Archive for the ‘Growing Pains’ Category

Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

Just Because You Can Doesn't Mean You Should

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 inking 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.

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, 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 (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 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:

  1. 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.)
  2. You have enough of your own emails to manage to take on anyone else’s; and
  3. 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.)

Interview with Danielle Keister, Founder of the Administrative Consultants Association

Interview with Danielle Keister, Founder of the Administrative Consultants Association

Last month a colleague asked for an interview with me, and I thought I would share my answers with you here as well.

Your Name:

Danielle Keister

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.)

I’ve also created what is essentially a 3-day work week (you can get my entire business management system here):

  • 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.

(For a more in-depth snapshot of my typical day, check out this post.)

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.

Now, I base all my training and business education products around that basic tenet so that others won’t waste so many months or years.

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!

Why Being a “One-Stop Shop” Is BS

Why Being a "One-Stop Shop" Is BS

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.

You DON’T have to be all things to every body.

How NOT to Choose Your Clients (and What to Do Instead)

How NOT to Choose Your Clients (and What to Do Instead)

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:

  1. You can’t separate your values and principles from your business. They are each a reflection of the other.
  2. You can’t associate with dishonest, unscrupulous people and expect to come out unscathed.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Always trust your gut. It won’t ever steer you wrong.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?

Reaching for the Heights

AHMAHGAHHHH, this is so cute!

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.

Stay the course. You can do it!

Something for Nothing

This kind of thing makes me cringe…

I popped into LinkedIn today and immediately came across a colleague’s post where she was sharing some client praise. Her client wrote:

“I’ve had 10 times more response from your social media design than I have from the one a graphic designer did for me and charged me 3 x the price.”

From the apparent value this client got, this colleague should have charged 3 x what she did. 😉

This is what I mean about people using our industry as cheap substitutes.

It’s so insulting for clients to rave about how little they paid, particularly when they know good and well what properly professional fees cost.

What this client said was the equivalent of shouting to everyone:

Hey, everybody, we’ve got a sucker over here! She practically gave away something that’s making me money and growing my business that I would have paid anyone else 3 times more for.

I have no doubt this colleague will eventually realize the value of her talents and start charging a more commensurate rate for the value that clients receive from her work… particularly if she keeps hearing “praise” like this.

With devaluing clients like that, who needs to earn a living from their work? 😉

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: 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.

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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