Archive for the ‘Legal’ Category

Dear Danielle: Client Won’t Stop Calling Me Her Assistant

Dear Danielle: Client Won't Stop Calling Me Her Assistant

Dear Danielle:

Hi there! I am looking for your advice on a matter. I quite often will attend meetings or business functions with my clients. They tend to introduce me as their “assistant,” even though I have brought it to their attention that I am not an “assistant.” What would you suggest I have them introduce me as? Or how to go about ensuring it doesn’t continue to happen? —KP

Hi KP 🙂

Good question. It’s one I get a lot from people who are trying to transition away from the “assistant” model to administrative business owner.

The first thing you can do immediately is add a component to your Client Guide and new client orientations that instructs clients on exactly what to call you and how to introduce you to others.

In my own practice, I tell clients to refer to me as their administrator (for short) or Administrative Consultant (for more formal situations).

Next, put together a form letter/email and send it out to all your current clients so everyone is equally informed and updated at the same time and no one is singled out.

The side benefit to this kind of communication is that seeing it come from your business as a general communication helps underscore the fact that they are working with a business, not an employee.

Which leads us back to the original question: what to do about a client who continues to call you this when you have repeatedly asked them not to.

On the one hand, it could be an innocent mistake.

It is sometimes difficult to rid clients of old habits when they’ve been with us awhile. In which case, a heart-to-heart conversation with the client would be in order.

You could start the discussion, for example, with something like this:

“We’ve talked a few times about what I prefer to be called and how I ask my clients to refer to me when introducing me to others. This is something that’s important to me and my business. I’ve noticed that you still call me your assistant in those situations. Is there a reason why? What can I do to help you remember how to introduce me?”

I would very intentionally incorporate use of the words “client” and “business” to help this client understand the nature of the relationship. Because it’s also often the case that they simply haven’t been properly educated about that (which is on us, not them) and so they very innocently, but still mistakenly, may think you are an assistant.

And then listen to what they have to say and work toward a solution.

Of course, if you have a client who doesn’t give a good darn about your feelings and wishes, you have to ask yourself, “Is this a client who respects me? If there’s no mutual respect, is this someone I should be working with?”

Here are some blog posts that expand on this topic further that I think you’ll find helpful:

Dear Danielle: How to You Introduce Yourself to Clients and Prospects?

How to Have Clients Help Promote Your Business

Dear Danielle: This Client Is About to Ask Me to Pose as His Employee

Thanks for the question, KP. Let me know if this was useful to you. 🙂

***

Have you ever been in this situation? How did you handle it? Do you think my tips will help you better educate your clients and navigate this in the future?

Dear Danielle: What Are Your Thoughts About this Deadbeat Client?

Dear Danielle:

I recently experienced every startup business owner’s nightmare. One of my clients (a fast talker) was extremely upset because I had to resort to threats of involving my business attorney. It is absolutely outlined and spelled out in all of my contracts. He went off on me, tried to avoid payment, but I did not back down. He refused and did not pay the late fees that are also outlined in my contract as well, then had the audacity to tell me, “I’ve been in business for 35 years and never seen such aggressive payment policies.” I reminded him how I bent all my rules for him from the start in order to accommodate his needs, drastically lowered my pay, and okayed him to pay upon invoice vs. upfront for projects. After he found that I was not going to back down and accept the loss, the funds miraculously appeared in my account. However, he did not pay the late fees he had incurred. He is someone I will always run into as we are associated with the same Chamber. Not only did he insult me countless times, but he left some very rude messages. I stayed calm the entire time and continually reminded him of the contract we had gone over together and signed, and how with any business, his included, no one will render services without payment. My attorney advised me to take the loss for the fees because he eventually paid and to let it go, especially considering how low the amount was from start. Needless to say, after a long disturbing message from client, he says, “We will no longer do business. Don’t call us anymore.” I laughed thinking, he can’t be serious? Surely, he couldn’t have thought there would be any more services after that. Ultimately, I thought about it; he knew I had just begun. What he didn’t know is that I have many years of experience behind me. Just because a business is up and coming, that doesn’t mean you’re illiterate as to how business should flow. I am now considering that he may taint my good name with lies to cover what he has done. What are your thoughts? —Chaunte’

I’m guessing while you are justifiably upset, you may also be feeling a bit beat up and second-guessing yourself, wondering if you were out-of-line in any way.

I don’t know the backstory here so I’m not entirely sure what happened, but if you did work he engaged you to do, you are certainly entitled to be paid.

That said, I call these first clients (the ones we take on when we’re new and not entirely sure what we’re doing just yet) “practice” clients.

We learn a lot from these initial clients, particularly what we don’t want in our businesses, who we want to avoid working with in the future (i.e., un-ideal clients), and what red flags to look for and be conscious of going forward.

We also have to cut ourselves a little slack when we’re new, forgive our missteps and possible clumsiness.

The good news is that we can learn from these experiences, gain clarity about how to do things differently next time, tweak and adjust our processes and infrastructure accordingly, and improve our finesse.

Since you asked for thoughts, I’ll share a few in no particular order in the hope that you find some useful ideas…

  1. The first thing I keyed in on was your characterization of this client as being “a fast talker.” This seems like the first red flag to appear that you recognized, and yet you took him on anyway. It would be worthwhile to do a bit of soul-searching and ask yourself why? If it was clear to you that this client was a bit of a “Slick Willy,” what made you ignore that red flag and not trust your first instincts? Will you ignore your intuition the next time this kind of client approaches you? Is this the kind of client you really want to be working with? If not, what will you do differently next time?
  2. The other related thing that stood out was your mention of how you bent over backwards for this client, gave him discounts and breaks you normally wouldn’t, and stepped over your own policies and self-interests. Why? Because no good ever comes from this; all it does is teach clients how to treat us poorly and take us for granted. So it would be good to ponder and examine what might be going on here. What I see that often happens is when we are new (and I had a very similar problem when I was new in business myself), and we don’t yet have a firm frame of reference of our value, we tend to overcompensate. We don’t think what we offer is enough; we think we need to “prove” ourselves. In fact, this is the worst thing we can indulge in when we’re new because the worst kind of clients smell that neediness and desperation like blood in the water. A lot of this clears up as we gain experience in business and working with clients. But often a person can go out of business before they can gain the insights, professional self-esteem and confidence to overcome these debilitating tendencies. This is why I always tell people that they can’t afford to work with crappy clients, not for any amount of money — they’re business killers. They can destroy a person’s morale and confidence in the blink of an eye.
  3. This does not sound like a joyful experience whatsoever. If you have clients you have to threaten with attorneys and legal action, there is something very wrong. Sure, you might be in the right, but do you really want a life and business working with people who are not honorable, that you can’t trust, who disrespect you with nonpayment? I’m guessing not. So, one important step to avoid this in your business moving forward is to start two lists: one for all the traits and characteristics of your ideal client and one for all the traits and characteristics of your UN-ideal client. Continue to add to these lists with every new client experience throughout the life of your business. It will be a constant work in progress; the point is that it is one of the very best exercises in getting clear about who you do and don’t want as clients so that you heed red flags and trust your gut in the future. As you consult with new clients, keep those lists handy. They’ll remind you whenever you’re tempted to step over your own standards about who you do and don’t want to work with (and more importantly, why).
  4. Yes, it’s good to have proper contracts with legal language that spells out what the recourse and late fees will be if a client doesn’t pay. At the same time, this should always be a very last resort for the very worst case scenarios. The best course is to avoid working with crappy clients in the first place. The better, more productive, focus is not to underscore every legal point to hammer clients over the head with them, but to improve the ways in which you get clients and how they are educated all along the way. This is why we have a website and steer clients there first so it can pre-educate them and set the proper context. It’s why we have a specific consultation process to further instill proper mindsets and education, as well as determine fit, before we take on clients. It’s why we need to get clear about the business we intend to be in (e.g., do you want to be in the project business where everything is a transaction, or in the business of ongoing administrative support where there is a more personal relationship and where you can charge an upfront retainer?). It’s why we are discerning about the clients we take on and go through specific, intentional steps in onboarding new clients (e.g., having a Client Guide and conducting a new client orientation with new administrative support clients). It’s why we get clear about our own standards, values and goals and what is important to us in our businesses — so that we can establish the policies, procedures and protocols that support them.
  5. I agree with your attorney. Even though you may be entitled to them, forget about the late fees. It sounds like you got the principle amount. This client is not worth allowing him to suck any more of your precious attention. To continue to let it take up space in your mind is giving energy to the wrong thing, to your detriment. For your own sake, forget about this client and move on.
  6. Deadbeat clients can happen to the best of us, particularly when we’re new. At the same time, clients often don’t pay because they aren’t happy with something. Did he give any reasons for why he wasn’t paying? Did you ask him? A lot of times some honest dialogue and meaningful probing can unearth what the real problem is. Barring a client just being a jerk and thinking he can take advantage (which it sounds like this client was), it’s very useful to us to forget about being in the right and make a sincere attempt to see things from the other person’s perspective when an issue crops up (which it can even in the best client relationships). The insight and feedback we can gain is like gold to our businesses — as long as we make good use of it.  So don’t shy away from direct, honest, respectful dialogue with clients. Don’t be afraid to ask — and hear — what could I do differently? What would make this better for you? You can use it to figure out where your blindspots might be and improve your systems and processes (for them and for you).
  7. One way to avoid deadbeat or otherwise un-ideal clients is to have a website. I noticed you don’t have one yet. While I get that people often want to take on clients before they have a website in place to start making money right away (and there is no shortage of morons out there telling people they don’t need a website to start their business), I would argue that this is a mistake. It is not to your benefit in any way for you to be doing business without a website. In so many ways, your website IS the business. Your website isn’t just a way to market what you have to offer. Its other value to you is that it provides a tool with which you can properly educate clients and set and manage their expectations and mindsets before you ever start working together. This is what will get you more consults with more (and better) clients.  To take on clients without the benefit of a website where you can send them to get informed about how things work in your business, what business you are actually in, who you are looking to work with (and who you’re not), etc., is like charging into battle without a gun. Your website can help you prequalify and attract more of your ideal clients, educate them in the way you need them to be so they enter the relationship with the right expectations and mindsets and understandings (and respect!), and weed out those who are not a good fit for you so your time is not wasted.
  8. It’s important to note that this was a project client, not a retained client where you were providing an ongoing relationship of administrative support. These are two completely different business models. It’s worth getting clear and intentional about which kind of business you want to have because the kind of clients you get, the way you work together, how you get them, how you make your money, and the processes you go through with each are very, very different from each other.
  9. Another way to get more intentional about the business you consciously choose to be in and the kind of clients you want to work with is to choose a target market. A target market is simply a field/industry/profession that you cater your administrative support to (like attorneys or financial advisors or coaches or speakers, etc., etc.). The benefit is that when you know specifically who you’re focusing on, you can get clear (more quickly and easily) about how to craft your solutions, how to market them, and where to find and get clients more quickly and easily. When you have a target market, you don’t have to take on projects with any ol’ client for not enough money. It helps you get more of your ideal clients and provide more ideal solutions designed specifically for them (which allows you to command higher fees).
  10. We always get a do-over. Each and every day is a new chance to learn, improve, do differently and grow.

***

What about you? Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? How did you resolve it and what did you change moving forward?Save

What You Call Yourself IS Important

What you call yourself is the VERY first place you are training clients how to treat you.

What you call yourself absolutely matters in shaping in client perceptions and expectations in the way YOU want them to be set.

If you continually have clients who treat you like like an employee and do not approach the relationship with the professionally respectful demeanor of a business equal, the first place you can begin changing that story is by not calling yourself an assistant.

Because when you are in business, you are NOT an assistant, no matter what the clueless out there try to tell you otherwise.

Dear Danielle: Do I Need a Professional License to Be an Administrative Consultant?

Dear Danielle: Do I Need a Professional License to Be an Administrative Consultant?

Dear Danielle:

I am very serious about becoming a full-time Administrative Consultant. I have done quite a bit of work on the side and really enjoy the business. I have one question:  Do I need any type of professional license to work as a full time Administrative Consultant, something similar to a real estate agent being licensed by the state or an accountant, lawyers, etc.? Thanks very much. —RD

This is not a regulated industry in the U.S. (or anywhere else that I’m aware of). You don’t need any special kind of license to start an administrative support business.

Depending on your state or country, however, there may be some required business licenses and registrations to be in business, that you may need to pay either annually or on a one-time basis. That’s something you would definitely need to look into.

I always advise people to contact their respective city, county and state agencies to determine what their business taxing, reporting and registration/licensing requirements are.

In the U.S., you would also need to educate yourself about the federal IRS self-employment business taxes and reporting.

Hope that helps!

What Zirtual (and Any Virtual Staffing Agency) Workers Need to Know

What Zirtual Workers Need to Know

You may have heard that virtual staffing agency Zirtual abruptly ceased operations August 10 without any warning or notice to workers or clients.

Today, we learned that Zirtual has been bought by Startup.co.

There were a lot of problems with this company, not the least of which was poor business planning, unsustainable growth, and the illegal misclassification of employees as independent contractors, the latter of which is my biggest peeve.

A business model based on exploiting workers and disregarding employment laws is bound to fail sooner or later.

This is why it’s so important for business owners to do business with companies and independent professionals who operate legally and ethically.

It’s also why it’s important for you, as a worker, to recognize going in whether a company you consider working for is operating legally and going to treat you fairly and lawfully.

Nothing angers me more than people being taken advantage of and exploited without their knowledgeable and fully-informed consent.

For anyone who worked at Zirtual (or any virtual staffing company), before you jump from one exploitive situation to another, I want to shed some light on employment and business so that you cannot be taken advantage of so easily in the future.

First, Some Basics

In the world of work and services, you are either an employee or you’re a business.

There is no legal middle classification where someone “works like an employee but is paid like an IC.”

That is illegal.

Independent contractor, 1099 contractor, freelancer, self-employed, independent professional… these are all just different terms that mean the same thing: business owner.

As an IC, you are required to pay 100% of your own employment taxes whereas when you are employee, your employer pays half as well as other taxes that are fully employer-paid.

There is also no such thing as a 1099 employee. That’s a made-up, imaginary term for a classification that does not exist and is in fact illegal.

You are either an employee (in which case you enjoy the rights and benefits provided to employees by law) or you are a 1099 contractor, which (again) is just another name for independent contractor and means you are in business for yourself and as such are responsible for all the duties, taxes and reporting obligations that entails.

This is where the problem starts because most of these workers do not understand the difference and the legal and financial implications involved. They don’t realize that when they allow an employer to call them an IC, they just became self-employed business owners.

That’s not what most of them bargained for. Most aren’t fully aware of all the rights and benefits that they are deprived of in the process.

What this also means is, even if a company classified you as an independent contractor (even if you signed a contract), the law may still consider you an employee. The law does not uphold contracts that are illegal in the first place.

What Is an Employee?

An employee is someone who works for a company in exchange for a paycheck.

Being an employee or independent contractor isn’t something individual employers get to arbitrarily decide.

There are legal standards and definitions about what constitutes an employee, control being first and foremost.

As an employee, the company you work for has the right to dictate (among other things) your work schedule, hours, pay, where you do the work, what equipment to use, and when, where and how to do the work. (When you are an independent, self-employed business owner—in other words, independent contractor—clients MAY NOT dictate ANY of that whatsoever. YOU are the one who decides your fees, when, where and how you will work, what you will and won’t do, etc., and you do NOT “report” nor are you managed by clients in any way, shape or form. The only thing a client has the right to convey to you is what they would like accomplished, what outcome/result they desire for the work to produce, and what their timeframe/deadlines are.)

As an employee, you are supervised and directed by your employer who requires you to report to them and turn in timesheets. You may also be required to undergo training at the company’s direction.

If a company exerts any measure of control and management over a worker, that worker is an employee (and must be lawfully classified as such).

Likewise, if the workers ARE the very product of the biz (as is the case with temp agencies, staffing agencies, virtual staffing agencies, etc.), they must be classified as employees.

In exchange for this luxury and privilege of control and the benefit that is gained therefrom, an employer is held to some legal and financial obligations and requirements.

How Are Employees Paid?

At the start of employment, an employee completes an IRS Form W-4.

The employee is then given a paycheck in exchange for their work at the usual established company pay cycles and in accordance with local, state and federal laws.

By January 31 of every year, the employer is then required to provide the employee with an IRS Form W-2 Wage & Tax Statement which summaries the total monies you earned the previous year, the amount of taxes that were withheld from your pay, as well the employer-paid half of your FICA taxes (Social Security, Medicare, FUTA) and any other particular taxes (eg., unemployment) as may be required by local, state and federal law.

I highlight that last part because this is what many people don’t understand.

They don’t realize that when an employer illegally misclassifies them as an IC (self-employed independent contractor), that employer is essentially stealing from them.

Those are rightful monies owed to you that they are legally required to pay when you are an employee according to the legal definition.

What that means is that by illegally misclassifying you, they are shifting 100% and more of those costs onto you instead of paying their legally-required share.

Understanding Employment Taxes

Everyone who works and has earnings must pay FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) taxes.

FICA consists of 12.4% Social Security tax (up to whatever a given year’s wage cap is; for 2014 the cap was $117,000) and 2.9% Medicare (there is no wage cap on Medicare tax; however, beginning in 2013, if an employee earns more than $200,000, there is an additional 0.9% Medicare surtax that must be withheld from their wages).

If you are an employee, 6.2% Social Security and 1.45% Medicare tax is withheld from your paycheck, and your employer must pay the other 6.2% Social Security and 1.45% Medicare taxes.

FUTA (Federal Unemployment Tax Act) is another tax that must be paid, which is 6.2% up to $7,000 in wages. This tax is paid 100% by the employer. If you are an employee, there is no employee portion to be withheld.

If you are an employee who has been illegally misclassified as an IC, this is more money that is rightfully due to you that the employer is cheating you out of.

FUTA, in conjunction with state unemployment insurance systems, provides for unemployment compensation to workers who have lost their jobs.

This is another of the rights and benefits that an employee enjoys that an independent contractor is not eligible for.

Why Do Companies Classify Employees as Independent Contractors?

Why do they do anything? Because of the money.

Employees cost a business a lot of money. And I don’t mean only in terms of pay.

Besides their benefits and pay, it costs a lot to manage them. Taxing and reporting responsibilities must met. There are employee rights and labor laws that must be observed and complied with.

Compared with all that, it’s easier and cheaper to work with ICs than it is employees.

So a lot of companies will think, “You know what? We can’t afford these employees. Let’s call them independent contractors instead.”

But here’s the problem with that: it’s illegal.

The legal phrase is “illegal missclassification of employees.”

They don’t get to have their cake and eat it, too. Not when it cheats those workers out of their lawful, rightful employer-paid taxes and benefits.

If they don’t want the cost and headache, then they have to give up the control.

And if they don’t want to give up the privilege and luxury of control that comes with beck-and-call employees, then they have to comply with the law.

That’s just how it works, folks.

Companies don’t get to decide at their whim whether to classify someone as independent contractor just because it’s cheaper and more convenient for them.

The second they start exerting the control of an employer over a worker, that worker becomes an employee.

What to Do if You Feel You Have Been Misclassified as an Independent Contractor

As I said before, even if a company you have worked for classified you as an independent contractor, even if they had you sign a contract, the law may still consider you an employee if that company exerted any of the control that only an employer is allowed to exert (see Independent Contractor or Employee?)

The first thing to know is that it is 100% the company’s duty and responsibility to properly classify workers. The worker is never responsible for this.

I mention this only because many workers worry about taking recourse for fear the law will come down on them, and that is not the case.

Keep in mind that if you were an employee missclassified as an IC, you were missing out on all the usual rights, benefits and perks afforded regular employees of the company that ICs are not eligible for such as : unemployment benefits; worker’s comp benefits; severance pay; workplace rights such as minimum wage, overtime pay, sick pay, rest breaks, vacations; healthcare coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

The law may determine that you were entitled to those as an misclassified employee.

And if you worked for a company that closed up shop and left you high and dry, you’re going to want those unemployment checks.

The good news is that you have nothing to lose by looking into these things and possibly a lot to gain.

If you were feel you were misclassified as an IC, one of the simplest things you can do is fill out an IRS Form SS-8. The IRS will do the rest of the work after that. If they find that you were misclassified and should have been an employee, it’s the employer who is on the hook any penalties and back taxes you were deprived of.

If you’re young, it may not mean much right now, but when you get older and near retirement age, those retirement funds and medical benefits become more real and relevant to you. No matter what your age, those are accounts you should be concerned about and attentive to. They are part of your rightful benefits.

Another way a lot of these misclassifications come to light is when people file for unemployment insurance.

Yes, even if you were told by the company that you were an independent contractor, even if you signed a contract, I  encourage you to file for unemployment insurance.

Once you do that, they will also examine the relationship and make a determination. If they find that you should have actually been classified as an employee, it’s the employer who will be liable for those benefits and back tax payments.

And, talk to a local employment law attorney. Because I am not one and I don’t want any of this information to be construed as legal advice. I only share this information to point you in some directions where you can get the full information and advice from the proper agencies and legal advisors.

That kind of attorney can better and more fully explain all the ramifications of being misclassified as an IC, what benefits and rights you may have been deprived of, how long the statutes of limitations are in your case, the recourse and remedies available to you, and what the next best steps are.

There may even be, as we speak, some attorneys or law firms working on some kind of class action.

Moving Forward

Armed with this information, you can be more knowledgeable of your rights and how things are supposed to work should you decide to work with another company similar to Zirtual.

If you work for anyone who dictates any of your working conditions to you, you know now that you must be classified as an employee, that there are employer-paid taxes and other employee rights and benefits that are your right.

And if any employer exerting a level of control over you tries to tell you they are going to start paying you as an IC, you can say:

“Hold up! Not so fast! That’s not correct. People who are in business for themselves as ICs, know they are in business for themselves. Last I checked, I don’t recall starting a business, and I am not in business for myself. You are exerting a level of control over my pay, schedule and work conditions that constitutes employment. As such, I am an employee and must be paid accordingly, including all the rights and benefits afforded to employees. If there’s any question about that, we can have the IRS make the determination.”

Okay, I’m being a bit snarky, lol. But you get my drift.

Now that you are better informed, in whatever pleasant or diplomatic fashion is your preference, you can be more assertive and point people in the direction of the resources I have linked throughout this post.

If you have any questions about any of this, I am happy to answer and help in any way. Please post your questions in the comments.

And if you are in a former Zirtual worker, I understand several groups have been started to support each other.

I would be happy to speak to your group, either by phone or online, and help shed further light and answer any questions you may have about any of this information about employee classification.

Likewise, if any of you are interested in actually starting your own business (otherwise known as self-employment, being an independent contractor), I can definitely answer any of those questions as well. As a business owner since 1997 and the founder of the Administrative Consultants Association, that is my specialty!

RELATED ARTICLES: The topic of subcontractors is another important area for people in business to understand. I have a whole category on my blog that covers subcontracting:

ACA Blog: Subcontracting Articles 

Definition of Subcontracting

What You Need to Know About Subcontracting

Dear Danielle: Sole Proprietor or LLC?

Dear Danielle: Sole Proprietor or LLC?

Dear Danielle:

Would you recommend filing a state business license as a sole proprietor or an LLC when doing business as an Administrative Consultant? I’ve looked on the Nevada state business sites and am unable to find the information needed. Please advise and thank you in advance. —Tiphenie Montes

Hi Tiphenie 🙂

So here’s the thing. States aren’t in the business of advising you about what corporate formation you should seek. That’s why you aren’t finding that information.

You might find something on their websites that explains what the different corporate forms are to choose from in your state, but they aren’t going to tell you or advise one way or the other which one to choose or which one may be best for your business.

That’s a question for an attorney or CPA in your local area or state.

Whenever it comes to legalities, it’s so important to talk to the proper, licensed professionals. No colleague, even the most experienced and knowledgeable one, is qualified or licensed to give you advice on that kind of thing.

And you definitely don’t want to rely on the guesses and “legal opinions” of unqualified, unlicensed laypeople because that could cause you some serious harm or get you into legal hot water at some point or in some way or another.

When you start a business, you are by default a sole proprietor (or a partnership if there is more than one owner). And there’s no special incorporating you need to do for that (although, you may still need to register the business with your local and/or state agencies, but you’ll have to research that as every city/county/state is different).

If you do incorporate, there are possibly some protections and advantages. There is also a lot more filing and reporting obligations and tax designations you may also need to determine.

You might hear around the industry that LLC is the most common form of incorporation for our kind of service-based business. However, that’s a generalization that doesn’t take into account your specific and unique business circumstances and information and the kind of work you are doing in your business and how you are doing it.

If you were to talk to a CPA or attorney, it’s possible they might tell you that depending on your stage in business, incorporating is too soon or not the right time just yet, or may be overkill, or may not give you the kind of tax breaks or protections you thought you might get.

There are just SO many variables unique to your business and your circumstances that have to be weighed and considered by those who are licensed and qualified to advise you properly.

So I can’t recommend highly enough that you do that so you can make the best decisions for your new business based on the right information from the right people. It would be irresponsible and unhelpful for me to tell you otherwise. And I wish for the best for you as well so I won’t tell you otherwise. 😉

Here is another blog post that touches a little bit more on this topic from another angle that you may also find some helpful tidbits in:

Dear Danielle: How Do I Pay Myself?

Also, just to let everyone know, you get an Introduction to Business Formations guide included when you purchase the Administrative Consultant Business Plan Set (FRM-32) from the ACA Success Store.

Thanks for the question. Hope this has been helpful. 🙂

Dear Danielle: May I Use Your Content?

Dear Danielle: May I Use Your Content?

Dear Danielle: 

As I don’t want to infringe and knowing that your ACA Success Store materials are copyrighted (e.g., the business plan template), am I on the right path of thinking that I cannot utilizes your sentences, that my freedom is to understand the essence and create my unique words and format? —BF

You are exactly correct. My words are there for your eyes only, to instruct and provide examples to help get your own creative juices going. They can’t be used on your website, marketing collateral, etc.

Doing your own work is part of the learning process. It’s what helps you gain that deeper understanding about the concepts and ideas I teach and try to impart.

That said, there’s a certain sensibility that has to be applied individually to each product.

For example, you don’t have to rewrite the contracts. They are provided for you to enter your own info and details in the blanks and adapt/adjust as you see fit for use with your own clients.

However, they may not be shared or provided publicly in any format on your website or anywhere else because that violates my terms of use and interferes with my business expectency. (I once had someone do that and had to tell her to take them down.)

With regard to the business plan (as an example), no one else is likely to see your business plan except you. Which is the most important thing because its first and foremost value is that the exercise of completing a business plan gets you to think through everything more thoroughly and gain clarity and direction in all aspects of your business.

So as you read through it, you might have changes you want to make to it for your own personal path in your business. And if not, that’s okay, too. Because really, the only person it’s for and who is ever going to see it is you. Rarely do people ever use it to try to secure funding (these aren’t the type of businesses that get “funded”).

However, if you wanted to use it to try to do that (with your own details and adaptations, of course), you could do that because it would just be between you and the bank/funding source. (Business plans should also always be marked “Confidential & Proprietary” and come with a non-disclosure clause.)

What would NOT be okay is if you shared the business plan with colleagues and others.

For instance, say someone asked on a forum if anyone had a business plan they would mind sharing as an example. It would be illegal for you to send them the business plan you purchased from me (or any of my products), adapted or not, because it violates copyright law, is against my terms of use and would interfere with my business expectancy. They would need to purchase their own copy.

That’s when you’d say, I got an AWESOME business plan from the ACA that’s helped me so much, and you can get your own copy at the ACA Success Store.  😉

Dear Danielle: Do I Need to Provide a Confidentiality Agreement to Clients?

Dear Danielle: Do I Need to Provide a Confidentiality Agreement to Clients?

Hi Danielle,

Thanks for doing all the hard work for us! Well worth the purchase (this colleague recently purchased products from the ACA Success Store). Here’s my question: While I see a confidentiality form that protects my company’s information, am I missing the form that assures my client that any information I am given about their business that’s necessary for my services will remain confidential? I have a proposal due tomorrow to a client and can’t find that form. —AG

Great to hear!

I don’t offer a form like that and here’s why: it’s not your role to provide a client’s confidentiality agreement for them.

That’s THEIR job in THEIR business to have their OWN attorney draft up a confidentiality agreement and provide that if/when/in what situation they deem necessary.

You are over-providing something that isn’t your role or responsibility to provide.

In doing so, you could be unwittingly creating an additional/higher burden of liabilities for your business beyond what is your role to assume as a provider.

This is why you don’t follow what the uninformed masses tell you to do.

Here are some blog posts that shed more light on the topic that will help you better understand:

Confidentiality Agreements Are Not Your Responsibility

Dear Danielle: Should I Sign a Client’s Confidentiality Agreement?

Dear Danielle: Why Would I Need a Confidentiality Agreement?

Dear Danielle: Client Wants Me to Provide a Non-Compete Agreement

Let me know if you have any questions. 🙂

Dear Danielle: Can You Just Give Us a Ballpark Figure When It Comes to Pricing?

Dear Danielle: Can't You Give Us Just a Ballpark Figure When It Comes to Pricing?

Dear Danielle:

I recently purchased your Value-Based Pricing & Packaging guide which I LOVE! I love where your head is at! I was tired of reading about, seeing, experiencing and potentially lining myself up for selling hours in my business. Your Value-Based Pricing model has given me a fresh and positive outlook for amazing client relationships to come. I understand that you can’t single-handedly put a finger on exact prices for everyone, but perhaps a ballpark figure in examples would help? Kind of where I’m at now. I totally get the Value-Based Pricing model now after reading, listening and watching your guide. I’ve organized my service line and am ready to price each offering and…I’m stuck! How is one to know how much each service block should cost?! I understand that expertise is a major factor, as well as determining what you need to make annually to survive based on your AWESOME Income & Pricing Calculator, but a bit of guidance surrounding actual ballpark figures would be a MASSIVE help, just to kick start the process.  —NH

Thanks so much for your feedback. It is MUCH appreciated and I’m so glad my guide is helping you. 🙂

Regarding the ballpark figures, it is HIGHLY against U.S. antitrust laws to provide even ballpark figures.

We just aren’t allowed to do that in the U.S. Having any kind of conversations about setting fees within an industry (which constitutes price-fixing), it’s a very serious, prosecutable offense.

I know it sounds crazy because it seems like such an innocuous thing, and I know that we do see pricing conversations going on in the industry occasionally; however, that’s only because those people engaging in those conversations are ignorant of antitrust laws and the serious consequences involved.

When I first heard about antitrust and price-fixing in relation to our industry back in 2004 or so, I didn’t want to take anyone’s word for anything so I investigated myself.

I’m a firm believer in going straight to the source to get the facts, not hearsay and opinion from those who don’t know, so I spoke with our state attorney general office, as well as two federal attorneys with the U.S. Dept. of Justice Antitrust Division.

They assured me that talking about fees within one’s industry with colleagues was no small matter (e.g., how much to charge, starting prices, coming up with standardized fees), and those offenses are taken very seriously.

In fact, after explaining how new people in our industry didn’t know what to charge and that it was common to see conversations where colleagues were talking about how much to charge, etc., they started trying to get me to give them specifics, asking for names and where these discussions were taking place. They were not amused. It was very scary!

The bottom line is that we absolutely cannot have pricing conversations as it goes against our entire system of free and open competition and carries very serious criminal penalties if found to be engaging in them.

The other thing I wanted to mention is there is no “should” when it comes to pricing. It’s whatever you deem appropriate and well worth what you offer and the results and benefits you achieve for clients.

Of course, there are considerations to take into account when setting your fees. Here’s a blog post that might be some additional help to you with that:

How Do You Price Your Service?

Beyond basic business economics and practical matters (i.e., profitability), pricing is largely a marketing effort.

And what is marketing but simply the communication process of educating and informing your audience of would-be clients and illuminating for them what you do, who you do it for, how it helps them and all that they can expect to gain by working with you (as well as what they stand to lose if they don’t).

When you get good at articulating that value to potential clients and helping them to see and understand that value in the context of their own business and life, the sky is the limit with regard to what you can charge.

But only YOU can decide what that will be. No else is allowed to tell you, not even a ballpark starting point.

Stop with the Money-Back Guarantees

Stop with the Money-Back Guarantees

Stop with the “100% money-back guarantee” on your service. You’re not selling a ShamWow, for crying out loud! Your blood, sweat and tears do not come with a money-back offer.

Plus, there are theories of law at play here.

Ideally, you have great skills and do great work for clients. But whether someone likes the work or not is a completely different value from the fact that they engaged you to do the work.

By law, you are entitled to be paid for work you were engaged to do, as long as you made every good faith effort and held up your end of the bargain.

Whether they like the end result is something else entirely. And they aren’t entitled to 100% of their money back on that.

Plus, think about it. You’d have to hold those funds aside and deprive yourself of their use until the end of whatever period you’ve given.

That’s ridiculous!

Clients who don’t like your work have the same recourse we all do:  to express our dissatisfaction and give the provider an opportunity to do better and/or stop working with that provider any further and take our business elsewhere. Simple as that.

It’s up to all of us to do our homework and choose service providers wisely, with quality in mind, not cheapness.

We usually get what we pay for in this life, and when clients cheap out, they shouldn’t be surprised when that’s the kind of quality they get in return. They just aren’t going to get a Rolls Royce for the price of a Ford, no way no how.

You, on the other hand, as a conscientious service provider of integrity who cares about your clients and doing good work can offer to redo any work that a client isn’t satisfied with.

But beyond that, you need to stop prostrating yourself and begging and bribing people to work with you.

You’re offering a service and knowledge work, not selling products that can be returned to the shelves.