I recently asked colleagues how they, their families, and their businesses were faring during these difficult, unprecedented times.
I offered that there may also be some increased opportunity in all this. In response, a few folks were concerned about how to market without seeming opportunistic.
It’s always interesting to me when people worry about “taking advantage of the situation.”
It hints at the apology women are always making for being in business, and the apology society in general makes for wanting to be paid for the helpful and valuable services they provide to those who need them.
But let me ask you this: If you are in this to help people, how is that taking advantage of them?
Are you lying? Are you cheating? Are you stealing?
I’m assuming your answer is no to all these.
Then why on earth are you apologizing for being in business and wanting to provide good, honest work that HELPS people?
This hints at the deep-seated money issues we have and the work we must continue to do around our money issues and professional self-esteem.
Because here is what I can tell you for sure:
People who have always been running online businesses are the least impacted right now during this pandemic. For many/most, it is business as usual. They are still working with clients, creating output, and providing value. And those folks STILL want and need administrative support no matter what. Your support is the backbone of their business, the infrastructure that holds it together and keeps things humming along, running smoothly, and moving forward for them!
There is an untold number of businesses RIGHT NOW who are looking to radically adapt to more online ways of working with clients and creating even more opportunities to help more people that don’t require face-to-face work and interaction (other than video conferencing perhaps). THEY NEED YOUR HELP AND INSIGHT NOW MORE THAN EVER!
It is not taking advantage by being ready and available to help those folks who are seeking support in these ways!
They are lost. They don’t necessarily know what they need or how to find or perhaps even articulate the kind of help they need. They may be overwhelmed with the situation right now and going in circles about where to even start.
This is an opportunity to be of service to them, a guiding light.
That is why it is always your job to know not only what they want, but what they need; to make yourself visible for them; to explain and illustrate some of the many ways you can help them; and to let them know you are out here, ready and poised to HELP them get through this and create an even better business than they had before.
You are not a taker by being in business. You are a giver!
Remember that and it will change your perspective and how you present what you have to offer.
Love to you all! This is not a bed of roses, but we WILL get through this and it is an opportunity for growth for all of us.
Recently, a colleague shared an excellent article about saying no to unnecessary meetings and respecting our own time more overall. (You can read the full article here.)
I definitely share the author’s sentiments and have written versions of the same message myself many times over the years. (This, for example.)
It’s so important to remember that as service providers, we are running businesses. We are not gophers for clients to do with as they please.
In fact, we have a duty to protect and preserve our important business resources (e.g., our time and energy) and use them most efficiently and effectively so that we can continue to help clients and do our best work for them. A business won’t survive otherwise.
As such, it is up to us to set our own policies and expectations in clients around how and when meetings work as well as what the communication protocols shall be.
Those aren’t things that are up to clients to dictate, and they should not be expecting that as a matter of course.
It reminded me of the time I ran across someone who was very young (no work, business, or life experience to speak of) and brand new in our industry whose first client had her attending all “team” meetings by phone every single morning.
At the time, she defended it and could not be convinced otherwise that it was not her role as a business owner to have clients require her to attend their regular, daily internal meetings.
Eventually she wised up and learned (the hard way) that business owners are not employees, and it most certainly is not any client’s place to “require” you to do anything. 😉
I was also reminded of one of my early clients whose belief that “the customer is always right” was killing her. She came to dread working with her clients because of this unhealthy belief system, and it was creating an existential crisis in her life.
How could she make her living if she was beginning to hate dealing with her clients? She loved her work, just not everything they were “requiring” her to do, particularly when it came to endless meetings.
She was a solopreneur making over $1 million a year. That’s not the kind of money that’s easy to walk away from, but at the same time, her clients were running her ragged and she was miserable. Something had to give.
So I thought I would share the story of how I helped her shed this mindset and the steps we took to turn things around in her business so she could enjoy working with her clients again and not quit her business.
It’s a good example of how we, as Administrative Consultants, are so often in a position to guide and advise clients as a natural extension of our administrative support, expertise, and experience.
Perhaps it will inspire some ideas in your own Administrative Consulting practice on how you can further help clients.
This client was a high-end gala designer who conceptualized, produced, and executed the theme and experience of major fundraising events (think multi-million dollar budgets for $5,000+ a plate balls).
One of the pitfalls of her business was that she was constantly being sucked into endless group meetings with the local boards/committees of these events, sometimes two or more times a week.
And she absolutely hated it.
These meetings were such an unnecessary time-suck and complete waste of productive time.
They ate up far more in travel time and preparation than the meetings themselves, which would sometimes last over two hours.
And more often than she’d prefer, they turned out to be merely bickering sessions between board/committee members who couldn’t agree on anything. What did they need her there for?
Worst of all, attending all these meetings utterly stifled her creative energy—the very thing she was paid big bucks for!
This client was amazing at what she did. It’s a unique form of art in and of itself.
But while she knew what she was doing when it came to her talent, she had no previous business experience or training so dealing with clients, setting boundaries, and managing expectations was all new territory for her.
Since she had no frame of reference, she just assumed, like a lot of new business owners do, that the “customer is always right” and whatever they want or ask is how she should be doing things.
One day as she was getting ready and lamenting to me over the phone about having to go to yet another one of these dreaded “dog-and-pony shows” as she referred to them, I asked her, “So why do you keep going? Do you realize you can say “no” to these meetings? YOU are the artist, not their employee. If they want to work with you, they need to conform to how YOUR service works, not the other way around.”
This was an epiphany to her!
She was this amazing, sought-after designer, and it had never once occurred to her that she could refuse to indulge in these endless, ridiculous wastes of her time; that it was, in fact, imperative for her to do so from that moment forward or she wouldn’t be any good to anyone, least of all herself.
How could she do her best work for these clients if she allowed them to deplete her?
And if she didn’t put her foot down and start respecting her own time and energy, they certainly weren’t going to either.
Having done this in my own business and having helped a couple other clients by that time in this area as well, I outlined some of the things that could be done that would make a dramatic, positive difference in her business and how she worked with clients.
She resolved right then and there that she simply could not go on as she had been and asked me to help her.
First, since this was project-based work above, beyond, and different from (i.e., not included in) the monthly retainer she paid for my administrative support, I determined an upfront monthly flat fee for my consulting services. I estimated that we would need 3-4 months to fully implement everything.
Through a series of weekly phone calls, we explored and documented the specific issues she wasn’t happy with in her business. During these calls I provided suggestions and helped her see how we could rectify the issues she was experiencing by clearly identifying her standards (e.g., what values were important to her around money, work, clients; what she wanted for her business, for herself, and for her clients) and then implementing policies and procedures and creating tools that worked in support of those standards.
Our work together involved:
Making a list of the problem issues that were making her miserable and inhibited her creative flow.
Creating a picture on paper of what she wanted her business to look like, how she ideally wanted things work.
Formalizing her standards and values around these things on paper.
Helping her visualize and map out her client and creative processes and the practical steps involved, and charting this out on paper.
Fleshing out and formalizing new and improved policies and procedures and incorporating them into her client contract.
Creating a “client bible” (a/k/a Client Guide) that shared with clients her values around the whole client experience and preserving her time and creative energy with smart policies and procedures so she could do her best work for them. This guide worked as a tool that further educated and informed clients and set and managed their expectations about how she worked with clients, her communication protocols, the different stages of her design process, the specific kind and number of meetings that would be involved in her process, as well as what was expected from the clients themselves. For example, with regard to the dreaded meetings, the new protocol that I suggested and she agreed would be perfect was that beyond the initial consultation or two, she did not work or meet directly with boards or committees once she was engaged. She required clients to appoint one to three people that she would be working directly with from that point forward, with one of those people being her primary contact and liaison. This required boards and committees to work out their ideas and disagreements among themselves first on their own dime. This saved her a lot of angst and was a much more efficient and effective process for all involved.
Besides needing to stop the cycle of endless meetings she had allowed her clients to expect, we also identified that how and when they were expecting to communicate with her the rest of the time (i.e., ringing her any time of day and night!) was another one of her problem areas.
Here again, she had the misguided and detrimental belief that she had to be constantly accessible to clients on demand. She thought it would make them “like” and appreciate her more.
But being too available, she realized, was backfiring and actually had the opposite effect of causing them to have no respect or regard for her, which definitely was not her intention.
We set that right by establishing formal communication standards, policies, and protocols that clearly informed clients about her client hours and what forms of communication were acceptable and when.
This was something she hadn’t done before whatsoever!
Going through this process helped her see even more clearly how she was not respecting her own time and value and, therefore, clients weren’t either.
She realized where she was being too informal when it came to certain polite boundaries, and too lax in charging for other things, as well as simply not charging more profitably overall.
It helped her see where she could be charging higher fees and more intentional in how she worked with clients and doing things in a way that worked with HER creative process.
Toward the end of this realigning/re-centering process, we identified areas where my monthly administrative support could be further utilized to help ease even more of her burdens.
For example, with the newly identified and mapped out client-onboarding process we put together, we could clearly see steps that I could take on for her that would free up more of her time and attention such as the contract-signing and payment process, dissemination of the client guide, answering initial client emails and questions, and setting up and administering client files and accounts.
(This increased workload, of course, warranted an increase in my monthly administrative support fee.)
By engaging in the effort to change what wasn’t working for her, she took a stand for:
her own self-care,
doing work that was up to her professional and artistic standards, and
what she needed from clients in order to accomplish those objectives.
She learned that by setting clear boundaries and parameters, she wasn’t saying no to clients (something she was extremely averse to doing previously), she was actually saying yes to providing them with the best experience and outcomes possible.
When clients had a better understanding of the boundaries and protocols expected, they became much easier and happier to work with, and were much happier with her and what she created for them.
The consequence of our work together was literally life-changing for her:
She realized that “being nice” and forever agreeable to meeting after meeting was not benefiting her or her clients.
She hadn’t realized before that clients only had meeting after meeting because they didn’t know any better either. Her taking charge of her own business and processes gave them the leadership and guidance they needed (and unknowingly craved) from her as the professional in the relationship. The happy, unexpected byproduct was that they saved themselves all that wasted time and energy as well.
By better respecting her own time, it helped her also gain more respect for the value of what she created for clients.
She ended up having more time to take on more ideal projects and do even better work for the clients she served.
She increased her fees and kept better account of work and value for which she should be charging.
Because she wasn’t stuck in endless meetings any longer, she had more time to go on the soul-enriching trips around the world that fed her creativity which, in turn, benefited her clients.
And, perhaps most importantly, her joy and happiness returned which further fueled her creativity and excitement for the work.
I hope this helps you see how you, as the person who provides your clients with administrative support and expertise, are in such a perfect position to also be of help to them in improving and growing their businesses.
I have worked with and observed far too often consultants who simply don’t have the administrative skill and expertise to execute their ideas for clients (much less had anyone like you who could help them do that, hint hint).
As someone who is intimately involved in and familiar with your clients’ businesses, you can be so much more effective in not only sharing advice and ideas for improvements, but also implementing those changes and incorporating them into the administration of the business overall.
It’s why we are Administrative + Consultants. 😉
I have a LOT more to teach you on this.
When you learn how to do all these things in your own business, you can also do them for your clients.
One blog post isn’t going to do it, though; it’s just not an adequate medium for that kind of learning.
My best advice is always to get my entire system because each piece is an integral part of the overall picture. You can’t fully learn one area with the absence of the others.
If you are only able to start with one piece, however, my Pricing & Packaging Guide will show you how to understand and map out different work and revenue streams in your business and how to present and provide that kind of additional support to your clients (and how to make more money yourself doing it!).
Any questions, shoot me an email. I’m always happy to help where I can. 🙂
This year, I’ve been focused on removing anything in my life that is a PIA, that rubs the wrong way, that no longer serves my interests. My self-care demands it.
After caring for a sick parent, I have zero time and energy for any kind of BS. It’s always a good time for you to be thinking about this, too.
Identifying and weeding out bad clients is an exercise in self-care and making your business sustainable and profitable.
For a while now, I’ve been observing the results of someone working with what I would deem a bad client.
The situation has gone from bad, to very bad, to really, REALLY bad.
For the life of me, I have never understood what they see in this client, what could possibly be worth all the hair-pulling problems and extra work, annoyance, and difficulty this bad client causes.
Now the chickens are coming home to roost, and it emphasizes the cold hard truths I and others have always expounded on when it comes to taking on un-ideal clients: DON’T DO IT!
You may see the prospect of big financial returns, but I guarantee you, it is nearly never worth all the time, trouble, and energy it costs you in the end (and that’s IF you ever do see the kind of money you thought they represented).
Bad clients are FAR more work than they are ever worth.
Bad clients like to make grandiose claims and big promises that almost never come to fruition.
IF they do hit it big (that’s a big IF), bad clients easily/conveniently forget the promises they made to you when they needed your help.
Bad clients are hopelessly, endlessly disorganized. They resist and make difficult any and all attempts by you to create some semblance of order, making it next to impossible to work with them.
Bad clients live in a constant state of chaos, and their chaos becomes your chaos.
Bad clients like to keep everything in their head. They don’t listen when you remind them that they are no longer working alone and thus, there simply MUST be systems put in place for working together.
Bad clients are always late. They do everything at the very last minute, leaving you little to no time to do a proper/thorough job. They expect you to then drop everything and deal with the consequences.
Bad clients create 10 more problems for every one that you solve. Instead of getting more efficient and organized, they only get worse. They make everything more difficult than it has to be.
Bad clients are arrogant. They always think they are smarter and know more than everyone else. They brush off your advice, recommendations, and suggestions (even when they have solicited you for them!). When they do take a suggestion you have offered, they act like they thought of it themselves.
Bad clients are constantly cutting corners and playing stupid games, thinking they can outwit the law, the system, the “man.” This nearly always ends in disaster and only causes more work and headaches for everyone involved. (TIP: It is FAR more work and difficulty trying to cut corners and game things than it is to simply do things correctly, honestly, in the first place. As Judge Marilyn Milan says, “The cheap comes out expensive.)
Bad clients are sloppy and pig-headed. They will cut their nose to spite their face, spend $10 to save a penny. They’re always trying to take shortcuts and think properly dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s is for sissies. This creates a house of cards that ends up biting them in the ass one way or another. There is a reason there are commonly accepted standards of business practice. Anyone who shrugs them off as unimportant is a huckster, not a proper businessperson.
Bad clients are petty and selfish. They withhold praise, rarely express appreciation, and are always devaluing others and looking to take advantage whenever possible. They want ALL the credit and will steal it even when it’s not theirs to be taken or given. The only person they value and think about is themselves.
Bad clients are greedy. They think the ends always justify the means. Ethics and integrity are afterthoughts (if they are considered at all). It’s one harebrained, questionable scheme after another with them.
The problems that bad clients cause spill over into your other client relationships.
Bad clients cause your work quality to suffer all the way around. They are so needy and demanding and their work, in turn, so arduous and time-consuming, it unfairly deprives your other, more ideal (and easier to work with) clients from your equal time, attention and best efforts.
Bad clients want everything for nothing. They will gladly pay you tomorrow for a hamburger today (and tomorrow never comes soon). You can’t pay your bills with IOUs.
Bad clients think everything they do is worth millions and everything you do is worth pennies. That is to say, they devalue, demoralize, and degrade (in turn, eroding your confidence) and don’t appreciate all that you do for them.
Bad clients constantly pay late, if at all. They’re always making excuses and trying to string you along. (Of course, you have some culpability here. It’s up to you to put your foot down the first time this happens and to fire the ass of anyone who continues to disrespect you in this way.)
Bad clients ruin all the good work you have done for them on their behalf. For every gain you make, they do something that causes twenty steps back.
Their poor integrity can besmirch YOUR reputation and integrity. God forbid you should rely on them for referrals; you’ll just get more of the same type of bad client.
Bad clients never take responsibility for their poor habits and practices and are the first to blame YOU for the problems they caused/brought on themselves.
Bad clients are also the first to report you to the BBB or the bar or whatever governing/overseeing agencies you are accountable to. They are incapable of taking responsibility for the problems and conditions they themselves create.
Bad clients cannot be saved from themselves and will bring you down with them. Bad clients who don’t run their businesses properly or ethically can be and often are sued. And guess who can get dragged into that mess whether they like it or not? Yeah, you and everyone else who has worked with them.
Bad clients are the quickest path to poor health, stress, overwhelm, and burnout.
Never take on any client just for the money. I can’t emphasize this enough!
There must be a fit. You have to genuinely like them and what they do (and vice versa).
They must be honest and ethical and do things in a way you can respect.
They must treat you with dignity, honor, and respect.
And they have to be willing to let you do what you do without making it more difficult. If not, you have nothing to discuss and there can be no relationship.
I’m still dealing with the transition of moving into my dad’s house temporarily and getting things sorted and running again. Plus, I had to move during a heatwave. Thank gawd that is over! But there is soooo much work to do. Oy.
I’ve been here since August 1. My plan is to spend the next 3-5 months getting it cleaned up and put back in order in the hope that there might be some possibility at some point that he could return home and spend his remaining years in his own house with live-in care.
If you are new here, my dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s about 10 years ago and Lewy Body dementia about four years ago. His health and ability to care for himself and his house took a nosedive in 2014, and he is currently living in an adult care home.
My lease was up at the end of July, and I was seriously in need of some change in my life. It all worked out perfectly for me to not only do this for my dad, but also take my time in finding my next ideal home. I’m currently checking out houseboats (I might even have a custom one built!) and will be doing a little roadtripping in the meantime.
As I get settled in, I am reflecting on the idea that change — even if it’s a positive change — is often painful.
I am someone who tends to zap tolerations very quickly.
I am all about ease, and whenever and wherever I can make things easy (or at least easier) for myself, for my clients, for others, that is exactly what I do.
I front-load work and get the hard stuff out of the way first because it makes things simpler, faster, smoother and/or less difficult/problematic down the road.
And because I am normally really good at making things easy, I sometimes have to be reminded that not every positive change can be made as easily or quickly as I would prefer. There is going to be some “creative destruction” that can be messy and take longer than I would like.
This moving/dislocation process has been a bit traumatic. While being a very positive step towards some much-needed change in my own life, it’s not easy.
I don’t like being in transition, even though I am moving step by step toward a more ideal situation in my life.
My routines are all disrupted and I feel out of sorts. I don’t like the feeling of being in a “temporary” state. I like being settled and everything in their place.
Going through this made me think of a colleague I’ve been chatting with who also started making steps toward some positive change in her business she was desperately ready for and in need of.
Two thirds of her clients took the new standards she was implementing in her business in stride (this is very common, many colleagues are surprised to find).
One is highly resistant and being difficult about it (also very common, and also indicative of a relationship that might need to be severed in order to make way for a more ideal client to fill that spot on her roster).
The reminder is this:
Positive change can be messy and take time. We might lose some things along the way. But the alternative is inertia and living in a rut. And that’s definitely not ideal.
So have faith that even though the process might be tough, might be daunting, might be painful, it is so well worth taking those steps in a more positive direction so that you can love your life, your business, and your clients.
(PS: Wondering what a standing toilet paper holder has to do with this post? It’s an example of zapping tolerations. The bathroom off my dad’s master bedroom is a full bath, but it’s v-e-r-y small, and the toilet paper holder in the wall next to the toilet is extremely awkward to get to. It’s really annoying to wake up in the middle of the night to use the restroom and have to twist yourself into a pretzel reaching backward and blindly feel around for the toilet paper. Oh, no, this is not a nagging annoyance that should be tolerated for one minute! Barring hiring a contractor to fix the problem, I discovered free-standing toilet paper holders in the meantime. Life-changing, lol! At least that one was a quick and easy fix even if other positive changes aren’t.)
Are you looking to make some positive changes in your life and/or business? What kind of obstacles (mental or otherwise) are keeping you from taking action?
Just because you can do everything doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
People who are new in business don’t tend to understand this at first. They are too eager and excited to get those first paying clients.
But once you have more than one client, you begin to get an inkling of this truth: you don’t want to bog yourself down doing too much stuff and trying to do every. single. thing. for clients.
You’re going to come up against a wall of overwhelm real quick if you don’t get clear and focused about what you do (and what you don’t) in your business.
Keeping your focus on who you cater your support to and what you do for them is key.
I see a lot of people in our industry really enamored with the idea of doing anything and everything.
It’s an idea they are hit over the head with when they first enter the industry at large, almost as if there is something virtuous about it.
NOTE: It’s not virtuous; it’s misguided. In fact, I am here to tell you it is keeping you from providing a superior level of administrative support and service that clients will pay well for. Doing every little thing is keeping you small and under-earning.
Most of the people who come to me for help in our industry are those who fell for the BS of doing anything and everything only to realize later just how much it is keeping them from being able to develop their business, from making more money, from having time for a life, and from having a business and clients that actually make them happy.
Sometimes there’s a bit of “savior complex” rooted in this notion, which also isn’t good for you or your business (or ultimately your clients).
Sometimes it’s a lack of professional self-esteem (which is, again, common in people who are new in business). They don’t yet have a sense of confidence in their value and think they need to “prove” their worth by offering to do anything and everything.
Most of the time, though, the folks trying to do anything and everything are those who have not chosen a target market (which is simply a field/industry/profession you cater your administrative support to).
That’s how the cycle starts.
When you don’t know who you are talking to, it’s difficult to find a direction and form a clear idea of specifically what you do and how you help.
That’s because having no clear idea of who you are talking to forces you to think in a manner that is too broad, vague, and generic.
And so they end up offering anything and everything they can think of that might be of value to someone, somewhere (anyone? pretty please?).
What ends up happening, though, is you become a garbage disposal that clients toss any old thing at, making up their own rules and expectations in your business in the process.
This is what Seth Godin calls being a “meandering generality instead of a meaningful specific.”
When you get specific about who you work with (i.e., target market), you’ll be able to more quickly, clearly, and specifically identify exactly what you do and don’t do that helps clients.
(HINT: And that’s NOT everything and the kitchen sink.)
Here’s an example of avoiding the constant busy-ness of certain work that keeps you from really developing your business into a more powerful revenue and freedom-generating machine.
I’ve long advocated that colleagues never manage any client’s email in-box:
You are not their personal, on-call employee/assistant. (What, do they need you to wipe their ass for them when they go to the bathroom, too? Look, there are just some things that grown-ups need to do themselves. You didn’t go into business to be someone’s lackey, did you? You can get a job for that. Just say no to work like that. It’s not the kind of thing you need to be doing in business.)
You have enough of your own emails to manage to take on anyone else’s; and
In-box management is drudge work that will keep you in the reeds on a daily basis, never able to get beyond the busy-ness to work on higher-value, big-picture stuff, both in your business and theirs.
This is a good example of “you don’t have to do everything to be of value” because even though in-box management isn’t something you do, the time you free up for clients by doing the other things you DO do allows them to better manage their own in-boxes.
What you can do instead is share your tips, advice, and guidance with clients on how to better manage their own in-boxes.
You could do that by writing an ezine article and/or blog post, creating an info product for purchase, putting together an instructional video or DIY email training, or perhaps do a paid online class a couple times a year.
(And by the way, inviting people to sign up to your mailing list to get any one or all of these will help you grow your list and continue to keep in touch and nurture those relationships.)
Dealing with it like that, you are providing additional value without bogging yourself down in that kind of work.
You don’t have to do everything to be of value. Let that sink in.
(If you need help finally choosing a target market, get my free tool that helps walk you through the process.)
Last month a colleague asked for an interview with me, and I thought I would share my answers with you here as well.
Name of Your Business:
I am the founder of the Administrative Consultants Association (ACA), a professional organization for those running administrative support businesses. I also run my own administrative support business supporting solo attorneys who practice in the areas of business, intellectual property and entertainment law.
Years in Business:
I’ve been in business since 1997 when I officially took out my business license; longer if you want to include the years I did this work on the side informally. I originally started the organization now known as the Administrative Consultants Association (ACA) in 2005.
Q1. Tell me about starting your business. Why did you start it?
My husband died without warning in 1995, leaving me a young widow with a daughter to raise on my own. An unexpected loss like that really makes you question life and what you want out of it, how you want to live, what you want for yourself and your children, etc.: Are you living life on your own terms? How happy are you in the 9-to-5 grind? Is my child really getting the best of me if I’m tired and working all the time just to make ends meet? What kind of life am I providing for her? Is this really all there is?
I had previous forays into a few side businesses that I never really took anywhere. It was after the loss of my husband that I decided to get serious about taking the skills I had and turning them into a real business I could make a viable income from to create a better quality of life for myself and my daughter. I didn’t want to be a 9-to-5’er the rest of my life.
Q2. What is your role/job? What sort of responsibilities do you have?
I would say “job” is the wrong terminology to be using here since we are business owners, not employees. Some people may think that is pedantic, but consciously understanding the difference between employment and business ownership and having a business (not employee) mindset begins with using correct terminology.
In all my years of mentoring, what I’ve found is that those who never truly get over employee mindset and continue to work with their clients as if they were still employees don’t survive long in this business.
This is why I continue to clarify the distinction and make sure everyone I come across “gets” it. I want people to succeed in this business, which really starts with developing that all-important business sensibility.
As a solo business owner, I wear three hats: 1) I’m the CEO responsible for the development and direction of my business and making important decisions about the business; 2) I’m the manager responsible for managing all the moving parts and taking care of administration of the business; and 3) I’m the service provider — the craftsperson whose skills are the stock and trade of my business services.
Q3. What is your typical day like?
Very generally speaking, on a typical day, I wake up according to my own internal clock (I haven’t used an alarm clock in years).
Once I get up, I do a little yoga and stretching, eat, and then get cleaned up and dressed for the day. I fully admit to working in my bathrobe every once in awhile if I don’t have any plans to go anywhere that day, lol. But most of the time, leggings or long skirt with a comfy but stylish tee is how I roll.
I don’t like to rush into the day and prefer to check emails and get things sorted in my in-box as the first thing I do.
There is a lot of talk in many online places that discourage this, but I prefer the opposite and find this email clearing and organizing step much more conducive to my productivity for the rest of the day.
I then tend to dive into client work around 10 or 11 am (I always joke with people that my brain doesn’t get juiced up fully until around 11 am).
Depending on what’s on my plate for that day, I may work until between 4 and 6 pm. But it really varies, depending on the day’s workload, what priorities are in the queue, and what else I’ve got going on.
If the work in my queue gets done early, I don’t jump into the next day’s pile. I go enjoy life!
It does take discipline, though, not to fill your free time with work, work, work.
I think for most of us, our first instinct is to get as much done as quickly as we can. But that is really counterproductive and keeps you on a hamster wheel. It’s not good for you and ultimately it ends up not being good for clients.
You have to be diligent about respecting your own boundaries (which in turn trains clients to respect them as well) and give yourself lots of breathing room so you don’t burn out in this business.
At some point around noon or 1 pm I’ll knock off for lunch, maybe go somewhere to eat.
I also try to get a good walk/hike on most days (try being the operative word here lately). Depending on the weather, sometimes that’s first thing in the morning, sometimes it’s around midday, sometimes it’s later in the evening.
It really all depends, and this is the beautiful thing that I’ve created in my business: the freedom and flexibility to be able to listen to my own natural rhythms, structure my business around my life, and do what I want, when I want, while still taking great care of my clients. (I never sacrifice their needs; it’s all a matter of setting proper expectations and boundaries.)
Mondays are my Admin Days where I take care of the admin in my own business or working on my business.
Tuesdays are my meeting days that I reserve for telephone meetings and appointments with clients and others.
Wednesday through Friday is when I do client work.
For the past few years, my life has been extra stressed caring for a sick, elderly dad. In full disclosure, I’ve really let my own self-care down. I’m beyond grateful I’ve built a business that allows me to do this for my dad, but it’s not easy and still comes with a cost that has taken a toll on me. Making my own self-care a priority again is something I wrestle with on a daily basis and am currently working to improve.
Q4. What is the best thing about owning your own business?
As touched on above, the freedom and flexibility to live a less rushed/forced life; the ability to live according to my own natural rhythms and internal clock; and the ability to structure my business and its policies, procedures, and protocols so that I have plenty of time for life (or whatever is most important at any point in time; for me, right now, that is my dad).
I never ever want a business where I am living to work instead of working to live.
One of the things I’m always saying to my clients and colleagues is that your business should support your life, not suck the life from you. It took a lot of fits and starts, trial and error, and course correction, but I’m very proud of the business and income I’ve created today.
I also love that my daughter was able to see that self-sufficiency and determination modeled and be a part of my business journey.
Q5. What is the hardest thing about owning your own business?
Well, I’ll be frank with you: business ain’t for sissies, that’s fo sho!
I was extremely fortunate to have had some opportunities come up that gave me the financial means to take care of myself and my daughter while I started my business.
And later I was also fortunate to have a significant other to lean on during the rough spots, of which there were many, make no mistake.
It takes an extreme amount of perseverance, determination, self-motivation — and time —to get a business to a point where it’s actually solvent and sustainable and eventually profitable.
And, of course, everyone’s mileage and set of circumstances will vary. You just take advantage of everything you’ve got going for you, figure out the rest, and if you can get past all that, the rewards are amazing!
Q6. What advice do you have for someone wanting to start a business? What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started?
One of the reasons I started the ACA was to provide others with the knowledge and easier path in starting their own administrative support business that I didn’t have way back when. I did it all without knowing there were others doing what I was attempting to do.
One thing that was pivotal in my success was realizing that a secretarial service is not administrative support.
Secretarial services are project-based businesses where the person does something here and there for drive-by clients.
It’s an inherently volume-driven business, one that requires you to always be on the hunt for your next clients and projects, even while you try to complete the work in front of you.
It’s a plodding, exhausting way to try to make a living and extremely difficult to get profitable.
Once I realized that, instead of project work, I could provide administrative support being an ongoing right-hand to a handful of regular clients on a monthly basis instead of a constantly revolving door of one-time or sporadic clients and rinky-dink projects, that’s when I cracked the revenue code.
But it took me a few years to get to that realization and figure out how to structure things properly.
I show them how they can build a business based on retainer clients (which is where the bread-and-butter is) while still taking advantage of project work that comes along that is of interest to them (which is gravy).
Another bit of advice I have for folks is not to take shortcuts with the business startup process. Every step helps build your business mindset and sensibility.
People get impatient with the process and want to jump ahead of themselves and it’s really to their detriment and that of their clients.
I’ve seen more businesses shutter their doors because the owner didn’t put the proper foundations in place before taking on clients.
Don’t rush things. There is a little bit of back and forth involved as you figure things out, but beyond that, there is a basic step by step process involved in any business start-up. Don’t skip those parts:
Do the business plan.
Learn how your local, state and federal taxing and licensing works and what your responsibilities/obligations are.
Don’t take on clients before you’ve got at least a basic website up and mapped out a rudimentary set of policies, procedures and protocols. Your website is an incredibly important tool in properly educating clients about the nature of the relationship and bridging understanding so that you attract your right, most ideal clients. You will find that having something there to start with is going to be incredibly helpful in building, growing, and honing your business from there.
These are all exercises that help you create the strong foundations you need to be able to get — and keep — clients. The problems with clients and not getting the right ones happen when those things are absent.
If you were interviewing me, what other questions would you have for me? Let me know in the comments!
I think the idea that very commonly travels around our circles that we should be “one-stop” shops is dangerous.
Dangerous in that it sets you up for failure and mediocrity.
Dangerous because it’s rooted in employee mindset.
Dangerous because it stems from an underlying lack of healthy professional self-esteem that who you are and what you do is ENOUGH.
And dangerous because it teaches clients and others to devalue the expertise you ARE in business to provide.
It is ENOUGH to be in one business, not a million different businesses at once (i.e., administrative support… not administrative support AND web design AND graphic design AND bookkeeping AND marketing AND social media AND writing/copywriting, and any and every other hat you can find to put on).
That BS is something employers pulled on their admin staff because they could get away with it (i.e., dumping every kind of work and role onto them beyond their job description without any promotion in title or pay).
You don’t need to carry that wrong and negative influence over into your business. And you shouldn’t.
Because you are not a human garbage dump.
Because business and employment are not the same thing.
And because running your business and working with clients as if you were still an employee keeps your business from really flourishing.
It is ENOUGH to keep your eye on your one focus and discipline.
In that way, you beat mediocrity and can be the very best you can be at the particular thing you are in business to do.
Trying to diversify and be all the things to every body keeps you unfocused and dilutes the time and energy needed to do any one thing particularly well.
People who specialize in mediocrity don’t make the big bucks, are tired and scattered all the time, and never gain traction in their businesses.
You DON’T have to solve ALL problems for clients. You only have to solve the problem your business is set up to solve.
One of the best investments you can make in the long-term sustainability of your business, happiness and peace of mind is choosing your clients wisely.
As you grow in your business, your selection process will evolve and your discernment skills will improve.
No matter how young or inexperienced your business is, though, having clients meet at least some minimal criteria before you allow them on your roster will always serve you well.
That’s because choosing to work with shady or otherwise unideal clients will come back to bite you in the butt, one way or another, either sooner or later.
I was reminded recently of a colleague who reached out to me after being approached by a client who raised all kinds of red flags with her.
Being new in business, she asked me what I thought she should do, and I gave her the advice I always give in this situation: trust your gut.
And she, as new people often do, ignored her own wise counsel and all the telltale signs indicating that this was a bad idea and took the client on anyway.
While she found this client’s honesty and integrity questionable, she wanted the experience and was too eager and impatient for clients to let this first one go.
She rationalized this decision by telling herself that it wasn’t her place to judge, that everyone deserves benefit of the doubt, that she would just put blinders on and do whatever honest work she was given and not involve herself in anything beyond that, and that it wasn’t her place to question things.
She wouldn’t engage in anything illegal, unethical or dishonest, she told herself, and what she didn’t know beyond that wasn’t any of her business.
But here’s the thing: It IS your business to question things. You are deluding yourself if you think you can keep it separate and not be complicit.
Well, long story short, this did come back to haunt her, as all her instincts about this client (the ones she chose to ignore) turned out to be accurate.
It came to light that this client was engaging in some disreputable and unethical practices and ended up being sued by several parties.
She was forced legally into all the drama which caused her a lot of stress and anxiety, not to mention diverted her time, attention and energy away from her own business.
Ultimately, this client lost his business and because she had put all her eggs into this one basket, she was left with no client and no income at all. Back to square one.
These were very painful lessons she learned from this experience that caused her serious damage and could have been avoided.
It took her more than a year to start over. But I don’t think she ever gained any confidence back in herself, and it wasn’t long before her enthusiasm for her business petered out and she closed up shop.
The takeaways I hope people can glean from this are:
You can’t separate your values and principles from your business. They are each a reflection of the other.
You can’t associate with dishonest, unscrupulous people and expect to come out unscathed.
You can’t afford to work with shady or otherwise unideal clients. It will cost you in far more ways than you realize with potentially disastrous results you may not be able to recover from. It’s an unwise, unshaky platform on which to build your business and reputation.
All good things come to those who wait. Don’t be so desperate to take on the first client who comes along if they are not a good fit.
Always trust your gut. It won’t ever steer you wrong.
It’s okay to make mistakes. Just be aware that the damage bad clients can do to you can sometimes be devastating. Walk away from any client, immediately, who doesn’t seem like a good fit.
Maintain an abundance mindset. This is not the last or only client in the world. Walking away from problem clients opens you up to attracting better, more positive and ideal ones.
Never put all your eggs in one basket. A good rule of thumb is that no one client should make up more than 20% of your business and income.
What can you do to avoid this trap in your administrative support business?
Sit down now and list the values, standards and principles that are important to you in life. The act of writing things down formalizes these standards and makes them more concrete and tangible. Continue to add to this list throughout the life of your business. Then devise your policies, protocols and procedures around these standards and values.
Create ideal and unideal client profile lists. These lists, again, are extremely useful tools that help you formalize your intentions around choosing ideal clients and avoiding bad ones. As you go along in your business, use these lists to note those traits, behaviors, conditions, etc., that are and are not a fit for you. This will help you be more and more conscious about who you do and don’t want to work with. Any time you are tempted to ignore your standards and gut instincts, pull these lists out for a jolt back to reality.
Always conduct a thorough, formal consultation with each and every client. Don’t take shortcuts with this process. It’s an incredibly important and useful step in helping you identify and choose the most ideal clients for you and your business. (And if you aren’t sure how to conduct a good consultation, you can get my complete, step-by-step guide that will show you exactly how to do it as well as beef up blind spots and make improvements to your existing process.)
You’ve heard some version of the fable of the scorpion and the frog, I’m sure. The bottom-line is this: A slippery eel is a slippery eel. Don’t let one sweet-talk you out of your better judgment.
How about you? Have you ever taken on or been tempted to take on a client you had reservations about? How did it turn out? How did you resolve to do better the next time around? What insights do you have to share with others on this topic?
Also, I can’t help but think how perfectly this resembles building our businesses:
We start at the bottom, often knowing little or nothing about business, looking up at what seems like an insurmountable height, and s-s-s-t-r-e-t-c-h-h-h-h ourselves to reach upward, outside of comfort zones, attaining new knowledge, growth and confidence at every next stage, one foot after the other.
It’s why I always say: slow and steady, with everything in its due time and course, wins the race.
When you are impatient, try to cut corners and take shortcuts, you miss out on vital, necessary foundational learning and understanding that is going to help you succeed in rising to the next level.