procedures, your systems, your standards, how your website looks and works, what your testimonials say, your case studies…

These are all demonstrations—samplings and examples—of your expertise, competence, professionalism and the service experience clients will get should they decide to work with you.

And if they are positive, if they are smooth, if they are well-executed, those are the things that instill confidence and trust in your potential clients.

Are You an Irritant In Someone’s Day?

Are You an Irritant in Someone's Day?

What are you doing to respect the time of others by NOT creating loose ends and being an irritation to them?

This is important when it comes to your business.

Clients do not work with people who irritate them by creating more unnecessary work, follow-up and loose ends to deal with.

Colleagues will not work with you either when that’s the case.

If you create more problems and work for them, they will not have any confidence in your ability to keep organized, follow-through and respond to things in a timely manner (or at all) and will not refer anyone to you.

Plus, wasting people’s time is a sin. 😉

When you fail to meet deadlines, when you take days or weeks to respond to messages, when you don’t follow-through as promised or requested, what you are marketing is that you are not competent, professional, capable or reliable.

All of which will lose you business and clients.

Always put your most professional foot forward no matter who you are dealing with. Everyone is making judgments and assessments about your skills, competence and professionalism.

And everyone is a potential referral source.

Tell Their Story: 3 Case Study Ideas for Marketing to Clients

Tell Their Story: 3 Case Study Ideas for Marketing to Clients

So, what is a case study?

For those who might not be familiar, a case study is basically a story that describes a typical client’s situation before, and the progress and results achieved after, working with you.

Potential clients visit your site and they see what you do, but a lot of times they don’t understand how your service helps them beyond just getting work done. Case studies provide context in a way that helps illustrate the ways in which clients benefit from your support. They help them better visualize and imagine the kind of results you can help them acheive and get excited about the possiblities of working together.

Ideally, a case study uses an actual client as the basis. However, maybe you are a new Administrative Consultant and don’t have clients yet. When that’s the case, what you can do is paint a word picture of the kind of results and benefits a typical client could expect from working with you.

You would tell the story from the perspective of the typical kind of client who would need your services, the kind of needs, challenges and goals they have, and then describe the kind of support you would provide to meet and overcome those needs, goals and challenges. Most importantly, you then describe how that typical client’s business (and life, for that matter) would be improved and all the various benefits and results the client would get as a result.

Here are three case study ideas that each focus on a different angle you can take in developing your own.

  1. Demonstrate how you help. A lot of times, prospects don’t fully understand what you can help them with, and those exhaustive lists of tasks and services don’t help (the eyes glaze over at a certain point). So what you do is describe a typical client in your target market, point out some of the needs, goals and challenges they have, and then outline the kind of support areas and activities you would help them with that would address those needs, goals and challenges. This gives them context to better understand and visualize what you do for them and how you work together with certain objectives in mind.
  2. Demonstrate how you give clients back more time. Another kind of case study you can paint is one that helps prospects realize how much time they can gain back. Most people want more time to what? Work with more clients and make more money? Take vacations? Have more quality time with family and friends and just generally have a life beyond their business? So, use this kind of case study to help illustrate what their life might like with your administrative support. What kinds of things would they do with that newfound extra time? Would they have more time off for relaxing and self-care? Would they have a better quality life? Would they have more time to develop and grow their business (and, thus, make more money)? How would their peronal and family life be improved?
  3. Demonstrate how a client’s business can grow and improve with your support. This kind of case study is about specific facts and figures. Obviously, when clients are trying to do everything themselves in their business, there’s only so much time left to work with clients. By leveraging your support, how many more clients could they work with? How much more free time would they gain back? How much more money could they be earning per year? How many new products, services or programs could they develop? For this case study, you need a client where you’ve taken inventory at the start of the relationship and then again at least six months or a year later. How many clients did they have in the beginning and how many after? How much were they earning annually then and now (i.e., their income persumably increased due to having more time and being able to work with more clients with your support). This is a powerful kind of case study because it directly links your support with growth in their business and income.

There are two products I recommend you get from the ACA Success Store that will help you develop the third type of case study:

Client Profile Sheet (FRM-06)

Client Profile Sheet (FRM-06)

and the

Client Feedback Form (FRM-04)

Client Feedback Form (FRM-04)

These have been designed to work together in collecting the before and after data you need to elicit testimonials and create your own powerful case studies.

Whose Fault Is It?

Can I vent a little? Do you mind?

More importantly, there are a few business lessons in this post for you as well (you know I’m always using these experiences as teaching moments, lol).

Whenever you promote something that (gasp) people have to actually pay for, you inevitably get a few unsubscribers from your mailing list.

No problem. This is a good thing. Never, ever worry about that.

Because you want those who begrudge you charging for your time, knowledge and expertise off your list. They just suck up space and create negative energy.

Who knows why they’re even on a business list in the first place because, um, business is about earning money after all. Or did they miss that memo?

I guess they should stop expecting clients to pay them as well, right? I mean, by their logic, we should all be doing everything for everyone for free all the time.

Oh wait, earning money and expecting to be paid only applies to them; everyone else is supposed to be giving to them for free. 😉

Anyway, I digress, lol.

Here’s what I really want to talk about…

So, I get this unsubscribe message from someone who writes about the ACA Industry Survey:

I shared confidential information for the questionnaire and was never offered a copy of the results. Sorry to go.

Here’s what I want you to know (because what a lot of these people like to do is turn around and badmouth you to others, mischaracterize things and spread incorrect information—or flat out lie):

  1. Our survey is confidential. We don’t know who you are when you complete the survey. You aren’t sharing anything “confidential” or personally identifying with anyone.
  2. If you have a problem with sharing your “confidential information,” why did you take the survey in the first place? You chose to take the survey, no one had a gun to your head. This is called personal responsibility.
  3. “Sorry to go.” That’s such passive aggressive bullshit. Because obviously, if you were genuinely and authentically sorry to go, you would have instead sent an email and made some polite inquiry. Business lesson: Don’t be disingenous. It’s not gracious. Get a backbone and tell the truth.
  4. I have no clue who the person writing is. She’s not someone who ever interacts or corresponds with me. I sort of get the impression she thinks I should know who she is, but here’s the thing. If you never open your mouth and speak to people on a regular basis (like on their blogs, forums, listservs, social networking, etc.), no one is going to remember you or know who you are. People can’t get to know, like, trust and remember you, much less build any kind of relationship with you, if you sit there like a bump on a log. (That’s another biz lesson, by the way.)
  5. I am always interested in making sure we do a good job and do what we say we will. So I went to investigate to see if I could piece together what may have happened. I put her name and email address into Aweber and she’s not on our current survey mailing list. Our survey page very clearly states (with several reminders throughout the process) that participants must sign up to the survey mailing list in order to get their free results report. If they fail to follow that step, they won’t get a copy. Simple as that. So, if it’s the current survey this person took, since she’s not on the mailing list, I can only assume that she didn’t complete the survey or the sign-up. Only you are responsible for your ability (or lack thereof) to follow directions or follow through.
  6. It occurred to me that maybe she was talking about a previous year and we archive those lists offline. So I went to the archives and was able to find her name and email—FROM OUR 2009 SURVEY LIST. So she’s waiting over 3 years to bring this to my attention now and wants to act like she was somehow wronged? Really?
  7. We keep meticulous records on this stuff, and our records show she was in fact sent an email from the mailing list back in 2010 with the download link to her free copy. If she didn’t download it, whose fault is that? Here’s how we do this: participants on the mailing list are sent an email with the link to download their free copy once the survey period is over and the report has been compiled. They are informed that they have X number of WEEKS (not days) to download their copy. They are told, in no uncertain terms, that the link will expire after that date and there will be no requests indulged after that point. We even send one or two courtesy reminders. The survey is a huge undertaking that takes a ton of time and energy. We have to automate and systemize in order to manage everything effectively and efficiently (another biz lesson). Plus, you have to keep in mind, this is a free service. It’s a big pain in the ass to be dealing with requests dribbling in the rest of the year from folks who didn’t follow directions in the first place. I and the people who help me in this endeavor have our own businesses to run and other things to do. We simply have to put these boundaries in place. So we spell out how things work, tell folks how to download their free report, give them a deadline with plenty of time to do so, and the rest is on them. If someone doesn’t  download their copy or report problems in a timely manner, that’s on them.

Remember, (here comes more biz savvy) business requires policies and procedures, standards and boundaries.

As Administrative Consultants, reading, paying attention and being able to follow directions and follow through in a timely manner is our stock in trade.

It doesn’t say anything good about your competence or abilities if you can’t do those things.

We all make mistakes; we’re all human. That’s okay. But own your own mistakes and failures and learn from them. Don’t blame others for them.

Dear Danielle: How Do I Market to a Target Audience I Have No Experience With Yet?

Dear Danielle:

I’ve been using your products to help me figure out my target market. In your materials, you encourage us to not be deterred by a niche just because we haven’t yet gained experience with it. So, the question I keep asking myself is how to confidently market my services that I know I’m adept at, but don’t yet have the concrete evidence to support such statements when meeting with potential clients. —Jayleen Hayden, Administrative Consultant

Hi, Jayleen :)

This is where the research phase of defining your target market comes in.

Your job, once you’ve determined (or are looking into serving) a particular target market is to STUDY UP and learn everything you can about that particular profession/field/industry. There are all kinds of ways you can do that (and you should do all of them!):

  • Use the Internet to learn more about that particular profession/field/industry.
  • Read books (buy some and/or check some out at the library)
  • Check out their industry journals and publications
  • Contact their industry professional associations and avail yourself of their information and resources (including TALKING to people there and asking for their thoughts and guidance on how you can learn more about their industry)
  • Create a free online survey and then shop it around in their industry networking forums, listservs, etc.
  • Call a few people in your chosen target market and conduct some telephone surveys/interviews.
  • Take someone in your desired target market out to lunch and pick their brain.
  • Join your target market’s forums and listservs and start asking questions.

Use your imagination and creativity! Any way you can think of to learn more about your target market is perfectly valid.

And what exactly do you want to know about your target market? Anything and everything; it’s all useful! But here’s a simple list to get you started:

  • You want a firm understanding of the work they do and how their businesses are commonly run.
  • What kind of overarching goals, dreams and desires do they have for their businesses (and their life)?
  • What are their common needs, goals and challenges in their businesses?
  • What kind of administrative work is involved in running their business?
  • How do they make their money?
  • Where are their stuck points? What kind of roadblocks keep them from moving forward (e.g., work they hate or don’t know how or don’t have time to do)?
  • Who are their clients? What kind of needs, goals and challenges do they have in supporting their clients or customers?

Value is always relative to the subject. Value is never something you can articulate in any general kind of way. This is why you always have to know who you’re talking to specifically in order to be able to articulate your value in a way that is going to be the most meaningful, relevant and compelling to that group.

When you don’t know who you’re talking to, this is when people default to talking about themselves and their businesses from their own limited and self-indulgent perspective—things that prospective clients are the least interested in, and which is the least client-centric.

Therefore, this background work in knowing and understanding your target market is vital in getting a grasp for and determining how and where your support will be most useful and meaningful to them. As you get the answers to these question, you begin to see where your support can fit in and help them in all kinds of ways:  running smoothly, keeping organized, moving forward, helping them become more streamlined, systemized and automated. It’s this thorough research and subsequent understanding that will help you show potential clients in your target market how you can truly help them.

When you’ve done your homework like this, it shows. It will show up in your marketing message because you’ll be able to relate your work specifically to your target market’s particular industry and their specific needs, goals and challenges. They will recognize that you understand their businesses and their challenges, and this will make your value more readily apparent to them.

When that’s the case, experience with a particular target market (or lack thereof) is never a roadblock. You’ll get that soon enough!

Dear Danielle: How Do I Get Over Blogging Writer’s Block

Dear Danielle:

There are so many things to consider in starting or re-starting a business, as I’m sure you know. At this point, there are so many different marketing avenues to promote our business and the industry as a whole.  Let me tell you, I am so excited about this up and coming ‘virtual’ profession.

One of the areas I was going to start off with again is a blog. And you are correct – sometimes it’s difficult to come up with ideas or topics to talk about. Frankly, sometimes I even think before I start to write ‘What could I possibly have to say that may make a difference in someone’s life?’ or ‘Do I really have anything to offer to benefit the VA industry – individually and as a whole?’

Do you have any suggestions on how to overcome this writer’s block or how to research what topics would be interesting to my peers and potential customers?

Oh, you know I do. 😉

My first bit of clarity for you is to stop thinking you need to write for your peers and the industry. You are wasting your business building time and energy.

I can’t tell you how many people I see and mentor who complain about not having clients and needing to get more clients–and then waste all their time and energy talking to and blogging for each other instead of their would-be clients!

You may have heard the phrase “wasted real estate” when experts talk about how business owners waste valuable website space with content that has nothing to do with anything when it comes to attracting clients and being of interest to them.

In the same way, you don’t need to be writing for your peers or for the industry. They are not your clients. If that’s what you’re doing, you’re wasting one of your most valuable pieces of marketing and networking “real estate.” If you are starting your business or trying to grow it and attract more clients and be of service to them, write your blog for them.

And my second bit of advice for getting over writer’s block is to get a target market.

(For those who don’t know, a target market is a specific field, industry or profession you focus your business support on.)

Of course you will be at a loss as to what to write about when you don’t know who you are talking to. When you try to write for anyone and everyone, you end up being interesting to no one.

This is yet another way having a target market helps you:  it gives you clarity, focus and direction. When you know who you are talking to, it’s easier to know or figure out what is going to be of value, use and interest to them. And this is what will help make your content far more interesting, useful and compelling.

A few other little blogging tips:

  • Make sure you have several ways for your target market to subscribe to your blog. First and foremost, use a service like Aweber which will help you build your list and automate the distribution of new post notifications to these subscribers. Make the subscription form your most prominent feature in your upper right sidebar (“above the fold”).
  • There will be people who prefer to subscribe by RSS or with things like Networked Blogs. Give them those options as well. However, if you are interested in building your list, you may want to feature those options less prominently.
  • Give your blog a title and/or tag line so that your target market knows instantly that your blog is especially for them.
  • Survey your subscribers periodically. Pick their brains. Ask them questions. Your blog isn’t just a way to connect with clients. It can also be an excellent research tool for getting to know them better and find out more about what their challenges and common goals and interests are in business–which is going to help you in your business and offerings to them as well as knowing what to write about for them.

Dear Danielle: Will Certification Make Me Look More Professional?

This question comes up frequently. And I often see  newcomers to the industry being preyed upon due to their mistaken belief that “certification will make me look more professional.”

The fact is, no one’s little piece of paper is going to make you look more professional.

The only thing that will make you look more professional is by DEMONSTRATING your expertise and competence and skills in everything you do.

That includes how your website looks, how you speak, your message, your business operations and processes… These are the things that make you look more professional.

In over 14 years of business, I have never once been asked by a client if I am certified. They simply do not care.

And it’s not something that ever occurs to them to ask when every other demonstration to them indicates that you are professional, credible, trustworthy and competent.

Sadly, many people will waste their precious time and money on certifications that will have absolutely nothing to do with getting clients and whether they succeed or fail.

I’ve written about this topic extensively on my old blog and have just moved all these posts over to the new blog here under their own category called “Certification Is a Joke.”

If you are thinking about paying for certification in our industry, read the posts I’ve written on this subject first.

Dear Danielle: Client Wants to Do a Background Check on Me

Dear Danielle:

I have recently purchased a few of your items and love them. They have helped me tremendously! Thanks. :)

I have a question: I have done a couple of consultations and the client has asked if they could run a background check because they will be disclosing some bank and financial information to me. I have no problem with them doing this and can’t blame them for asking; however, I was wondering if you had heard of a service where I could get the background check for myself and just be able to send it to the clients when they ask for it? The main reason for this is that in the same way that they don’t want to hand over their banking info to me, I do not want to hand over my SS#, birth date, home address, etc.

Great question and thanks so much for asking. I don’t have any recommendations for you when it comes to background checks. Obviously, it’s everyone’s personal choice, but I highly discourage allowing clients to do personal background checks. Even if they themselves have honest intentions and are not some kind of shady character, if their computer or systems or office security are compromised somehow, that information can get leaked out in all kind of ways through no fault of their own. Having been a private investigator in a former life, this is a really bad idea for all kinds of reasons.

Plus, it’s just the wrong mindset to cater to. If you were an employee they were considering hiring, it might be appropriate, but this is a business relationship, not an employment one. A background check also doesn’t guarantee that someone can be trusted. There simply has to be a certain level of trust extended to each other or there isn’t room to do business together.

You didn’t say what kind of work you will be doing for them, but generally, trust in business is something that grows and is earned in stages. With some exceptions, of course, it’s very often not necessary to need that kind of sensitive client data right off the bat. You can let the relationship grow naturally as you continue working together over those first months and getting to know each other. As they see things progress and they get more comfortable, they will know the right time to share that information if and when it’s needed.

I do want you to think about this from a different perspective. Have a conversation with the client. What might really be going on behind their request? Do they simply have trust issues beyond what is reasonable? Is there something they aren’t seeing or feeling from you that they need to in order to feel more trusting?

There are all kinds of ways you can help instill trust and credibility without submitting to background checks:

  • Put your name and face on your website. People connect with people, not anonymous, nameless, faceless entities. This is one of the most potent, instant trust and rapport builders you can employ!
  • Put an address on your website. Not your home address, but some kind of mailing address as well as an email and contact number. This satisfies an emotional (not logical) need people have to see that you can be contacted in the “real” world if need be. It just gives them added assurance. When you don’t provide that info, they feel there is something to distrust.
  • If you are in the U.S., get an EIN number from the IRS (this is so that you don’t have to provide your SSN when you are an unincorporated sole proprietor), and then provide new clients with a completed IRS Form W-9.
  • Put a copy of your business license/registration in PDF format so you can provide that to clients as well. This shows that you are credible, legitimately registered business.
  • Have errors and omissions (E & O) insurance and provide a PDF copy of your certificate to new clients.
  • Provide a values/promise statement on your website. Tell clients that you have a feedback process instituted in your business and will solicit their input at regular intervals throughout the relationship. Let them know if they are ever unhappy, you encourage and welcome their feedback and will do everything in your power to rectify any unsatisfactory performance.
  • If you belong to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and have a spotless record, place your membership seal on your website (their code will link to your BBB profile where they can read your record for themselves).
  • Provide clients with testimonials on your website. Have a PDF list of clients who are happy to talk with your prospective clients about you and your work.

As you can see, there are all kinds of things you can and should be doing that will help new clients feel comfortable and safe with you. But do politely decline the background checks. It’s far too intrusive and just not the right place to start the relationship off.

Do you have others to add to the list? Please post in the comments!

Does Your Image Match?

So, I took the car into the shop for some routine maintenance. I go to a place I’ve been taking it to for the past couple years now. They are so awesome. The front desk staff is so friendly. Unlike lots of car shops, this one is actually clean and tidy. They give complimentary engine light checks if you have one come on. They’ll drive you home if it’s going to be awhile for your car. The mechanics are clean-cut, take time to explain things to you clearly, and don’t leer and drool at you if you’re a woman. (Ladies, you know what I’m taking about!)

Anyway, as I was waiting in the reception area for one of the guys to drive me back home, I was nosing around the business card table. This is a little spot where the shop owner lets his customers leave their business cards and flyers. I like to see who else is on the local independent business owner scene (indy businesses are my favorite!), and I came across a card that had me feeling so sorry for the owner.

You see, the biz card said it was a marketing business, but everything about the card loudly contradicted this and instead indicated that this wasn’t someone who understood marketing at all. The card was a stock template from Vistaprint I’ve seen a million times with “business cards are FREE at” on the back. On the front, the font was so small I could barely make out the name of the biz owner. There was no website listed so I couldn’t go online to learn more about the business and what it offered. And the email was a gmail address.

You don’t have to be a great designer to be in the marketing business. BUT someone in the marketing business… that is, someone who really is an expert in marketing KNOWS (as this is one of the most basic things to understand) that image is everything. If you say you are an expert and professional, your marketing materials MUST demonstrate that. That being the case, this business owner who was supposedly in the marketing profession should have known to hire a designer to put together a proper and professional-looking business card.

So instead of a business that I would ever call for marketing, I get the impression that this isn’t a real expert at all. Now, maybe they really are an expert and really great. But as the only thing I have to judge them on right in front of me, their business card tells me otherwise.

I don’t know this business from Adam. As the first introduction and presentation of that business, their business card is a either a deal maker or a deal breaker. It’s either going to instill confidence in me that they are a successful, expert marketing business that I’d be interested in looking into further, or it’s going to tell me, either consciously or subconsciously, not to bother. And this goes for anything that represents your business–your website, your content, your brochures and cards, etc.

So why is a well-designed website important? Why do you need a properly designed logo? Why spend money on a designer when you have tools on your computer that you can use yourself? Because your business image tells a story to your prospective clients. It gives them clues as to whether you really are a successful professional who is expert at what you do or merely an amateur they shouldn’t waste money on. It helps them connect the dots and encourages them to take the next step (whether that’s going to your website or contacting you for a consultation).

If this biz owner really knew what he was doing, he would have a properly designed, original card–not a template and definitely not one that told the world he was too unsuccessful to afford to pay for his own business cards. He would have a website for people to go to so they could learn more. He would have some kind of offer or call to action on the card. He would use a proper email address on his own domain.

Image is everything people. Don’t skimp on yours.