Archive for the ‘Living Your Best Life’ Category

It’s Not All About the Money

It's Not All About the Money

Saw a headline the other day: Rihanna is NOT happy with people playing Pokemon Go during her concerts.

Some might say, They paid their money. Why should she care whether people are paying attention or not? She’s raking in the dough either way.

Because it’s the same for any of us who give of ourselves to people and care about our craft and what we deliver, whatever our business may be:

It’s not all about the money.

We’re not mindless robots or vending machines. Each of us is a feeling, caring person playing our heart out for clients.

We want to be valued and treated with human dignity and respect and shown some courtesy and appreciation, regardless of the money.

No amount of money is worth playing for an unappreciative audience.

We all deserve to be paid AND have clients with the good manners and grace to realize there is a person on the other side of the computer.

Dear Danielle: What Is the Best Approach to Physically Obtain Quality Clients?

Dear Danielle: What Is the Best Approach to Physically Obtain Quality Clients?

Dear Danielle:

I am very new to the Administrative Consulting business although I have almost 20 years of experience supporting senior-level executives. I agree with you that we are so much more than “virtual assistants” and I would like to attract customers who understand that and value what we bring to the table, if you will. Therefore, my question to you is now that I’ve created a website and all other social media accounts, what is the best approach to physically obtain quality clients? Eventually, I may narrow my target but for now, my target is Small Business Owners. Thank you. —ND

Hi, ND. Welcome and thanks for reaching out. :)

Sounds like you’ve got the perfect background and a solid body of experience to offer clients. Wonderful!

Of course, there’s much more to business than simply knowing how to support clients and do the work, as you realize.

Learning how to run, manage and market a business and get actual clients (much less good ones) is a whole other skillset and area of education in and of itself.

This is why your question is more of a training one, rather than something that can be answered in a simple blog post.

It requires a more in-depth, systematic process of learning to understand the components, dynamics, and psychology involved.

To get that kind of knowledge and learning, I will refer you to my step-by-step self-paced training guide I created specifically for that purpose: How to Build a Website that WORKS!

This guide is centered around your website because your website IS the critical link in connecting your marketing and networking to actually getting clients, and not just any clients, but the kind of clients you want to reach: quality clients who understand your value.

This involves pre-educating your site visitors so they are in the right mindset, setting the right expectations, and prequalifying clients to help ensure you are productively spending your time in consultation with your most ideal and likely client candidates.

In the process of going through the steps and exercises, my guide also gives you a crash-course in inbound marketing because the two go hand-in-hand. You can’t set up an effective website and conversion system that gets results unless you understand all the components and mechanics involved.

Another thing I show you how to do in my guide is how to articulate your value and write your marketing message (and I have a clever system that helps you do that, no writing talent required; couldn’t be easier).

This is where having a target market is absolutely vital.

If there are any “secrets” in business and getting clients (and there aren’t), this is it.

And that’s because it’s not so much a “secret” as it is an area of misunderstanding and resistance for so many people.

You mention that right now your target is “small business owners.” But that isn’t a target at all, you see.

“Small business owners” is merely a demographic, and a very vague, general one at that which isn’t going to be helpful to you in any meaningful way whatsoever in creating a compelling marketing message and getting those ideal clients who value what you do.

It’s like saying “people” are your target market. That’s literally anyone and everyone in the world — which is the opposite of a target market (which by definition is a specific market).

A target market is simply an industry/field/profession that you cater your administrative support to. That’s it. However, it’s a vitally important component in getting those quality, ideal clients who understand your value that you wish for.

And this is where people struggle because they resist the idea that they actually expand their attractiveness and opportunities if they narrow their focus to one specific group.

Because here’s the thing: you can’t articulate your value in any truly meaningful, compelling way until you know who it is you are providing that value to. And that requires you to decide what industry/field/profession that will be.

Because it’s all relative.

Your value — what you provide, the solutions you offer, how you deliver those solutions and the results you create — all depends on who your audience (i.e., target market) is: who they are, what their commons interests, needs, challenges and goals are, what work they do in their profession, how their businesses are run, who their clients are, how they get those clients, and so much more.

You have to decide who it is you specifically intend to help in order to identify, understand and articulate your value in a way that speaks to these things as it relates to them. Otherwise, all you’ll ever accomplish (by trying to create a message for anyone and everyone) is being generic and forgettable.

To stand out, to create real meaning, to get focus and direction for your message and your marketing, you need specificity.

That specificity (i.e., deciding on a target market to cater your administrative support to) is what is not only going to get you more ideal clients who value what you do, it’s also going to make your business and marketing easier, you’ll have an easier time charging higher fees and making more money, and you’ll be able to get more clients more quickly and easily.

If you haven’t yet, be sure to download my free guide on How to Choose Your Target Market.

Start there, decide on a target market and then get my marketing/website guide, and you’ll be well on your way to getting those ideal, quality clients who absolutely understand how valuable you can be to them.

Dear Danielle: Client Is a No-Show, What Should I Do Now?

Dear Danielle: Client Is a No-Show, What Should I Do?

Dear Danielle:

I’m sitting here waiting for a local client to show up in my office to pick up their “rush” job that they wanted me to drop everything for yesterday. I worked on this project for them until well past midnight. They said they would be here to collect my work at a certain time. I’ve been waiting now for over three hours with no sign of them, much less a phone call. I’m fuming! And this isn’t the first time this has happened. How should I handle this? –NT

What I don’t understand is why people in our industry seem to think “local” has to mean “in-person.”

Why treat local clients differently than you would clients in any other part of the world?

It shouldn’t matter where the clients operate or how you initially met them.

None of your business and transactions require you to have an office or do anything in-person. All of your business, local and otherwise, can be conducted “online” (i.e., via email, shared file drive, Skype, delivery, etc.).

I would even tell you it should all be done that way if you want to manage the business efficiently and have more time available for billable work and clients.

Think, really think, about just how much of your business resources are used up doing anything in-person for one client: the scheduling time, the travel to and from, time preparing, time spent getting professionally presentable, the time it takes away from your other clients and paying work, the loss of concentration and interruption of workflow…

In-person work and meetings cost vastly more in any business, even more so ours, because they take up much more time and energy. You can work with 10 x the number of clients — and make more money — in one hour of online time vs. one-hour of in-person time with one client.

If you’re going to do anything in-person with clients, you can charge a MUCH higher premium because it is a special service and consideration outside your normal operating procedures.

Doesn’t matter if a client is local. I don’t allow them to come to my home/office to drop off or pick up documents.

That’s what couriers, delivery services, the mail, and online shared document drives are for.

And I set those expectations upfront before I ever work with them.

I accomplish this by having a client intake/onboarding process.

This involves giving them a New Client Welcome Kit that explains things work in my business and what the policies and procedures are for working together, and then going over these things with them in a new client orientation meeting (which is done over the phone or Skype).

I certainly wouldn’t allow a client to continue to disrespect and abuse my time. Remember, we train people how to treat us. Trust me, you and your business will benefit greatly by nipping this practice in the bud.

So here’s what I would do:

  • Be direct and let this client know that you have an expectation that your time is respected in the same way you respect theirs.
  • Discontinue this ill-conceived idea of doing in-person work and transactions.
  • Draft a letter to your local clients and let them know that you’re implementing new policies and procedures in your business that ultimately allow you to serve them better. Point out that you are discontinuing the policy of office pickups and drop-offs, and that anything that can’t be sent back and forth electronically or via online shared directory in some way, may be couriered (or mailed, or whatever) to and from your office.
  • Adopt a special rush fee policy and get that into your contracts (this is already included in our contract templates from the ACA Success Store).
  • Send an official communication out to all your clients that rush projects may incur extra fees at your discretion.
  • Alternatively, you can also make it a standard in your business not to accept any rush work and require clients to plan ahead within your specified guidelines. (That doesn’t mean you can’t still help out a great client in a pinch if you so choose, but you want it to the exception, not the rule.)
  • Reevaluate your clients and consider firing the bad ones who can’t get with the program and consistently demonstrate a lack of appreciation and respect for you. Just because you have a policy to penalize bad clients doesn’t mean you should keep working with them. They are demoralizing and de-energizing to your business and exact a heavy toll that none of us in solo practice can afford. 😉
  • Start an Ideal Client list and an Un-Ideal Client list. Write down all the traits and characteristics of an ideal client for you (e.g., has no problem working together virtually, respects my time, follows my policies and procedures). Then write down all the traits and characteristics of all the bad clients you’ve had (e.g., disrespects my time, doesn’t show up or follow through when they say they will, is constantly disorganized and in a rush, always wants me to do rush work, but then doesn’t appreciate it when I do, wants everything yesterday…). You get the idea. Keep updating and honing these lists throughout the life of your business. Pull them out anytime you need to remember why you are in business for yourself and what you want for your life and happiness, and any time you are tempted to step over your standards and take on a client who exhibits any of those red flags.

Always Remember Your Why

Always remember your why.

WHY are you in this business?

What do you want as a result of being in business? What do you hope it will achieve for you in your life?

What do you want your life each day to look and feel like?

Why do you do the things you do, and in the way that you do them?

What kind of pace do you want to work at? What kind of pace will allow you to do your best work for clients, the kind of work that makes them go “Damn! THANK YOU!” and gets real results for them, beyond what they even imagined or thought to ask for?

What kind of standards, boundaries, policies and protocols are you setting up in your business that allow you to have the kind of pace you want in your work and life?

Are you actually following and honoring the standards, boundaries, policies and protocols you’ve set up, or do you step over them and allow clients to as well? How is that serving you?

How are you choosing your clients? Are you taking on any ol’ client you can get or engaging in steps to ensure you working with ideal clients so that you can work to the standards you have in place for your business and life?

Are you working with them in ways that allow you to actually accomplish your standards, ideals and goals. Are you settling, or do you say “no” to anything that is not in support of them?

Always remember your why and set your business up so you can create the business and life you want.

Are There People Around You Who Want to Keep You from Growing?

Are There People Around You Who Want to Keep You from Growing?

I was listening to This American Life this weekend on the radio as is my usual Saturday morning ritual.

One segment, Mon Ami Ta-Nehisi Coates, had me reflecting about how your life and world-view changes when you are in business, and how some of your relationships can change (or even end) as you grow and perhaps make more money and become more successful in your business and life.

In the segment, producer Neil Drumming talks with his long-time friend, Ta-Nehisi Coates, about Coates’ newfound fame and their friendship in that new context.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, for those who don’t know, is a celebrated American writer and journalist who has been hailed as the next James Baldwin. With the publishing of his latest book, he found himself suddenly famous and rich, which doesn’t always set well with those who “knew you when.”

The overarching take-away I got from their conversation was Drumming’s discomfort with Coates success and improved financial circumstances.

It seemed to me he felt that Coates “newfound” tastes and interests were pretentious, that he was getting a bit uppity simply for enjoying the fruits of his success, that since he came from more modest roots, that’s exactly where his tastes and interests should stay.

But whose problem is that? Is it Coates’ or Drumming’s?

Think about that.

Whether Coates’ success was something he methodically sought to achieve or came as an unexpected surprise, why shouldn’t he be interested in and partake of experiences he now has access to?

If the shoe were on the other foot, wouldn’t Drumming (and anyone else) do the same?

Or would he deprive himself of all this life and success now afforded him just to please other people’s sensibilities of who and how he should be in the world and what status level he should keep himself at? Why should he do that?

I see this dynamic at work in our industry as well.

Those in my circle have grown a more sophisticated sense about business and our place in the business world.

As a result, we ditched the “assistant” moniker long ago because it held us back in our business dealings and earning potential by keeping us mired in employee/less-than/subservient mentality, even in ways we weren’t fully conscious of.

Business owners aren’t assistants; the word isn’t even a term of business so it has no place in our vocabulary.

It also negatively influenced clients, causing them to think of the relationship more in terms of employer/worker instead of (correctly) a business-to-business one.

So, we grew in our esteem and understanding of ourselves in relationship to our clients. We weren’t their assistants or little worker bees. We are their skilled administrative experts and trusted administrative advisors.

But there are others in the world who are threatened by that view.

They fear taking a bigger, leading role in their business and in their relationships with clients. They want to stay in comfort zones that are easy and familiar, that don’t rock any boats, that don’t challenge themselves or others too much.

They are fine with settling, for not asking for “too much.” Because, to their thinking, who are they to desire something more or better or stand any taller than anyone else? They aren’t able to imagine anything more or better or different for themselves; they daren’t. Because that would mean stepping away from the herd.

And that’s okay if that’s where they’re at and want to stay.

What’s not okay is for them to want and insist that you hold yourself back and stay at their level if you are yearning to grow, to have a happier business, to get better clients, to make more money, to have more life, to place a higher value on what you do and how you help clients, to learn how to charge more for that, and to call yourself something that better respects your role as a business owner and sets better expectations and understandings in your clients.

How about you? Can you think of a few people who are a negative, detrimental influence in your pursuit of your business dreams and growth? A friend or family member who belittles them and consciously or unconsciously sabotages your efforts?

Maybe you’re hanging around in groups and surrounding yourself with others who keep you from thinking bigger about what you do, who don’t know any better.

I’m not even saying it’s necessarily intentional or conscious on their part. That just seems to be the nature of herd mentality: keeping the status quo, nurturing mediocrity, attacking anything they don’t understand (yet). It’s instinctive.

But if you are going to grow in your business, if you are going to get better clients, if you going to ever learn how to ask for and get higher fees, to believe in and understand the higher value you offer and how to provide the context that conveys those things to your would-be clients, it’s going to require you to break away from the herd.

I’m Back from my Sundance Festival Road Trip!

I'm Back from My Sundance Festival Road Trip!

I’m back from my Sundance Festival road trip and it was amazing!

I had so much fun and packed so much stuff into a short time frame (left on January 26 and got back Feb 2).

I posted pix of my explorations on our ACA Facebook group. Come join us there if you’d like to take a look. (Note: If you request to join and your profile doesn’t provide any info about your administrative support business, be sure you also message me either on Facebook or by email.)

I just LOVE road trips. Travelling by car is my favorite way to travel because you can go at your own pace, stop when you feel like checking something out, and see cities and countryside up close and personal that you haven’t before.

It’s a much more intimate way to travel and see and explore places that would be bypassed in any other mode of travel.

Some of my road trip highlights:

  • Um, attending the SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL!
  • Meeting and talking with all kinds of interesting industry people from actors to a film composer to filmmakers and others who work behind the camera.
  • Having Robert Redford walk past me so close we actually touched. And yes, he is handsome as ever.
  • Also, walking past George Lucas as he was exiting one of the many celebrity Suburbans that began showing up later in the day on Main St.
  • Shopping for souvenirs and gifts.
  • Having an amazing pedicure in Park City.
  • Getting restaurant recommendations from locals and eating at some amazing places including some fantastic greasy spoons. (For anyone not familiar with the term, a greasy spoon is a high honor. It’s the kind of establishment that is usually locally/independently owned where typically fresh/home-cooked type food is served. These are often the BEST places on the planet for amazing down-home breakfast served any time of day.) I highly recommend No Worries Cafe in Park City.
  • Seeing the Great Salt Lake in person for the first time (I’ve only ever seen it by plane other than that).
  • Seeing country in Oregon, Washington and Idaho I’ve never been to before.
  • Oh, and lots of new souvenir travel magnets to commemorate my travels and explorations!

I'm Back from My Sundance Festival Road Trip

And it was scary crazy how everything worked out so perfectly. This was a totally spontaneous decision to go. I hadn’t actually registered for Sundance this year, didn’t know if I’d be able to even see any films (and if I didn’t, I was okay with that; it was enough just to go), and I thought there was no way in hell there would be any hotel rooms left, especially not without any advance reservation (and if there were, they’d cost a million dollars; most rooms start at $500 during festival week and go up into the thousands.).

I just left and trusted that everything would work out the way it was supposed to. And it did!

Everyone I talked to could not believe how lucky I was. When there were still hundreds of people on waiting lists for tickets, for some reason I scored seats. And the first hotel I called actually had a room available. For some inexplicable reason, they put me in a $500 room and only charged me $129/night (I stayed two nights). The only thing I can think is that I really hit it off with the gal I spoke to on the phone. She loved how I had just hopped in the car and took off.

This trip was also one of personal growth as well as it was the first time I’ve traveled such a distance (3 states!) all by myself.

Since I’d never done anything like this before alone, it was scary to me in a lot of ways.

And I aced it! Not one bit of anxiety being that far from home by myself and not one pang of homesickness (other than being ready for my own comfy cozy bed after a week).

I gained a huge sense of accomplishment and empowerment. It was a reminder to me that the world is my oyster and I can do anything I set my mind to do (and have).

And while I do love travelling with a partner, I also enjoy my own company and meeting and talking to new people immensely.

This trip was a precursor to a bigger plan I’ve had brewing for several years, which is to travel the U.S. (first) and some parts of Canada, meeting my members and colleagues, and seeing the country by car.

I’ve sort of kept it on the down-low because I wasn’t quite sure how to go about it. I’m also not one of those people who benefits from putting plans out there as a way to make me accountable to myself. The minute I do that, I get blocked, so I just don’t. And life also simply got in the way.

First, we moved to Europe for a couple years. Then six months after we returned to the U.S. for good, I left my man of 12 years which was a huge, life-changing decision. Then I wasn’t sure how to even undertake something like this all by myself. And then my dad’s health took a turn for the worse and I had to put him first and help care for him.

Once we got dad’s health stabilized in January, I decided to make this trip to do something for me to recharge and renew.

I'm Back from My Sundance Festival Road Trip

I’ve long been a lover and devotee of independent film so it was perfect timing and the festival gave me a great destination focal point.

And besides being a business networking/writing retreat, I had also wanted to try to meet a few colleagues along the way. This trip was pretty much a spur-of-the-moment decision and since I announced it so last minute (like, the day I was leaving, lol), by the time I had heard from three Portland area colleagues, I was already near Idaho.

So, I did learn a lot of things in this first trip which are going to help me in my next member/colleague meeting travels:

  1. After a certain point, you have to stop planning and trying to identify every little detail and JUST DO IT! There’s no way you can figure everything out upfront and too much planning can easily become a procrastination vehicle.
  2. One of the things that was stopping me before was trying to figure out how I was going to accomplish a full cross-country trip. What I realize now is that the best way I’m going to accomplish it is doing it in different legs, not all in one shot. For example, I’m thinking my next trip will be down the Pacific coast and/or I5 corridor through Oregon and California and than maybe over to Nevada with a turn-around for the return leg of the trip in Sedona, NM. I haven’t completely figured out how I’ll work any midwest and east coast and southern legs, but I’m thinking for those trips, it might make sense to fly somewhere once I’ve mapped out that particular travel route, and then rent or lease a vehicle there. Anything west of the midwest states, I can use my own car.
  3. I love to travel and I can and have continued running my business and taking care of clients on the road (even in a different country). However, I do work best from my main command center (my home office, lol) and the luxury of my big main computer. I do not prefer working on a laptop. I can and have, but it’s not how I do my best work. In recognizing this, I can plan accordingly. And all the more reason why I will benefit from doing these trips in mini-stages instead of one long stretch. That way, I can come back to home base, regroup and then go on the next leg of the journey at a time that’s optimal for me.
  4. I need to figure out how to monetize the venture so that besides the expenses being a business write-off, it also funds itself instead of just being an expense. That includes putting more focus and attention on sales from the ACA Success Store. I’m thinking that in addition to just meeting up with my industry mentors and colleagues, I could offer some paid in-person, day or half-day consulting and coaching spots for those who want to take advantage of the opportunity while I’m in their city or town.
  5. There are people who are super smart about getting sponsors and things like that for trips like this. I would love to learn more about that, but currently I’m not one of them and I’m okay with that about myself right now. And the thing is, I don’t really want to make a huge production out of things. Because once that becomes the case, for me, it takes the joy out of it and then I don’t want to do it. I can’t let not having sponsors to make these trips pay for themselves be the thing that stops me from doing it.
  6. I need to find the balance between being spontaneous (which is what “does it” for me) and not having everything turned into a big production, and planning and making announcements with enough advance notice that people CAN have enough time to plan on meeting up when I’m in their city. What I know about myself, bad or good, is that I am commitment phobic, lol. Not about taking care of clients or anything like that. I don’t know where it comes from (though it does seem to be something I developed when my first/late husband passed away nearly 20 years ago). I just know that the minute I have to RVSP to something is the second I absolutely, positively don’t want to go. I know, it’s crazy. But that’s just me. Therefore, I know I wouldn’t do well making a big deal out of planning a meet-up, securing a specific venue or conference room, yada, yada, yada. Yuck! I hate that stuff! I like to keep things casual, informal, personal. What I envision is letting my peeps know (on the blog, via the ACA mailing list, etc.) that I am close to their city and inviting them to contact me to meet up. Then when I hear from someone, asking them where a great spot would be to get together, a fun restaurant or pub or something, and once we decide that, inviting others in the area to join us. Casual, see?

I don’t have it all figured out. I don’t know how it will all work out. And I don’t have any specific time frames right now. But that’s where all the magic, fun and adventure of it is!

If I was to come to your area, would you like to meet up for a meal, do something fun together, or maybe be my tour guide for a day? What do you like to do for fun and/or what would you show me in your city? I’m game for just about anything. (Except skydiving. I have no desire to skydive and I’m okay with that, lol.)

Would you love an opportunity for private, one-on-one, in-person business consulting and guidance if I came to your city? I’m exceptionally gifted at identifying where people need help in their business, but tell me, what areas of your business would YOU like more help with?

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!

25 Ways to Get More Ideal, Well-Paying Clients

baddog

One of the biggest complaints people voice in our industry (the administrative support business) are clients who are a pain in the ass, otherwise known as PIAs, or more gently, un-ideal clients.

Bad clients are also one of the biggest business killers.

One bad client (particularly in a new business) can suck up all your resources and destroy profit—and your morale—to the point of no return.

Despite your best efforts, it’s possible to end up with a rotten apple once in awhile.

Far more often, however, it is we who create the conditions that bring un-ideal clients into our lives in the first place.

You have far more control in this area than you may realize. So, here’s a list that will help you have more ideal, joy-to-work-with clients who help your business grow and thrive:

  1. Own your role. Bad clients don’t happen to you. You’re the one who took them on and continues to work with them. Acknowledge that so you can fix it and start doing things differently from this point forward.
  2. Trust your gut. If you have a bad feeling or see red flags, pay attention. Your instincts will never fail you.
  3. Treat and respect your business like a business. When you do, your prospects and clients will as well.
  4. Have self-respect. Don’t beg, bribe and prostrate yourself to get clients. The only clients who are attracted to desperate people are bad clients.
  5. Don’t be so instantly available. Have a process that prospects go through to become clients. It’s an indicator that you are a professional, successful business, and that is going to attract professional, successful prospects. Anyone who is in a rush and wants to sidestep your processes is never an ideal client, and a process helps screen those folks out. Better clients know and expect that there will a process and that it’s essential to getting the best help and making sure there’s a mutual fit.
  6. Never take on work or clients just for the money. This is where 90% of the problems start in the first place.
  7. Have standards. For example, choosing to work only with honest, ethical people is a standard. What others can you think of? Write them down and hang this list where you’ll see it every day.
  8. Set proper expectations. Remember, you’re not running a mass consumer, assembly-line business like McDonald’s. You’re running a professional service firm where there is a personal, ongoing relationship with each client. Sometimes clients can seem un-ideal because you haven’t properly managed their expectations. When you don’t thoroughly inform them about how things work in your business, they somehow think it’s their place to make up their own rules (wrong!). Similar to raising children, if we are too permissive, over-promise, or establish policies that we can’t humanly sustain on a consistent basis (such as 24-hour, on-demand, instant assistance), we can turn clients into spoiled brats who throw tantrums the second you don’t instantly jump at their request. Picture your business with a full roster of retained clients. What kind of turn-around and communication policies does that business need to take great care of all your clients, consistently and reliably, now and in the future, without burning you out in the process because you have no room to breathe or have a life? Set your policies accordingly.
  9. Set policies, procedures and protocols. These are relationship-preservers that bring order to your business, ensure it runs smoothly and gives you the space you need to take fantastic care of all your clients, evenly, consistently and reliably. Without this structure, clients can quickly turn into monsters we dread dealing with.
  10. Establish boundaries. Besides helping ensure your business runs smoothly so you can do great work for all your clients, your policies and protocols also establish boundaries. For example, having formal office hours between 9 am and 5 pm is a policy that also sets a boundary that tells clients you are running a professional business that opens and closes at certain hours, and they may not expect you to be working past those times. See? Boundary.
  11. Honor your standards, boundaries and protocols. Here again is where we’re often our own worst enemy. We go to the trouble of identifying our standards and boundaries, and then step over them or allow clients to. Stop that! These things are in place to ensure you have a happy business and happy clients. Ignore them at your peril.
  12. Know who your ideal client is. Start an Ideal Client Profile. This is a list of all the traits, characteristics and demographics of the kind of person you really enjoy working with, who you work best with, and who benefits most from working with you. Keep adding to and refining this list throughout the life of your business. This formalizing exercise helps you get more clear, conscious and intentional about who you want to attract and focus on in your business.
  13. Start an UN-ideal Client Profile. Likewise, as you grow in your business, you are going to get more and more clear about who is not the right fit for you, with whom you don’t enjoy working. List these traits and red flags so that you can better recognize those folks when they appear on your doorstep—and quickly and politely send them away. Anytime you are tempted to step over your standards, pull this list out to remind yourself why that’s never a good idea.
  14. Work with business people rather those who are employees themselves. Business people get it. Non business people are more often going to be difficult to work with because they aren’t coming from a business context and don’t understand the proper business etiquette and rules of engagement.
  15. Have a target market. A target market is simply an industry/field/profession that you cater your administrative support to. Having one will make everything in your business easier. It will also help you get better, more ideal clients.
  16. Have a proper business website. Your website isn’t merely an online brochure. When you have a proper website that informs, educates and markets you like a business, it’s a powerful influence in the clients you attract and how those clients approach you in a proper business context. It helps set expectations and prequalify clients so you get more ideal business people contacting you. The image it presents, the message it conveys, and the process it takes them through set a precedent that is going to attract either ideal or un-ideal clients to you. If you want better clients, have a better website.
  17. Stop marketing yourself like a substitute employee. Face it, if people are approaching you like a potential employer instead of a client, it’s because you aren’t educating them properly. If you don’t want clients who want to pay peanuts and treat you like their substitute, beck-and-call, under-the-table employee they don’t pay taxes on, then you have to stop marketing yourself like one. Model your marketing message more like that of other independent professionals (attorneys, accountants and consultants are good examples). Just like you, these are people who have a specific expertise and solve specific problems. In our case, you want to position yourself as an administrative expert who can get results and help them accomplish their goals, not some order-taking worker bee. Why? Because people don’t see worker bees as experts. They see them as pawns. And experts aren’t pawns, they’re partners. The marketplace doesn’t expect to pay much for a pawn, but they DO expect to pay well for an expert who has valuable skill, expertise, insight and support to share with them. So reframe your marketing message to position yourself as their administrative expert (not their gopher), and you’ll get better, more well-paying clients.
  18. Have a consultation process. And I don’t mean some penny-ante 15-minute chat. That is NOT going to help you or the client whatsoever. I’m talking about a full and proper consultation process that begins before a prospect ever contacts you. Not only does this process help you prequalify prospective clients for mutual fit, it also helps them take your business more seriously.
  19. Always use a (proper) contract. A contract is a relationship-preserver as well in that it helps everyone remember and honor their agreements to each other. A contract helps clients respect you as a business, and a respectful client is an ideal client.
  20. Have a Client Guide. Formalize your policies, procedures and prototols into a written Client Guide that you give to all new and current clients. Part of setting and managing expectations is making sure you are informing clients about how things work in your business. None of us are mindreaders and neither are your clients. If you want your relationship with clients to go smoothly and ideally, you have to inform them of what that means, how things work in your business and what is expected of them (remember, it’s a two-way street; it’s not all about their needs).
  21. Conduct a New Client Orientation with new retained clients before you begin working together to go over and clarify the information in your Client Guide and answer any questions they may have. Do this with existing clients as well whenever your business undergoes significant changes. This further supports your efforts in educating clients about the nature of the relationship, setting and managing expectations, how things work in your business and what the standards, policies, protocols and procedures are for working together.
  22. Issue formal announcements to all your clients whenever there is a change in your business. Whenever you make changes or improvements to your business and how you do things, don’t mention these things in passing. Make it formal. Send out a formal business communication to your clients on company letterhead as well as any ezine and blog you publish. Here again, you’re reinforcing the business aspect of your relationship and treating the business like a business which then influences how clients treat you and respect the relationship.
  23. Raise your rates. When you’re cheap and there is no barrier to entry for working with you, you get cheap, un-ideal clients. It’s an immutable law of business that when you raise your rates, you get better, more ideal clients. It’s a way to sort the wheat from the chaff in prequalifying clients.
  24. Face difficult conversations. It will only be worse for both of you the longer you wait. However, the quicker you are to face difficult conversations, the more often those relationships can be turned around for the better. You can learn many new positive things and possibly keep a client .
  25. Let go of un-ideal clients quickly. They’ll keep you buried in the muck and you’ll never grow or move forward if you continue to work with them. Un-ideal clients are highly unprofitable to work with and suck up three times the space in your practice compared to ideal clients. They cost your business far more than you realize; you can’t afford the psychological toll they take. You have to let go of the bad and un-ideal to make room for the better and more ideal.
  26. Bonus Tip: Stop calling yourself an assistant. Who you attract is all about your marketing. And what is the essence of marketing? Words: the words you choose and the way you use them. Marketing is about educating, setting expectations and getting the right clients to see and understand you and the relationship the way you need them to. The words you choose to call yourself have a direct influence in that. The fact is, people only understand the word assistant one way: employee. So when you call yourself an assistant, you’re telling them you are some sort of employee. When they think you’re an employee, they want to treat you like one. And when you call yourself an assistant, causing their perception to be that you are some sort of substitute employee, you predispose them to balk at your fees because they expect to pay you no more than an employee. If you want more ideal clients, it’s not enough to change how you work with clients  and insist that you’re a business owner. You have to stop calling yourself a term that contradicts that message. When you do, you’ll get better, more well-paying clients.

Pinch Yourself Today, Right Now

Pinch Yourself Today, Right Now

I was chatting online with a long-time colleague yesterday, someone whom I greatly like and admire.

I asked how business was going for her since we hadn’t had a chance to catch up in awhile.

This colleague has always invested in herself and her business. She’s purchased my entire system of business success products and if I remember correctly, taken all my training classes as well, and she is doing all kinds of fantastic!

I didn’t want to say how proud I was of her (though I am) because that sounds so condescending. So I said I hoped she realized how stinkin’ proud of all that she’s accomplished she should be because SHE did this!

And I hope YOU are taking time regularly for “pinch myself” moments to honor and celebrate all that you’ve accomplished in your business journey as well.

I call them “pinch myself” moments because even having been in this business for nearly 20 years, I frequently marvel at just how fortunate I am to be living this lifestyle that my business affords me. And I “pinch” myself in gratitude that YES, this is REAL, this is my real life and I DID IT!

All anyone (myself included) can do is give you our best help, knowledge and guidance, but it’s YOU who makes it all happen in your own life and business.

So take a moment, right now, to celebrate all your accomplishments, every step you’ve conquered, every action you’ve taken, every fear you’ve faced, no matter how big or seemingly insignificant. Because they are all equally important in your journey.

Every time you learn a difficult lesson, every time you face down something you were scared of, that intimidated you or you felt daunted by, you make progress toward your goals for self determination and independence. And you grow not only in your business, but personally as well.

Do You Want a Job or a Business?

Do You Want a Job or a Business?

People come into this profession with dreams of a lifestyle different than the normal 9-5 grind, to have more freedom and flexibility in their lives—and then they create a business that allows them to have anything but those things.

One of the reasons this happens is because they’re being taught and advised by training organizations to operate like employees.

The most ridiculous thing I read recently is that in managing client expectations and helping them establish trust in you, you shouldn’t “disappear, even for a day or two.”

So let me ask you this:  Do you want a job or a business?

There are lots of ways to manage expectations and instill ever-growing trust in clients.

None of it requires you to operate like an employee.

When you read books like Gerber’s “The E-Myth Revisited,” you learn that the idea is to create a business that operates by system and doesn’t necessarily require you to be the one doing the work.

However, there’s nothing wrong with you being the one doing the work.

Many (perhap even most) people go into self-employed business to practice their craft for reasons beyond money.

It has just as much to do with soul. They get a kind of deeper personal satisfaction they just can’t experience in any other situation. Doing work they love and enjoy brings them a richness of meaning, purpose and spirit in their lives.

Even the wealthy will tell you, you can make all the money in the world and not have to work another day in your life, but it’s an empty, joyless existence without the purpose and fullfillment of actual, meaningful work.

God bless those who love to pull up their sleeves and make their living in a more direct, one-on-one, hands-on way!

But that doesn’t mean they have to sacrifice the desire to have the same kind of freedom and earning potential that other businesses strive for.

There’s a way to be a solopreneur where you can do the work, but do it in a way that doesn’t require you to be at the daily beck and call of clients. You just have to make some mental shifts in your thinking and understanding about what you are and how you work with clients.

The first of these shifts is getting out of the thinking that the only way you are valuable to a client is if you are there to deal with their every need, every whim, day in and day out.

You have to get out of the stuckness that says your value lies in being in daily, constant contact with clients.

There’s a word for someone like that: it’s called employee. And you DON’T have to operate like that.

If you are operating no differently than the secretary who sits outside the boss’ door, only virtually, you’re going to be in for one rude awakening.

Because not only will you drastically inhibit your earning potential, you’ll learn (the hard way) just what a predicament you’ve created for yourself and your clients.

Eventually, when you want to enjoy the fruits of your labor and get away from the office on a whim, you realize you’ve created a dynamic, no matter how loudly you shout about standards, that just doesn’t leave you much, if any, room to do that.

And funny thing about standards… they have to work well in actual, practical application. They can’t be some lofty theory dreamt up by someone who isn’t doing the same work you do every day of the week.

Stop killing yourself trying to live up to that crap.

Your value is not dependent on whether you don’t disappear for a day or two. That’s crazy!

Who wants to live a life as a business owner and independent professional being held hostage to their phone, desk and clients?

There isn’t a single other solo profession out there that tells its denizens they have to operate like that in order to be of value or service.

You only put yourself in that cage if you believe there is no other way to operate or be of service and value.

Your value isn’t in doing everything for clients. Your value isn’t in being an “instant assistant” and being at their beck-and-call day in and day out.

Your value isn’t how much you do, it’s how much what you do selectively for clients helps them grow, move forward and keep their businesses humming along smoothly.

None of that inherently requires you to be in daily contact or to take on the whole kit and kaboodle to do that. You can be of tremendous value and service taking on just a very specific cross-section of the administrative load that clients carry.

I’m also not sure what makes people think that you can’t have a close, personal, connected relationship with clients without being at their on-demand beck and call day in and day out.

Attorneys do it. Accountants do it. Millions of other solo practitioners have real, meaningful, exceptionally trusting and connected relationships with their clients without being joined at the hip on a daily basis. And so can you.

The trick is to:

  1. Establish policies, systems and processes that give you lots of room to move around and not be at the beck and call of clients, and
  2. Only take on clients and work that are the best fit for those policies, systems and processes.

Part of putting order to chaos and managing client expectations is setting up a system and a promise for how things work consistently and reliably so that clients know what to expect ahead of time, each and every time.

Don’t create expectations that will fence you in and that you can’t sustain. You want to set expectations that you can realistically, consistently and reliably live up to. It’s really as simple as that.

And setting those expectations does not have anything to do with nor require you to be under any client’s thumb on a daily basis.

This is what allows you to build freedom, flexibility and space in your practice which in turns truly does serve clients much better.

By taking even just a few specific tasks or areas of work off their plate, you are allowing them to grow their business, move forward and get things done. That isn’t dependent on whether they hear from you each day or not. It’s all in how YOU decide what expectations to set and how YOU want things to work in your business. You can do all of that without being forced to be at your desk, in your office, each and every cotton-picking minute of every day under the thumb of clients.

Let me tell you how I do that in my practice:

First, when I consult with clients, one of the things I discuss with them is the nature of the relationship. I need to make sure they are 100% clear that they are not hiring an employee, that they are hiring an independent professional no different than if they were hiring an attorney or accountant (which is exactly how I want them to view the relationship and how we’ll be working together). I point out that how and when we work together and my availability to them will necessarily be different than working with an employee.

So, that’s setting expectation #1—making sure the client understands the nature of the relationship, how it’s going to work and how it’s not going to work (i.e., I’m not going to be their secretaryor personal assistant sitting outside your door only virtually).

Next, for setting expectation #2, I talk about how our communications will work. They are free to email any time of day or night, but I let them know upfront what my formal business hours and days are (so that they respect this as a business relationship and don’t expect that I’m going to be dealing with anything outside those times or on days that I am closed) and when to expect a reply.

I promise that they’ll get a response to every communication they send me within 24 business hours, even if it’s just a “received” or “gotcha” or “will do.”

And then I follow-through on that promise. That way they aren’t left scratching their heads wondering if I got the message and it keeps the line of communication flowing. It’s that kind of consistency that grows trust.

I explain that all work requests must be in sent via email because that is the sytem which best allows me to track and prioritize and schedule things. They can use whatever tools they need to in order to submit their requests as long as they result in an email in my IN box.

And if a client doesn’t like any of that, if he or she doesn’t care to communicate by email and prefers another method? They’re not a fit and I don’t work with them. Simple as that.

You gotta stop investing so much in clients who can’t go with your flow. Work with and focus only on those who can.

For setting expectations #3, I explain my 3/7 guide. My 3/7 guide is how I set their expectations with regard to turnaround time.  Within that framework, simple tasks that can be accomplished easily are done within a 3-day turnaround.

Most often, things are done far more quickly than that, but I don’t want clients to start expecting that I’m going to instantly respond to each and every thing immediately. That’s not an expectatation that anyone can promise and deliver consistently, and I don’t want to live or work that way. It’s a recipe for unhappiness and unsustainable promises.

The “7″ part of my guide is for larger, more complex or ongoing projects and work. This is where the client and I regroup every 7 days at our regularly scheduled weekly one-hour meeting. During this meeting, I give them status updates, we talk about progress, new goals, brainstorm, you name it. Sometimes we just shoot the breeze.

I think it’s important to note that I only do client meetings on the same day each week. I don’t hold them willy-nilly throughout the week. Like any other professional, this is how I’ve decided it works in my business.

My business, my schedule. It gives me the time I need to focus on client work the rest of the week without interruption to my concentration, and gives me the space I need to move around as I need to in order to stay energized.

This system gives clients a tangible, reliable idea of how things will work consistently.

It manages their expectations in a way that leaves me great freedom and space to enjoy my work, enjoy them, and get things done far better than I ever could working lucy-goosey at the whim of clients.

And I end up serving them far better in the process. That constancy, that reliability and predictability is what gains their great trust—all without being joined at the hip.

Throughout this process, clients and I are having all kinds of fun, productive and effective email communications. There isn’t any lack of connectedness, and they don’t get all up in arms if they don’t hear from me for a day or two because they already know how things work in my business.

In other words, they know what to expect. And when they know what to expect upfront, you don’t have to inform them of your every move, every second of every day.

This is what the business concept of “managing expectations” is about. When you set things up like this, you CAN “disappear” for a day or two with ease without any client notification or upset. I do it all the time!

If you need help understanding what setting expectations is really about and how to do that in your own practice, please post your questions in the comments below.

And if you want to learn how to employ my complete practice management and business set-up systems to live a similar lifestyle, I’ve got it all written out for you in my guide, Power Productivity and Business Management for Administrative Consultants.

I’m absolutely happy to help in this area because I think it’s a great disservice to let those in our industry continue to think they have to operate like employees in order to be of value and service, which deprives them of the freedom and flexibility they could enjoy that every other business owner dreams of.

Originally posted February 10, 2009.