Archive for the ‘Self-Care’ Category

Too Much Accessibility Is Not a Good Thing

Too Much Accessibility Is Not a Good Thing

Contrary to popular belief, too much accessibility is not a good thing.

This advice column is a good reminder of that.

It uses the example of a co-worker overstepping boundaries, but the same principle applies when it comes to clients: You don’t need to be so instantly available.

In fact, it can actually lead to the opposite effect of what you intend: poor customer service and unrealistic client expectations.

When you respond instantly to every beck and call, you are training your clients to think you have nothing better to do than sit there and jump as soon as they command.

That is NOT a good precedent to set in your administrative support business as it leads to all kinds of boundary overstepping, disrespect (of you and your time as a business owner with other clients to care for), and resentment (and resentment is a relationship-killer).

Keeping some buffer area around you is actually healthy for your business and the relationship.

This is why I’m always advising people in our industry to formalize their communication standards and turn-around times, and then inform clients about those policies and protocols so they know ahead of time how things work in your business and what to expect (as well as what they may not expect).

So whose fault is it when this becomes a problem?

Hint: It’s not the client’s.

That’s like getting mad at someone for calling you in the middle of dinner. You’re the one who answered the phone. They didn’t have a gun to your head. 😉

It’s you who has to adjust the behavior and set the standards.

I don’t let clients call or text me for several reasons:

  1. I don’t want to be chased around and sweated like that.
  2. I’d never get anything done.
  3. I’m not trying to be that technologically connected. Remember: healthy boundaries. Technology should be a tool, not an obsession. There’s a time and purpose for it, but outside of that, I don’t want it taking over and interrupting my life. For me, it’s a conscious decision to keep it to a minimum.
  4. I don’t want to have to chase after a million loose ends scattered all over a bunch of different channels. That just creates more work and chaos that is neither efficient nor a productive use of time and energy. Plus, it allows more room for error. Order is the name of the game.

I inform and instruct clients at the beginning of our relationship that all our communication is to be by email (with separate emails for each separate topic, by the way). Client calls are reserved for our regularly scheduled weekly meetings or by appointment otherwise.

This way, I can use my inbox as the central communication hub, have a “paper” trail (so to speak) for everything, and be able to keep everything organized, sorted and tidy in one place.

So, I tell clients: You can email me any time of day or night, but here is how and when your communications and requests are handled…

(I also explain why these standards are of value and benefit to them: because ultimately, they allow me to provide them with better service and support.)

And then I honor those standards I’ve set and don’t overstep my own boundaries.

Have you formalized your communication and turn-around standards and protocols? Have you incorporated that information into your client guide? Are you going over that information with clients in your new client orientations?

If not, make it a priority to do so now. You’ll thank yourself later, and clients will both respect and be impressed by it.

It demonstrates to them that you have good management skills which gives them greater trust and confidence that you will competently manage and deliver the work you do for them.

And, you’ll be modeling smart business practices that they can implement in their own businesses (with your help).

How to Come Back from Burnout

How to Come Back from Burnout

A recent article I came across on Lifehacker (What Causes Burnout and How to Avoid It) inspired some thoughts about burnout.

Burnout happens to everyone in our business, to varying degrees, at one time or another.

Some of it is the natural ebb and flow of things, and it’s good to be cognizant of that.

It’s also not necessarily a permanent state. There are some underlying causes for burnout that you have some measure of control over.

For example, burnout can happen if we don’t feel appreciated in our work, if we aren’t getting enough positive (or any) feedback from clients, if we’re being treated like a peon rather than a respected administrative partner:

Burnout can also happen when we over-complicate our business. What are some of the things you can examine there?

  • Can your systems and processes be simplified?
  • Are you making exceptions to your normal processes for certain clients? (Maybe it’s time to stop doing that.)
  • Are you billing by the hour and tracking time for clients and submitting time reports to them? Maybe it’s time to stop doing that as well.  (That was a rhetorical question. Yes, it’s HIGH time everyone stops doing that!).
  • Are you charging different rates for different clients? How about deciding what and how you charge and applying it to ALL of your clients?

Every exception you make, every standard you step over, every policy you bend, is making your business (and life) more difficult. More ease goes a long way in curing burnout.

Maybe you aren’t charging enough and constantly being broke is bringing you down. Well, things are never going to change until you do something different.

What could you differently there? RAISE YOUR FEES, SISTAH!

The alternative is to stay broke and unhappy in your business, which I’m going to guess is not what you went to the trouble of starting it for, now is it?

  • If you’ve never done any kind of proper business planning around fees, be sure to download our free ACA Income & Pricing Calculator. This is going to help you get clear and conscious about the economics of business and what you really need to be charging for a profitable, sustainable business that will earn what you need to thrive.
  • Get off the hourly-billing merry-go-round — because it’s killing your business. Watch this video to learn why.
  • Learn how to implement value-based pricing instead in your administrative support business. This will teach you a whole other simpler, yet more profitable, way to run your business and offer your support.

Have you experienced a bit of burnout at any time in your business? What did you feel was the root cause of the burnout? Were you able to overcome it and get inspired again? What helped you?

How to Manage Last-Minute Work Requests at the End of the Month

In view of recent inquiries from colleagues, today I’d like to point you to one of my classic posts that relates to setting and managing client expectations through the policies and procedures you institute in your practice, and working with clients in a way that honors your standards and boundaries around self-care, effective business management, and quality of work and client-care.

Dear Danielle: How Can I Handle Last Minute Work Requests at the End of the Month?

What Are You Proud of About Yourself?

What Are You Proud of About Yourself?

It’s always a great exercise to reflect and engage in some positive self-coaching whenever you need a little pep talk.

It’s also a great way to identify some of your superpowers.

And what are superpowers really but part of the unique value combination that only you bring to the table.

Make these a part of your website and marketing message!

By enumerating these special traits and characteristics, not only are you helping paint a portrait of your personal and unique value proposition, it helps attract your ideal clients and weed out the bad ones. It’s a useful way to organically prequalify clients.

As an example, here are some of the things I’m really proud of:

  1. I have always created my own opportunities. Like when my daughter was a year old and I was ready to get back in the workforce. I was still really young and the job market at the time wasn’t that great. I created my own volunteer opportunity doing admin at a nonprofit family services organization, which allowed me to brush up my existing skills, learn new ones, and gain some more recent references. I treated it just like a job, going in for set hours three days every week for six months, learning everything I could and even helping them improve on some things as well. It was a wonderful experience all the way around and helped me get a really good paying job afterward. Superpowers: Resourcefulness and Ingenuity
  2. I always pay those who work for me. It’s always been important to me walk my talk and treat those with whom I work with respect. As an industry mentor, I’ve heard far too many stories of colleagues getting stiffed by colleagues or otherwise being devalued. I also remember this one rotten client I had way back in my early days of business. This guy was constantly cheating and not paying those he hired to do something for him, not turning in payroll taxes (both those withheld from employee checks and the employer-paid share), paying employees late, even neglecting to turn over child support monies to the reporting agencies — all while buying himself Harleys, condos and spending lavishly on himself at every whim and depriving himself of nothing. He constantly pled ignorance or oversight, and in my naivete, always wanting to give someone benefit of the doubt, I chose to believe him. After counseling him over and over that employee monies are not his to spend, that he was going to get himself in trouble with the IRS and other agencies, that it was short-sighted to use and abuse the people he engaged to do work for him (and I wasn’t going to lie for him or play scapegoat), I finally had to fire him in complete disgust and contempt. I can’t imagine treating people like this. All my people get paid before I take a dime, and that’s the value I live by. Superpowers: Honor and integrity

These are just a couple of things I’m proud of about myself. By enumerating these superpowers, traits and values I hold dear in my marketing message, it gives my prospective clients and website visitors a picture into my character and better attracts the kind of client with whom I want to work.

By spotlighting the fact that I hold honesty, integrity and respect in high esteem, I’m more likely to attract those kind of clients while organically repelling the ones who don’t fit that criteria.

What about you? What kinds of traits and experiences in your life or business are you most of? What unique superpowers do they translate to? I’d love to hear your stories!

Build a Website that WORKS!

PS: If you need help turning your business website into a marketing machine that gets you clients and consults, check out my guide How to Build a Website that WORKS (GDE-40). This guide gives you a crash course in inbound marketing and business modeling, step-by-step instructions for setting up your site architecture based on my proprietary lead capture and client conversion system, and my proprietary plug-n-play system for articulating your value and creating your unique, compelling, education-based marketing message that gets you more clients and consults.

I’m Back from my Sundance Festival Road Trip!

I'm Back from My Sundance Festival Road Trip!

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

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

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

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

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

Some of my road trip highlights:

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

I'm Back from My Sundance Festival Road Trip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm Back from My Sundance Festival Road Trip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Get Help When Starting Your Administrative Support Business

Here’s a little pet peeve of mine: leaving a Voicemail with no message other than your name and a request for me to call you.

I rarely return those calls. Almost every time, the folks who do this always want far more from me than I can provide them with in an unscheduled telephone conversation.

Once in a great while, I’ll make an exception and phone back one of these mystery callers. And nine times out of 10, it turns out they want me to personally walk them through all the ins and outs of starting an administrative support business.

I then kick myself in the butt for calling them back.

I resent being hijacked like that. It’s rude, plain and simple. It shows a complete lack of regard for the other person’s time and interest. What makes you think I don’t have other things to do except sit by the phone waiting to help you start your business… for free?

Of course, it’s my fault for answering or calling back. So these are reminders for me to honor my own boundaries and self-care.

Seriously. I get a jillion of these calls every week. I can’t help everyone individually. I have my own business to run, and my own life and priorities about who and what I give my time to.

Everything I can help them with is already here on the blog and the ACA website in the free resources and the business tools and guides I offer. I’m able to help many more people at once through these channels.

So, if you want help in starting your administrative support business, here are some tips to help you avoid any faux pas:

  1. Don’t hijack people. You will be more likely to get help if you leave a full message with not only who you are, but WHY you are calling. Don’t be evasive or trick people into calling you back (yes, I’ve actually had people do this!). They aren’t likely to want to help you when you do underhanded, manipulative things like that.
  2. Better yet, email first. Be upfront and direct about why you are writing. Knowing your intentions, the person at the other end can decide whether or not to give their time and better schedule something in advance. Be yourself and let your personality shine through; it’ll certainly make you much more noticeable and interesting. I’m a real person and I appreciate real, unpretentious people who don’t put on airs. But do remember to put your most professional written foot forward at the same time. Be specific and state your question or request clearly. I can’t (and won’t) spend my time trying to decipher incoherent thoughts and poor communication. I am always happy to answer clear, focused, specific questions on my blog here, but no one can help you with, How do I start an administrative support business? That’s what my blog, classes and business guides are for.
  3. Think of the other person, not only yourself. Consider the fact that someone who is knowledgeable, successful and in a position to help you is most likely in high demand from hundreds of people, all wanting the same thing as you. If they can’t help you personally, accept that graciously. Be respectful of their time and appreciative when they are able and willing  to give it to you. Your good attitude about this may even warm them up to you and help you make a personal connection where they are more inclined to take an interest in you. The worst attitude you can have is one of self-entitlement. No one owes you their time and attention.
  4. Be prepared to pay. Really think about this. Why should someone who doesn’t know you from Adam set aside their valuable time to give you a personal tour and advice in starting your business? It’s really self-centered to think like that. People like myself offer a TON of free info and advice to help folks. But if you want my personal time and guidance beyond the things that I already provide, I charge for that.
  5. Do your own homework first. No one is going to do everything for you. I never, ever help people who I see have not lifted a finger to help themselves first. Read everything. Apply critical thinking. Take the first steps yourself. If you can’t narrow your questions down, you haven’t done enough reading and research on your own yet. The person who has specific questions has obviously done this. The kind of questions they ask make it very clear to people like me how much legwork they’ve done already and how serious they are about their business. Those are the folks I enjoy helping because I see the wheels turning and they’ve made some level of commitment. They’re easier to help, and there is more satisfaction in helping them because they really apply themselves and the advice given to them. When it comes right down to it, I just simply like those people more. NO ONE likes an ask-hole. 😉
  6. Give back. I’ll let you in on a little secret… those who contact me and the very first thing they express is that they understand that I may or may not be able to help them personally… those are the folks who get my attention. Because to me, that shows a person of character and awareness about the needs of others, not just their own. Those people are givers, and I enjoy helping them most. I have no use for self-absorbed takers who want to suck your brain dry (for free, of course), but then can’t be bothered to say thank you . Which leads me to the point of this bullet, how you can give back to those who help you. First, always, always, always, always remember to say thank you. Let them know how they have helped you. Then, remember the time and knowledge they gave you and when they ask for feedback, input, testimonials or contributions to a discussion, give that to them! Those are things people in my position really, really appreciate in return.

Don’t Be a Non-Listener

I like what Keith Ferrazzi had to say recently:

Failing to listen well is rude. I don’t care whether you’re talking to the Queen of England or your intern. It very loudly communicates, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” And as a master relationship builder, it’s your job to care.

As an Administrative Consultant, it’s your job to listen well.

This includes all forms of listening, not only with your ears.

Being attentive to written details and instructions is a form of listening that’s absolutely essential to what we do. It’s a critical demonstration of your competence and qualification.

This should not be confused with asking clarifying questions when you need more information to get an accurate picture and understanding.

That’s actually a sign of attentive listener who wants to do a great job.

It’s when a person can’t follow simple instructions and ask for all kinds of hand-holding, particularly when the answers to their questions are right there in the instructions… that’s a waste of everyone’s time. Which is both incompetent and inconsiderate.

 

I have to be ruthless about how my time is expended. I’ve got too much on my plate and take care of lots of people and moving parts. So do clients.

Out of self-care and preservation, I have to write people off who don’t respect my time and attention by abjectly refusing to pay attention and read/follow instructions.

No one is going to want to work with you or keep working with anyone who has a problem listening (in all its forms).

 

Dear Danielle: How Do I Get Over the Fear that I’ve Forgotten Everything and Won’t Be Good Enough in Business?

Dear Danielle:

I sent an attorney the administrative support contract templates I purchased from your site. I contacted him knowing very well that it would be costly, but he offered to look them over at no cost. After not hearing back from him, I asked him once if he’d had a chance to look them over and he mentioned via email that he would look them over during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Well, as of today, I’ve yet to hear from him. Since he offered, I don’t want to bug him. I would really like to start marketing the business, but I’ve been hesitant because of this minor glitch. I’ve worked with contracts before and they looked fine to me, but contacted him because it’s smart to have an attorney look things over. I’m seriously thinking of writing him off and simply moving on. I really need to move forward with my business, but I’m nervous about working with my first client. I’m sure you can understand my dilemma and frustration. To be honest, I’m afraid I’ve forgotten everything I’ve learned in the last 15 years. Crazy, isn’t it? –DE

Not crazy at all. It’s scary starting a business and until we get things going and find our groove, nervousness, second-guessing, negative self-talk and low confidence are normal things we’ve all experienced. The trick is to power through them and go for it anyway!

So is that the only thing holding you up? If so, don’t give it another thought.

So you’re nervous about going live, so to speak. It’s perfectly understandable.

I’m willing to bet that waiting around for this attorney’s approval on the contracts is a way to keep dragging your feet (even if you might not consciously realize it). So I have two thoughts to offer you:

  1. Yes, I think you should write the attorney off at this point. It’s holding you up and when it does that, it’s no longer a kindness or a favor to you. Don’t allow empty promises to keep you from moving forward in your business. You were prepared to pay for this service originally. Find another attorney and pay him or her. Remember: You get what you pay for and you can’t expect much when it’s a freebie.
  2. For legal reasons I have to qualify my assurances by saying that you should always have an attorney look things over. That said, I work with attorneys, three of my uncles are attorneys, I developed these forms with my own attorneys and have been using them for over 12 years of business. So again, I want to encourage you to move forward. Waiting around for clearances and permissions and okays and not trusting in your own good counsel is going to keep you from rockin’ and rolling. Find another attorney to look them over when you get a chance, but in the meantime, you don’t have to wait on that to get started.

As far as being afraid you’ve forgotten everything, trust me you haven’t. It’s like riding a bike.

You’re simply experiencing the natural, usual fears that all of us have about putting ourselves out there.

We all have the inner self-critic in the back of our heads second-guessing everything we do. But you have to ignore that voice and plow forward.

Remember, you don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to know everything.

Some things you might be rusty at, but you’ll pick them back up with use.

There will be other things you might have to learn.

And then there are going to be other things you simply don’t need or want to provide.

Sometimes, the best advice is to not even think about all the what-ifs you may encounter.

Focus instead on getting that first client, taking that first step.

It might even be helpful to have an honest conversation with any new client letting them know that while you are an administrative expert and can definitely help them, you are new to business and there are going to be things that you’re still learning as you go along.

This will clear the air and take some of the perfection pressure off you. I also think most clients will find it such openness and honesty very refreshing and earn you their even greater confidence.

You’ll tweak and hone and fix things as you go along, which is to be expected in any business regardless, but if you don’t ever get started, you won’t ever get anywhere.

Go for it!

Dear Danielle: How Can I Handle Last Minute Work Requests at the End of the Month?

Dear Danielle:

My main issue around retainers is that toward the end of some months, I’m less than half way through some of my retainers (meaning, clients still have about half their hours unused). Then I get worried that the last week of the month is going to be a flurry of activity trying to get all the hours in. My clients know where they stand with my hours, and they also know that unused hours don’t roll over. However, I let this issue bother me and take up space in my head. How can I handle last minute requests on the very last days of the months from clients who haven’t utilized their retainers? –DB

This retainer issue is really all about standards, policies and procedures (and establishing sustainable business practices and workflows), and setting and managing client expectations around those things.

Here’s what I do in my practice…

  1. First, I set a standard in my business around how I work. I did not go into business to run around at non-stop hectic pace like a chicken with its head cut off. Okay, that was maybe a bit graphic, but you get my drift, lol. That kind of work pace also doesn’t serve clients well because that’s the kind of environment where you miss details and make dumb mistakes. And an overworked, stressed-out you is no good to anyone. So, my standard around the work I do for clients is that “I will create an work environment that gives me plenty of breathing room and allows me to do my best work for clients, consistently, reliably and at a humanly-sustainable, even-measured pace so that ALL my clients and their interests are given fair and equal importance.”
  2. Next, I translate that standard into the policies, procedures and protocols that enable me to work to that standard. For example, one policy is that I do not do same-day work requests. That’s because it creates the wrong kind expectation in clients that the minute they send you something, you’re going to drop everything you’re already doing to get it done. You can’t run and manage a business that way! And trying to do so will keep you from earning well. Likewise, when all your clients expect you to jump at the drop of a hat, you will very quickly end up disappointing them because there will be a day (sooner than you realize) when you won’t be able to deliver on that kind of promise because everyone wants their thing done NOW. This is what we call an unrealistic expectation. If you expect to work with more than one client, that’s simply not a standard or expectation that you will be able to maintain. So my procedure for that policy is that work requests must be given with a 3-day lead time. That means, clients need to plan ahead and give me at least that much time to get things done. Period.
  3. At the start of our business relationship, I given all clients my Client Guide which is simply a document that communicates all this information in positive, client-centric language so they see that they are dealing with a smart, professional, well-run business (which inspires their confidence in you) and that ultimately your policies, procedures and protocols are what allow you to take exceptional care of them. For clients, it’s a guide that tells them everything they need to know about how to get the most from your relationship: how things work in your business, how you will work together, what info they need to know and procedures to follow, how work requests are to be submitted, how those requests are managed and handled, and what to expect. For you, it’s a way to educate clients upfront and thereby set and manage their expectations the way you need them to be.
  4. I also hold a new client orientation with new clients to go over this guide, explain anything that needs elaboration, and answer further questions. These upfront steps go a long way toward a smoother and happier relationship moving forward and make working together much easier.

With regard to your specific situation, here’s how that would work if you also had a policy like mine where all work requests need to be submitted with 3-days advance notice.

  1. You add language to your retainer contract that specifies that with regard to end-of-month requests, they must be submitted at least three days prior to the last day of the month (our retainer contract comes with this language). The idea is to make sure clients understand that they can’t submit something on the last day, for instance, and expect that it is going to be covered under that month’s retainer, much less get done that same day. You need to have three days heads-up so as to fit things into already scheduled work and not be forced into last-minute, rush requests. If they don’t provide the proper notice, then it goes onto next month’s work and counted against those hours.
  2. Create a Client Guide (get my Client Guide template from the ACA Success Store) for all this information, and then distribute it to all your clients (new and current) from this point forward.
  3. You could stop selling hours entirely and instead use the value-based pricing methodology for administrative support that I teach. This way, you aren’t selling hours-based retainers so no one is scrambling at the end of the month to get all their hours worth. Instead, it focuses both you and the client on accomplishing goals and objectives (not using up hours), which is infinitely more productive and results-oriented.
  4. Of course, if you are still using hours-based retainers with clients, it the client’s responsibility to use them and plan accordingly. Just because they wait until the last second to drop the ball on you doesn’t mean you have to jump. The trick, however, is to communicate this standard/policy/protocol with them upfront, have it in your contract and Client Guide, and go over it with new clients in your orientation with them (as well as educate current clients).

You have to be able to manage the work that comes in and have time and breathing room to do it well, on your terms, at a humanly sustain pace.

When we’re rushed, we become sloppy and make mistakes, which is bad for your business reputation. It cheats your other clients out of your un-harried time and attention. It can also very quickly lead to resentment, which isn’t good for any relationship. It creates poor operating conditions which in turn negatively impact the quality of your work and service all the way around.

You’re not an indentured servant. You have a right — an obligation even — as a business owner and human being to care about doing good work and about how the work affects your morale, business image and operations.

Make sure you are instituting the protocols and procedures that allow you to create those conditions that lead to great service – for all your clients – and which take care of you as well.

If there is a pattern of clients not utilizing hours and/or waiting until the last second every month to scramble, that is something that could benefit from some deeper examination.

  • Are these ideal clients? Are you taking on any ol’ client just for the money? Consider that un-ideal clients also prevent you from getting better clients. If this is a pattern in your business, it could be that there is room for improvement in prequalifying clients, being pickier about the clients you choose, clearly identifying exactly who you like working with, who you work with best, and the kind of person who benefits most from working with you, and/or better educating clients about your policies and procedures, how those things work and (just as important) why they’re in place.
  • What are you doing to help clients utilize your support? Sure, it’s their responsibility to use their hours, but if you’re passively waiting to be told what to do, you’re not truly being an administrative partner. This is where my Client Consultation guide can help you. It’s incumbent upon you to be proactive, take charge of the process and figure out how to help client make use of your service as well as identify what areas of support you’ll help them with. One way to do that is by taking what you gleaned from your consultation conversation and regular meetings and coming up with a plan of support for them. This provides both of you with clearer direction and helps clients more easily give things over to you.

Beyond that, it’s up to clients, which leads to another side of the coin to consider:

If you end up with a client who has a pattern of not being able to follow your protocols, who consistently is not utilizing the service they have paid for, you may need to evaluate the fit of the relationship.

Someone not in business or solo practice might think, So what? It’s business, it’s money. But they don’t realize how awful it is to work with someone who simply isn’t using the service.

I don’t know of a single colleague who enjoys taking money from someone who isn’t utilizing their support. It’s completely de-energizing and unsatisfying.

We want to make money, yes, but we truly want to be of help and service at the same time. We want our gifts and talents to be needed, valued and used.

So if you find yourself with a client who isn’t using your support, and you feel you’ve done everything you can to help them give stuff over to you and they still can’t get with the program, it might be time to consider letting them go because it’s not doing either of you any good.

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Are last-minute work requests at the end of the month something you’ve experienced with your own retainer clients? Does any of this help give you some direction on how to remedy that? Be sure to check out the comments as there is some excellent continued dialogue on this topic (and leave your own comments and questions, too).

Dear Danielle: What Do You Do When a Client Wants to Jump Ahead and Overstep Your Processes?

Dear Danielle: What Do You Do When a Client Wants to Jump Ahead and Overstep Your Processes?

Dear Danielle:

What do you do in those situations when a client wants to jump ahead or step over your processes in a consultation? –MO

Ideally, in a perfect world, your pre-qualifying processes and marketing to your ideal clients and target market would attract just those who are the right fit.

Your ideal clients are going to be serious about getting your help, committed to doing whatever it takes to get there, and trust that you as the business owner and administrative expert have a reason for doing things the way you do.

When that is the case, they aren’t as likely to try and take short-cuts with your steps and processes.

But nothing is foolproof.

We can only do the best we can to make sure our time is reserved for the most qualified client candidates, but there will always be one or two who slip through and put a wrench in the works, despite our best efforts.

They aren’t bad people or anything. They might simply have priorities that aren’t going to work well with how you do things. Or, they might not understand the value of going through the process.

Whatever the reason, it is what it is. Nothing is going to follow your script exactly like you want or intend 100% of the time.

However, it’s always our job to help clients better understand.

We have to be able to think on our feet and do our best to rein the conversation back into the order of our processes and standards.

This is so that you and your client can make the best decision possible for both of you.

When that’s not possible, you have to just chalk it up to not being right for each other at that place in time.

My best advice is to help these clients better understand the reasons for your process.

Ask them to trust in it and explain that you will fully and openly talk about what it is they want to jump ahead to when you get to that part.

If they are impatient with that, it can mean that they will be difficult to work with anyway and doesn’t bode well for a happy relationship.

It can be hard to resist the urge to cave-in here, but I’ve found this to be a really important standard to uphold — for yourself and your client (even if/when they don’t understand that it’s in their best interests).

The good news is that most of the time, a client just needs a little reassurance that you recognize the importance or relevance of the thing they want to get to, and that you will definitely get to that part of the conversation and pay special attention to it in its due course.

Let them know you have an intentional process, ask them to trust the process, and guide the conversation back on track.