Archive for the ‘Industry Info’ Category

That’s Not How This Works, That’s Not How ANY of This Works

That's Not How This Works, That's Not How ANY of This Works

You know, we always see these articles constantly telling clients who want to get help from those of us in the administrative support business that they need to instruct us on this, tell us how to do that, yada yada yada… as if how the consultation will proceed, how our businesses and processes work, what we do and don’t do and how we do it are all up to them — like they were hiring an employee.

And all I can do is shake my head as I read these confounded articles and think:

“Um, no. That’s not how this works. That’s not how ANY of this works.”

First of all, clients aren’t (or at least shouldn’t be thinking they are) hiring a trained monkey.

Second of all, if a client is talking to anyone who doesn’t have the faintest idea of her own processes in her own business, that is not someone any client should be engaging with.

The client will be pulling her hair out before the month is out trying to elicit any form of independent thought or critical thinking from the person who is waiting to be told what to do every step of the way.

That’s no help to clients in the least little way.

Figuring it all out or having to tell you how to do everything isn’t a burden clients should need to bear.

That’s YOUR job as an independent administrative expert and business owner: to have your own consultation process that you lead clients through that works to elicit the information YOU need to form a picture of the client and their business, develop a plan of support, and guide, recommend and advise clients on where and how you can help them and the best place to start.

Of course, I should clarify that these articles are always written about “virtual assistants,” not Administrative Consultants.

That’s because people only understand the word “assistant” one way: employee.

So it’s no wonder they are confused.

But this is business — not employment — so they need to be disabused of the notion that they’re running things.

One way you do that is by not calling yourself an assistant in the first place.

They’re the client, not the dictator of how our businesses and processes work. It’s not up to them to tell you how things will proceed.

It’s their place to contact you to inquire whether you might be able to help them, and for you to inform them what the next step is in your process of finding that out and then leading them competently through your systems (as any independent business owner would).

Yet another example of why smart people in the administrative support business do not call themselves assistants. 😉

Come Join Our New ACA Facebook Group

Hey, are you in the administrative support business?

Then come join our new ACA group forum on Facebook!

I’m finding there is a lot more interaction and engagement on group pages.

AND because we have it set to private (only members can view the discussions), you can feel safe in asking any ol’ “dumb” questions you like without fear of any clients and prospects seeing them.

Your colleagues and I would love to have you there and get to know you. 🙂

On Ageism and Business

On Ageism and Business

I emailed a question to my subscribers yesterday, and I’ve been getting such wonderful, inspiring, fascinating responses!

(Thank you so much to everyone who has responded! I’m slowly going through everyone’s emails and writing back.)

Basically, I wanted to know: Why are you in this business?

And not the obligatory, politically correct, goody-two-shoes reasons (a la “I just love my clients and helping people!”).

I wanted to know the real, down-to-earth, self-related reasons they chose to be in the administrative support business, what they are hoping to gain, to achieve in business; what they want their business to do for their life.

I was also curious about their money goals and what kinds of aspirations and feelings they have around money. I’m always curious about this because I notice a big element of guilt in this industry when it comes to money.

Among others, one theme I’ve been hearing a lot in these responses is related to age.

We already know that a lot of the younger women enter this business because they want to be around more in their children’s lives and be home to raise them while also nurturing themselves through professional pursuits and contributing to the household income.

(And guys, too; I’m not trying to exclude them. We just happen to be predominately women in this industry and we have different, perhaps even more, challenges than men in business so these conversations tend to be geared more toward women. Just FYI.)

But I’ve also been hearing from women in their 40s, 50s and 60s who basically encountered age discrimination in the world of employment at this stage of their lives. Many have shared a similar story about finding themselves being laid off and having difficulty finding work again, all the jobs seemingly going to younger people.

They state that they started this business because they were seeing no other options, felt they had no alternatives.

You can definitely detect a hint of dejection about these experiences in many of the responses. But what I see and hear in them is a resourcefulness and determination of spirit that says, “I am of value and I have something to contribute!”

I love this!

So getting older and how that is experienced while being in business is what what I’m curious about today… because I’m no spring chicken anymore and I’m going through a journey of coming to grips with that myself.

Does this relate to you? How have you been experiencing getting older in your life? Has it affected your professional life in any way (and if so, how)?

Have you ever encountered ageism/age discrimination in the workplace? Did that contribute to you starting your own business? Do you feel business ownership is more resistant to age-ism (why or why not)?

Do you feel (like me) that business ownership keeps your mind youthful and vital? Have you ever worked with clients much younger than yourself? What was your experience with that?

Would love to hear your thoughts and feelings and any other interesting anecdotes you have on this subject!

The Industry Survey Is In!

Get the 2012-2013 Industry Survey Report

Results have been compiled and the annual industry survey report is now ready for you!

Since 2006, the Administrative Consultants Association has been conducting an annual survey of those in the administrative support business for the purpose of taking a representative group snapshot of the industry.

In 2010 we moved to a biennial reporting period. This year’s survey period ran from January 2012 through April 15, 2014, with 97 questions and 500 respondents.

The survey report covers the categories of:

  • Individual Demographics
  • Education, Experience & Credentials
  • General Business Demographics
  • Tools & Equipment
  • Employees & Subcontractors
  • Clients
  • Hours
  • Services
  • Marketing
  • Pricing
  • Success, Profitability & Entrepreneurship
  • Training & Continuing Education

This year’s report is 101 pages and chock-full of helpful, fascinating, eye-opening data.

If you’ve participated before, you’ll find it super interesting to compare with previous years’ results.

Purchase here. Price: $19

Administrative Support IS a Speciality All Its Own

Guess what, people?

Administrative support IS a specialty in and of itself.

You CAN specialize in just administrative support and do as well as any other kind of specialized service professional.

The problem, the reason why clients don’t get it much of the time and why we as an industry are not earning well, is because people continue to call anything and everything “virtual assistance” and lump everything under the sun under the “virtual assistant” umbrella.

When something doesn’t have any definition like that, then it isn’t anything at all, least of all a profession.

And clients don’t pay well for something that is nothing. They view it as merely gopher work.

If people would simply stop trying to call everything virtual assistance and learn to identify, define and separate business categories for themselves (and not let clients define that for them), they could begin to earn better. They could charge one retainer for administrative support and then charge separately for work and projects that fall under different business categories entirely.

A good example of this is the argument I hear new people put forth constantly: “Well, when I was an executive assistant, I also did bookkeeping and web design and copyrighting and this and that and the other.”

So, you’re saying that because employers piled a load of other work onto the shoulders of administrative staff because they were trying to save a buck at your expense, that means as a business owner you should lump everything you know how to do under one banner and offer it as all one and the same?

As an employee, you had no say in the matter and trooped along like a good soldier. And hey, learning new skills and tinkering with new programs can be just plain fun.

But it is neither smart nor profitable to carry that kind of employee mindset over into your business.

If you do, I guarantee sooner or later you will realize the consequences of this and the wisdom of the advice I give you today.

Just as a doctor is different from an attorney, there are different classifications of work and business.

For example, Web design, a separate profession in its own right, is inherently project-oriented work. It immediately differs from administrative support in that respect.

More importantly, it is something that requires entirely different skills, processes, knowledge and talents from administrative support.

For this reason, it is a completely separate category of business and expertise for which you can charge separately as an additional income stream.

No one is saying that you can’t be in business to do more than one thing (e.g., administrative support and web design and bookkeeping, etc.). But that doesn’t make them all the same thing.

You can be in the administrative support business and also be a web designer (or bookkeeper or copywriter, etc.) if that’s what you want to do. It’s just that they are not all one and the same thing.

Once you start grasping this, you’ll begin to gain more clarity about which business you intend to be in and what to more appropriately call yourself.

By making these distinctions clear, it will start you on the path to better earning because you’ll be able to see and think more clearly about what should fall under your administrative support umbrella and what falls under another business category altogether (you can call these “divisions” in your business) and should be charged for separately.

And it’s YOU who needs to make these distinctions and classifications in your business. Don’t let clients dictate these things.

Because that’s the other part of the problem–people in our industry doing (and giving away) all this other work beyond administrative support because clients keep trying to pile everything on without paying extra for it. And it’s keeping you in the poor house.

Of course, this is happening with your consent if you refuse to get conscious about these things. It’s not a partnership if you are being taken advantage of.

By the same token, you aren’t being taken advantage if you are allowing it. If you keep lumping everything under the administrative support umbrella, you will continue to deprive yourself of opportunities to earn better and grow your business in more profitable, sustainable ways.

How to Get Help When Starting Your Administrative Support Business

Here’s a little pet peeve of mine: leaving a Voicemail with no message other than your name and a request for me to call you.

I rarely return those calls. Almost every time, the folks who do this always want far more from me than I can provide them with in an unscheduled telephone conversation.

Once in a great while, I’ll make an exception and phone back one of these mystery callers. And nine times out of 10, it turns out they want me to personally walk them through all the ins and outs of starting an administrative support business.

I then kick myself in the butt for calling them back.

I resent being hijacked like that. It’s rude, plain and simple. It shows a complete lack of regard for the other person’s time and interest. What makes you think I don’t have other things to do except sit by the phone waiting to help you start your business… for free?

Of course, it’s my fault for answering or calling back. So these are reminders for me to honor my own boundaries and self-care.

Seriously. I get a jillion of these calls every week. I can’t help everyone individually. I have my own business to run, and my own life and priorities about who and what I give my time to.

Everything I can help them with is already here on the blog and the ACA website in the free resources and the business tools and guides I offer. I’m able to help many more people at once through these channels.

So, if you want help in starting your administrative support business, here are some tips to help you avoid any faux pas:

  1. Don’t hijack people. You will be more likely to get help if you leave a full message with not only who you are, but WHY you are calling. Don’t be evasive or trick people into calling you back (yes, I’ve actually had people do this!). They aren’t likely to want to help you when you do underhanded, manipulative things like that.
  2. Better yet, email first. Be upfront and direct about why you are writing. Knowing your intentions, the person at the other end can decide whether or not to give their time and better schedule something in advance. Be yourself and let your personality shine through; it’ll certainly make you much more noticeable and interesting. I’m a real person and I appreciate real, unpretentious people who don’t put on airs. But do remember to put your most professional written foot forward at the same time. Be specific and state your question or request clearly. I can’t (and won’t) spend my time trying to decipher incoherent thoughts and poor communication. I am always happy to answer clear, focused, specific questions on my blog here, but no one can help you with, How do I start an administrative support business? That’s what my blog, classes and business guides are for.
  3. Think of the other person, not only yourself. Consider the fact that someone who is knowledgeable, successful and in a position to help you is most likely in high demand from hundreds of people, all wanting the same thing as you. If they can’t help you personally, accept that graciously. Be respectful of their time and appreciative when they are able and willing  to give it to you. Your good attitude about this may even warm them up to you and help you make a personal connection where they are more inclined to take an interest in you. The worst attitude you can have is one of self-entitlement. No one owes you their time and attention.
  4. Be prepared to pay. Really think about this. Why should someone who doesn’t know you from Adam set aside their valuable time to give you a personal tour and advice in starting your business? It’s really self-centered to think like that. People like myself offer a TON of free info and advice to help folks. But if you want my personal time and guidance beyond the things that I already provide, I charge for that.
  5. Do your own homework first. No one is going to do everything for you. I never, ever help people who I see have not lifted a finger to help themselves first. Read everything. Apply critical thinking. Take the first steps yourself. If you can’t narrow your questions down, you haven’t done enough reading and research on your own yet. The person who has specific questions has obviously done this. The kind of questions they ask make it very clear to people like me how much legwork they’ve done already and how serious they are about their business. Those are the folks I enjoy helping because I see the wheels turning and they’ve made some level of commitment. They’re easier to help, and there is more satisfaction in helping them because they really apply themselves and the advice given to them. When it comes right down to it, I just simply like those people more. NO ONE likes an ask-hole. 😉
  6. Give back. I’ll let you in on a little secret… those who contact me and the very first thing they express is that they understand that I may or may not be able to help them personally… those are the folks who get my attention. Because to me, that shows a person of character and awareness about the needs of others, not just their own. Those people are givers, and I enjoy helping them most. I have no use for self-absorbed takers who want to suck your brain dry (for free, of course), but then can’t be bothered to say thank you . Which leads me to the point of this bullet, how you can give back to those who help you. First, always, always, always, always remember to say thank you. Let them know how they have helped you. Then, remember the time and knowledge they gave you and when they ask for feedback, input, testimonials or contributions to a discussion, give that to them! Those are things people in my position really, really appreciate in return.

You Are Not a Generalist

I frequently hear people in our business refer to themselves as “generalists” and I always wonder why they denigrate themselves like that.

It’s like saying “I’m just a mom” or “I’m just the help.”

It’s certainly not attractive marketing-wise.

It portrays what you do as unimportant and of less value or consequence.

It implies that there is no special talent, knowledge, skills or training involved in your expertise (and we know that’s not the case).

People simply hold specialists in higher esteem; they perceive greater value.

So I want to remind you that as you are not a generalist. You have a specialty:  the specialty of administrative support.

That makes you an administrative expert or administrative support specialist, not a generalist. Remember that. 😉

(Unless, of course, you really are someone with no skills, experience or talent for this work).

It’s Not About the Price!

As someone in the administrative support business, if your only selling point is how little you cost or how much cheaper you are than an employee, you’ve already failed in business.

I get it… many people are new to business. They don’t have the faintest clue how to market themselves properly.

They see what everyone else in the industry (who also don’t know any better) is talking about on their websites and think that’s what they should be talking about, too.

Little do they know that most of those people they are mimicking are themselves struggling, making very little money and attracting all the worst kinds of clients (think cheapskates and nitpickers, the kind that do not make for a happy or profitable business).

Let me ask you:

  • Is it your rate that improves the businesses of your clients?
  • Is it your rate that does the skilled work that allows clients to move forward?
  • Is it your rate that streamlines their businesses and helps them run more effectively?
  • Is it your rate that creates more precious time in their lives?

No?

Why then do you continue to focus clients on nothing but your price?!

Surely there is more reason to work with you than the fact that you charge so little or that you are “affordable” or “cheaper than an employee.”

Isn’t there?

For that matter, why on God’s green earth do you think that that value (i.e., skills, expertise, knowledge and all the host of solutions and benefits that clients reap from those traits) should cost nary a thing?

Sure, you might have clients beating down your door (client’s are no fools; they know when there’s a schmuck to be taken advantage of), but are they the right clients?

Are they the kind of clients you will enjoy working with?

Can you build a real, sustainable business and make an actual living from the amount of money the cheap-seekers want to pay?

How long do you think it will take before you resent not making enough money or burn out before barely breaking even?

If you don’t work to understand this dynamic and the economics of business, you are going to forever be stuck on a hamster wheel chasing down clients, attracting the worst kind, and still never making any money.

You won’t be in business long if clients are the only ones who benefit. It has to benefit you as well. Otherwise, you don’t have a business.

I encourage you to keep thinking about the real value you bring to the table.

How exactly does your support put your clients in a better place in their business than they were before? What do they gain from working with you? How are their circumstances improved? What do they benefit from?

(Hint: It has nothing to do with how much you charge.)

Write these things down and use them in your marketing message. Take out every mention of how cheap and affordable you are on your website.

Go do this. Now.

Dear Danielle: How Did You Arrive at Your Industry Figures?

Dear Danielle:

I recently purchased the Virtual Assistant business forms offered on your website. I am currently working on developing my business plan for my start-up Virtual Assistant business. In one section of the business plan, you list some industry statistics, specifically an estimated number of established Virtual Assistants. Where did you get that information. I have never attempted any type of market research and analysis before, and to be honest, I am at a complete loss and have been stressing over my lack of knowledge. I don’t even know where to begin. –TD

Oh dear, don’t stress over this stuff. Truly, in the scheme of business, industry state are not important.

Let me ask you this: are you doing the business plan for your own purposes or are you intending to use it to seek funding and loan assistance? If it’s for your own purposes, then definitely I want to put you at ease.

First, let me answer your main question on how we arrived at the figure we provided.

Back in 2006, my proteges and I took on the HUGE project of taking count from Virtual Assistant directories and search engine results. Honestly, I don’t know how we survived that “little” task, LOL. We literally looked at every single VA organization and website we could find and took census.

And we didn’t just take things at face value just because it showed up in results or was listed in a directory or someone called themselves a Virtual Assistant.

We deducted from our count any site that was no longer active, and specifically did not include anyone who wasn’t actually a Virtual Assistant (someone who is in the business of providing administrative support to clients) who we determined to be more accurately in another field altogether (e.g., we often found people calling themselves VAs when in fact their entire business was specifically focused on Web design or transcription or bookkeeping–which are completely different categories of business from Virtual Assistance).

So give or take the relatively few anonymous VAs in the world who didn’t have websites or listings, our count really is the most accurate number of those in the industry, increased exponentially to account for the three years that have elapsed since. In two more years, we’ll take another census of the industry and get those counts updated again.

But getting back to your agonizing :), how many VAs there are in the world is of absolutely no consequence for you and your business. It just does not matter. That kind of research and info is only necessary if you are submitting a formal business plan for the purposes of funding or loan assistance. I hereby give you permission to shed not one more bead of sweat on it.

Here’s how I would want you to refocus your thinking on the whole business planning thing… Going through that exercise is very valuable because it gets you to think about and plan things, work ideas and policies out and such, in your business that it might not otherwise occur to you. And of course, you should never, ever just follow a template. You still have to apply your own set of circumstances, your own goals and ideas, as well as your own critical thinking.

The Virtual Assistant business plan template I developed is specifically designed to not only give folks a professional format to follow that they can actually use for funding purposes if they ever need to, but also to get your own creative juices going–not substitute them–and show you a model where you can create multiple revenue streams, passive income and information products all in supplement to your premium craft and trade of ongoing administrative support.

But beyond all that, business planning should most importantly be about what you want for yourself and your life. Your business should serve you and your life first. Your business planning should then be approached from that angle. If you think about it from that perspective, it becomes clearer which parts of the formal business plan to focus your energy and attention on and which parts, not so much. ;) Not to mention, you might be able to have a bit more fun with it.

After that, your highest priority should be on determining a target market on which to focus and doing the homework and research on who they are, what they are doing, what’s important to them, what they need most and where their common challenges and obstacles are. The intersection between your interests and theirs is where you’ll find your sweet spot.

Dear Danielle: Should I Be Concerned that a Colleague Has the Same Biz Name?

Dear Danielle: Should I Be Concerned that a Colleague Has the Same Biz Name?

Dear Danielle:

I have a question regarding my business name. I started my business on August 17, but just found out that there is another business in our industry with a name similar to mine. I know that this probably won’t matter, but I am in one state and she is in another. My long term goal is to go international, but right now, I am concentrating on local clients. By the way, I have business cards, a business license, etc. Should I be concerned about this? If so, what do you suggest I do? Thank you in advance for your advice. –FT

You are right in assuming that it doesn’t necessarily matter that you are in two different states.

This is especially true in our industry where we don’t have any geographic boundaries from each other.

If the person with the pre-existing, established use of the name takes their business interests seriously and is intent on protecting their trade name rights, you could be in for some legal problems and expenses.

In fact, the laws governing trademarks, trade names, trade dress, etc., matters requires them to defend their rights or they forfeit them.

When you’re in business, there are lots of important areas you have  a responsibility to understand.

They may be boring, complicated and not so fun, but they are imperative nonetheless because they protect us and the marketplace, keep things fair, and give us some parameters to ensure we can all play nice and get along with each other.

So the first thing I advise you to do is go to USPTO.gov and study up on the trademark and copyright information listed there.

I’m going to post some info we share in our forums on this topic and why it’s in your best business interest to come up with your own unique business name.

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO FIND YOUR OWN UNIQUE NAME

In our industry, we have no geographical boundaries from each other. Therefore, having a unique business name is even more important.

When starting an administrative support business, beyond just the impoliteness of stepping on a colleague’s toes (someone who was there first), here is why it’s important for you to have a unique business name:

1. You don’t want to get sued. A colleague with established first use of an existing trade name has legal rights and can sue you for infringement, and possibly even damages. It costs a lot of money, time and energy to defend yourself. If you lose (which you can by either default or because the court finds in the complainant’s favor), it can cost even more. If they win a judgment against you, they may be able to go after your personal assets, garnish wages, get an injunction to freeze bank accounts and force you to disgorge any monies you earned while using their IP (intellectual property). This is not “mean”; it’s business, and every business has a right to defend its rights and its turf if it feels it’s been infringed upon. Likewise, every business has a duty and self-preserving interest to make sure it is not infringing. It’s just not a ball of wax you want to even potentially find yourself in.

2. It’s not a great way to be welcomed into the community. Ours is a relatively small, tight-knit community. People will know you are infringing on one of their comrades. How do you think they will look upon you? And imagine if it were you… how would you feel if someone new came into the industry and started using your business name, the one you’ve been using for X years and around which all your identity and marketing has been based? It would not feel good. Trust, good will and polite society can not exist where we allow this kind of thing to occur. It’s just not cool, much less professional or ethical.

3. You don’t want to be confused with another business in the same industry. It’s going to be really important to differentiate yourself from everyone else, and that includes having a unique business name and identity. It doesn’t do you any good to be using someone else’s established business name if traffic and name recognition is going to be diverted to someone else who was there first.

4. You don’t want to have to redo everything (e.g., website, marketing materials, etc.). If you are caught infringing, you can be compelled to relinquish domains, destroy or hand over other intellectual property, and it’s going to be a lot of work and more money to start all over again.

STEPS TO ENSURING YOU DO NOT INFRINGE

So, what do you do? A bit of homework is in order. To make sure you come up with a unique name and do not infringe on the established trademarks and trade name rights of any of your colleagues, there are things you can and should do:

1. Search industry directories. Make sure no one else is using the same or similar name already.

2. Search the uspto.gov database. Check to see that no one else is already using the same or similar trade name. Bear in mind that while federally registered trade names have even further protections and recourses, a name does not have to be registered there to be protected. Changing a letter or word is not going to help you if the name can be considered to be substantially the same and/or would still create confusion.

3. Conduct a search for the name (or the predominant unique identifier) in several different search engines. Use Google, MSN, Yahoo, Chrome and any others you might think of. Better to be thorough now than sorry later. Example: If you want to use Dizzy Admin, you should search for  “Dizzy Admin,” “Dizzy Administrative,” “Dizzy Administration,” “Dizzy Administrative Consulting,” “Dizzy Administrative Consultant,”“Dizzy Business Support,” ““Dizzy Virtual Assistant,” “Dizzy Virtual Assistants,” “Dizzy Virtual Assistance,” etc. If someone else in our industry, regardless of where they are located, is using “Dizzy” (which is the relevant novel/ substantive part of the name), forget about using it.

WHAT TO DO NEXT

Once you find a name that is unique and that in no way can be confused with anyone else’s existing, established trade identity in our industry, you’re home free.

If you think you were the first to use the name, contact the colleague and see if you see if you can work things out.

If you know you were not the first, contact the colleague with the same or similar name, and see how they feel about it.

And then consult an attorney about whether it would be a wise course of action to pursue the name anyway, what the possible ramifications are, and what it might cost to defend or protect yourself. ;)