Archive for the ‘Growing Pains’ Category

Better Yet, How Important Is It to YOU?

What Is Important to YOU?

A new colleague posed this question to would-be clients on another forum:

“On a scale of 1-10, one being low and ten being high, how important is it to you to connect on a personal level with your administrative support partner?”

What I want to know is how important is it to YOU to have a personal connection with your clients?

Once you know what kind of clients YOU want, you can focus on attracting the kind of clients who are ideal for you.

A few years ago a colleague came to me seeking help out of a desperate situation in her administrative support business.

She had inherited her business from someone who used others to do the work. So, the clients she also inherited had no personal knowledge or connection with the person(s) who did the work. They just barked orders and expected it to be done.

The problem with that is she came to resent being treated like a robot, like a human vending machine.

Because there was no personal, human connection, these clients treated her poorly, spoke to her disrespectfully, and on top of that, expected everything instantly, and, of course, wanted to pay little or nothing for it.

And there were virtually never any thank-yous or words or gestures of appreciation. That’s what happens when you have an impersonal, transactional relationship with clients: you get treated like a commodity, a human vending machine.

She also didn’t have a business website — and didn’t think she needed one since her practice was already full and she was having difficulty dealing with her current clients as it was.

I explained to her that without a website, she was missing out on the opportunity to humanize her business and fix the very problem she was having.

A website would allow her to put her face and personality on the brand, pre-educate potential clients about how her business works and the kind of clients with whom she was looking to work — thereby presetting expectations and organically prequalifying more ideal client candidates.

You can do the same.

Figure out who would make you most happy working with and gear everything on your website to speak to those types of clients and educate them about who is a fit for you.

This makes for a much happier, more fulfilling business.

You may have to kiss a few frogs before you perfect your client-qualifying criteria. Just don’t think that you have to accept any and every client who comes your way, or that you have to live and die by what clients (think) they want.

YOU get to decide what you want your business to look like and how you want to work with clients and what kind of clients you want to work with. Everything else will fall into place from there.

When you build your business to suit your needs and requisites first, the right clients will follow. You’ll get more ideal clients, and your business will be much more profitable and gratifying.

***

How about you? Do you have a business website or are you trying to get by with just a LinkedIn or Facebook account? How much of a personal connection do you prefer with your clients? Have you ever had clients who didn’t treat you like a person?

How to Come Back from Burnout

How to Come Back from Burnout

A recent article I came across on Lifehacker (What Causes Burnout and How to Avoid It) inspired some thoughts about burnout.

Burnout happens to everyone in our business, to varying degrees, at one time or another.

Some of it is the natural ebb and flow of things, and it’s good to be cognizant of that.

It’s also not necessarily a permanent state. There are some underlying causes for burnout that you have some measure of control over.

For example, burnout can happen if we don’t feel appreciated in our work, if we aren’t getting enough positive (or any) feedback from clients, if we’re being treated like a peon rather than a respected administrative partner:

Burnout can also happen when we over-complicate our business. What are some of the things you can examine there?

  • Can your systems and processes be simplified?
  • Are you making exceptions to your normal processes for certain clients? (Maybe it’s time to stop doing that.)
  • Are you billing by the hour and tracking time for clients and submitting time reports to them? Maybe it’s time to stop doing that as well.  (That was a rhetorical question. Yes, it’s HIGH time everyone stops doing that!).
  • Are you charging different rates for different clients? How about deciding what and how you charge and applying it to ALL of your clients?

Every exception you make, every standard you step over, every policy you bend, is making your business (and life) more difficult. More ease goes a long way in curing burnout.

Maybe you aren’t charging enough and constantly being broke is bringing you down. Well, things are never going to change until you do something different.

What could you differently there? RAISE YOUR FEES, SISTAH!

The alternative is to stay broke and unhappy in your business, which I’m going to guess is not what you went to the trouble of starting it for, now is it?

  • If you’ve never done any kind of proper business planning around fees, be sure to download our free ACA Income & Pricing Calculator. This is going to help you get clear and conscious about the economics of business and what you really need to be charging for a profitable, sustainable business that will earn what you need to thrive.
  • Get off the hourly-billing merry-go-round — because it’s killing your business. Watch this video to learn why.
  • Learn how to implement value-based pricing instead in your administrative support business. This will teach you a whole other simpler, yet more profitable, way to run your business and offer your support.

Have you experienced a bit of burnout at any time in your business? What did you feel was the root cause of the burnout? Were you able to overcome it and get inspired again? What helped you?

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

What to Do When Business Is Slow

This part of the year can be a slow time for a lot of people in business.

The holidays are coming, people have other things on their mind, and it can be a time of reflection and planning for the new year.

It’s the natural ebb and flow of life and business, and it’s nice to have a break to catch your breath.

With that in mind, I’d like to point you to one of my classic posts on what you can do to be proactive and turn these periodic slow-downs into opportunities.

How to Turn Business Slow-Down Into Opportunity

The Heartbreaking Reality for Most Businesses in Our Industry

I came across something utterly heartbreaking a few weeks ago.

I’ve been sitting on it for awhile, going back and forth about whether or not to have a conversation around it.

I never want to discourage anyone from this business or have anyone take things the wrong way. Because if you set things up right, it is an AMAZING business and lifestyle.

However, it’s a cold, hard truth that no one ever talks about in our industry.

And the problem with not talking about things that are uncomfortable, that aren’t all “rah, rah, kumbaya” all the time, is that you can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge.

What was this thing I came across? An ad for a “Virtual Assistant Business For Sale.”

And what is this cold, hard truth I speak of? It’s that most people in our industry are not profitable and not making the kind of money they can actually live on.

You see, the sad thing about this ad is that it isn’t an exception. It’s actually a very accurate example reflective of what most of the businesses in our industry look like.

Now, before I dissect this for you, I first want to make it absolutely clear: It is not that people can’t make more money in our kind of business; they absolutely can! YOU absolutely can!

It’s simply that they are being taught by the industry at large in all the worst possible ways to price, operate and market themselves (like calling yourself a “virtual assistant”). And it’s keeping them poor, overworked and overwhelmed.

The fortunate thing is that YOU always have the possibility to learn better so that your business can do better for you.

And that always benefits your clients because you can’t take good care of others if your needs aren’t taken care of first.

Here is the ad:

The Heartbreaking Reality for Most Businesses in Our Industry

Let’s examine the problematic issues here:

  1. We see that the business has been around for 11 years. Great! After that amount of time, you’d expect them to be earning really well.
  2. Yet in the first bullet we see they are only making £1900/mo (British Pound) which is $2363.98/mo USD. After that many (11) years, why are they still making that little money? Those are poverty-level wages. Did they mean perhaps that this is the average value per client?
  3. Unfortunately, no, we see in the next bullets that after 11 years they have only 1 retainer client at only £350 GBP/$435.39 USD per month. The rest of their revenues come from 15 regular (but uncommitted/non-retainer) clients and 20 ad hoc clients, which I’m interpreting to mean an average of 20 project clients each month. The problem is that at this number of clients they should be making several thousands of dollars per month! I can’t even imagine (well, actually, I can) how overwhelmed and overworked they are… and for such a paltry sum on money! To give some context/frame of reference, I make more with just one of my retainer clients than they make in an entire month from 36 clients.
  4. They also mention having relationships with two typists. This business owner is barely making ends meet at these figures, where on earth is there any margin to pay anyone else? (Answer: there isn’t.) It means that they are doing all this work at a loss! Especially at gross figures that don’t even account for expenses, operating costs, taxes, etc.
  5. This is not a profitable business in any way, shape or form. What has most likely happened is that burnout caught up to them (no wonder!) and they are now trying to unload the sinking ship. But there are no assets of any value to sell here. The clients it has are being charged such an ungodly little amount, there is almost no way in hell to ever reset those kind of expectations. They’ve branded and positioned this business as “cheap” and there is just nowhere you can go with that. It would be faster, easier and less costly for you to create a business from scratch and establish the brand based on properly set foundations and expectations and charging higher, more profitable professional fees.

Don’t misunderstand me. This examination is in no way a denigration of the business’s owner.

Rather, it’s utterly heartbreaking to me that they have made so little money working with too many clients with basically no commitment and constant churn. I wish I’d had the opportunity to help them early on.

When we talk about these things, there are always a certain number of people who don’t understand why it’s so important to have these conversations.

But bringing this consciousness to the fore is integral to being able to improve things so you can better earn in your own business.

It’s why I’m always talking about money, how you are marketing and positioning your business and brand, how not charging profitably sets you up for failure, about how the expectations and perceptions you create in clients directly affect your ability to charge properly and earn well.

These are the topics that will make or break your business.

It’s this fundamental business education — and not the latest, greatest software or tools — that is key to creating a profitable, sustainable business where you can get, work with and keep great clients (clients worth having who value you, not cheapos looking for a free handout), make great money and that works around and enriches your life and what’s important to you (instead of the business running you).

What could this person have done differently?

  1. Business planning. Going through the exercise of business planning forces you to think through and get clear and conscious about all the important details of your business such as your needs, goals and intentions around money, what kind of clients you want to work with and are worth working with, and what business standards, policies and procedures to establish accordingly.
  2. Getting off the project work merry-go-round. A business based on project work needs a shit-ton of clients and work in order to stay alive. It’s a constant, never-ending hamster wheel of marketing, even while you already have clients and work to take care of in front of you, and you never know where your next meal is coming from. Nothing wrong with project work, but think of it as secondary income, the gravy to the meat and potatoes where you make your “real” money.
  3. Expecting a commitment. Retainer clients (clients who pay a monthly fee upfront for a plan of support) are where the real money is at. A commitment of working together each month allows you to do your best work and gives you something to actually work with to achieve a tangible, demonstrable value and results for clients. But of course, if you don’t ever expect a commitment, you’ll never get one. That’s why it’s so important to set standards in your business around what’s important to you. An expectation that clients must make a minimum commitment to be given a place on your client roster is a standard that will serve you (and your clients) well, even if some of them might not understand that at first. (You’ll have a far easier time getting commitments if you learn how to set up and navigate the whole consultation process and pricing conversation.)
  4. Get clear and conscious about the money. Charging fees based on what you see others charging (who are more often than not just as lost as everyone else) is the worst way to set your fees. It’s not about what everyone else is charging (stop looking at them!). It’s about knowing what your target market values, how you can improve their circumstances with your support and what they gain from working with you, and learning how to articulate that value to them in the context of their business and goals.
  5. Choosing a target market. This business is all over the map when it comes to who their clients are and the work they’re doing. And that is a huge part of the problem. Very simply, a target market is an industry/field/profession that you focus your administrative support on. This specialization is key to making the big bucks. That’s because when you know who it is you are focusing on, you can determine very quickly and clearly what they do in their business and what their common needs, goals, challenges, values and interests are and then develop your support solutions around those things. Your offerings will be much more interesting and compelling that way, and you’ll be able to charge more (because there will be more relevant, specific, higher perceived value) and get clients more quickly and easily.
  6. CHARGING MORE! At the poor fees this business would have to charging to account for so little monthly/annual revenue, it’s a clue that the business owner is not understanding the economics of business. You simply can’t charge rates that amount to employee wages and expect to earn well. Business is a completely different ballgame. It’s why I’m constantly reminding people, you are NOT an employee, you’re a business. There’s also this crazy, but nonetheless immutable law of business:  The more you charge, the better clients you get. And what do we mean by better clients? Client who value you and what you offer. Clients who are invested and make the commitment to working together. Clients who aren’t looking for the free buffet. Clients who are loyal to you and the good work and results you provide them with, not how little they can pay. When you have better clients who make a monthly financial commitment to working together toward established goals, you can make more money working with fewer clients and have more time for your own life in the process.
  7. Stop calling yourself an “assistant.” One of the reasons people have a hard time charging more or seeing their value in a different light (and gaining some business self-esteem and confidence) is because so many of them insist on calling themselves “virtual assistants.” This keeps them thinking of themselves as employees and seeing things through that lens instead of from an entrepreneurial/business mindset. Here’s what you need to understand: Assistant is a term of employment, not business. Terminology (just like pricing) is a part of marketing. How you price and the words and terms you use to describe yourself have a direct influence on how clients perceive you and the expectations, perceptions and understandings they come to the table with. When you call yourself an “assistant,” they don’t look at you as a business owner and advisor. You are teaching them to view you as a type of subservient employee, and what they expect to pay is based on that wrong, harmful perception. When you call yourself an “assistant,” you are predisposing them to value you less, not more.  If you want to be able to charge higher, more appropriately profitable fees, you have to create the proper context. The verbiage and terminology you use directly impacts that context.

I have a couple of complimentary (as in free) business-building tools that shed a ton more light on all of this and will help you course-correct in your own business. If you don’t have them yet, be sure to go get them now.

***

How about you? Why did you go into this business? I’m assuming a large part of it is that you love putting your administrative talents to use and helping clients and truly making a difference in their businesses and lives.

I can’t imagine that it gives anyone joy to be broke and working too hard for too little money. So over and above that, how do you want your own life enriched and improved by owning and running your own business? What are your money aspirations? What does “profitable” and “financially successful” mean to you?

Save

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 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.

Are There People Around You Who Want to Keep You from Growing?

Are There People Around You Who Want to Keep You from Growing?

I was listening to This American Life this weekend on the radio as is my usual Saturday morning ritual.

One segment, Mon Ami Ta-Nehisi Coates, had me reflecting about how your life and world-view changes when you are in business, and how some of your relationships can change (or even end) as you grow and perhaps make more money and become more successful in your business and life.

In the segment, producer Neil Drumming talks with his long-time friend, Ta-Nehisi Coates, about Coates’ newfound fame and their friendship in that new context.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, for those who don’t know, is a celebrated American writer and journalist who has been hailed as the next James Baldwin. With the publishing of his latest book, he found himself suddenly famous and rich, which doesn’t always set well with those who “knew you when.”

The overarching take-away I got from their conversation was Drumming’s discomfort with Coates success and improved financial circumstances.

It seemed to me he felt that Coates “newfound” tastes and interests were pretentious, that he was getting a bit uppity simply for enjoying the fruits of his success, that since he came from more modest roots, that’s exactly where his tastes and interests should stay.

But whose problem is that? Is it Coates’ or Drumming’s?

Think about that.

Whether Coates’ success was something he methodically sought to achieve or came as an unexpected surprise, why shouldn’t he be interested in and partake of experiences he now has access to?

If the shoe were on the other foot, wouldn’t Drumming (and anyone else) do the same?

Or would he deprive himself of all this life and success now afforded him just to please other people’s sensibilities of who and how he should be in the world and what status level he should keep himself at? Why should he do that?

I see this dynamic at work in our industry as well.

Those in my circle have grown a more sophisticated sense about business and our place in the business world.

As a result, we ditched the “assistant” moniker long ago because it held us back in our business dealings and earning potential by keeping us mired in employee/less-than/subservient mentality, even in ways we weren’t fully conscious of.

Business owners aren’t assistants; the word isn’t even a term of business so it has no place in our vocabulary.

It also negatively influenced clients, causing them to think of the relationship more in terms of employer/worker instead of (correctly) a business-to-business one.

So, we grew in our esteem and understanding of ourselves in relationship to our clients. We weren’t their assistants or little worker bees. We are their skilled administrative experts and trusted administrative advisors.

But there are others in the world who are threatened by that view.

They fear taking a bigger, leading role in their business and in their relationships with clients. They want to stay in comfort zones that are easy and familiar, that don’t rock any boats, that don’t challenge themselves or others too much.

They are fine with settling, for not asking for “too much.” Because, to their thinking, who are they to desire something more or better or stand any taller than anyone else? They aren’t able to imagine anything more or better or different for themselves; they daren’t. Because that would mean stepping away from the herd.

And that’s okay if that’s where they’re at and want to stay.

What’s not okay is for them to want and insist that you hold yourself back and stay at their level if you are yearning to grow, to have a happier business, to get better clients, to make more money, to have more life, to place a higher value on what you do and how you help clients, to learn how to charge more for that, and to call yourself something that better respects your role as a business owner and sets better expectations and understandings in your clients.

How about you? Can you think of a few people who are a negative, detrimental influence in your pursuit of your business dreams and growth? A friend or family member who belittles them and consciously or unconsciously sabotages your efforts?

Maybe you’re hanging around in groups and surrounding yourself with others who keep you from thinking bigger about what you do, who don’t know any better.

I’m not even saying it’s necessarily intentional or conscious on their part. That just seems to be the nature of herd mentality: keeping the status quo, nurturing mediocrity, attacking anything they don’t understand (yet). It’s instinctive.

But if you are going to grow in your business, if you are going to get better clients, if you going to ever learn how to ask for and get higher fees, to believe in and understand the higher value you offer and how to provide the context that conveys those things to your would-be clients, it’s going to require you to break away from the herd.

Do You Understand the Difference Between a Project-Based vs. Ongoing Admin Support Business?

Do You Understand the Difference Between a Project-Based vs. Ongoing Admin Support Business?

When I started out (and didn’t really understand the concept of providing administrative support as a business), I was what is correctly termed a secretarial service doing one-off projects here and there where I could find them.

Someone would hire me to do their resume, make a flyer or brochure, type some documents, that kind of thing.

It’s equivalent to the business model of a print shop for example.

A customer might be someone who only ever uses you once or it could be someone who is a repeat customer, but still on only an as-needed basis—occasional and sporadic.

The problem as I discovered was it was a paltry income, nothing I could actually live on. It was pocket money at best, and I still needed to work a full time job to pay the bills.

Okay, I thought, how do I make a living at that?

There is no recurring or consistent income when a business is project-based. You never know where your next meal or client will come from or when.

In order to make a living in a project-based business, it inherently requires that it be volume-driven, which comes with its own set of problems.

In a project-based, volume-driven business, you have to CONSTANTLY be marketing and networking and ever on the hunt for your next project, that next not one but five clients, all while you still have work in front of you to do.

It was EXHAUSTING.

It was a huge amount of work just getting those projects and clients I did have coming in here and there. It was this never-ending hamster wheel that left me little time to breathe.

And to have to multiply all those efforts 20-fold? No way. That was NOT the kind of business I wanted.

You also can never make up for in volume what you really need to make a living, not as a solo/boutique business.

The answer would seem to be add more people doing the work.

But that wasn’t a solution that worked for me either because:

  1. I have ZERO interest in being in the people management business, which is exactly what I’d have to do if I added more people;
  2. I would make even less money because my profit margins would be reduced with all the increased costs and expenses. Not only that, but my business would be much more complicated and less easy with all the added administration; and
  3. it would turn the work into an assembly line which is NOT what I want in my business or my life. I believe in artistry and craftsmanship in work product and that’s the quality I want to give to my clients. Churning work day in and day out as fast as possible (which is what you are forced to do in a volume-driven business) is NOT how I want to work or live my life.

It’s not that a volume-driven project business can’t work. But it’s a much bigger and more difficult business to build and sustain. And it’s simply a different business model altogether, one I had not the slightest interest in.

That’s when I started realizing that the way to make better money and more consistent income was to provide support as an ongoing RELATIONSHIP, not a one-off, piecemeal transaction.

Once I got conscious about that, I started building a retainer-based practice where clients paid me in advance on the 1st of every month for ongoing administrative support in their business, not a project here or there. I took on specific areas and roles that were ongoing in their business.

It was a lot more money—money I could actually LIVE on.

It was consistent, recurring CASHFLOW.

AND it didn’t require the constant merry-go-round of chasing after new clients and new work every minute of every hour of every day.

I could live and work in a much more relaxed, sustainable, breathable pace, growing my roster slowly one client at a time.

But I still had a lot of things to learn in my early years. I was still operating with the poor professional self-esteem that many in our industry suffer from: that I wasn’t enough, that admin support wasn’t enough.

Part of the problem was I still didn’t really have a target market.

And without that, I couldn’t really envision, much less paint a picture for prospects, about what admin support could look like in the context of their business and how it could help them in anything except the vaguest, most general (and uncompelling) terms.

So I thought I needed to offer a lot more. I thought I had to DO everything, BE everything, and be ANYTHING a client tried to twist me into at their whim in order to be of value.

First, I added web design.

And then I thought bookkeeping would be a good service to also offer because who doesn’t need bookkeeping?

What I failed to realize is that these are separate businesses in and of themselves.

It’s a full time job to just to provide bookkeeping to a roster of clients.

And design work requires a whole other part of the brain. It requires a switching of gears and lots of creative space that are simply too crowded when you are trying to do too many other things.

Eventually, as I got busier and busier (without really ever getting too far in anything much less making any better money), I realized that I needed to focus on ONE thing, be in ONE business, not multiple businesses.

Trying to be too many different kinds of businesses not only was keeping me from earning well, I wasn’t able to fully commit to any of them and was constantly distracted and pulled in different directions due to too many multiple focuses.

That’s not a recipe for doing your best work for clients.

I also realized that by focusing on ONE business (I got out of the bookkeeping business and then later discontinued doing any kind of design work completely), I did far better, more high quality work for clients, built my business faster, and ended up with far more discretionary time (i.e., freedom and flexibility) as a byproduct.

All of which ultimately benefited my clients in a multitude of ways.

I also realized (and look back now at how foolish I was back then) that if I had just gotten clear about being in ONE business earlier, I would have built my business and made more money so much faster.

Because once I did, I also soon realized that by focusing on the ONE business (admin support), I didn’t have the time or need to do anything else.

So now I’m VERY clear about what I’m in business to do and what I’m not.

If a client needs something I’m not in business to do (e.g., you wouldn’t ask a plumber to fix your car), I point out that they need to talk to the professionals who are in those other professions. If I happen to know someone good, I will refer them.

But I don’t bend over backwards making it my job to find them someone any more than it would be my doctor’s job to find me a lawyer. The only people who think that’s their job are those who are operating their business like an employee (or being trained to).

Dear Danielle: Do You Ever Feel Pricing Remorse?

Dear Danielle: Do You Ever Feel Pricing Remorse?

Hi Danielle:

I wanted to know if you had ever felt what I call “pricing remorse” when you were starting out? Let me explain. A colleague recently contacted me to help with a project. After receiving all the information and discussing the details, I initially felt the project was too small and not really worth my time. Instead, I decided to help. I sent the colleague my pricing (using your pricing guide, I calculated what I felt was reasonable for my time & effort) and project requirements. Shortly after, the colleague graciously thanked me and declined. This left me feeling a bit shocked, but also kind of guilty. I started to doubt myself and the questions began to flow. Was I asking too much? Should I have asked for more information? Did I not do my job to convey my skills properly? During our conversation, did I come off as an apprentice? Was this the unideal or cheap client Danielle spoke about? So on and so on. I heard you talking in my head saying, “Don’t devalue yourself” but I’m still left with a bit of guilt. Any thoughts/suggestions, as always, are greatly appreciated. —Name withheld by request

Thanks for your question.

It’s been so long ago, I don’t remember if I had “pricing remorse” per se. But I of course had my own learning curve when I first started out, definitely.

When I was new, I was charging waaaaay too little. What I eventually realized is that instead of second-guessing what I was charging when I got rejections, I was talking to the wrong prospects in the first place. My fees weren’t the problem.

Once I started charging more, and got clear about who I was specifically looking to work with (i.e., my target market), I got better clients. This is practically an immutable law of business.

And I quit wasting time and energy on the wrong audience.

But let me tell ya, there were a whole lotta learning experiences in there before I figured all that out, lol.

So, first thing is I want you to know is these are perfectly normal growing pains in a new business. You’re figuring out where your footing is so there’s naturally going to be some feelings of being unsure of yourself.

Knowing that, I hope it will be easier for you to just embrace the unsureness, knowing that with each conversation and interaction you have with each potential client is going to help you get your business bearings and build your confidence. It’s all part of the journey.

I am a little unclear about what you’re really feeling. You mention “guilt,” but guilt over what? What do you have to feel guilty about? I’m not sure I’m understanding what you mean by guilt.

There’s nothing to feel guilty about in determing your fee and asking for it. There’s no wrongdoing in that.

Maybe what you mean is you feel rejection, that in reality you were hoping to get the project, and it hurt when they declined, and now you’re thinking should have asked for less. Is that more the case?

Either way, I do have some thoughts to help you explore all angles here.

First, before you let a rejection bring you down, we need to remember the situation were talking about. This was for a project, not a retained relationship of ongoing support.

And it was for a colleague, not an ideal client in your target market.

Always remember who you’re target market is. Colleagues are not your clients.

One of the reasons colleagues are not your clients is because we’ve got a whole lotta people in this industry who think they should be paying bake sale prices. These are not serious prospects. You can’t set your fees according to what non serious prospects want to pay.

So don’t fret over a situation that wasn’t even with someone in your target market for ongoing support in the first place.

My feeling is that our first instincts usually end up being the best. You gave her a price that you felt was right. All you’re doing now is second-guessing yourself. There’s no reason to do that over something that wasn’t even a real piece of business in the first place.

All of this does lead me to wonder, given that your initial reaction was that the project wasn’t of interest, why did you bother wasting your time then?

I mean, you are always free to do whatever you want in your business. Of course. At the same time, you always want to remember the standards you have set for yourself and your business. When we start stepping over our standards, trying to make a fit out of that which isn’t a fit, that’s when we create problems for ourselves.

Lastly, when it comes to pricing, and conducting consultations, and then having the pricing conversation with clients in a way that gets you more yeses, there are some tips I could give you, but they wouldn’t help you because you haven’t yet purchased my client consultation guide (GDE-03)  or my pricing and packaging guide.

You wouldn’t have the right context and these are topics that are more involved than I can help you with here in this format.

You really need to invest in that learning if you want to grow from this situation and my guides are going to help you immensely with that. I’m really hoping you do that, for your benefit. Because when you get the knowledge and learning to navigate these conversations, you’re going to have a lot better results and more successes—in any kind of client scenario.