Archive for the ‘Positioning’ Category

Bargaining for Your Value Is Doing Nothing for Your Business

Bargaining for Your Value Is Doing Nothing for Your Business

You aren’t going to convince clients to pay your fees because you have taxes and bills to pay.

And telling them you are more affordable because they don’t have to pay for breaks and lunches is not compelling either.

(When is the last time you heard any other business professional use that kind of bargaining to market their expertise?)

All that does is put them even more in cheapskate mentality.

Calling yourself an assistant results in the same.

Your value also has no relation to what you or they charge per hour (and by the way, it’s high time you stopped charging by the hour anyway).

Your value isn’t in how little they pay (stop making that argument or you’ll forever be stuck with cheapskate clients who want everything for little to nothing).

Your value is in what they gain by working with you:

How many more clients are they able to work with? How much more marketing and networking are they able to engage in? How much more are they able to get done in a day, a week, a month? How much more free time do they have to brainstorm, develop their business, or plain live life?

Are they able to get those projects done that have been on the back-burner for forever? Are they finally able to write that book, complete that training program, or write that signature talk they’ve been dreaming of? How much have their revenues increased or have the potential to increase as a result? How many more dollars per year does that represent?

How do they profit in their life from working with you beyond money? How much easier and stress-free are their life and business?

How much are those results and accomplishments worth to them?

THESE are the things to be talking about, not “you only pay for time on task and don’t pay for office equipment, lunches, breaks or vacations.”

Do you see how silly and pedestrian the latter is in comparison?

Which do you think will excite potential clients more and fill them with the sense of abundance and possibility?

Use This Phrase Instead of “General”

Use This Phrase Instead of "General"

Some folks use the term general when they talk about administrative support as a business.

But administrative support is not “general.”

Administrative support is a skillset, expertise and profession in and of itself. It’s the very backbone of every business in the world.

That is anything but “general.” That is something very specific.

Administrative support is also an ongoing relationship with a client; it’s not a one-off project here and there sporadically.

It’s about being an active right-hand in the client’s business and taking on specific areas of work and support for them.

Using the word general to describe your business relegates it to something menial, unimportant, homogeneous (as in same basic humdrum as everybody else), and of not much value.

That’s because general is code for menial which is code for cheap and mundane.

And when clients think of something as menial, they expect to pay paltry fees for it as well.

If you are struggling to get clients who recognize the work you do as valuable, important and beneficial to them, it could be because you are using language that is attracting un-ideal clients and/or putting potential clients in the wrong (i.e., cheapskate) mindset.

When marketing your business, you want to use words that position your business and portray it as something invaluable, not general.

Here’s an alternative to better articulate your value:

If you’re trying to get across the idea that you support clients across the board, instead of using the word general (and I advise anyone who wants to get more well-paying clients to banish that word entirely from your business vocabulary), use the phrase full service.

It has much better connotations about your value proposition and will have a much better impact on your marketing and the client perceptions it sets.

Take a look at your website today. Examine the conversation you are having with clients and the words you’re using.

Will you be making some changes?

Delete “Self-Employed Worker” from Your Business Vocabulary

Delete "Self-Employed Worker" from Your Business Vocabulary

Do you want clients who treat you like their beck-and-call employee or as a trusted business professional delivering a valuable expertise?

If it’s the latter, then delete the words “self-employed worker” from your business vocabulary.

When you are self-employed, you’re not a worker, you are a business, period. (That’s a legal distinction, not an opinion.)

This all goes back to properly educating clients about the correct nature of the relationship.

If you set the perception that you are some kind of little worker bee, that’s exactly how they are going to think of and treat the relationship.

The first place you nip that in the bud — so that you can get more ideal clients who properly treat and understand the relationship as a business-to-business one — is through the language and
terminology you use.

Shaping the Relationship with Your Words

I never use the word “outsource” or “delegate,” and I don’t let clients use that kind of terminology with me either.

They aren’t delegating or outsourcing to me any more than they “delegate or “outsource” to their attorney or accountant or designer, etc.

I’m not their lackey. I’m a professional they engage so that they can benefit from my valuable expertise (in our case as Administrative Consultants, that is the expertise of administrative support).

We work together collaboratively (together being the operative word here) on administrative work and goals they have entrusted to me.

This kind of languaging changes the flavor of the relationship in the way I need for clients to see and understand it: as their business peer, administrative expert and trusted advisor.

Clients come to you with varying degrees of understanding about what you do, how you work together, and what the nature of your relationship will be.

Many may not have the faintest idea about what we do.

Others might have some vague notion that it’s like having an employee only you work from home for them (which would be wrong).

Others may have read an article filled with all kinds of misinformation and come to the table with the wrong preconceived ideas and expectations entirely.

This is why it’s always your job to educate and inform clients when they come to your website in the way you need them to be, so they have an accurate understanding about these things and approach you with the appropriate mindset and manner.

This makes for far more ideal client candidates and getting and working with those clients much easier.

The words you use are setting perceptions and expectations in clients, painting a picture for them of how to understand the relationship.

How are you educating yours?

Something for Nothing

This kind of thing makes me cringe…

I popped into LinkedIn today and immediately came across a colleague’s post where she was sharing some client praise. Her client wrote:

“I’ve had 10 times more response from your social media design than I have from the one a graphic designer did for me and charged me 3 x the price.”

From the apparent value this client got, this colleague should have charged 3 x what she did. 😉

This is what I mean about people using our industry as cheap substitutes.

It’s so insulting for clients to rave about how little they paid, particularly when they know good and well what properly professional fees cost.

What this client said was the equivalent of shouting to everyone:

Hey, everybody, we’ve got a sucker over here! She practically gave away something that’s making me money and growing my business that I would have paid anyone else 3 times more for.

I have no doubt this colleague will eventually realize the value of her talents and start charging a more commensurate rate for the value that clients receive from her work… particularly if she keeps hearing “praise” like this.

With devaluing clients like that, who needs to earn a living from their work? 😉

You Are NOT a Remote Worker

I find it annoying when articles written about people in the administrative support business refer to them as “remote workers.”

People who are running businesses are not “remote workers.”

“Remote worker” is a term of employment meaning “telecommuter” (i.e., an employee who works from home).

Attorneys are not remote workers. Accountants are not remote workers. Web designers are not remote workers. Bookkeepers are not remote workers. Coaches are not remote workers. And neither are people who provide administrative support as a business remote workers.

These are professionals who are in business providing a service and expertise.

This stuff is so important to your mindset in business because how you think of yourself, how you understand your role, directly affects how potential clients see and understand your business as well, and it affects how your relationship rolls out from there.

Discussions like this are good reminders to always keep in mind that how you think about yourself and the service you’re in business to provide and the words and terms you use impacts how you portray your business and how would-be clients see it, and the kind of clients you attract.

If you don’t want clients who treat you like their employee, you need to portray your service in a more business-like (not employee-like) manner.

That includes not using employment terminology in any way — including the word “assistant” or “remote worker.”

***

How about you? Did you realize that “remote worker” is a term of employment? Is there content on your website that can be improved so clients are better informed about the nature of your
business-to-business relationship?

The Heartbreaking Reality for Most Businesses in Our Industry

I came across something utterly heartbreaking a few weeks ago.

I’ve been sitting on it for awhile, going back and forth about whether or not to have a conversation around it.

I never want to discourage anyone from this business or have anyone take things the wrong way. Because if you set things up right, it is an AMAZING business and lifestyle.

However, it’s a cold, hard truth that no one ever talks about in our industry.

And the problem with not talking about things that are uncomfortable, that aren’t all “rah, rah, kumbaya” all the time, is that you can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge.

What was this thing I came across? An ad for a “Virtual Assistant Business For Sale.”

And what is this cold, hard truth I speak of? It’s that most people in our industry are not profitable and not making the kind of money they can actually live on.

You see, the sad thing about this ad is that it isn’t an exception. It’s actually a very accurate example reflective of what most of the businesses in our industry look like.

Now, before I dissect this for you, I first want to make it absolutely clear: It is not that people can’t make more money in our kind of business; they absolutely can! YOU absolutely can!

It’s simply that they are being taught by the industry at large in all the worst possible ways to price, operate and market themselves (like calling yourself a “virtual assistant”). And it’s keeping them poor, overworked and overwhelmed.

The fortunate thing is that YOU always have the possibility to learn better so that your business can do better for you.

And that always benefits your clients because you can’t take good care of others if your needs aren’t taken care of first.

Here is the ad:

The Heartbreaking Reality for Most Businesses in Our Industry

Let’s examine the problematic issues here:

  1. We see that the business has been around for 11 years. Great! After that amount of time, you’d expect them to be earning really well.
  2. Yet in the first bullet we see they are only making £1900/mo (British Pound) which is $2363.98/mo USD. After that many (11) years, why are they still making that little money? Those are poverty-level wages. Did they mean perhaps that this is the average value per client?
  3. Unfortunately, no, we see in the next bullets that after 11 years they have only 1 retainer client at only £350 GBP/$435.39 USD per month. The rest of their revenues come from 15 regular (but uncommitted/non-retainer) clients and 20 ad hoc clients, which I’m interpreting to mean an average of 20 project clients each month. The problem is that at this number of clients they should be making several thousands of dollars per month! I can’t even imagine (well, actually, I can) how overwhelmed and overworked they are… and for such a paltry sum on money! To give some context/frame of reference, I make more with just one of my retainer clients than they make in an entire month from 36 clients.
  4. They also mention having relationships with two typists. This business owner is barely making ends meet at these figures, where on earth is there any margin to pay anyone else? (Answer: there isn’t.) It means that they are doing all this work at a loss! Especially at gross figures that don’t even account for expenses, operating costs, taxes, etc.
  5. This is not a profitable business in any way, shape or form. What has most likely happened is that burnout caught up to them (no wonder!) and they are now trying to unload the sinking ship. But there are no assets of any value to sell here. The clients it has are being charged such an ungodly little amount, there is almost no way in hell to ever reset those kind of expectations. They’ve branded and positioned this business as “cheap” and there is just nowhere you can go with that. It would be faster, easier and less costly for you to create a business from scratch and establish the brand based on properly set foundations and expectations and charging higher, more profitable professional fees.

Don’t misunderstand me. This examination is in no way a denigration of the business’s owner.

Rather, it’s utterly heartbreaking to me that they have made so little money working with too many clients with basically no commitment and constant churn. I wish I’d had the opportunity to help them early on.

When we talk about these things, there are always a certain number of people who don’t understand why it’s so important to have these conversations.

But bringing this consciousness to the fore is integral to being able to improve things so you can better earn in your own business.

It’s why I’m always talking about money, how you are marketing and positioning your business and brand, how not charging profitably sets you up for failure, about how the expectations and perceptions you create in clients directly affect your ability to charge properly and earn well.

These are the topics that will make or break your business.

It’s this fundamental business education — and not the latest, greatest software or tools — that is key to creating a profitable, sustainable business where you can get, work with and keep great clients (clients worth having who value you, not cheapos looking for a free handout), make great money and that works around and enriches your life and what’s important to you (instead of the business running you).

What could this person have done differently?

  1. Business planning. Going through the exercise of business planning forces you to think through and get clear and conscious about all the important details of your business such as your needs, goals and intentions around money, what kind of clients you want to work with and are worth working with, and what business standards, policies and procedures to establish accordingly.
  2. Getting off the project work merry-go-round. A business based on project work needs a shit-ton of clients and work in order to stay alive. It’s a constant, never-ending hamster wheel of marketing, even while you already have clients and work to take care of in front of you, and you never know where your next meal is coming from. Nothing wrong with project work, but think of it as secondary income, the gravy to the meat and potatoes where you make your “real” money.
  3. Expecting a commitment. Retainer clients (clients who pay a monthly fee upfront for a plan of support) are where the real money is at. A commitment of working together each month allows you to do your best work and gives you something to actually work with to achieve a tangible, demonstrable value and results for clients. But of course, if you don’t ever expect a commitment, you’ll never get one. That’s why it’s so important to set standards in your business around what’s important to you. An expectation that clients must make a minimum commitment to be given a place on your client roster is a standard that will serve you (and your clients) well, even if some of them might not understand that at first. (You’ll have a far easier time getting commitments if you learn how to set up and navigate the whole consultation process and pricing conversation.)
  4. Get clear and conscious about the money. Charging fees based on what you see others charging (who are more often than not just as lost as everyone else) is the worst way to set your fees. It’s not about what everyone else is charging (stop looking at them!). It’s about knowing what your target market values, how you can improve their circumstances with your support and what they gain from working with you, and learning how to articulate that value to them in the context of their business and goals.
  5. Choosing a target market. This business is all over the map when it comes to who their clients are and the work they’re doing. And that is a huge part of the problem. Very simply, a target market is an industry/field/profession that you focus your administrative support on. This specialization is key to making the big bucks. That’s because when you know who it is you are focusing on, you can determine very quickly and clearly what they do in their business and what their common needs, goals, challenges, values and interests are and then develop your support solutions around those things. Your offerings will be much more interesting and compelling that way, and you’ll be able to charge more (because there will be more relevant, specific, higher perceived value) and get clients more quickly and easily.
  6. CHARGING MORE! At the poor fees this business would have to charging to account for so little monthly/annual revenue, it’s a clue that the business owner is not understanding the economics of business. You simply can’t charge rates that amount to employee wages and expect to earn well. Business is a completely different ballgame. It’s why I’m constantly reminding people, you are NOT an employee, you’re a business. There’s also this crazy, but nonetheless immutable law of business:  The more you charge, the better clients you get. And what do we mean by better clients? Client who value you and what you offer. Clients who are invested and make the commitment to working together. Clients who aren’t looking for the free buffet. Clients who are loyal to you and the good work and results you provide them with, not how little they can pay. When you have better clients who make a monthly financial commitment to working together toward established goals, you can make more money working with fewer clients and have more time for your own life in the process.
  7. Stop calling yourself an “assistant.” One of the reasons people have a hard time charging more or seeing their value in a different light (and gaining some business self-esteem and confidence) is because so many of them insist on calling themselves “virtual assistants.” This keeps them thinking of themselves as employees and seeing things through that lens instead of from an entrepreneurial/business mindset. Here’s what you need to understand: Assistant is a term of employment, not business. Terminology (just like pricing) is a part of marketing. How you price and the words and terms you use to describe yourself have a direct influence on how clients perceive you and the expectations, perceptions and understandings they come to the table with. When you call yourself an “assistant,” they don’t look at you as a business owner and advisor. You are teaching them to view you as a type of subservient employee, and what they expect to pay is based on that wrong, harmful perception. When you call yourself an “assistant,” you are predisposing them to value you less, not more.  If you want to be able to charge higher, more appropriately profitable fees, you have to create the proper context. The verbiage and terminology you use directly impacts that context.

I have a couple of complimentary (as in free) business-building tools that shed a ton more light on all of this and will help you course-correct in your own business. If you don’t have them yet, be sure to go get them now.

***

How about you? Why did you go into this business? I’m assuming a large part of it is that you love putting your administrative talents to use and helping clients and truly making a difference in their businesses and lives.

I can’t imagine that it gives anyone joy to be broke and working too hard for too little money. So over and above that, how do you want your own life enriched and improved by owning and running your own business? What are your money aspirations? What does “profitable” and “financially successful” mean to you?

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I’m Not Anyone’s Sidekick (and Neither Are You)

I'm No Sidekick (and Neither Are You)

Words have power. They’ve been used for centuries to subjugate others and keep them in their place.

Words have kept people thinking small about themselves. With the flick of a switch, they’ve also helped them reshape their perceptions and step into their own power and sovereignty.

It’s why the feminist movement insisted on changing accepted language — they recognized that being called “girls” was a micro-aggression meant to infantilize women.

So, of course, I snorted in derision when I first heard the word “sidekick” being tossed around to describe those in the administrative support business.

I feel about anyone referencing me as a “sidekick” in relation to clients the same way this woman feels being referred to as Macklemore’s “sidekick.”

It’s fundamentally insulting as a full-grown, professional woman and business owner. It’s a condescending verbal pat on the head, a throwback to employment mentality that has no place in business in this day and age.

I’m as disdainful of the word “sidekick” in business as I am “assistant.”

That’s because using subservient words and terms of employment (such as “assistant”) to identify yourself keeps you in a subservient mindset, consciously and unconsciously.

It also causes clients to view you not so much as their valued and respected administrative expert and adviser, but as their minion and order-taker.

Would you call your doctor or attorney or accountant or designer your sidekick?

Do you think that would be a respectful way to identify and address them?

How do you think that would go over with them if you did?

Why then would you feel the need to call yourself an assistant or sidekick?

It’s a form of self-talk. What you call yourself has a way of seeping into your psyche. With a more respectful, business-appropriate term, you can raise yourself up to better lead your business and more positively affect how your prospects and clients approach the relationship with you.

If you think it doesn’t matter what you call yourself either way, then why not adopt a more respectful term that will lead to more respectful exchanges with clients and prospects?

If you are really working with clients who value you as much as you say they do, they will happily support you as you raise your standards around the business terminology you use.

And your new clients won’t know the difference because they’ll refer to you in whatever way you inform them to.

I don’t need to be Robin to serve my clients well and deliver my expertise to them. We can both be Batman in our respective businesses who value and respect each other as equals.

***

What thoughts, feelings or questions does this bring up for you? Does it spur any soul-searching? Can you think of a way in which calling yourself an assistant kept you thinking small in your business? Have you already embraced the idea that you are a business owner, not an assistant, with a valuable expertise to offer?

Dear Danielle: How Can I Turn this Employer into a Client?

Dear Danielle: How Can I Turn this Employer into a Client

Dear Danielle:

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

Hi Anonymous 🙂

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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.
  4. 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:

  1. Have a consultation process. If you don’t have one, you can get that with my Client Consultation Guide.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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:

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.”

25 Ways to Get More Ideal, Well-Paying Clients

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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.