Archive for the ‘Relationships’ Category

Dear Danielle: What If Our Term Is Not Well-Known in My Country?

Dear Danielle: What If Our Term Is Not Well-Known in My Country?

A new colleague from the U.K (I’ll call her Sue) came to me recently with a few questions and topics, one of which I’ll address today as I think it will be helpful to many people.

Hi Danielle. I came across your ACA website and it’s given me food for thought to go from VA to Administrative Consultant. I really appreciate you taking time out to talk to me. I’m doing research about admin consultancy as I’m not sure how well known it is in the U.K.

Thanks for reaching out, Sue. :)

Our conversation has inspired this blog post that I think will help you (and others) greatly.

What you’re really wondering is: If people in my country have not heard of “administrative consulting,” if it’s not well-known, how viable of a business will this be for me?

It’s good to be thinking about how a new business will succeed. The problem is you’re focusing on the term instead of the solution we’re in business to offer.

What you want to ask instead is:

Are there businesses in the U.K.? Do those businesses have administrative work they must stay on top of on a regular basis in order to run smoothly?

There is your answer. 😉

Whether a term or industry name is known in the marketplace or not is not important. I wouldn’t want you to waste your time and energy in that direction as it is irrelevant and plays no part in your ability to get clients, help those clients, and earn well.

It doesn’t matter whether they’ve heard of our industry before or are familiar with the terms we use. (Your term IS important, but for other reasons that have nothing to do with getting clients. You can learn more about that in these blog posts).

The only thing that matters is that you understand them, know what their overarching need/problem is, and have a solution to fill that need and solve that problem: namely, the need for more time in their business, the need to free up mental bandwidth and creative space, and the need for an administrative expert and support partner who can help take care of their administration which in turn will free up their time to grow their business (not to mention just live and enjoy life).

EVERY business needs admin support. It’s the very backbone of every business in the world. There is absolutely no shortage of clients who could use and benefit from our support. Every country has businesses, and every business has administrative work, systems and operations that require tending to throughout the life of the business.

BUT, while every business has administration it must take care of in order to keep organized, running smoothly and moving forward, not every business is the right fit or needs the solution we’re in business to offer.

The key, and the more productive effort, therefore, is to better understand what demographic in the business world has the greatest need for what we do and how we do it (our “solution”) and will in turn place greater value on it and be more willing to pay well for it. THOSE are the businesses that are the best fit for our kind of business.

Generally speaking, big companies have the kind of workloads that inherently require full-time, in-house, dedicated staff, and they have the resources to house and pay for them. They don’t really need us.

If they are even remotely interested in us, their typical motivation is to merely offload isolated, non-core functions as cheaply as possible. They could care less about the personal relationship, which is exactly what allows us to deliver our greatest value and impact. When there isn’t a real need, they don’t place much value on the service. And you can’t afford to be cheap, not if you expect to stay in business, be profitable and earn well.

So it’s important to understand who is the best fit (who has the highest and greatest need) for what we do so that you aren’t wasting your time barking up the wrong trees and making things more difficult for yourself.

An administrative support business works and earns best (and more easily) when there is a direct, personal one-on-one ongoing relationship, what we call a “collaborative partnership,” with each client.

In our business, the demographic that best fits that bill are the solopreneur/boutique/lifestyle businesses.

These are the business owners who are commonly running their businesses from home offices (like us), who like being solo/boutique-size; who need administrative help and support (as every business does), but have no interest in “big business,” having employees or managing people; who ARE their business; who are more interested in a particular quality and unencumbered way of life while earning well.

They’re the perfect fit because we can provide that one-on-one, right-hand personal admin support remotely and without needing to be an employee; the size and model of their business benefits most and works best within this dynamic; and because they need it the most, they place a higher value on it.

Now that you understand which demographic is best suited for our solution and why, the next step is to narrow things down to a specific target market, which is simply an industry/field/profession that you cater your administrative support to.

Why do you need to do this, you probably wonder?

Because your value depends on the business/industry/field/profession you are talking to.

How you speak to one group and craft solutions for them is necessarily different from one group to the next.

By narrowing things down to a specific industry/field/profession, you can more quickly and easily identify what their common needs, interests, goals and challenges are, come up with a compelling marketing message for them, and craft your admin support offerings more meaningfully around those things in a way that more powerfully speaks to and attracts clients.

Plus, you simply can’t work with everybody, any more than you can be all things to all people. To stand out, to be attractive, to be memorable and interesting, you have to get specific.

As Seth Godin says (and I’m fond of quoting): “You can be a meandering generality or a meaningful specific.”

The other benefit for you, of course, in choosing a specific industry/field/profession to cater your admin support to is that you can more quickly and easily pinpoint where to start looking for and interacting with those clients.

None of that requires that they know what you are called or have heard of our industry before, only that you know who they are.

If you haven’t yet, be sure to download my free guide on How to Choose Your Target Market. It elaborates further on this topic and walks you through some exercises to help you narrow things down and decide.

Punishment Fees Are Not Good Business

Punishment Fees Are Not Good Business

Punishing clients with the threat of charging them more money to get them to stop doing something you don’t want is a terrible business practice and a rotten dynamic to create in your relationship.

Paying you should feel good. It should feel like a reward for getting something great that they gain from, that improves their life and business.

Instead, you are training them to view paying you as a negative experience, a punishment.

I get that sometimes we take on bad clients. Sometimes when we are new, we sometimes expect clients to just “know” how our business runs and how they are to interact with us. And yes, you do need to put certain terms in your contract (such as late fees and interest rates and in what situations they will be applied) in order to have legally enforceable contracts.

But here’s a better idea:  choose better clients. 😉

Don’t take on just any client, and never take on clients just for the money. That never ends well.

Get clear about who an ideal client is in your business and who is not. Write those things down.

List what red flags to watch out and listen for that tell you someone is likely to be a pain in the ass who doesn’t respect you or your business. And then don’t work with those people.

Pay attention to your gut when it tells you someone isn’t going to be a fit. Don’t ignore it and step over your standards.

Stop being desperate. Be more discerning about who you allow on your client roster.

Do more prequalifying.

Conduct more thorough consultations (get my guide that shows you EXACTLY how to do that).

Get clearer about what your standards, boundaries, policies and procedures are in your business. 

Then do a better job of communicating those things to clients by writing them down in a Client Guide, giving it to every new client, and then going over that information with them (in the case of retainer clients) in a New Client Orientation before you begin working together.

Fire any client who can’t get with the program and continues to ignore your policies and processes and/or disrespect you.

Bad clients are unprofitable. Working with bad clients is never worth the trouble. It’s also unethical to work with bad clients because you can’t do your best work for any client you don’t have good feelings for and are drained by.

They eat up far more space in your business than you realize with the negative energy and problems they create. The psychological toll that takes costs more than any money you might be able to recoup. 

Never Automate Your Relationships

Never Automate Your Relationships

Yes, have systems in your business.

When we talk about “systems,” those are the tools you use in your business to streamline and standardize certain functions.

Your policies and processes are a form of systems.

Documentation such as your SOP is an example of a system. With an SOP, you have a system for educating someone new about how everything works in your business.

Even your branding is a system because by utilizing a consistent identity and experience, you and your company become known for them.

And by all means, automate your mailing list and certain marketing and other administrative functions.

But people are not systems.

NEVER automate or abdicate your relationship with your clients and prospects.

Those relationships ARE your business.

Are You Being Phoney-Baloney?

Are You Being a Phoney-Baloney?

It’s not necessary to be a phoney-baloney in your marketing to get clients.

If you’re a solo, don’t pretend you’re a bigger company.

When it comes down to it, that’s just plain dishonest, a lie.

Is that really how you want to start your valued new client relationships?

And what kind of clients will you end up with based on false pretenses?

What happens to trust once they find out they’ve been snookered, manipulated?

Trust, credibility and rapport are established through honesty and by demonstrating your competence, professionalism and capabilities through your writing, the presentation of your website and other marketing collateral, and the polish and effectiveness of your policies, processes and protocols.

I get that people want to help clients see how skilled, competent and credible they are, and that some think the only way to do that is to portray themselves as bigger as if they have more people involved in their business than there actually are.

But dishonesty is never the answer.

Engaging in false presenses belies your own low professional self-esteem and the belief that you are not enough, that the way you operate your business as a solo is not enough.

It’s also presuming that prospective clients have any problem with it.

Imagine the better fitting clients you would get, client it would be more joyful to work with, simply by sharing honestly the size of your business and how you operate, and being the real you.

I have two categories on my blog here with posts that will help you learn how to instill trust and demonstrate your competence without being dishonest or unethical:

Trust & Credibility
Demonstrating Your Expertise

Check ’em out!

Another Word to Delete from Your Biz Vocabulary: Delegate

Another word to delete from your biz vocabulary: Delegate.

Delegate (like the word “assistant”) is a term of employment that denotes an employer-employee relationship. It keeps clients thinking they are some kind of employer to you which in turn causes a whole host of problems in the relationship and your ability to command proper professional fees.

You aren’t some subordinate peon clients dump their junk work on. And clients should never be abdicating responsibility for their own business.

Employers delegate. But in a business relationship, it’s not any client’s role to “delegate” to you.

With clients, you consult with them, determine what their needs, goals and challenges are, determine your recommendations and present your suggested plan of support. Client’s should never be delegating to you at their whim.

The words you use shape how clients treat the relationship. Do you want to be their flunky or their trusted advisor? Because there’s a big difference in how they treat those two roles and the relationship.

So if you want to be treated as their administrative expert, their trusted advisor and business peer, don’t use the word “delegate.” Use words and terms like “share,” “release,” “free” and “let go of” instead.

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.

Dear Danielle: Is It Hurting My Marketing If I’m Not on Any Social Networks?

Dear Danielle: Is It Hurting My Marketing If I'm Not on Any Social Networks?

Dear Danielle:

I love receiving information from you. It is so relevant in this fast pace environment. However, I must admit to you that I am not connected on any of the social networks – Facebook, Twitter LinkedIn, etc. Do you think it is hurting the nature of work that I do? I need an honest assessment of the facts, okay. —Natalie Headley

Hi Natalie :)

Thanks for the question.

So, there’s not one black or white answer for this. It really all depends on who your target market is and whether or where they are hanging out in large numbers. If that’s not social media, then there’s no reason to spend an inordinate amount of time and energy there.

I’m not a social media zealot myself. I don’t use it at all to find clients in my own Administrative Consultant business.

You always see those people evangelizing that you HAVE to be on social media, it’s the ONLY way to get clients.

My eyes just roll and I can barely contain my sarcasm, lol.

If that were true, then what was anyone doing before Twitter and Facebook and the rest? 😉

So you don’t have to be on social media. They are merely tools. And some people need some tools and others don’t.

That said, I wouldn’t write off social media channels entirely. They can be very useful, but for reasons different than most people think.

I see that a lot of people don’t view or understand social media the right way. They think it’s some excuse not to market, that all they have to do is pop up a profile and clients are going to rain from the skies and magically drop in their lap.

(These are the same people who think all they have to do is throw a website up and their work is done, lol).

Yeah, doesn’t work like that.

Here’s how I would tell you to look at it…

Social media is not the driver of marketing. Rather, social media is a tool for keeping in touch and getting to know each other.

Marketing and networking are still the primary drivers and creators of relationships, not social media. Social media platforms are ancillary and secondary to that, not primary.

And social media, as far as getting clients goes, is only helpful if you are hanging out in places they are hanging out.

So here are a few pieces of advice I have when it comes to social media:

  1. Think of your social networking accounts as another avenue for your prospects and clients to get to know you, to nurture those relationships. They give them another way to interact with you, see your expertise and knowledge demonstrated in action, get to know you as a person, and grow that all-important know, like and trust factor.
  2. That said, if you’re going to have a social media account, that also creates the expectation in those who connect with you that you’re going to be on there somewhat regularly to post updates. If you aren’t, don’t bother having an account. It’ll annoy people when you don’t respond to the questions, comments or posts they share with you.
  3. Stick with the platforms you enjoy using. You don’t need to have every single kind of social media account. And if you don’t like one or another, you’re never going to be there and it will be a chore trying to force yourself to be. Don’t do that. The ones you like being on are the ones you’ll be on more regularly and will be more useful (and fun) for you.
  4. Get a target market (if you don’t already have one). A target market is simply a field/industry/profession you cater your administrative support to. Without a target market, you may as well be blowing dandelions in the wind and hoping someone finds you. Not very effective or profitable. A target market will give you direction for your effort and help you be more purposeful, focused and interesting/compelling on your social media platforms.
  5. Once you get a target market, start following and connecting with people and groups in that industry.
  6. Remember who your audience is. If you need clients, that’s, ahem, people in your target market, not your colleagues. The reason I mention this is because we always see people in our own industry wanting to connect with each other. “Let’s all follow each other on Facebook!” For what purpose? Your colleagues are not your clients. Your clients and prospects are your clients. THAT’S who you want to be connecting with. And if you think about it, do you really want colleagues piping up in your conversations with your prospects? I’m not saying never to connect with colleagues and mentors; they definitely are helpful to you in a completely different way. But you want to keep your priorities in perspective. If you put even half the effort into connecting with your clients and prospects that most people in our industry spend dinking around with each other on these channels, you’ll be far, far ahead of the game.

Let me know if that helps!

Do You Network at Events to Find New Clients?

Do you network at events to find new clients?

Someone asked the question on one of the LinkedIn groups I joined recently:

“Do you network at events to find new clients?”

I thought I would share my thoughts with you here as well.

Any way you can meet and interact with prospects is certainly good.

That doesn’t mean it necessarily has to be done in-person or locally.

And you want to consider that some methods are more fruitful and productive and less costly to the business to engage in than others.

I occasionally go to a live/local event just for the fun of it, to get out of the office (my house, lol) and meet new people or learn new things.

The human interaction is nice and I believe getting in some local networking helps keep our interpersonal skills honed.

It’s a nice change of pace; however, my primary business marketing and networking is done online.

(Likewise, I only conduct consultations over the phone.)

Relying entirely on in-person meetings and networking is a very expensive prospect. And I’m not talking about admission fees.

Any time you have to leave the office, the cost to the business of that personal time triples.

That’s because in a solopreneur business like ours where we are the business, we are the craftsman, that personal time away is time away from other clients, other work and other opportunities.

So it’s a more expensive proposition compared to online networking.

You can meet, connect, interact with and get in front of vastly more people and potential clients using online methods because it’s a one-to-many ratio that doesn’t require your personal presence outside your office.

You can meet ten times more people online in less time than it takes you to meet with one person locally.

And because it’s online, your prospect pool is not limited to your local geographic location.

Not that you shouldn’t ever leave your home/office, lol. You just want to be discerning and strategic about where and how you spend your in-person time.

Here’s how I would mix it up:  

Focus first and perhaps more predominately on developing your online marketing and networking. Eventually, you’ll have it all set-up to where a large part of it can be automated and you can dedicate a small, but useful, bit of time each day to give it your personal attention.

That then will afford you more time to fit in the occasional live/local business event and networking.

This way, you have the best of both worlds and your business doesn’t have to rely exclusively on live/local attendance, which takes far longer, is more costly due to the time involved away from the business, and the more limited scope of reach and connection.

The other thing I wanted to mention about in-person/local networking, don’t turn it into a sales spiel where you corner one person after another and shove your business card in their hands or force them to listen to your “elevator pitch.”

No one likes a salesman/saleswoman. And no one wants you looking at them like they’re your next possible meal.

Go to these events without any agenda or attachment to outcomes except to make new friends. That’s it.

I’m telling you, you will create far more meaningful business connections and real relationships with people when you go about things with that mindset.

So don’t go there to sell. Go there to meet and talk and most importantly ask questions about other people and their businesses.

Because the most interesting person in the room to others is the one who is interested in them. 😉

The paradox of this is that because you engage your curiosity about them, they’re going to be all the more interested in you and what you do.

Then, instead of a business card, you come equipped and give them a gift. 😉

Dear Danielle: Help! My Client Is Not Referring Me to Others

Help! My Client Isn't Referring Me to Others

Dear Danielle:

How can I get my clients to refer when they are too selfish to share? —Anonymous

This was a question someone asked me on my Facebook page. They didn’t give me any more details than this and I never did hear back from them. However, I thought it was an interesting topic for discussion and wanted to share my thoughts with you here.

At first blush, it sounds like a very one-sided relationship if you have clients who don’t refer you.

But it’s a little too glib to chalk it all up to that.

There’s usually more to things than that and you could be losing out on an opportunity to improve your business by not examining the issue further.

I wanted to find out more so my first question was, “What is it that tells you this is, in fact, what is happening?”

I also asked, “Have you considered having a conversation with this/these client(s)?”

Unless you’ve actually spoken with a client, you can’t presume to know their true feelings, intentions or what’s really going on (if anything). Having a heart-to-heart can clear the air to move forward in a more positive, mutually beneficial direction.

It could be that they just didn’t think about it and it wasn’t anything negative about you (or them) at all.

(Remember, we have to ASK for what we want. We can’t expect people to be mindreaders.)

Now, personally, I don’t like to hound clients for referrals. I prefer they give those of their own accord.

And in a healthy, two-way relationship, they will.

That said, a lot of the referrals I’ve gotten over the years just weren’t who I was looking for anyway so they did me no good.

(Side Note: If you’re new in business, you might not understand this at all. When you’re new, you often think any referral is a good referral. You’re working hard to get established and just want to get any clients and work you can. But once you’ve gotten to a higher level in your business, you become more discerning and choosy about the clients and work that’s of value and interest to you. Fit is always important at any stage, but your definition of fit and what you are interested in, what you find worthwhile, will change and evolve over the course of your business.)

My best leads have always comes from my own networking.

If clients want to make a referral, I ask that they simply direct people to my website (instead of my phone number or email) so that it can do that critical first job of educating prospects and weeding out/prequalifying those I’m not interested in.

By getting them to the website, I save myself a lot of wasted time in conversation with people who may not be a fit.

Plus, directing folks to my website first, those who are interested in what they’re reading and what I have to offer, I’ve just created an opportunity to get them onto my mailing list so I’m only keeping in touch with those who’ve already indicated that first qualifying level of interest.

Those who follow up from there, thus, are vastly better qualified leads and more likely to become clients.

This actually brings up another point…

You have to actually INFORM clients that you welcome referrals and instruct them how to refer others to you and what kind of prospects/clients you are looking for.

This is why it’s also extremely helpful to have a target market and to be very clear about what you do and who you’re looking to work with.

When people know exactly what you are and who you do it for (e.g., NOT a gopher/jack of all trades, but an Administrative Support Specialist), it’s much easier for them to refer others to you and they will remember and be more likely to do so more often.

I would also ask, have you at least gotten a testimonial from your clients?

Instituting a regular and consistent program of feedback from clients in your business is super helpful for your marketing and constant business improvement.

I have a tool in the ACA Success Store that helps you do this and collects information from clients so that testimonials basically write themselves. You can take a look at that here: Client Feedback Form.

I refer to it as a form, but it’s really a plan and system for implementing a program of regular feedback in your business and capturing testimonials and before-and-after case studies.

So, is this something happening in your business as well?

Have you fallen prey to “secret weapon” syndrome and you find some clients don’t want to let anyone know about you because they don’t want to share you with others?

Or might their silence and lack of referrals be an indication of other underlying problems? Are they unhappy or resentful about something?

How is this affecting your relationship with them, and how does it fit in with your standards for your business and around who makes an ideal client?

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.