Archive for the ‘Setting Proper Expectations and Understandings’ Category

Why Being a “One-Stop Shop” Is BS

Why Being a "One-Stop" Shop is BS

I think the idea that very commonly travels around our circles that we should be “one-stop” shops is dangerous.

Dangerous in that it sets you up for failure and mediocrity.

Dangerous because it’s rooted in employee mindset.

Dangerous because it stems from an underlying lack of healthy professional self-esteem that who you are and what you do is ENOUGH.

And dangerous because it teaches clients and others to devalue the expertise you ARE in business to provide.

It is ENOUGH to be in one business, not a million different businesses at once (i.e., administrative support… not administrative support AND web design AND graphic design AND bookkeeping AND marketing AND social media AND writing/copywriting, and any and every other hat you can find to put on).

That BS is something employers pulled on their admin staff because they could get away with it (i.e., dumping every kind of work and role onto them beyond their job description without any promotion in title or pay).

You don’t need to carry that wrong and negative influence over into your business. And you shouldn’t.

Because you are not a human garbage dump.

Because business and employment are not the same thing.

And because running your business and working with clients as if you were still an employee keeps your business from really flourishing.

It is ENOUGH to keep your eye on your one focus and discipline.

In that way, you beat mediocrity and can be the very best you can be at the particular thing you are in business to do.

Trying to diversify and be all the things to every body keeps you unfocused and dilutes the time and energy needed to do any one thing particularly well.

People who specialize in mediocrity don’t make the big bucks, are tired and scattered all the time, and never gain traction in their businesses.

You DON’T have to solve ALL problems for clients. You only have to solve the problem your business is set up to solve.

You DON’T have to be all things to every body.

How to Converse with a Ninny

Recently, something reminded me of a conversation I had a while back with a colleague.

She was frustrated by an interaction she’d had with someone in a networking group and wasn’t sure what to do about.

The person had asked what she did. She answered that she was an Administrative Consultant and attempted to relate some of the tasks she helped clients with.

The person’s response was “Oh, so you’re a virtual assistant?”

She wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that because she most vehemently did not want to be associated with that term whatsoever.

In all honesty, some people aren’t worth your time. And the person she was talking to was obviously an uncouth ninny.

On what planet does anyone dictate to you what your title or term is, especially after you have just told them?

(That was a rhetorical question. The answer is it is never anyone’s place to call you anything except what you have instructed/informed them to call you.)

However, a big part of the problem was in how she was describing what she did.

At the time, this colleague was resistant to pinning down a target market, and the kinds of things she said she did were so broad, vague, and generalized that it’s no wonder people were confused and wanted to lump her in as a VA.

That term has become a garbage dump for “anyone doing anything.” It’s basically branded itself to mean “cheap gopher.”

She got caught up in reciting lists of tasks instead of having the more abstract conversation about how she helps clients through the expertise of administrative support.

If you’ve found yourself in a similar conversation, and you deign to indulge in it with someone, here’s how you could respond in order to better educate said ninnies:

THEM: “Oh, so you’re a VA?”

YOU: “No, as I mentioned, I am what is known as an Administrative Consultant. That is something different and more specific.”

THEM: “But aren’t you basically an assistant?”

YOU: “No, that’s not an accurate way to understand the business-to-business relationship I have with my clients. Let me ask you this: As a coach/attorney/accountant/designer/(insert their profession here), are you an assistant to your clients?”

THEM: “No, I’m their coach/attorney/accountant/designer/(whatever their business/profession is).”

YOU: “Exactly! That’s how to understand my relationship with clients as well. You and I both run businesses that offer a specific service and expertise. We both assist clients, but that doesn’t make us assistants, right? What each of us does doesn’t matter. The fact that we run independent businesses, each delivering a specific service and expertise is the important thing. For me, I happen to be in the business of providing administrative support. But I’m not an assistant because 1) assistant is a term of employment and I am not an employee to my clients in any way, shape or form, and 2) I don’t act as an assistant to clients. I am a business owner and professional who provides a specific service and expertise to my clients; they turn to me for my expertise in providing ongoing administrative support and guidance. And the term we use for someone in that specific business is Administrative Consultant.”

This is how I have had similar conversations in the past. But what I’ve found is that once you a) stop calling yourself an assistant, and b) stop describing your business and the service you provide and how you work with clients in assistant-like terms, people get it, and you aren’t going to have to deal with too many ninnies after that.

Have you ever found yourself in a similar conversation as this colleague? How did you navigate it?

Freelancing IS Running Your Own Business

See, it’s phrasing like this that is troublesome:

“If you have previous experience freelancing or running your own business…”

Freelancing IS running your own business. It’s not an or; it’s the same thing.

Phrasing like that makes people think it’s something different and separate, which is incorrect.

That’s why we have so many people in the industry who don’t realize that they are not employees, that they are running their own business, that it IS up to them to set the contracts and dictate the rules, etc.

It’s also why you should never use the term “freelancer.” Because it gives everyone the wrong idea all the way around.

How Can They Have It So Wrong?

It’s astounding to me that there is an entire organization based wholly on a misunderstanding of the law.

While Freelancer’s Union has its heart in the right place, they are utterly wrong about its most basic premise.

Freelancers are not part of the workforce. Freelancers are not “workers.” Freelancers, by definition of law, are self-employed BUSINESS OWNERS.

With articles like this, Freelancers Union is actually perpetuating the idea to employers to continue to disregard and abuse employment laws.

People who are “self-employed” are just that: self-employed. They are not employees or “workers” nor part of the “workforce.” (Those are terms of employment, not business, and have no place in a business-to-business context.)

They are running their own business providing a service. And when you are running your own business, it is up to you — and only you — to provide your own agreements and determine and dictate when, where and how you work, what you charge and everything else that goes along with being self-employed.

If you’re going to combat the problem, THIS is the education you need to be having with the self-employed who don’t understand these legal distinctions.

Freelancers Union could do more good by abolishing the idiotic word “freelancer” because it does nothing to educate the self-employed about their role as a business owner and how to run their business like a business and not work with clients like an employee.

That right there is responsible for nearly 100% of their nonpayment problems. As it is, all they are doing is creating more victims.

Use This Phrase Instead of “General”

Use This Phrase Instead of "General"

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

But administrative support is not “general.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s an alternative to better articulate your value:

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

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

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

Will you be making some changes?

Delete “Self-Employed Worker” from Your Business Vocabulary

Delete "Self-Employed Worker" from Your Business Vocabulary

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Danielle: Client Won’t Stop Calling Me Her Assistant

Dear Danielle: Client Won't Stop Calling Me Her Assistant

Dear Danielle:

Hi there! I am looking for your advice on a matter. I quite often will attend meetings or business functions with my clients. They tend to introduce me as their “assistant,” even though I have brought it to their attention that I am not an “assistant.” What would you suggest I have them introduce me as? Or how to go about ensuring it doesn’t continue to happen? —KP

Hi KP 🙂

Good question. It’s one I get a lot from people who are trying to transition away from the “assistant” model to administrative business owner.

The first thing you can do immediately is add a component to your Client Guide and new client orientations that instructs clients on exactly what to call you and how to introduce you to others.

In my own practice, I tell clients to refer to me as their administrator (for short) or Administrative Consultant (for more formal situations).

Next, put together a form letter/email and send it out to all your current clients so everyone is equally informed and updated at the same time and no one is singled out.

The side benefit to this kind of communication is that seeing it come from your business as a general communication helps underscore the fact that they are working with a business, not an employee.

Which leads us back to the original question: what to do about a client who continues to call you this when you have repeatedly asked them not to.

On the one hand, it could be an innocent mistake.

It is sometimes difficult to rid clients of old habits when they’ve been with us awhile. In which case, a heart-to-heart conversation with the client would be in order.

You could start the discussion, for example, with something like this:

“We’ve talked a few times about what I prefer to be called and how I ask my clients to refer to me when introducing me to others. This is something that’s important to me and my business. I’ve noticed that you still call me your assistant in those situations. Is there a reason why? What can I do to help you remember how to introduce me?”

I would very intentionally incorporate use of the words “client” and “business” to help this client understand the nature of the relationship. Because it’s also often the case that they simply haven’t been properly educated about that (which is on us, not them) and so they very innocently, but still mistakenly, may think you are an assistant.

And then listen to what they have to say and work toward a solution.

Of course, if you have a client who doesn’t give a good darn about your feelings and wishes, you have to ask yourself, “Is this a client who respects me? If there’s no mutual respect, is this someone I should be working with?”

Here are some blog posts that expand on this topic further that I think you’ll find helpful:

Dear Danielle: How to You Introduce Yourself to Clients and Prospects?

How to Have Clients Help Promote Your Business

Dear Danielle: This Client Is About to Ask Me to Pose as His Employee

Thanks for the question, KP. Let me know if this was useful to you. 🙂

***

Have you ever been in this situation? How did you handle it? Do you think my tips will help you better educate your clients and navigate this in the future?

Shaping the Relationship with Your Words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How are you educating yours?

Are You Feeling the Squeeze?

Are You Feeling the Squeeze?

A question people commonly ask in our business is “What hours do I need to be available for clients?”

They ask this question because they’re still thinking in assistant-mindset.

Here’s the thing:

You’re in business to provide a service. You have (or will have) several clients to take care of.

You simply cannot be instantly available to each and every client at the drop of a hat.

In fact, trying to do so will negatively affect your quality of work and client satisfaction.

You therefore need to understand that in business, when and how you and your clients work together is necessarily going to be very different from when you were an employee filling a position working for one employer.

This is the reason that “full-time” and “part-time” and what time zones you and your clients are in are completely irrelevant.

Instead of hours, what you need is a plan — a system — for managing your workload and requests.

This frees you from being chained to your desk 9-5 and having to be an “instant assistant.”

A system gives you the structure you need to handle everything in a timely manner without being rushed and squeezed and stressed.

It also gives clients a framework they can depend on without forcing you to be at their constant beck-and-call — which, by the way, is a business-killer because as your business grows into a viable income you can live on, that is not a promise you can sustain.

You NEED space to do great work for clients.

In the early years of my practice, I went through all these same growing pains.

I ended up with clients who thought I was their assistant (because, stupidly, that’s what I called myself back then).

Eventually, I had over 10 monthly retainer-paying clients — and I thought I was going to lose my mind.

That’s because those clients expected me to be at their immediate beck-and-call, just like an assistant.

I tried, heroically, to live up to those expectations, right up until the day that I realized how utterly miserable I was and what a mess my business had become.

Instead of doing good work, work that made a difference in my clients’ businesses, I was spending all my time in communications and jumping from fire to fire.

I didn’t have a business I loved, I didn’t have a business that supported my life. I had a business and clients who ran me.

That was not what I had envisioned for myself whatsoever.

That’s when it dawned on me that where I had failed was in not being in charge of my own business; by letting clients decide how things would work in my business (instead of the other way around).

I had let them make the rules by abdicating that authority in my own business.

I had not set any policies, practices or protocols in my business with any intention or forethought whatsoever.

I was under the misinformed delusion that that was what customer service was all about: jumping to attention the instant the client commanded.

I thought all I needed to do was give great service, which at that time to me meant: rush to respond quickly to everyone and get work done as fast as possible.

Oh, what a silly, naive girl I was!

Thank goodness I realized what utter nonsense that thinking was and came to my senses relatively quickly after “only” a few years of suffering.

Good service is so much more than that and involves a much bigger picture.

Many, MANY hard lessons were learned during that unhappy period.

Thankfully, my business survived (most are not so lucky), but not without shaking things up and completely overhauling how things work in it.

I had to get conscious and intentional about what I wanted from my business, how I wanted to work, who I wanted to work with, and what my values were around my work and serving clients (also known as standards).

This helped me then begin to set simple, but clear policies, procedures and protocols for operating my business and working with clients that supported those standards.

It was only then that I was able to begin creating the happier, more joyful, fulfilling business I had always wanted all along and that I enjoy today.

Now, I no longer have to work with so many clients (10 retainer clients was WAY too many, and I was WAY undercharging at that time as well).

I don’t have clients sweating me any longer because now I have a system for how work requests are managed and carried out that gives me the stress-free space I need to do the work well without being crowded.

The best thing is that I have far happier, more satisfied clients now than I ever did when I was trying to be that “instant assistant.”

And because they know exactly how things work upfront (all part of my system), working together is so much easier and more peaceful.

I also have the added benefit that I have a lot more ability to move things around to suit my life.

If something comes up and I decide I need an afternoon off or to take a day off in the middle of the week for something special, my system allows me to do that without my clients experiencing any hiccups.

I share this system I’ve developed in my own practice and have used happily and successfully for over 15 years now with all my clients in my guide: Power Productivity & Practice Management for Administrative Consultants.

If you are early on in your administrative support business, this is the perfect time to put a system like mine in place because it’s easier to on-board new clients in the ways you want than it is to retrain them after they’ve been spoiled by unsustainable practices.

However, even if you’re already established, but are feeling the squeeze and realize that something needs to change in your business, my guide shows you how to transition existing clients into new policies and procedures.

It’s never too late to improve your life and business. 😉

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).