Archive for the ‘Industry Info’ Category

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 to Converse with a Ninny

Recently, something reminded me of a conversation I had a while back with a colleague.

She was frustrated by an interaction she’d had with someone in a networking group and wasn’t sure what to do about.

The person had asked what she did. She answered that she was an Administrative Consultant and attempted to relate some of the tasks she helped clients with.

The person’s response was “Oh, so you’re a virtual assistant?”

She wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that because she most vehemently did not want to be associated with that term whatsoever.

In all honesty, some people aren’t worth your time. And the person she was talking to was obviously an uncouth ninny.

On what planet does anyone dictate to you what your title or term is, especially after you have just told them?

(That was a rhetorical question. The answer is it is never anyone’s place to call you anything except what you have instructed/informed them to call you.)

However, a big part of the problem was in how she was describing what she did.

At the time, this colleague was resistant to pinning down a target market, and the kinds of things she said she did were so broad, vague, and generalized that it’s no wonder people were confused and wanted to lump her in as a VA.

That term has become a garbage dump for “anyone doing anything.” It’s basically branded itself to mean “cheap gopher.”

She got caught up in reciting lists of tasks instead of having the more abstract conversation about how she helps clients through the expertise of administrative support.

If you’ve found yourself in a similar conversation, and you deign to indulge in it with someone, here’s how you could respond in order to better educate said ninnies:

THEM: “Oh, so you’re a VA?”

YOU: “No, as I mentioned, I am what is known as an Administrative Consultant. That is something different and more specific.”

THEM: “But aren’t you basically an assistant?”

YOU: “No, that’s not an accurate way to understand the business-to-business relationship I have with my clients. Let me ask you this: As a coach/attorney/accountant/designer/(insert their profession here), are you an assistant to your clients?”

THEM: “No, I’m their coach/attorney/accountant/designer/(whatever their business/profession is).”

YOU: “Exactly! That’s how to understand my relationship with clients as well. You and I both run businesses that offer a specific service and expertise. We both assist clients, but that doesn’t make us assistants, right? What each of us does doesn’t matter. The fact that we run independent businesses, each delivering a specific service and expertise is the important thing. For me, I happen to be in the business of providing administrative support. But I’m not an assistant because 1) assistant is a term of employment and I am not an employee to my clients in any way, shape or form, and 2) I don’t act as an assistant to clients. I am a business owner and professional who provides a specific service and expertise to my clients; they turn to me for my expertise in providing ongoing administrative support and guidance. And the term we use for someone in that specific business is Administrative Consultant.”

This is how I have had similar conversations in the past. But what I’ve found is that once you a) stop calling yourself an assistant, and b) stop describing your business and the service you provide and how you work with clients in assistant-like terms, people get it, and you aren’t going to have to deal with too many ninnies after that.

Have you ever found yourself in a similar conversation as this colleague? How did you navigate it?

Dear Danielle: Do I Need to Move If I Want Clients in Another City?

Dear Danielle: Do I Need to Move If I Want Clients in Another City?

Dear Danielle:

Thank you so much for the Pricing calculator you sent me to download. I have been travelling a bit between Cape Town and Johannesburg. Herein lies my dilemma. My entire family apart from my eldest son lives in Johannesburg. So do I set up in Cape Town or in Johannesburg. I do believe that business prospects are better in Johannesburg but don’t like Jo’burg very much! I have already lined up two clients in Cape Town (the plot thickens). What to do…what to do….? I absolutely love your blog and find it incredibly useful and informative. Thank you so much for all the effort you put in to educate. Kind regards. —L. W.

Hi L.W. 🙂

Thanks for letting me know how useful the ACA resources are to you. I’m very glad to hear it.

Even though we live in two different countries (I’m in the U.S. and you’re in South Africa), the great thing about our kind of business is that a) the principles of business are pretty universal no matter what country you’re in, and b) business laws in developed countries around the world are quite similar.

This is of great benefit to us because it makes speaking the same business language pretty easy.

And, since the administrative support business is an online business, that means you don’t work with clients or even have to meet them in person.

Not that you can’t get clients from meeting them locally. It’s just that due to the nature of the business being online, you aren’t restricted to your geographic or local physical location when it comes to finding and getting clients.

The world is literally your oyster as far as clients go, if that’s your preference.

Although, I will say, my clients and I find a lot more ease in understanding, communication and working together by being in the same country or state. As far as business goes, I personally don’t have any desire or need to work with international clients.

But different strokes for different folks. If you aren’t able to find all the clients you need in your general vicinity, you have the entire rest of the world to prospect at your fingertips.

All that is to say, you don’t have to live in Johannesburg to get clients from there.

As far as what city you are legally allowed to claim as your business’s official operating address, that is something you will definitely want to research as there may be legalities and business/registration rules and requirements involved particular to your local area.

Some relevant questions might be:

  • What city do you reside in officially/most of the time? What address do you currently use on tax returns?
  • Are you a sole proprietor/operator or is your business incorporated?
  • If your business is incorporated, are you allowed to register it in any city you like?
  • What are your preferred city’s business registration/taxing requirements? Must you actually reside there to register/incorporate/operate there?
  • What are the (federal/state/county/local) laws/rules about where you must reside for your business to be registered there?
  • If you legally have the option to choose one city or another, are there benefits to registering in one over the other?
  • What are the business registration fees/requirements in each?
  • What are the taxing requirements in each?
  • What kind of reporting does each require?

Getting answers to these questions from the proper governing agencies in your area will help you decide where your business is to be based/registered.

Beyond that, as far as getting clients from Johannesburg or anywhere without having to resort to the time and energy-consuming analog ways of meeting them (i.e., in person), what is going to be of tremendous help to you is to narrow things down to a target market.

A target market is simply an industry/profession that you cater your administrative support to.

Once you decide who to focus on, you can then figure out all the online ways and places to begin connecting and interacting with people in that field, getting to know them, and allowing them to get to know you through your active presence and participation.

If you haven’t yet, be sure to download my guide on How to Choose Your Target Market. It elaborates more on this topic and has some exercises that will help you immediately begin to start connecting with potential clients.

Let me know if this helps you or if you have any further questions. I’m happy to shed more light on this topic.

If You Do Nothing Else, These Are Words to Live By

I was reading Brit Marling’s article about Harvey Weinstein yesterday morning. In the first paragraph, she relates some powerful wisdom her mother imparted to her when she was a little girl:

“To be a free woman, you have to be a financially independent woman.”

It’s akin to something Suze Orman always reminds women of: “A man is not a financial plan.”

This is one of the most important reasons I work to help other women in this business earn better, to better understand the economics of business and how the business-to-business relationship with clients works, and teach them the important business skills that are integral to being able to ask for and get professional fees and how to navigate those business conversations: the consultation, pricing, your marketing message, chief among them.

Even if you are not your family’s primary breadwinner, life can change in an instant.

Divorce, illness, death, accidents, acts of nature… there are any number of unforeseeable events that can befall any of us at any moment and put us in the position of having to be the sole provider. Being a single mom is perhaps one of the most important reasons.

This is why my goal is to always show other women how to build a business that can take care of itself, to show them how to create the kind of income they can actually live on whether they are or need to be or should become the primary breadwinner; to establish a business that runs like a business and can scale at any point in time, even if right now you only want to work with one or two clients.

Being financially independent and creating a business that can take care of you and your family if need be is one of the best things you can do for yourself and those you love.

Using Terminology Correctly

It’s important to use correct terminology in business.

Communication, and ensuring there is understanding, hinges upon using language and terms correctly.

For example, a lot of people use the term “outsourcing” incorrectly.

Outsourcing is when a business (typically a large company) offloads specific functions, or even a whole department, to a contractor to perform that service independently.

Like when you call a company and they have outsourced their customer service to an offshore call center. That is both outsourcing and offshoring. There is little or no personal, collaborative relationship.

Or when a service subcontracts their client work out to a third party provider… that is also outsourcing. 

Administrative Consulting is the opposite of that.

Administrative Consulting is a one-on-one, direct and personal, collaborative partnership with the client providing a right-hand relationship of administrative support across-the-board. The client and Administrative Consultant work together closely and personally.

That’s not to say that someone can’t or shouldn’t be in an outsourcing business if that’s what they choose to do. However, that is not an Administrative Consulting business.

If you’re in the outsourcing business, you are not in the Administrative Consulting business.

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.