Archive for the ‘Rants’ Category

How NOT to Market (to Me or Anyone)

This message came to me via my Ask Danielle page (the mentoring page where people are free to submit their business questions to get my insights, advice and guidance):

Question: Hello there – I hope this email finds you well. I am running a Virtual Assistance / Web Design & Development firm. I was just browsing and reached to your website. You did awesome work on it. My question is regarding partnership, can you think we can engage in some manner where we get mutual benefit? My biggest advantage is that I am sitting in the economy where assistants cost me a few hundred bucks and if you can refer some clients to my company you can save a lot. Willing or not, kindly give me a response so I can move on. Thanks, – Ali

  1. My first issue is that if you had actually looked at the ACA website, you would see that I don’t deal with virtual assistants and that term is anathema to me. I deal with Administrative Consultants, who are grown up business owners and experts in their own right, not assistants. If you can’t even pay attention enough to get the terms right, why would I ever do business with you?
  2. Second, using my mentoring question submission form to market to me shows a lack of business sense and manners and is completely annoying. There is a Contact page at the top of every page of the ACA website. If you don’t have the ability to find that and follow its instructions, why would I think you’d have the competence to handle anything more complicated?
  3. Here again, if you had been paying attention, you would have noticed that my site is a MENTORING website, not a website for procuring clients and work for people and the request is inappropriate.
  4. If you had actually familiarized yourself with the work I do on behalf of those in my industry, you would know how abjectly abhorrant your request is. I don’t believe in farming out client work to third parties, and I certainly don’t believe in devaluing the important work we do. I believe in people running their own businesses taking care of their own clients and making damn good money doing it. I don’t believe in exploiting and paying others poorly so that I can make more money at their expense.
  5. It’s clear that English is not your first language and even if none of these other issues were present, I couldn’t—wouldn’t—do business with you. The communication problems cause too many practical, time-wasting problems and delays that would get in the way of my smooth, efficient operations. I’ve worked with vendors from non-native English speaking countries and it is an exercise in torture and extreme aggravation. I might visit your country and love your culture, but I can’t work with you.

This is the difficulty I have with parties running these support farm type businesses in third world countries.

Lord knows I love me some Indians. Beautiful, colorful place, wonderful people, and I can’t get enough of the joie de vivre of Bollywood movies where even with serious dramatic films they somehow find a way to fit in a dance sequence, lol.

But they have such a devaluing culture in that country, and they just don’t grok providing services in the business manner of an independent professional. They treat the work and business like an assembly line. They don’t understand how expertise works.

Plus, what they call “virtual assistance” really isn’t so they don’t even have that right.

What they do is more concierge/secretarial service, which are transactional, not ongoing, relationship-based administrative support.

I would never in a million years, I don’t care how cheap it was, outsource my clients’ private, confidential and important work to a third party. To me, that is just crazy and beyond comprehension.

But I get that people do it because they’re just in it to make a buck any way they can (AND because they don’t know how to create a well-earning business working with only a handful of clients).

So, yeah, there are people in the world who are running these assembly line farms. What they do is get the clients while they outsource the work to cheap workers in the Philappines, India and elsewhere.

Do they have a market? Sure. There’s a market for everything.

Do their clients get the kind of deeply personal and insightful one-on-one relationship we provide? No, simply by virtue of how they operate.

Do those clients get high quality work? Not likely, especially given the the examples I’ve seen.

Are there some clients who are okay with that? Of course. But they aren’t my clients and that’s not the kind of business I show others how to create. I do high quality work which inherently requires an ongoing relationship and I only work with clients who value that ideology and quality level.

And when you outsource like that, you might get assurances of confidentiality, but really, you have no control over where, to whom and how many people you and your clients’ information is getting passed around to. I’m not okay with that and neither are my clients.

Here are some of the take-aways from all of this for you:

  1. Don’t cold-call (this gentleman’s contact was a form of cold-calling as I don’t know him from Adam, have never heard of him, and never asked him to contact me, nor would I want him to if I’d been asked).
  2. If you’re going to contact someone, get their name, titles and terms right. Visit and actually READ their website so you can give the respect of actually familiarizing yourself with them, what they do and what their ethos is.
  3. Use proper business channels and sensibilities.
  4. Don’t market to people who aren’t your ideal prospects.

Friends Don’t Let Friends Jump Off a Cliff

54830-10-34890458483098349030

Last week I came upon a post where a colleague was offered an “epic business offer” to work 16 hours a week for three months—um, FOR FREE—until the client’s business launched.

Once the business launched, she was told, the client “planned” to “promote” her to paid intern status.

This client was in her target market and she felt could potentially open doors to other clients within that industry.

What she wanted to know from the group was if they had this same opportunity, would they accept it.

And every single person on there was all “Yeah, go for it!” “I’d jump on it in a heartbeat!”… rah-rah sis koom bah.

What?!

I thought I was on a business forum.

Obviously I was mistaken because not one person spoke up about the fact that this wasn’t a business deal whatsoever.

Potential is not a form of payment. And clients don’t “promote” you to anything; you’re not an employee.

This was a con for free work by some slimeball preying on a new business owner’s naivete and lack of business experience.

Hope springs eternal. But REAL friends don’t let other friends jump off a cliff.

The ol’ “dangling carrot” is one of the oldest ploys in the book by those who would devalue others.

If their “epic” deal is so great and such a sure thing, they should be investing in it themselves by PAYING for the services of others fairly and squarely. Let them play games with their own business’s time, money and profits.

If you are ever presented with an “epic opportunity” such as this, let me assure you, it is anything but.

Before doing anything foolish and wasting your precious business time and resources on those who don’t deserve you, take a look at these entertaining videos and blog posts that will really open your eyes:

1. Please Design a Logo for Me. With Piecharts. For Free. Hysterical, but quite illustrative blog post by David Thorne on the kind of client who tries to get free work with the lure of “great potential” and “future business.”

2. Pay the Writer. Video clip of Harlan Ellison rant about people expecting writers, creatives and others in service-based professions (like ours) to give their work for free.

3. The Vendor Client Relationship in Real World Situations. Video humorously illustrating how cheapskate clients try to get you to work for free just because you’re in a service-based business.

4. Are You on Sale? Stop Giving Yourself Away for Free. One of my own blog posts on the topic of illegal internships.

5. Don’t fall for dangling carrot syndrom. Another of my own blog posts about not falling for unbalanced “opportunities.”

Free does not pay your bills. It doesn’t pay your electricity. It doesn’t keep a roof over your head. It doesn’t put gas in your car. It doesn’t buy food. It doesn’t take care of your kids or give them opportunities.

You deserve better and those who depend on you deserve for you to be paid and hold yourself in higher esteem.

Say no to spec work and giving yourself away for free. Think long and hard before you devalue yourself (and teach others to devalue you) like this.

Anyone who wants you to work for free is not a legitimate prospect. Walk away.

Another Hypocritical Article…

Kiss My Ass

Another stupid, hypocritical article: http://www.alibrown.com/blog/2013/11/14/“5-signs-it’s-time-to-hire-an-assistant”-by-ali-brown/

If you’re going to hire an assistant, an assistant is an employee (whether they work from home or at a desk next to your office) and you better damn well expect to follow the employment laws that everyone else has to abide by— including paying taxes and not paying under the table.

If you don’t, not only are you a scofflaw, you’re a thief—stealing from those men and women their rightful wages and benefits they are due by law (i.e., Social Security, Medicare, etc.).

If you’re going to hire a professional, on the other hand, they are running a business:

1) They are not your assistants, and

2) They charge PROFESSIONAL fees.

This woman purports to be a champion for women in business—except when it comes to paying them, obviously.

No one in our industry can have a sustainable, profitable business charging a mere $20/hour. Ridiculous!

That’s an employee wage, not the fees that an independent professional charges who has done the proper business math and expects to have a sustainable, profitable business they can actually make a living from.

Someone telling your marketplace to expect those kind of fees is someone who is not in your corner. That’s someone who respects everyone but you as a business owner.

But you see where this comes from right? The term “assistant.”

When people think you are some lowly assistant (no matter how much they deny otherwise), they expect to pay you lowly wages as well.

You’re running a business, not working under the table for cheapskates who want to devalue and take advantage of you. You deserve more than that in your business and life.

Don’t you?

Stop with the Money-Back Guarantees

Stop with the Money-Back Guarantees

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

Plus, there are theories of law at play here.

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

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

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

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

That’s ridiculous!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whose Fault Is It?

Can I vent a little? Do you mind?

More importantly, there are a few business lessons in this post for you as well (you know I’m always using these experiences as teaching moments, lol).

Whenever you promote something that (gasp) people have to actually pay for, you inevitably get a few unsubscribers from your mailing list.

No problem. This is a good thing. Never, ever worry about that.

Because you want those who begrudge you charging for your time, knowledge and expertise off your list. They just suck up space and create negative energy.

Who knows why they’re even on a business list in the first place because, um, business is about earning money after all. Or did they miss that memo?

I guess they should stop expecting clients to pay them as well, right? I mean, by their logic, we should all be doing everything for everyone for free all the time.

Oh wait, earning money and expecting to be paid only applies to them; everyone else is supposed to be giving to them for free. ;)

Anyway, I digress, lol.

Here’s what I really want to talk about…

So, I get this unsubscribe message from someone who writes about the ACA Industry Survey:

I shared confidential information for the questionnaire and was never offered a copy of the results. Sorry to go.

Here’s what I want you to know (because what a lot of these people like to do is turn around and badmouth you to others, mischaracterize things and spread incorrect information—or flat out lie):

  1. Our survey is confidential. We don’t know who you are when you complete the survey. You aren’t sharing anything “confidential” or personally identifying with anyone.
  2. If you have a problem with sharing your “confidential information,” why did you take the survey in the first place? You chose to take the survey, no one had a gun to your head. This is called personal responsibility.
  3. “Sorry to go.” That’s such passive aggressive bullshit. Because obviously, if you were genuinely and authentically sorry to go, you would have instead sent an email and made some polite inquiry. Business lesson: Don’t be disingenous. It’s not gracious. Get a backbone and tell the truth.
  4. I have no clue who the person writing is. She’s not someone who ever interacts or corresponds with me. I sort of get the impression she thinks I should know who she is, but here’s the thing. If you never open your mouth and speak to people on a regular basis (like on their blogs, forums, listservs, social networking, etc.), no one is going to remember you or know who you are. People can’t get to know, like, trust and remember you, much less build any kind of relationship with you, if you sit there like a bump on a log. (That’s another biz lesson, by the way.)
  5. I am always interested in making sure we do a good job and do what we say we will. So I went to investigate to see if I could piece together what may have happened. I put her name and email address into Aweber and she’s not on our current survey mailing list. Our survey page very clearly states (with several reminders throughout the process) that participants must sign up to the survey mailing list in order to get their free results report. If they fail to follow that step, they won’t get a copy. Simple as that. So, if it’s the current survey this person took, since she’s not on the mailing list, I can only assume that she didn’t complete the survey or the sign-up. Only you are responsible for your ability (or lack thereof) to follow directions or follow through.
  6. It occurred to me that maybe she was talking about a previous year and we archive those lists offline. So I went to the archives and was able to find her name and email—FROM OUR 2009 SURVEY LIST. So she’s waiting over 3 years to bring this to my attention now and wants to act like she was somehow wronged? Really?
  7. We keep meticulous records on this stuff, and our records show she was in fact sent an email from the mailing list back in 2010 with the download link to her free copy. If she didn’t download it, whose fault is that? Here’s how we do this: participants on the mailing list are sent an email with the link to download their free copy once the survey period is over and the report has been compiled. They are informed that they have X number of WEEKS (not days) to download their copy. They are told, in no uncertain terms, that the link will expire after that date and there will be no requests indulged after that point. We even send one or two courtesy reminders. The survey is a huge undertaking that takes a ton of time and energy. We have to automate and systemize in order to manage everything effectively and efficiently (another biz lesson). Plus, you have to keep in mind, this is a free service. It’s a big pain in the ass to be dealing with requests dribbling in the rest of the year from folks who didn’t follow directions in the first place. I and the people who help me in this endeavor have our own businesses to run and other things to do. We simply have to put these boundaries in place. So we spell out how things work, tell folks how to download their free report, give them a deadline with plenty of time to do so, and the rest is on them. If someone doesn’t  download their copy or report problems in a timely manner, that’s on them.

Remember, (here comes more biz savvy) business requires policies and procedures, standards and boundaries.

As Administrative Consultants, reading, paying attention and being able to follow directions and follow through in a timely manner is our stock in trade.

It doesn’t say anything good about your competence or abilities if you can’t do those things.

We all make mistakes; we’re all human. That’s okay. But own your own mistakes and failures and learn from them. Don’t blame others for them.

Administrative Support Is Not General

Don’t call administrative support “general.”

You are putting it in a very demeaning, unimportant light when you say that.

Administrative support is a very specific skill, expertise and sensibility, and is absolutely one of THE most important aspects involved in a well-run business.

Administration is the very backbone of every business. The administrative engine can either make or break a business.

Therefore, you must stop talking about administrative support in such derogatory ways.

If you don’t value and honor what you do, and view it and portray it in all its vital, integral relevance and importance to the success or failure of a business, prospective clients won’t either.

What you need to understand yourself is that administrative support is a specialization and category of business and service in and of itself.

There’s nothing general (or unimportant) about it.

So stop saying that! Get rid of the word “general” from your business and marketing vocabulary altogether.

You Are an Administrative Artist

I recently saw some Internet marketer use the phrasing “must have the heart of a servant” in reference to virtual assistants.

Give me a freaking break. Can you believe the condescension? Ewww.

That kind of thinking is just more evidence about how many in the marketplace view us:  as underlings… servants. And that’s because a lot of these people really think of us as assistants rather than as business peers and independent, professional service providers.

When I hire a professional, whether it’s an attorney or a coach or a bookkeeper or whatever, I don’t sit there and go, “… and they should have the heart of a servant…” When you hire a professional of any kind, do you say, “Oh, and they must have the heart of a servant.” Yah, right, LOL. No one does. And you’d be politely shown the door by any of these people if you did.

ANY professional should be service-oriented if they are going to succeed in business. That’s not the same thing as someone saying that you as a virtual assistant in particular need to have a servant’s heart. That’s just patently offensive. Do you get the difference?

But this is exactly how so many view the term “virtual assistant.” They think that we’re some kind of servants and lackeys.

Yet another reason why the term “virtual assistant” doesn’t serve us (at least, those of us who are in the administrative support business). It generates disrespectful attitudes like that.

If you want to talk about hearts, I say have the heart of a craftsman, an artisan. Our work is no less an art form and craft than any other kind of skilled trade.

People who have pride in their business and their skills and love exercising and honing them are the ones who care more deeply about their client relationships and doing great work. You certainly aren’t–and don’t have to be–anyone’s freaking servant to do that. You are an ADMINISTRATIVE EXPERT!

Watch Out Who You Take Advice From

People who try to pose as industry experts who don’t do their own work and merely offshore it to cheap third-world workers are no industry experts.

Anyone trying to position themselves as some kind of trainer or mentor in our industry and then teaching you how NOT to earn well in your own economy is no industry expert.

Use your brain and discernment. Stop falling for smoke and mirrors and flash-in-the-pan gimmicks.

If you live in the developed world and economy, you can’t live, much less create a self-sustaining business, off the kind of fees that third-world countries charge.

And anyone who calls normal, professional-level fees “excessive” has never worked with upper-level clients (the kind you want) and isn’t someone who should be advising you if you nd need to earn well in your own economy.

But people like that also do not know what administrative support is. They aren’t doing the work we do so they don’t get it. All they are doing is merely piecemeal, transactional secretarial work. When you say administrative support to them, all they think it is is typing and answering the phone.

Anyone who provides support—and not merely piecemeal project work—knows that our work is vastly more involved than that and requires more skill, experience and sensibilities than simply being a secretary.

Do you really want to take advice from people who don’t even understand what it is this business is all about and who understand even less what administrative support is, often because they themselves lack that kind of background and experience?

Use your heads, people.

They can’t help you learn how to market and be able to charge well because they themselves don’t know how to do it and think all they are capable of charging is “fair” (code for cheap, third-world) rates.

Learning how to market in a way that allows you to charge professional level fees (not third-world rates) in your own economy is absolutely doable. It is an art and science, though, and involves understanding the market and marketing psychology. You won’t learn that kind of thing from people who don’t know how to charge well themselves.

Another Word to Delete from Your Biz Vocabulary

I’m not a fan of the word “fair” (a cousin of “reasonable”) when used in relation to our fees because it’s usually code for “cheap” and “work for free” and “I’ll give you my skill and expertise for practically nothing.”

What is fair about that? Fair means fair to both parties, not giving something away of value to the other party while sacrificing your own needs and worth.

But the way it’s typically used, especially in Virtual Assistant circles, it’s about giving away far too much to clients for nothing. I have never in my life come across an industry so completely entrenched in devaluing itself and earning poorly. It’s so completely insane.

So let’s look at what’s really fair…

If your expertise costs a client several hundred dollars a month (for example, I get paid $1200-1600 a month for what roughly amounts to a 20-hour retainer) and as a result of working with you, that client:

  • gains X number of hours back in his pocket to focus elsewhere and enjoy more life and freedom;
  • has his business run more smoothly, thus reducing administration and increasing profitability;
  • gets more done and makes faster progress;
  • makes more money above and beyond what he pays you each month due to your support…

Wouldn’t you say that’s “fair?”

And I’m on the higher end of the scale. If a client paying you even between $9600-16,800 a year ends up increasing their annual income by $10,000, $15,000, $20,000 or $50,000 and beyond as a result of your skill and expertise helping them accomplish more, achieve goals, and move forward, I’d say that was a bargain.

It’s certainly a far more equitable (fair) exchange and it’s what is meant when we use the term “value.” Value does NOT mean coupons, discounts, two-for-one sales or otherwise devaluing your service and giving work away for free.

This is all the more reason we need to stop calling ourselves “assistants.” (I prefer Administrative Consultant, myself). We are experts in our own right–that of administrative skill and expertise. The word “assistant” inherently puts you in a subordinate role and lower perceived value ranking. People don’t consider “assistants” as experts.

A simple change in terminology can have a dramatic effect on your professional self-esteem and how prospective clients view you:  as an administrative expert whose skill and insights can help their business move forward, not a flunky who’s just there to order around.

And remember, just because someone is new in business doesn’t mean their skill and expertise is any less valuable. And that’s what clients should be paying for… not your time.

Here’s Some Abject Stupidity

Alan Weiss, the self-styled king of consulting, tells business owners they should “do it themselves and save time.

So if an attorney emails him about a matter, is he going to say, “Tell your client to call me himself!”

Of course not. That’s patently ridiculous. He may be the absolute genius when it comes to consulting, and I definitely respect his knowledge in that, but on this point he is dead wrong.

There’s absolutely no difference between clients having their Administrative Consultant take care of certain matters on their behalf and having their attorney or accountant or any other kind of professional handle matters related to what they were hired to do.

It has nothing whatsoever to do with one person’s time being more important than another person’s.

It has everything to do with that client who works with an Administrative Consultant being a smart business person who knows that his time and energy levels are finite commodities.

That business person realizes he shouldn’t be spending his own personal time on certain details, but instead should prioritize and reserve those limited resources for taking excellent care of clients and focusing on marketing and revenue generation. He knows he is able to give more personal support and higher quality service to his clients when he doesn’t squander those things trying to do everything himself.

But Weiss’s position is that if you’re going to say you are a solo, you should be COMPLETELY solo. And that’s just ridiculous.

Solo doesn’t mean you literally do everything yourself. It just means that you are the primary brain power and craftsman in your business.

Using his logic, solos would never hire ANY professionals whatsoever to help them in their business. They wouldn’t hire an attorney, an accountant, a bookkeeper or literally anyone.

Again, patently ridiculous. No man is an island and that man’s business and clients will suffer if he tries to be. Guaranteed.

Choosing to be supported (and in some cases coached and advised) administratively by an Administrative Consultant is no different than hiring any other kind of independent professional to help in their business. We are hired for our expertise of administrative support and guidance in those matters.

However, this once again underscores the fact that the term “virtual assistant” is completely misunderstood and does us a great disservice by causing people to automatically perceive that we are “mere” assistants or lackeys.

If that person’s accountant had contacted him for the information, I really doubt he would have had the same attitude. He automatically has less professional respect because he views us as some kind of underlings—much like a maid or butler—and all because of the term “virtual assistant.”

But as business owners and professionals who are hired for our particular expertise and support, we are no more assistants to our clients any more than an accountant or attorney or bookkeeper is an assistant to their clients.

Of course, to be fair, there are some real turkeys in our industry who seemingly have no brain cells with which to think independently or critically and take initiative.

Those folks do give us a bad name. And it’s the reason why I see the smarter, more experienced people in our industry—the ones who have professional self-esteem and view themselves as true business owners and masters of the expertise of administrative support—embracing the term Administrative Consultant as a better representative and more respectful name for who we are and what we do.