I work for a small business and the majority of my job is done offsite and remotely. When I came into the business there were no systems in place, no manuals or training tools available and patients accounts were all out of balance. I have worked to restore these areas in addition to the accounts receivables. I am no longer able to ignore the nagging pull to launch out and begin my own administrative support business. However, I feel that I can retain my current employer as a client. I am costing them more I believe. I have been paid by the hour as an employee and it has been a tremendous cost to get things up and running more smoothly. Now that I understand all the inner workings of the business, offered my advice as well as support, I feel my inside job has come to an end. There are many more factors to list but I don’t want to take advantage of your time. Please tell me your thoughts on this. How I should move forward? —Anonymous by request
Thanks for your question.
If you feel you can turn this employer into a client, go for it.
Since you asked me, though, I’m going to let you know why former employers don’t make for the best of clients.
- Employers tend to want to keep working with you in the same old ways. That’s a problem because when you are running a business, there is necessarily going to be a difference in when and how you work together. You can’t be at their instant beck and call the way you were when you worked for them as an employee. They had your undivided time and attention because you were their employee, being paid to be dedicated solely to them 9-5. But as a business owner, you have other clients to serve, other important duties to attend to (or you will have, and you have to operate and plan your business around that eventuality). You simply are not going to be able to work with them in the same way as you did when you were an employee, not if you are going to grow your business and have time and room to work with other clients. And that’s not a transition that many employers are able or willing to make.
- Not all, of course, but generally employers are employers for a reason. Many very specifically want employees who are dedicated solely to their interests and to whom they can dictate hours, roles and duties. Likewise, some workloads simply require in-house dedicated staff. Contrary to popular belief, not every business/client is a good fit for what we do. Trying to fit square pegs into round holes is an effort in futility. Why bang your head against that wall when there are others far more suited to (and interested in) being clients rather than employers?
- Past employers tend to resist changes. They only know you and the relationship they had with you in one context — employee. This can be problematic and make it incredibly difficult for them to see you in a new and different light, which is necessary if the business relationship is going to be successful. It is absolutely vital that clients understand the relationship in a business-to-business context and that there is going to be an entirely different dynamic at play. But past employers tend to be stuck in employer/worker bee mindset and want to keep you in that box and treat the relationship like that. What that means is, instead of extending you professional courtesy and respect and viewing you as their administrative expert and trusted advisor, many can be stuck in a pattern of barking orders at you and thinking it’s their place to dictate everything. A client who doesn’t understand he is a client, not an employer, has a whole different demeanor in his communication and behavior, and not for the better. And that just does not work in a business-to-business relationship.
- Their preconceived notions or relationship with you can limit their thinking and keep you boxed in. When you start a business and consult with fresh potential clients, it so much easier to educate them and manage their expectations in the way you need them to be because you’re working with a clean slate, so to speak.
That said, if you think this employer has good client potential despite the above, there are things you can do to help facilitate a successful new business-to-business relationship:
- Have a consultation process. If you don’t have one, you can get that with my Client Consultation Guide.
- Never take shortcuts with your consultation process. What I mean by that is, many people think because they already know and have a previous relationship with a potential client (such as the case with a former/current employer) they don’t have to conduct a full and thorough consultation. And that’s a really bad idea. Because part of what the consultation process does (at least if you are following my client consultation process) is it helps give proper context for your new business-to-business relationship with each other. This helps employers-turned-clients understand the new relationship so they can treat it and conduct themselves accordingly. It helps these past employers view you not as their employee/worker bee, but respect you as a business owner, someone who is going to now be their administrative partner/expert and trusted advisor. It also helps them understand that there are going to be necessary and significant differences in how and when you work together.
- Have a Client Guide ready to give to new or prospective clients. A client guide is a map, or decoder ring, if you will, written in friendly, positive, client-centric language that informs clients about how things work in your business, what your policies, procedures and protocols are, what your standards and expectations are for working together, and what rights and expectations they may have with regard to the work and results. This is another tool that helps facilitate a successful relationship moving forward and gives former employers/new clients proper context. It helps them see you as a business and no longer their employee. If you don’t already have one, you will get a free Client Guide Template included as a bonus when you purchase Set-01 (the Administrative Support Business Set-Up Success Kit) from the ACA Success Store.
- Have a proper business website and direct your past employer/potential client to it. And by “proper” I mean it is set up and populated with content that will inform and educate prospective clients about what you do, how you do it and how it helps them. This is another way you pre-educate clients in the way you need them to be and set and manage proper business expectations and understandings in them, which in turn helps them view and interact with you as a business owner (and not their employee). If you don’t have a website yet or your current website isn’t getting good results, be sure to check out my Build a Website that WORKS guide. This guide tells you exactly how to create a business website that gets results — i.e., more consult requests and ideal clients.
- Always use a contract. This is another area where people do themselves a huge disservice by taking shortcuts. They think just because they already know the person, they don’t have to go through those motions. But here again, a contract is another tool the use of which extends far beyond its mere practical application. Besides making sure the terms of the relationship are clear and in writing, just having a contract and going through the contract signing process helps former-employers-turned-clients understand the new business-to-business context, which helps ensure a successful working relationship moving forward.
There was something else I wanted to address that is a common misstep for new business owners: thinking your value is all about being cheaper than an employee.
Let me say this loud and clear: your job is not to be cheap.
Your job as a business is to deliver a service that improves the life and business of the client. And that costs whatever it costs.
Value, in the context of a professional service business, is not about discounts and savings and two-for-one specials.
Value is about how the results of your work improves their circumstances and makes business and life better and easier for the client, how it helps them achieve their overall goals and objectives.
This is a frequent topic on my blog so I have a little bit of homework for you. I want you to read these blog posts to help you overcome the scarcity/poverty/employee mindset that new business owners are so commonly susceptible to:
- You Are Not in Business to Be “Money-Saving”
- You Are Not an Expense
- Dear Danielle: Is Telling Clients How They Can Save a Good Thing?
- Your Value Is Not About Dollars and Cents
- How Do You Know What a Client Wants?
In fact, I have a whole category on my blog on this topic that is extremely eye-opening and empowering for everyone: Value Is Not About the Money
And remember that you are not your ideal client. You can’t base your business decisions and fees on what you would pay or could afford to pay.
Because that’s not how your ideal client thinks or operates, and you’ll never build a financially solvent, sustainable or successful business if you stay stuck in that mindset.
Your ideal client is one who is quality-minded and can well afford professional services. This client values administrative support because he understands this is the work that will help achieve his big picture goals and objectives. This client therefore wants a highly-skilled administrative expert and partner (not an order-taker) who will lead, guide and advise him in the administrative process with a view toward results.
As Seth Godin so elegantly put it recently: “You are not a task rabbit. You’re a professional doing unique work that matters.”