Archive for the ‘Services’ Category

Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

Just Because You Can Doesn't Mean You Should

Just because you can do everything doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

People who are new in business don’t tend to understand this at first. They are too eager and excited to get those first paying clients.

But once you have more than one client, you begin to get an inking of this truth: you don’t want to bog yourself down doing too much stuff and trying to do every. single. thing. for clients.

You’re going to come up against a wall of overwhelm real quick if you don’t get clear and focused about what you do (and what you don’t) in your business.

Focus — on who you cater your support to and what you do for them — is key.

I see a lot of people in our industry really enamored with the idea of doing anything and everything.

It’s an idea they are hit over the head with when they first enter the industry at large, almost as if there is something virtuous about it.

NOTE: It’s not virtuous; it’s misguided. In fact, I am here to tell you it is keeping you from providing a superior level of administrative support and service that clients will pay well for. Doing every little thing is keeping you small and under-earning.

Most of the people who come to me for help in our industry are those who fell for the BS of doing anything and everything only to realize later just how much it is keeping them from being able to develop, from making more money, from having time for a life, and from having a business and clients that actually make them happy.

Sometimes there’s a bit of “savior complex” rooted in this notion, which also isn’t good for you or your business (or ultimately your clients).

Sometimes it’s a lack of professional self-esteem (again, common in people who are new in business). They don’t yet have a sense of confidence in their value and think they need to “prove” their worth by offering to do anything and everything.

Most of the time, though, the folks trying to do anything and everything are those who have not chosen a target market (which is simply a field/industry/profession you cater your administrative support to).

That’s how the cycle starts.

When you don’t know who you are talking to, it’s difficult to form a clear idea of specifically what you do and how you help.

That’s because having no clear idea of who you are talking to forces you to think in a manner that is too broad, vague, and generic.

And so they end up offering anything and everything they can think of that might be of value to someone, somewhere (anyone? pretty please?).

What ends up happening, though, is you become a garbage disposal that clients toss any old thing at, making up their own rules and expectations in your business in the process.

This is what Seth Godin calls being a “meandering generality instead of a meaningful specific.”

When you get specific about who you work with (i.e., target market), you’ll be able to more quickly, clearly, and specifically identify exactly what you do and don’t do that helps clients.

(HINT: And that’s NOT everything and the kitchen sink.)

Here’s an example of avoiding the constant busy-ness of certain work that keeps you from really developing your business into a more powerful revenue and freedom-generating machine.

I’ve long advocated that colleagues never manage any client’s email in-box:

  1. You are not their personal, on-call employee/assistant. (What, do they need you to wipe their ass for them when they go to the bathroom, too? Look, there are just some things that grown-ups need to do themselves. You didn’t go into business to be someone’s lackey, did you? You can get a job for that. Just say no to work like that. It’s not the kind of thing you need to be doing in business.)
  2. You have enough of your own emails to manage to take on anyone else’s; and
  3. In-box management is drudge work that will keep you in the reeds on a daily basis, never able to get beyond the busy-ness to work on higher-value, big-picture stuff, both in your business and theirs.

This is a good example of “you don’t have to do everything to be of value” because even though in-box management isn’t something you do, the time you free up for clients by doing the other things you DO do allows them to better manage their own in-boxes.

What you can do instead is share your tips, advice, and guidance with clients on how to better manage their own in-boxes.

You could do that by writing an ezine article and/or blog post, creating an info product for purchase, putting together an instructional video or DIY email training, or perhaps do a paid online class a couple times a year.

(And by the way, inviting people to sign up to your mailing list to get any one or all of these will help you grow your list and continue to keep in touch and nurture those relationships.)

Dealing with it like that, you are providing additional value without bogging yourself down in that kind of work.

You don’t have to do everything to be of value. Let that sink in.

(If you need help finally choosing a target market, get my free tool that helps walk you through the process.)

Interview with Danielle Keister, Founder of the Administrative Consultants Association

Interview with Danielle Keister, Founder of the Administrative Consultants Association

Last month a colleague asked for an interview with me, and I thought I would share my answers with you here as well.

Your Name:

Danielle Keister

Name of Your Business:

I am the founder of the Administrative Consultants Association (ACA), a professional organization for those running administrative support businesses. I also run my own administrative support business supporting solo attorneys who practice in the areas of business, intellectual property and entertainment law.

Years in Business:

I’ve been in business since 1997 when I officially took out my business license; longer if you want to include the years I did this work on the side informally. I originally started the organization now known as the Administrative Consultants Association (ACA) in 2005.

Q1. Tell me about starting your business. Why did you start it?

My husband died without warning in 1995, leaving me a young widow with a daughter to raise on my own. An unexpected loss like that really makes you question life and what you want out of it, how you want to live, what you want for yourself and your children, etc.: Are you living life on your own terms? How happy are you in the 9-to-5 grind? Is my child really getting the best of me if I’m tired and working all the time just to make ends meet? What kind of life am I providing for her? Is this really all there is?

I had previous forays into a few side businesses that I never really took anywhere. It was after the loss of my husband that I decided to get serious about taking the skills I had and turning them into a real business I could make a viable income from to create a better quality of life for myself and my daughter. I didn’t want to be a 9-to-5’er the rest of my life.

Q2. What is your role/job? What sort of responsibilities do you have?

I would say “job” is the wrong terminology to be using here since we are business owners, not employees. Some people may think that is pedantic, but consciously understanding the difference between employment and business ownership and having a business (not employee) mindset begins with using correct terminology.

In all my years of mentoring, what I’ve found is that those who never truly get over employee mindset and continue to work with their clients as if they were still employees don’t survive long in this business.

This is why I continue to clarify the distinction and make sure everyone I come across “gets” it. I want people to succeed in this business, which really starts with developing that all-important business sensibility.

As a solo business owner, I wear three hats: 1) I’m the CEO responsible for the development and direction of my business and making important decisions about the business; 2) I’m the manager responsible for managing all the moving parts and taking care of administration of the business; and 3) I’m the service provider — the craftsperson whose skills are the stock and trade of my business services.

Q3. What is your typical day like?

Very generally speaking, on a typical day, I wake up according to my own internal clock (I haven’t used an alarm clock in years).

Once I get up, I do a little yoga and stretching, eat, and then get cleaned up and dressed for the day. I fully admit to working in my bathrobe every once in awhile if I don’t have any plans to go anywhere that day, lol. But most of the time, leggings or long skirt with a comfy but stylish tee is how I roll.

I don’t like to rush into the day and prefer to check emails and get things sorted in my in-box as the first thing I do.

There is a lot of talk in many online places that discourage this, but I prefer the opposite and find this email clearing and organizing step much more conducive to my productivity for the rest of the day.

I then tend to dive into client work around 10 or 11 am (I always joke with people that my brain doesn’t get juiced up fully until around 11 am).

Depending on what’s on my plate for that day, I may work until between 4 and 6 pm. But it really varies, depending on the day’s workload, what priorities are in the queue, and what else I’ve got going on.

If the work in my queue gets done early, I don’t jump into the next day’s pile. I go enjoy life!

It does take discipline, though, not to fill your free time with work, work, work.

I think for most of us, our first instinct is to get as much done as quickly as we can. But that is really counterproductive and keeps you on a hamster wheel. It’s not good for you and ultimately it ends up not being good for clients.

You have to be diligent about respecting your own boundaries (which in turn trains clients to respect them as well) and give yourself lots of breathing room so you don’t burn out in this business.

At some point around noon or 1 pm I’ll knock off for lunch, maybe go somewhere to eat.

I also try to get a good walk/hike on most days (try being the operative word here lately). Depending on the weather, sometimes that’s first thing in the morning, sometimes it’s around midday, sometimes it’s later in the evening.

It really all depends, and this is the beautiful thing that I’ve created in my business: the freedom and flexibility to be able to listen to my own natural rhythms, structure my business around my life, and do what I want, when I want, while still taking great care of my clients. (I never sacrifice their needs; it’s all a matter of setting proper expectations and boundaries.)

I’ve also created what is essentially a 3-day work week (you can get my entire business management system here):

  • Mondays are my Admin Days where I take care of the admin in my own business or working on my business.
  • Tuesdays are my meeting days that I reserve for telephone meetings and appointments with clients and others.
  • Wednesday through Friday is when I do client work.

For the past few years, my life has been extra stressed caring for a sick, elderly dad. In full disclosure, I’ve really let my own self-care down. I’m beyond grateful I’ve built a business that allows me to do this for my dad, but it’s not easy and still comes with a cost that has taken a toll on me. Making my own self-care a priority again is something I wrestle with on a daily basis and am currently working to improve.

(For a more in-depth snapshot of my typical day, check out this post.)

Q4. What is the best thing about owning your own business?

As touched on above, the freedom and flexibility to live a less rushed/forced life; the ability to live according to my own natural rhythms and internal clock; and the ability to structure my business and its policies, procedures, and protocols so that I have plenty of time for life (or whatever is most important at any point in time; for me, right now, that is my dad).

I never ever want a business where I am living to work instead of working to live.

One of the things I’m always saying to my clients and colleagues is that your business should support your life, not suck the life from you. It took a lot of fits and starts, trial and error, and course correction, but I’m very proud of the business and income I’ve created today.

I also love that my daughter was able to see that self-sufficiency and determination modeled and be a part of my business journey.

Q5. What is the hardest thing about owning your own business?

Well, I’ll be frank with you: business ain’t for sissies, that’s fo sho!

I was extremely fortunate to have had some opportunities come up that gave me the financial means to take care of myself and my daughter while I started my business.

And later I was also fortunate to have a significant other to lean on during the rough spots, of which there were many, make no mistake.

It takes an extreme amount of perseverance, determination, self-motivation — and time —to get a business to a point where it’s actually solvent and sustainable and eventually profitable.

And, of course, everyone’s mileage and set of circumstances will vary. You just take advantage of everything you’ve got going for you, figure out the rest, and if you can get past all that, the rewards are amazing!

Q6. What advice do you have for someone wanting to start a business? What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started?

One of the reasons I started the ACA was to provide others with the knowledge and easier path in starting their own administrative support business that I didn’t have way back when. I did it all without knowing there were others doing what I was attempting to do.

One thing that was pivotal in my success was realizing that a secretarial service is not administrative support.

Secretarial services are project-based businesses where the person does something here and there for drive-by clients.

It’s an inherently volume-driven business, one that requires you to always be on the hunt for your next clients and projects, even while you try to complete the work in front of you.

It’s a plodding, exhausting way to try to make a living and extremely difficult to get profitable.

Once I realized that, instead of project work, I could provide administrative support being an ongoing right-hand to a handful of regular clients on a monthly basis instead of a constantly revolving door of one-time or sporadic clients and rinky-dink projects, that’s when I cracked the revenue code.

But it took me a few years to get to that realization and figure out how to structure things properly.

Now, I base all my training and business education products around that basic tenet so that others won’t waste so many months or years.

I show them how they can build a business based on retainer clients (which is where the bread-and-butter is) while still taking advantage of project work that comes along that is of interest to them (which is gravy).

Another bit of advice I have for folks is not to take shortcuts with the business startup process. Every step helps build your business mindset and sensibility.

People get impatient with the process and want to jump ahead of themselves and it’s really to their detriment and that of their clients.

I’ve seen more businesses shutter their doors because the owner didn’t put the proper foundations in place before taking on clients.

Don’t rush things. There is a little bit of back and forth involved as you figure things out, but beyond that, there is a basic step by step process involved in any business start-up. Don’t skip those parts:

  • Do the business plan.
  • Learn how your local, state and federal taxing and licensing works and what your responsibilities/obligations are.
  • Don’t take on clients before you’ve got at least a basic website up and mapped out a rudimentary set of policies, procedures and protocols. Your website is an incredibly important tool in properly educating clients about the nature of the relationship and bridging understanding so that you attract your right, most ideal clients. You will find that having something there to start with is going to be incredibly helpful in building, growing, and honing your business from there.

These are all exercises that help you create the strong foundations you need to be able to get — and keep — clients. The problems with clients and not getting the right ones happen when those things are absent.

If you were interviewing me, what other questions would you have for me? Let me know in the comments!

Sometimes It’s the Little Things that Make the Highest Impact

Sometimes It's the Little Things that Make the Greatest Impact

My target market is solo attorneys (specifically, those with a practice focus on business, intellectual property, and/or entertainment law) and believe it or not, even lawyers get writers block.

Pretty much everything they do involves writing so that can be a real business-killer.

And do you know what my clients tell me over and over is one of the most useful things I do for them?

Crazily enough, it’s simply starting a draft document or letter for them.

I set my clients up with their own branded templates for everything in their business: letterhead, envelopes, labels, pleading form, etc.

They could easily just open a template and start it themselves.

But quite often, because they can have so much other stuff on their plate at any given time, that simple step is too much for them to even begin and they get blocked.

So, whenever they need to start a complaint, write a motion response, reply to a letter, etc., they ask me to get the ball rolling. (Or, when I know one is needed, I just start one without being asked.)

And that simple assist of taking care of the back-end details so they don’t have to is what helps them break through the stuckness.

This is an example of why having an administrative partner is so useful to clients.

It’s not that they couldn’t do all or most of what we do for them themselves.

It’s that the mind plays tricks. It runs out of bandwidth when it tries to juggle too many details all alone.

With us as their administrative partner, we create a back-and-forth volley that helps them move through things step by step to keep their mind from getting overburdened and too ahead of themselves.

So it’s quite often the simplest of things we do that can have enormous positive impact and value for our clients.

Dear Danielle: Client Is a No-Show, What Should I Do Now?

Dear Danielle: Client Is a No-Show, What Should I Do Now?

Dear Danielle:

I’m sitting here waiting for a local client to show up in my office to pick up their “rush” job that they wanted me to drop everything for yesterday. I worked on this project for them until well past midnight. They said they would be here to collect my work at a certain time. I’ve been waiting now for over three hours with no sign of them, much less a phone call. I’m fuming! And this isn’t the first time this has happened. How should I handle this? –NT

What I don’t understand is why people in our industry seem to think “local” has to mean “in-person.”

Why treat local clients differently than you would clients in any other part of the world?

It shouldn’t matter where the clients operate or how you initially met them.

None of your business and transactions require you to have an office or do anything in-person. All of your business, local and otherwise, can be conducted “online” (i.e., via email, shared file drive, Skype, delivery, etc.).

I would even tell you it should all be done that way if you want to manage the business efficiently and have more time available for billable work and clients.

Think, really think, about just how much of your business resources are used up doing anything in-person for one client: the scheduling time, the travel to and from, time preparing, time spent getting professionally presentable, the time it takes away from your other clients and paying work, the loss of concentration and interruption of workflow…

In-person work and meetings cost vastly more in any business, even more so ours, because they take up much more time and energy. You can work with 10 x the number of clients — and make more money — in one hour of online time vs. one-hour of in-person time with one client.

If you’re going to do anything in-person with clients, you can charge a MUCH higher premium because it is a special service and consideration outside your normal operating procedures.

Doesn’t matter if a client is local. I don’t allow them to come to my home/office to drop off or pick up documents.

That’s what couriers, delivery services, the mail, and online shared document drives are for.

And I set those expectations upfront before I ever work with them.

I accomplish this by having a client intake/onboarding process.

This involves giving them a New Client Welcome Kit that explains things work in my business and what the policies and procedures are for working together, and then going over these things with them in a new client orientation meeting (which is done over the phone or Skype).

I certainly wouldn’t allow a client to continue to disrespect and abuse my time. Remember, we train people how to treat us. Trust me, you and your business will benefit greatly by nipping this practice in the bud.

So here’s what I would do:

  • Be direct and let this client know that you have an expectation that your time is respected in the same way you respect theirs.
  • Discontinue this ill-conceived idea of doing in-person work and transactions.
  • Draft a letter to your local clients and let them know that you’re implementing new policies and procedures in your business that ultimately allow you to serve them better. Point out that you are discontinuing the policy of office pickups and drop-offs, and that anything that can’t be sent back and forth electronically or via online shared directory in some way, may be couriered (or mailed, or whatever) to and from your office.
  • Adopt a special rush fee policy and get that into your contracts (this is already included in our contract templates from the ACA Success Store).
  • Send an official communication out to all your clients that rush projects may incur extra fees at your discretion.
  • Alternatively, you can also make it a standard in your business not to accept any rush work and require clients to plan ahead within your specified guidelines. (That doesn’t mean you can’t still help out a great client in a pinch if you so choose, but you want it to the exception, not the rule.)
  • Reevaluate your clients and consider firing the bad ones who can’t get with the program and consistently demonstrate a lack of appreciation and respect for you. Just because you have a policy to penalize bad clients doesn’t mean you should keep working with them. They are demoralizing and de-energizing to your business and exact a heavy toll that none of us in solo practice can afford. 😉
  • Start an Ideal Client list and an Un-Ideal Client list. Write down all the traits and characteristics of an ideal client for you (e.g., has no problem working together virtually, respects my time, follows my policies and procedures). Then write down all the traits and characteristics of all the bad clients you’ve had (e.g., disrespects my time, doesn’t show up or follow through when they say they will, is constantly disorganized and in a rush, always wants me to do rush work, but then doesn’t appreciate it when I do, wants everything yesterday…). You get the idea. Keep updating and honing these lists throughout the life of your business. Pull them out anytime you need to remember why you are in business for yourself and what you want for your life and happiness, and any time you are tempted to step over your standards and take on a client who exhibits any of those red flags.

Not Having Any Luck in this Business? Here’s What Could Be Going On

Ask Danielle

Last week I told you about asking colleagues on my mailing list why they are in this business.

I received a wonderful outpouring of responses, and I’m still working on responding personally to every one.

Several people wrote about having difficulty getting anywhere. Here’s an example from one colleague:

Unfortunately, nothing was happening with the business and then I got very discouraged and didn’t pursue it further.  I decided to put a pause on the business and change my career.”

This colleague plans to come back to the business at a later date. The thing is, though, when she does come back to it, she is likely to have the same difficulties. You aren’t going to get different results doing the same things that weren’t working in the first place.

So I probed a little further and asked her to elaborate and try to give me some more specific details about what she was experiencing. I asked if her difficulty was in finding clients. I asked if she had done a business plan. I asked if she had a target market (and if so, what was it). I asked if she had a website (because the website is a big window into the business as a whole and I can tell a whole lot just by taking a look there).

Here’s what she told me:

“I was having difficulty finding clients. I do have a website. My target market was individuals and corporations. Yes, I have done a business plan. I have networked and reached out to prospects about my company but I think the services I offer is not what popular. I’m not sure what I attribute my difficulties to, maybe marketing and the services.

There are a few things that immediately jump out at me as the cause of some of this colleague’s difficulties. I share because maybe you are in the same boat and it may help you as well:

  1. “Individuals and corporations” are not target markets, they are demographics. A target market is a single, specific industry/field/profession that you cater your administrative support and marketing message to. Saying “individuals” is your target market is like saying “people” is your target market. That could literally be anyone and mean anything. It’s the complete opposite of the definition of a target market. Because the point of having a target market is to get clarity and direction for who you are talking to (you can’t come up with any kind of compelling message unless you decide definitively who your audience is to be), what that group’s particular needs, goals, challenges and pains are, how you can help them in those things and structure your offerings in a way that will be of most interest and value to them, and where to find them. If you don’t decide who to focus on, you’re going to be all over the place talking about things in a way that can only be vague, generic and nebulous. That’s not going to have any impact on anyone.
  2. As a demographic, corporations are rarely, if ever, the best fit for what we do. That’s because they don’t need the solution Administrative Consultants are in business to offer. (And just to clarify, in the context of my conversation with this colleague, she’s using “corporations” in terms of “big business,” not literally anyone who happens to have incorporated their business.) Here’s the thing: generally speaking, big business has the kind of workloads that inherently require full-time, in-house, dedicated staff (and Administrative Consultants are not going to be able to work with any clients like that, from both a legal and practical standpoint). They also have the resources to pay for and house them. They don’t really need us. If they are even remotely interested in us, it’s only to offload non-core functions as cheaply as possible. That’s what offshoring/outsourcing is all about. They could care less about the relationship, and when there isn’t a real need, they don’t place much value on the service. And you can’t be in business to be cheap. It’s always the solopreneurs and boutique businesses that have the greatest need for what we’re in business to offer. They, therefore, place greater value in it and are more willing to pay well for it. So it’s important to understand who makes 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.
  3. When it comes to the service, you aren’t selling hammers, you’re selling what a hammer does, what it builds. My colleague states she thought she was offering services that weren’t popular. Here’s what she’s not understanding: It’s not “services” that you’re selling. As an Administrative Consultant, you are offering one thing: an ongoing relationship of administrative support. What that support is comprised of depends on the target market. This is why you need a target market. Once you decide specifically who to cater your support to, you can determine what body of tasks, functions and roles will be most helpful and compelling to that group. That’s when you’ll find the “popularity” you were lacking before.
  4. People don’t want to hear about your company, they want to hear about what your company can do for them. Read that two or three times and let it sink in. This makes a critical difference in how you are approaching people. But here’s the other thing, when you don’t know who you’re aiming for (because you’re just aiming at anyone and everyone), you don’t know anything about them and therefore don’t know how to talk to these people or what to talk about, you automatically default to talking about yourself and your company. If you had a target market, you would know specifically who you are aiming for, know what their common needs, goals, challenges and pains are in their industry, and you have something to talk about with them. My philosophy about networking is don’t do it. Instead, go to help, be of service, learn more about the people you meet and simply make friends. You’re going to have a lot better results that way. (For further insight when it comes to in-person networking, read this post: Are Business Cards Dead?)

For anyone out there who hasn’t yet decided on a target market, please do download the free ACA guide on “How to Choose Your Target Market.” It will help you TONS!

How about you? Have you had similar difficulty in your business? Do you find this information I’ve shared helpful?

Dear Danielle: Should I Offer Inbox Management for Clients?

Dear Danielle: Should I Offer Inbox Management for Clients?

Dear Danielle:

Do you recommend doing inbox management as a service offering for clients? It sort of feels a bit too ‘personal assistant’ to me. I did it for a past client and I didn’t enjoy it, but she was the proverbial client from hell and called on me night and day. I’m now molding my business to suit me. And wondering if you know of Admin Consultants who do inbox/email management. I usually suggest setting up auto-responders. But I guess if the compensation was right then perhaps it’s lucrative… I’m on the fence. Thanks kindly Danielle!Lisa Kelly, Admin Guru

Great question! I love any opportunity to elaborate on this as it’s sort of a lynchpin topic.

I don’t do any email/inbox management for clients and never have for exactly the reason you mention.

I’m not in business to be a personal assistant. I’m a strategic support partner.

That means clients and I are NOT going to be working day-to-day in the same way they would with an employee, nor am I going to be available to them (at their beck and call) in the same manner as an employee… because I’m not one.

I tell them to think of me like they would their attorney or accountant because that’s exactly how I want them to understand the relationship and how we’ll be working together.

And I come right out and tell them that if what they are looking for is a day-to-day assistant, then they need an employee.

What I do explain is that I can’t be in business to be their personal assistant for both legal and practical reasons, but that the time I do free up for them is time they can use to better manage their own inboxes (among other things) and feel less stressed and harried.

Of course, it’s also important to point out that I simply don’t have these kind of misunderstandings anymore now that I am an Administrative Consultant. When you don’t call yourself an assistant (i.e., Virtual Assistant), people don’t confuse you with one. 😉

The problem with offering that as a service is because it necessarily forces you to work with clients in a day-to-day assistant-like capacity.

Not only does that make it easy for the IRS to view you as an employee in that dynamic, but more importantly, I’m not trying to have a business that chains me to my desk every day and turns it into a job. Which is exactly what it would do because I’d have to constantly be monitoring inboxes and managing things.

I purposely never provide any kind of support that puts me in that kind of role. And it’s one of the reasons I have so much more freedom and flexibility than most people in our industry.

No one else has to do that to themselves either. You don’t have to offer those kind of services in order to still be of enormous benefit and value to clients.

In fact, one of the reasons I am of HIGHER value to my clients is because I don’t take on those kind of functions and roles. That frees my time and mental space for more valuable, important administrative work that has far greater impact and results in my clients’ businesses.

It’s not about how much you can do for clients that makes you valuable. It’s about how those things you selectively do for clients improve their businesses and lives.

I also wanted to touch on something else that your question brought up. I sense that you are about to step over your own standards. And my hope for you is that you don’t do that. Because it’s a slippery slope downhill from there.

No amount of money is ever enough to make you enjoy work you don’t like or make it worth turning your business (and life) into a drudgery and hell of your own making.

I urge you to stick to your guns about what you want. It’s the only way you will create the life and lifestyle you want for yourself.

The other thing that will benefit you in running your business your way and avoiding clients from hell is to get clear about your standards, boundaries, policies and procedures.

Start writing down how clients are to contact you, in what ways and within what time frames, how they are to communicate work to you (YOU decide that, not them), what your business days/hours are, and whatever information and protocols you need them to know, understand and follow in order to work with you.

Then inform clients of these things. Use your website to prequalify ideal clients. Talk about how things work in your consultations. Document them in a Client Guide that you give to new clients. Institute a new client orientation and go over these things again formally in that orientation.

These steps will go along way in making sure you work with ideal clients and that none of them turn into the clients from hell.

The industry at large is still so completely mired in employee mindset. They simply don’t know how to operate any other way except to keep being assistants.

So these questions and conversations are always an excellent tool to help them stop thinking of themselves as assistants and begin to think more entrepreneurially about administrative support, because it’s then that they start to see how they can operate differently, get better clients and make more money.

You don’t have to be an assistant to provide administrative support. They are not one and the same thing.

I’ll leave that for everyone to ponder. And if you just had an “aha!” moment from this, please let me know in the comments. 🙂

All my best moving onward and upward, Lisa!

(If you want more freedom and flexibility in your life and business, get my guide Power Productivity & Biz Management for Administrative Consultants (GDE-41) to learn all my systems, policies and standards for workload management and working with clients. One of the best tools you’ll learn in there is my 3/7 Guideline!)

Dear Danielle: How Do I Handle Requests Outside My Expertise?

Dear Danielle:

Hi! I often get asked by clients how to put together a “media kit” to get the word out for their events and what-not. While I am good at some marketing things, this stumps me with the overwhelming, not so helpful examples and opinions on the Internet. If you can, please shed some light on this brain thumper for me. Thanks so much! —Chrissy Ford, Organized Resources, Etc.

Hi Chrissy! Thanks so much for the question. 🙂

Rather than getting into the ingredients and mechanics of what goes in a media kit, I want to talk about some business concepts and mindsets involved in this kind of situation.

As you mention, marketing is not your field of expertise. And of course it’s not. Because you’re an ADMINISTRATIVE consultant, not a marketing consultant.

So the first concept this brings up is the idea around hiring the right professional for the job.

What I mean by that is, for example, if you’re a plumber, it’s not your job to become a mechanic just because a client needs his car fixed. You’re a plumber. Fixing cars is not the business you’re in and not your field of expertise.

See what I mean?

Now, people aren’t going to be calling a plumber when their car breaks down because they know what a plumber does and what a mechanic does. We all understand the distinctions.

But the problem in our industry, particularly for those who call and market themselves as “assistants,” is that these distinctions are not as clear. And that’s because people see and understand assistants as gophers, not as experts in one particular anything.

For those calling themselves assistants, this is why they not only have a much more difficult time commanding professional fees (because gophers are not highly valued experts and people accordingly don’t expect to pay them well), but it’s why they are frequently asked to do things that have nothing to do with administrative support.

So the second concept has to do with business mindset and understanding that you are not a gopher, you are an administrative expert. That is your field of expertise. You need to lead and focus on a clear-cut definition of what you’re in business to do and what your expertise is so that clients easily see and understand what your professional role is.

This also entails that you stop calling yourself an assistant. If administrative support is the business you are in, call yourself an Administrative Consultant instead and see just what a difference it makes!

These concepts also directly relate to managing your business and productivity as well. You can’t be in business to do anything and everything. Those who try are spread really thin, really quickly, all the time. If you want to have a productive business that leaves you plenty of time for life, you can’t let yourself be led down rabbit holes by taking on work that you consider outside your field of expertise or is not the type of thing you’re in business to do. Let clients hire the right professionals for those other things.

So when you are asked by clients to take on something that isn’t your role in your business to do, you can handle it one of several ways:

  1. You could decline the request, indicating to the client that it’s not your field of expertise, and that they would be best served by a [INSERT TITLE HERE] professional/consultant because that’s the kind of thing they are in business to do and are experts at.
  2. You could accept the request, letting the client know that it’s not your area of expertise, that you know as much as they do about the topic, and if they are okay with that, while you’ll do your best, it’s not going to be the same level or kind of expertise as they’d get by going to the proper professional.
  3. If you accept the request, you could let the client know that their request is a special project and not something included in their administrative support plan, and that you charge separately for special projects of that nature.

I know that doesn’t answer your direct question, but I hope it brings up some other ideas that are helpful to you in your business. If you have further questions on any of this, please do post in the comments. I’m happy to continue the conversation. 🙂

Dear Danielle: What Services Do You Provide?

Everyone is asking such great questions this week!

In response to my last post regarding how I structure my typical work week and day, several people have asked about services. Here’s an example:

Dear Danielle:

I am considering starting up my own Administrative Consultant business and was browsing through your website. I read what your typical work day looks like, but I have a quick question for you. What services do you provide for your clients?

This is always a tricky question for me to answer because it’s coming from the wrong perspective. I’ll do my best to try and clarify for everyone.

The problem with this question is that it’s thinking too transactionally. See, the first thing you need to understand is the difference between selling tasks/projects and providing support. Two completely different business models.

When you are in the business of support, you aren’t selling individual services or tasks because administrative support IS the service. Companies that are in the business of providing piecemeal tasks and services on an ad hoc basis are called secretarial services. That’s not the same thing as providing ongoing administrative support.

Ongoing administrative support is about providing a relationship and a body (or collection, if you will) of support areas all wrapped up into one. It’s not any one particular task or line-item service because the service that an Administrative Consultant provides IS administrative support. What that administrative support is comprised of is going to depend on your own target market. Do you see?

The best way I have come up with currently to describe administrative support is that it is the collection of tasks, functions and roles that keep a business organized, humming along smoothly and moving forward.

I created this video to help illustrate what that means (by the way, feel free to use it on your own website as it’s very helpful in educating clients in how you as an Administrative Consultant and expert help them):

Given that understanding, you can easily see that there is no way to come up with any kind of comprehensive listing of individual tasks and services that make up a body of administrative support because that support is going to be different for each and every one of us depending on each of our individual target markets. What I do for my clients administratively is not necessarily going to be the same thing you do for your clients, particularly if we have different target markets.

So, the more useful thing for you to be focusing on is determining who your target market is going to be and then learning all that you can about them. (A target market is simply a specific profession/field/industry that you plan to cater to.) How are their businesses run? Who are their clients? What kind of work is involved? What are their common goals, objectives and challenges?

Once you start answering these questions (by talking with them, surveying them, interacting with them online and off), you can begin deciding on what administrative support areas you can best help them with and tailor your offerings accordingly.

Let me know if you have more questions on this in the comments and I’ll be happy to elaborate a bit more. 🙂

PS: Pricing and structuring your packages is something I teach extensively on in my Value-Based Pricing & Packaging Toolkit. I also include so much more than just pricing and packaging–because these things affect just about everything else in your business:  how it is structured, your policies and procedures, marketing… everything. So not only do I teach you the foundational stuff and how to best frame and articulate your value in this self-study guide course, I also show you how to you map out your business to best frame your offerings, create additional revenue streams and make more money. Check it out!

Dear Danielle: What Is “the Work?”

Dear Danielle:

I am just starting my administrative support business.  I am networking and setting things up, but I have a question (hope it does not sound silly)… If you could, please list and/or explain some of the duties/work you in real terms. I hear everyone talk about “the work,” but I want to know the details. What kinds of things do people hire you to do? —AC

Not a silly question at all. Although I can’t say it’s the easiest to answer.

That’s because the administrative support that one Administrative Consultant provides to her clients can be completely different from what another Administrative Consultant provides.

It’s impossible to create any kind of comprehensive list because the work we do is so much more than that. More importantly, there’s no way to do that because no two clients, businesses and professions are the same. There might be some general similarities and overlap, but overall “the work” all depends on the clients, the industry they are in, the work they do and what their goals, objectives and challenges are.

So like me, for instance, I work with attorneys and business consultants. HUGE amounts of document work involved in both. I also have a lot of contact with their clients in various capacities, such as interviewing, doing intakes, making calls… I also have to interact with the courts, JAs and use the various filing systems. That’s just the teeniest tip of the iceberg.

What I do for my clients, given the professions they are in, is VERY different from the work of an Administrative Consultant who, for example, works with more online-based business owners. Those two markets do completely different things, have completely different interests and motivations, and the work, therefore, is vastly different.

Instead of trying to identify “the work” in only the most general sense, I would instead have you look at things from a different perspective.

1 You can’t be in business to do everything. So YOU have to define what you are in business to do. How I look at things is that administrative support is a skill, expertise and specialty all its own. As a business owner, I am not anyone’s assistant, personal valet or gopher. I am in business to provide administrative support to clients who need that expertise in their business.

2. Once you know what you are in business to do, you will have a better idea and focus about the kind of work you provide for clients. But that’s not the end of the story…

3. You also want to define what administrative support means to you. The best way I have to explain administrative support is that it is the collection of ongoing tasks, functions and roles that keep a business organized, running smoothly and moving forward. Where a lot of people get confused is thinking that administrative work is simply paperwork.

And administrative support isn’t just about administration (the back-end running of the business). Administration is only one area of a business where administrative support is provided. Administrative support encompasses work in ALL four areas of a business–administration, business development, marketing and networking, and working with clients.

Take a look at the quick video below and see if that doesn’t help you understand a bit better.

4. You also want to define a target market. For the same reason that you can’t be in business to do anything and everything, it is also impossible to try to work with anyone and everyone and create any kind of unique, meaningful, resonate and compelling message at the same time.

As Seth Godin says, “You can be a wandering generality or a meaningful specific.” Once you know who it is you are intending to work with, that right there is going to hugely allow you to identify and define “the work” you want to do with and for clients and separate it from different categories of project work you may want to charge separately for.

(And by the way, when you work with a very specific target market, the work and running your business becomes INFINITELY easier.)

5. Beyond all that, EVERYTHING depends on the consultation. Everything. You can’t begin to know how to support someone or what work is involved until you have spoken at length to the client to learn more about them, their business, their values, goals and the challenges they face.

If you want to get REALLY good at doing consultations and know EXACTLY how to proceed with them (what to talk about when, questions to ask, how to ask, what to look for, etc.), then I highly recommend you get my Client Consultation Process, “Breaking the Ice (GDE-03).” It covers everything from before, during and how to follow-up afterward.

What Does an Administrative Consultant Do for Me, You Ask?

Here’s a client education video for you.

Feel free to use it on your website to help explain to clients what you do and how you help them as someone who is in the administrative support business.