Archive for the ‘Solo Biz’ Category

Are You Building a Burnout-Proof Business?

Are You Building a Burnout-Proof Business?

Good article from Zapier today: 10 Signs that You’re Headed for Burnout

This is why it’s so important to build a business around YOUR needs first, not clients.

Figure that out, formalize it, write it down, and say it out loud. Then, choose only clients, work, and business practices that align with those standards, intentions and values.

When all you do is chase after any clients without discernment, working just for the money, instead of instituting policies, procedures and protocols around the standards and values you want for yourself and your business, and you continue to work with less than ideal clients, that is a fast path to stress, overwhelm, then burnout and exhaustion.

And don’t misunderstand me. I’m not talking about making clients second-fiddle. Far from it.

It’s actually about the fact that by putting yourself first and building a business that serves YOU and your needs first, you are actually FAR better equipped to a) get better clients, and b) take exceptionally good care of those clients.

A business that doesn’t make you happy ultimately does no one any good, not you and not the clients.

Do Your Family and Friends Respect Your Business?

Do you ever have trouble getting family and friends to respect your business?

I know I still do sometimes, even after doing this for over 20 years.

I don’t know that it will ever change when it comes to certain people we have to deal with in our lives.

Here’s an example of what I mean…

So one of the reasons I went into business for myself is to have more control over my own life. To have more say about how I spend my time (and on whom), to get more joy and fulfillment out of the work I do and the gratification it brings seeing how it helps my clients in very immediate and impactful ways.

Most of all, I wanted to be able to be present in my own life, to be able to be there for those I love.

My dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s about 10 years ago. In 2014, his health took a severe nosedive and he ended up in the ER and then assisted living for a year.

My sister lives in the same city as my dad, but doesn’t drive and works a 9-5 job.

I live about an hour away, but since I am the only one who drives, I’m the one who had to pick everyone up and shuttle them around back and forth.

Since that time, because I’m the only one who drives and because I have a business working for myself and have the flexibility, I’m the one who has scheduled all my dad’s various appointments and run him around to all of them: primary care, neurologist, weekly B12 shots, eye appointments, hearing appointments, cognitive testing, blood draws, etc.

I take him to get his hair cut, his toe nails taken care of (he needs a special appointment for this), runs to the grocery store, the pharmacy, and a multitude of other errands.

I also make sure his house stays clean (especially his bathroom) and check the fridge to make sure anything old and expired is thrown out since my sister, who actually lives mere blocks from him, fails to do any of this no matter how many times I ask.

I’m happy to do it; there also isn’t anyone else to do it so it falls on my shoulders. Someone has to take care of him, right?

While I’m grateful to be able to do it, at the same time, it’s no easy task. It eats up a shit ton of time and energy.

Plus, it’s not all happy, happy, joy, joy. My relationship with my dad has been difficult and strained my whole life.

And doing all of this, making the time to do it, has had negative effects on my business, cost me a lot in very real financial ways, and caused me to lose a whole lot of momentum.

Having to take my dad to what may only be a half-hour appointment ends up eating a whole day of my time and energy and actual work hours.

It disrupts my entire life and business. I’m completely spent and it sometimes takes me a day or two to recuperate and get back into the swing of things.

Yes, I am very fortunate I have the freedom and flexibility to be able to do this for my dad. My dad and my sister are very lucky that I’m in the position I am to be able to do it because if I didn’t, there’s no one else to fall back on.

Still, it really sucks that they take it for granted and don’t consider just how much of a toll it takes on my life and my livelihood.

If my sister had to do this while trying to hold down a job, she’d end up in the loony bin, not to mention fired.

But she’s so cavalier about my time and doesn’t seem to grasp the fact that, um, hey, I work for a living, too!

It’s so easy for people to look at your life and think all you’re doing is sitting around at home playing on the computer.

They don’t see that you are doing real work, important work, for real people who are depending on you in very real and important ways.

Your clients have invested their time and money and faith in you, and you have the privilege and duty to not let them down and manage your obligations to them.

So what’s the solution?

Maybe we need to set more boundaries and make sure the people in our lives honor those boundaries.

Maybe we need to be more respectful of own boundaries and not step over them and make concessions all the time.

Because it’s a slippery slope when we do that, and next thing you know, you have no boundaries at all.

Maybe we need to say “no” more often.

It’s honorable to want to help and to be able to make sacrifices when it’s important and necessary to do so. But we can’t neglect our own self-care.

When you say “yes” too often, people tend to take it for granted.

Don’t let them off the hook so easy. Make them shoulder more of the load.

It may not be easy to say “no,” but I think we are all worthy of looking out for our own health and best interests as much as we look out and care for others in our lives.

Maybe we need to dress our businesses up in more formal, tangible, traditional ways.

Have that professional website up. Have those professionally printed business cards. Establish professional hours. Lay down the law with your family and friends so that they know when you’re working in your business, you are AT WORK.

If this is one of the problems you have, don’t let them just drop in and gab any ol’ time they please. Make appointments. If someone drops in unannounced, politely but assertively turn them away. Let them know what your office hours are and that they need to call or email first to make sure if or when you are free (that’s just basic good manners anyway; their lack of consideration is one thing; you accepting it is another).

Dedicate a room in your home for your office. If you don’t have a room, then a space. And make sure everyone knows that that space is sacred and off limits.

If you live with others, perhaps putting on “work” clothes and getting out of the bathrobe once in awhile (lol) will help them see that you take your business as serious as they take their job.

While we sometimes need to have a straight talk with a client now and then about boundaries (and a lot of times, it’s we ourselves who teach them bad habits in the first place), I think a lot of times it’s our family and friends who are the worst at respecting our businesses and boundaries.

Have you experienced this in some way yourself? What are some of the ways you have dealt with 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.

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 to Do When Business Is Slow

This part of the year can be a slow time for a lot of people in business.

The holidays are coming, people have other things on their mind, and it can be a time of reflection and planning for the new year.

It’s the natural ebb and flow of life and business, and it’s nice to have a break to catch your breath.

With that in mind, I’d like to point you to one of my classic posts on what you can do to be proactive and turn these periodic slow-downs into opportunities.

How to Turn Business Slow-Down Into Opportunity

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reaching out, Sue. 🙂

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

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

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

What you want to ask instead is:

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

There is your answer. 😉

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

***

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).

On the Topic of “Variety”

When you ask people in our industry why they started their businesses, one of the top reasons they’ll give is to have a lifestyle that allows for more free/quality time for family or taking care of loved ones.

So it always surprises me that these same folks end up creating practices and operating conditions that allow them to do anything but that.

One of the problems is that they resist the idea of narrowing down their focus to a specific target market.

(Note: A target market is simply an industry/field/profession that you cater your administrative support to. For example, financial advisors or attorneys or coaches or speakers…

It’s so crazy because it’s the one thing that will make everything in their businesses easier and more profitable — in terms of money and time — in marketing and running a successful administrative support practice.

One of the rationalizations I always hear is some variation of the theme, “But I like lots of variety; I’ll get bored if I do the same thing all the time.”

This is when I know I’m dealing with a newbie and/or someone who has no clients.

Because when you have clients, particularly in a specific target market where you specialize in supporting their particular industry, the LAST thing you are is bored. That’s because the more you specialize in supporting a specific target market, the more interesting the work is, the more you can uncover more meaningful and valuable work to do for clients, and the more kinds of work/ways there are for you to support them.

These newbies/people with no clients mistakenly think that in order to have variety, they have to have all these different kinds of clients.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that per se.

But what happens in having all these widely varying kinds of clients is that they have to shift so many mental gears in doing the work, that it actually make the work more difficult, more time-consuming and keeps them from making more money.

So my question is always this:

What’s the point of “variety” if you’re working yourself to the bone trying to scrape together a living at this and that while never have any time to enjoy the fruits of your labor?

Because I have news for ya: spreading yourself all over the map in an effort to have “variety” is going to keep you from creating the kind of administrative support business that comes with more ease, more time and more freedom to spend with friends and family and live and enjoy your life.

None of us wants to be bored or unchallenged in our work. And if you choose the right target market, you won’t be.

You will have lots of interesting work and variety and experiences within a target market. Because one of the things that a target market should be is one where you have an affinity for and enjoyment of the kinds of people and work that is involved.

If you choose a target market on that basis,  variety will never be an issue.

Another benefit to focusing on a target market is that you get really good at doing the kinds of work that that market really needs. In the process of that, it allows you to become the go-to expert.

Not only will that make your business easier to run, thus allowing you more freedom and time away from the work, but you can also command higher fees.

When you command higher fees, you don’t have to work with as many clients to make what need/want to make.

When you have a clearly defined target market, it gives you direction. You can better study your market, talk to its needs and frame your offering in ways that are the most resonate and attractive specifically to it.

Your efforts are more focused and more effective as a consequence. You’ll be able to build your practice more quickly and easily.

Some people worry that focusing on a target market will exclude other markets.

But here’s the thing: it’s not going to.

The irony is that the kind of clarity that grows out of extreme focus only makes you more attractive to all kinds of other markets besides the one you’ve chosen to “speak” to.

Your message becomes more differentiated and more attractive and compelling.

And even if it was true, what would it matter if other markets were turned away if you were already getting all the clients you needed and more within your target market?