Archive for the ‘Establishing Rapport’ Category

Are Professional Headshots Necessary?

Are Professional Headshots Necessary?

A colleague asked this in our ACA LinkedIn Discussion Group the other day.

I thought it was a great question that would make for a perfect blog post!

So here’s my advice:

IF you have the ability and opportunity to get professional shots, by all means get them. Once you start looking for a good photographer, I think you will be pleasantly surprised at just how affordable this is. It’s a good investment AND a business expense write-off.

BUT if you don’t at the moment have the financial ability, use whatever means you have to take the best photos you can. Have a friend with a good eye take some shots of you. You can even pose yourself with instant feedback using your webcam or cellphone camera.

What’s important is that prospective clients and site visitors have A picture of you.

And that’s because people connect with people. It’s why dating sites always say that profiles with photos outrank those that don’t 10 to 1.

When people consult me for my help with their website, I recommend they provide a mix of photos:

  1. A good, close-up headshot wearing professional attire, smiling into the camera, looking friendly and approachable. Studies show that the bigger the eyes, the better. That is, the closer the shot, the larger and more close-up your eyes will be to theirs; that’s the important thing. By all means, let your personality and style show through. At the same time, simple patterns (or solid colors) and jewelry translate better in this kind of photography.
  2. A business casual/action shot. This one could be slightly more relaxed business attire, perhaps of you at a networking event or talking with a client, something like that.
  3. What I call a “lifestyle” shot where it’s you being a regular person wearing more casual, everyday clothing (i.e., non business/professional clothing, but not sloppy, lounging clothes either; you still want to project the image of professional and sloppy does not convey the idea that you are competent, energetic, professional and that you respect them and take their business seriously). Maybe it’s a shot of you with your family or a pet. Or maybe it’s you engaging in one of your hobbies (it may turn out to be an interest an ideal prospective client shares, who knows). The purpose here is to show yourself as a real person (not a robot).
  4. An intro video. It’s the next best thing to being there because they get even more of a sense of who you are as a person, how you speak, your gestures and mannerisms. Doesn’t have to be fancy; you can even use your webcam. Clean up your background (if you use a laptop cam, you have more ability to move around to find the most pleasant/interesting spot in your house or maybe even go outside as long as there are not any sound distractions). Put some nice clothes on and do your hair and makeup. You don’t have to dress to the hilt; something simple, nice and business casual is just fine. The idea here is to record a video of yourself talking directly to your site visitor/ideal client. Welcome them to your site, give them a quick overview of what they’ll learn there and/or how to navigate the site, thank them for stopping by and give them a call to action (e.g., “If getting support in your business sounds wonderful to you, click on the link to schedule a consultation. I look forward to talking with you!”. This is worth a thousand photos!
  5. A shot of your office. If you have a nicely decorated, professional looking office space set up, that can be a great picture to include as well so people can see where you work and that you have a professional/efficient set-up. Of course, if your “office” right now is more of a corner on the kitchen table, then that’s maybe not what you want to focus/emphasize for the time being. When I first started, we were remodeling our cabin and my computer was moved from corner to nook to cranny constantly, lol. We also had a second home where I had a more official set up, but since our main house was on literally ON the water (we lived in an exclusive waterfront community where all the homes were built on pilings over the saltwater Sound), I had a picture of my view on my website as that’s what my “office” was and it was interesting and unique and a good conversation starter. Once I got a more “official” looking space set up in our other home, I used that photo of what I light-heatedly called my “command center” to illustrate that I had things set up very professionally and competently and that they were dealing with a real business that did real work and was expertly set up and organized to do so.

A couple caveats:

  1. No glamour shots. These are not business appropriate photos.
  2. No old photos. If you’re in your 50s and the photo you’re using is one of you in your 20s, it’s time for a new photo. You want to be current and you want to show people the real you, out loud and proud, girlfriend!

Studies show that people LOVE pictures of other people. When there is a photo of a person, that’s where their eyes go first and they engage for far longer on websites that have one.

When you provide photos of yourself (at least ONE), it makes you infinitely more relatable to your site visitors and prospects.

No one cares whether it’s the most perfect professional shot or that you have the most expensive clothes or if you’re good-looking or not.

They just want to see/know WHO it is they are dealing with. It creates instant rapport and helps bond them to you.

If you want to get more consultations and clients, a photo (if not several) are EXTREMELY helpful (dare I say, a MUST even) to have on your website.

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!

Dear Danielle: I or We?

Dear Danielle:

I have been struggling with “me/I” versus “us/we” when wording my website. The reason I am asking is because I will have my daughter helping on occasion. Do you think that the “we” sounds more professional than the “I”… or should I just represent as a one-woman-show? Thoughts? —Katie Burke

Hi Katie :)

I have people who help me in my business as well. However, I predominately use “I” and “my company” because the rapport I want developed is between me and my prospective clients.

I also want to underscore the fact that it is a partnership in which we will be working one-on-one together. I won’t be abdicating or outsourcing our relationship or their work to outside third-parties.

5 Simple Steps to an Effective Author’s Bio

Ever wonder how to write up a little bio for your “about the author” box? It’s really easy. Here are my 5 simple steps:

1. State who you are and how you help clients. In one sentence, make it clear what you do (your business category), who you do it for (target market) and ultimately what problem you solve for them (e.g., what does the result of your work ultimately provide for clients?).

2. Focus on them, not you. No one cares about your background, what all your professional designations or affiliations are, how many years experience you have, blah blah blah. They care about how you can help them, what you can do for them. This is the WIIFM (“what’s in it for me?”) factor and you always want to write from that perspective.

3. Use “you” and “your,” not “me, me, me.” What I mean is that you want to write using the 2nd person point of view (“you,” “your”). This draws the reader into your message by making it personal.

4. Include a call to action at the end. A “call to action” is a sentence that tells the reader exactly what to do next. This is part of the proverbial marketing funnel that leads readers to your website and onto your mailing list. Example: “For more free strategies for success, subscribe to my Biz Tips ezine at….”

5. Keep it short and sweet, about 3-5 sentences. No one wants to read your life story, and your call-to-action will get lost in the details if you make the reader work too hard to get to the point (i.e., WIIFM?).

Is this post helpful to you? Please let me know in the comments!

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.

Commanding Professional Fees

Finally getting around to reading Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. Fascinating read.

Interesting anecdote:

“The economist Richard Thaler, in his 1985 Beer on the Beach study, showed that a thirsty sunbather would pay $2.65 for a beer delivered from a resort hotel, but only $1.50 for the same beer if it came from a shabby grocery store.”

How does this relate to your professional services business? They might be talking about beer, but it harkens to a fundamental truth in business: Image is everything.

What that means is that clients and customers are influenced by your professional image. They’re led to believe or make assumptions about how good (or bad) the service/skill/product is based on nothing more than the professional image that is presented. They directly correlate the quality of your skills, services and products with how things look. Very often, it’s the only thing they have on which to base their decisions, and it’s not entirely conscious.

This is especially true with professional services.

Clients can’t pick up and hold in their hand a “service” like they could with an actual product. A service is intangible. It’s invisible. Because of this, it can be argued that your professional image is even more important in a service-based business.

The look and feel of your website, your writing and communications, the experience of dealing with you–literally everything that prospective clients have any contact with–all make up your professional image. It’s going to be one of the most important ingredients in shaping clients’ perception of you and the value, quality and skill you help them believe and see demonstrated.

So, if you are trying to command the higher professional level fees you want and need, you have to “look the part.”

If you say you are worth $X a month, but your website and other marketing collateral look like the “shabby grocery store,” you’re going to have a hard time convincing anyone you’re worth it. Because you haven’t showed up dressing the part of the successful, competent, qualified expert. The incongruency between your words and the “environment” of all those things that make up your professional image will stop them.

Often, prospective clients don’t have any other way of judging how you might be better than the next professional who says the same thing. But when they see an image that backs up what you say you are about, you are giving them visual proof to believe you. The “environment” of that top-notch professional image sends a message of congruency and instills trust, credibility and confidence.

Your copy, too, is part of your professional image. If you write about yourself and your services in lowly terms, as if you are merely a peon or gopher and that the work is only “grunt” work, people will accordingly only view–and pay–you as such. If you don’t respect the work and understand its value and importance, clients won’t respect or value it either.

Your words also shape how clients treat you. So if you are wanting to command professional fees and be treated as an equal partner, a skilled professional with an expertise to share, you’ve got to also re-image your words. You aren’t some lowly peon. You are not a “generalist.” You are an expert and specialist in the art of administrative support and you have an expertise to share that truly does change the lives of your clients.

Dear Danielle: Is Virtual Assistant Certification Necessary?

Dear Danielle:

I have wanted to start my own Virtual Assistant business for a while now. I’ve been with the same large corporation for 12 years, some of that time spent in the Medical Law department, as a human resources assistant and about six years as an executive assistant juggling multiple managers. Prior to that, I worked from a woman’s home as her assistant as she ran her own company bringing in over $400,000 gross per year. I have the experience, I have the drive and motivation; I learn quickly; I’m resourceful; I am able to work independently and have a record of excellent customer service and problem solving skills. I am concerned that not having a Virtual Assistant certificate from a college may hinder client selection. From your experience, are degree-less Virtual Assistants making a living out there? Do you know of a legitimate online Virtual Assistant certification?

Fabulous! You have listed just about everything you need to start an administrative support business:  experience, drive, resourcefulness, ability to learn quickly and excellent customer service and problem-solving skills. The only other requirement is going to be excellent business sense. Because running a business and doing the work and taking care of clients are two completely different things.

I’ve written extensively on the subject of certification. You do not need anyone’s piece of paper to “certify” that you have the administrative expertise to offer your services. I say this as someone who has been in this business for over 14 years and never once been asked by a single client–ever–whether I was “certified” or not.

Most of the certification programs in our industry are a joke. I’ve even had colleagues go through some of these programs where the administrators themselves can’t spell, litter their correspondence with typos, and get their own exams wrong. There’s a proliferation of opportunists and exploiters out there who are just using these programs as personal sales vehicles and will certify anyone willing to pay. These “certifications” will have absolutely no influence or affect on your success or client attraction whatsoever.

Pay for skills training. Pay for business knowledge and education. Pay for products and services that have actual, practical value and use in your business. But when it comes to “certification,” save your money.

There is only one thing you need to prove to clients and that is done by simply demonstrating your qualifications, competence and service in all that you do. Your site, your messages, your writing and articles, your networking and interactions… every bit of it is an example and sampling for clients of your skills, expertise and professionalism.

When you demonstrate a professional level of expertise and competence, no one is going to ask you about certification. Those questions only come when prospective clients don’t see those things exampled on your website, your business image, your content and your communications. But when you do demonstrate those things in all those places, you instill credibility. You instill trust. They don’t need to ask because they already get that sense of your competence through all your displays of marketing, presentation and interaction.

No piece of paper will prove those things. And any certification you get becomes meaningless if you can’t demonstrate on a daily basis, in everything you do, the qualities that the certification is supposed to “prove.”

Here are some other posts I’ve written on the topic of certification that may be of interest to you:

http://www.administrativeconsultantsassoc.com/blog/2008/05/11/are-you-trying-too-hard/

http://www.administrativeconsultantsassoc.com/blog/2008/01/08/demonstrate-your-competence/

http://www.administrativeconsultantsassoc.com/blog/2007/10/10/dear-danielle-what-can-you-tell-me-about-credentialing/

It sounds like you’ve got all the qualifications and experience you need to open a business as an Administrative Consultant and offer professional level administrative support and expertise. Learning to be a good businessperson may take some additional skills and education, if you don’t have those already.

Don’t bother with certification, though. Just become a good student of business. Read business books. Find business mentors (formal or informal). Ask lots of questions. If you do take some kind of course, I highly recommend training and guides related to business management and marketing, not a certification course.

And don’t confuse skills training with certification. They are not the same thing.

Good luck to you and thanks for the great question! We need more highly skilled and competent people like you in our field!

Why Your Location IS Important

Your location IS important, but not for the reasons you might think.

This topic came up through some correspondence I was having with someone who had submitted her listing to the ACA Administrative Consultant Directory.

This person was concerned that being listed in one location would limit her to clients from that one geographic area. She felt that “the whole reason for being a “virtual assistant” is to allow you to work from home for anyone, anywhere in the world,” and that “listing by location restricts the Virtual Assistant’s ability to expand her boundaries of business to other places.”

She’s failed to understand her ownership role and control over the content of her own website and how that content should be properly educating clients.

Here’s what you need to understand…

Location doesn’t have anything to do with how folks get clients or where they are from. It has more to do with instilling trust and credibility in prospective clients. Knowing the city, state and country where someone actually lives and operates makes clients feel safer and more comfortable with that business.

And in some cases, geographic location actually is important, either to the Administrative Consultant or to the client.

For example, I work with attorneys, but I work strictly with attorneys in my own state because I know the ropes better here. With the exception of the IP attorney I work with (which is federal), I have no interest in trying to learn all the ins and outs of court structures, rules, filing methods and all those other idiosyncrasies in other states.

For the same reason, I have no interest in international clients either. It’s often too much work trying to navigate between the language and cultural differences.

My business and work are MUCH simpler and easier that way–which also gives me more time for life outside my business.

Sometimes, whether we like it or not, clients just like to have someone in their own state. It’s just a human, emotional thing. That doesn’t mean we stop working virtually. Just because someone is local to you, whether that’s the same city, state or whatever, doesn’t mean you work or consult with them any differently than you would with any other client anywhere else in the world.

Also, because administrative support is a relationship between people, as well as a niche and specialty all its own, it is a category of business/profession unto itself. Using geographic locations helps break things up for clients in the directory, making it visually and mentally easier for them to peruse listings.

It certainly isn’t going to preclude anyone from finding clients in other areas or from clients in other geographic locations from being drawn to you and the solution you offer–at least if you know how to market yourself and create your own pipelines.

Because you aren’t marketing a location. You are marketing a solution to your market’s administrative problems. Your location is simply about being upfront, honest and transparent about your business–and thereby helping instill trust and comfort in clients–which is even more important for online, “virtual” businesses.

Never Outsource Your Core Competency

I’ve heard it commonly said that clients don’t care about this and don’t care about that. All they care is that their work gets done.

But the thing is, they do care. Very much.

They care when they are made to feel like a thing (and not a person) on an assembly line. They care when they have to deal with a constantly revolving door of workers they have only fleeting, impersonal contact with. They care when the right hand never seems to know what the left hand is doing. They care when they have to start over and begin at the beginning developing a shared knowledge base with every new person they have to deal with. They care that their work is passed off to people they never bargained for. They care that they are paying premium fees when that work is passed down to those (less skilled, less qualified, less creative, less thinking) underlings they don’t know, perhaps don’t like, and/or who don’t do as good a job as the person they thought they were hiring. They care that they don’t know who, what or where their work and information is being stored, viewed and passed around to.

Sometimes their dislike for this stuff isn’t even conscious. They just know on some level they aren’t happy with how things are being handled.

At some point, it’s up to you to understand what is important and why those things are important–even if clients don’t know or understand those things themselves. They aren’t going to know or understand all the subtle distinctions and nuances. And they don’t have to. That’s your job. Because those subtle distinctions and nuances can make all the difference in your service levels and delivery, your clients’ satisfaction, and ultimately, how they view and trust their relationship with you and how loyal they are to you.

One line I really love from Tony Hsieh’s (he’s the founder of Zappo’s) new book, Delivering Happiness, is this: Never outsource your core competency.

This reminds us that our work is our relationship with clients. Whatever the thing is that you are in business to do, whether that’s delivering shoes or providing administrative support, THAT is your core competency. Extraordinary service comes from extraordinary caring–about your clients and your craft. No third party will ever care nor be as passionate about your clients and delivering your core product or service to them as you.

Never abdicate your relationship with your clients.