Archive for the ‘Solo Biz’ Category

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?

Dear Danielle: Should I Hire an Employee, Work with a Colleague or Bring in a Partner?

Dear Danielle:

I wanted to know your advice on growing. I am just on the verge of maybe needing help. Do I hire a colleague with her own company, hire an employee, or bring in a partner? I just don’t know. I feel like hiring is taking me out of the industry that I hold so near and dear to my heart. Also, do you have advice on how to select a person to bring into your business. I have had some offers from people, but they’re not familiar with the industry. Not sure if this is a good or bad thing. Could be good to teach someone from ground zero, but also time-consuming. –LE

Here’s what I find myself reminding colleagues of frequently:

Just because you’re solo doesn’t mean you need or should be working alone.

Being a solopreneur doesn’t mean you need to do everything yourself.

It simply means that the stock you’re trading is in your own intellectual capital and your unique personal skill, talent, know-how and experience.

Those aren’t things you can delegate, but you can certainly surround yourself with the right professional support so that you can focus doing what you do with your clients and let those who support you do the rest.

Those supporting you might include:

  • A bookkeeper so that you aren’t expending your time on that work (and also ensuring that it’s done correctly);
  • An accountant to make sure you stay in compliance with any financial or taxing agencies and to give you the best financial management advice; and/or
  • A business attorney to draft and/or review your contracts (both those in your own business as well as those others may want you to sign), run your legal questions by, and get advice on situations that hold potential liability for you and any other business matters that arise.

I also recommend that colleagues get their own Administrative Consultant, staff or a combination of both.

When you work with someone who you develop a relationship with over time, the possibilities are endless with regard to the support they can provide.

As they get to know you and how things work in your business, they’re able to support you in a way and to a degree that you just can’t get by outsourcing individual tasks here and there to people you don’t work with consistently.

On top of that, there’s greater ease and efficiency when you have someone you work closely and continuously like that.

You may even identify non-critical parts of the work you do with clients that don’t require your particular brand of expertise that you can have them do for you.

Of course, the relationship is always between you and your client and I never recommend outsourcing that.

When clients hire you, it’s for your brain, your critical thinking, your creativity and your expertise. Never abdicate that. It’s part of your value and part of the thing that makes your business distinctive.

But that doesn’t mean that parts of the work can’t be delegated within your own house to an employee or your own Administrative Consultant whom you have hired because they have impeccable skills and in whom you have absolute confidence. In fact, I will tell you that you will always be stuck within a certain income level if you don’t ever get your own help.

As already mentioned, another way to get support is to hire an employee or two.

You really don’t need much help in order for that support to make a hugely significant difference in your business. And there are all kinds of ways to get that kind of help.

You can hired paid interns from local colleges. You can participant in state work-study programs (where the state will repay you a percentage of whatever wages are paid to the student employee).

Of course with employees, there is more administration and taxes and reporting requirements involved, but if you have a professional bookkeeper, you should have them take care of processing paychecks and so forth.

I personally like a combination of both. I like to have someone in-house who can take care of filing and other things that just require a physical presence. Once a week or two for a few hours, just light clerical stuff. Someone like that you might not even end up paying more than $600 in a year in which case you wouldn’t be required to formally process that person as an employee.

But for the bigger, more important meat-and-potatoes work, if you will, I definitely recommend hiring the best, most highly skilled person you can afford.

Training just takes too much time and energy. And it doesn’t happen overnight.

Think about your own background. It took years to establish the kind of skill and expertise you now possess. How much time and energy will you have to invest before that unskilled, untrained person becomes a real, viable asset to your business rather than a drain? Just something to think about.

Which is why hiring a colleague (who is themselves a business owner) is the better option in my book.

As far as bringing on a partner, I can only offer my opinion which is emphatically: NOOOOOOO! Don’t do it!

Seriously, I have never seen a business partnership end well.

There are far too many agreements and understandings and potentialities to take into consideration.

And it seems it’s always the one thing you didn’t think about ahead of time that ends up causing a rift.

There can really only ever be one captain of a ship. Two will inevitably bump heads, want to steer in different directions or be the boss.

And regardless of legalities, the person who started the business always feels (at least emotionally) that they “own” more of the business and that feeling of “more ownership” often causes resentment with the other partner.

Decision-making, conflicting workstyles, having to compromise, differing visions or opinions… all of these things become more tedious and cumbersome. They complicate and slow down the business.

On top of that, the business now has to earn for two owners instead of just the one: you.

I don’t think you need a partner. I think you just need the right professional advisors, and business support and strategies.

Being Solo Doesn’t Mean Doing It Alone

I read an article today in one of the newsletters I keep up with that talked about the myth of being a successful solopreneur by bootstrapping.

This is a topic I’ve been meaning to write about myself so it came at the right time and got me in gear.

Administrative Consulting is inherently a solo-based business model due to the close, collaborative relationship the concept is based on.

But running a solo business does NOT mean doing everything yourself. By no means at all!

Just as we advise our clients and remind the marketplace that they simply can’t (and shouldn’t) do it all themselves and trying to do so will keep them from becoming successful, the same is true for Administrative Consultants.

I’m always advising colleagues: Get support, sooner rather than later.

Now, I’m not talking about farming out colleagues to clients. That’s not administrative support whatsoever. That’s virtual staffing (and lots of times, the ways in which many people are doing it is flat-out illegal).

What I’m talking about is hiring the employees and/or providers to help you run your business behind the scenes.

Don’t do your own bookkeeping–hire a bookkeeper.

Have an accountant take care of your taxes.

Maintain a relationship with a business attorney to answer legal questions when they arise.

Hire employees and/or your own Administrative Consultant to take care of the administrative work necessary to run your business and take on portions of your own client work that don’t require your personal expertise.

Leave certain jobs to the right professionals (for example, having a professional web designer create a business site that will attract clients, place well in the search engines and act as an actual marketing tool for your business).

Having all the key players to help you run your business will leave you to focus on clients, help you grow to the next level, and give you more free time and mental space to brainstorm and just enjoy life.

Hey, I don’t know about you, but I didn’t go into business with the intention that all I’d ever have time for was work and being chained to my computer.

Trust me, you’ll never make it to a six figure business without others helping you and supporting your business.

Dear Danielle: How Much Can I Expect to Earn in this Business?

Dear Danielle:

I’m still in the market research phase of starting my administrative support practice. Recently, a colleague and I were discussing yearly salary and work hours with her practice, and I was wondering if your experience has been similar to what she’s explained, before you got into training and from what you know of others in this business. Here’s what she said:

“I consider myself well established now. Despite this, I work between 15-25 billable hours a week and another 20-40 non-billable hours each week (on marketing, accounting, non-billable matter, etc.).”

My research suggests that someone who’s been in business for five years could anticipate gross earnings of approximately $30,000 per year. However, very specialized people make far more (in the range of $40,000 to $55,000).” –RD

If after 5 years someone is still only making $30,000 a year, there is a something seriously wrong in their business. They haven’t done proper business planning, are not charging appropriately and most like are charging hourly rates (selling hours/time) instead of setting fees based on value and results.

If you base your income on how many hours you have to sell, you will always limit your earning potential. I teach people how to use value-based pricing methodologies instead. Once you increase your business knowledge around pricing and how to price, package and present your fees and support plans, your earning ability goes up dramatically. In fact, you can earn more working with fewer clients that way.

Before we talk about what you can expect to make, I want to first make sure we are on the same page about what this business is about. This is important because your understanding of this will directly impact the profitability of your practice.

You mention the word “specialize.” What this usually indicates is a fundamental lack of understanding about what administrative support is.

Administrative support is already a specialty in and of itself. An Administrative Consultant is someone who specializes in providing ongoing, right-hand, across-the-board style administrative support. That’s an important distinction to understand for a few reasons.

For one thing, it’s a completely different business model from, say, a secretarial service, which is in the business of providing individual, transactional, project-based secretarial services.

They’re the Kinko’s, so to speak, of the administrative world. And the reason it’s important to understand the difference in these business models is because the businesses earn money in very different ways, they operate very differently, they have very different labor and administration needs, expenses and operating costs, and they market very differently and attract a completely different kind of clientele.

However, the very most important reason to understand the distinction is that these two business models deliver completely different solutions.

Administrative support is a relationship, one where you’re providing a long-term, more impactful and integral solution that supports the client’s business as a whole and where the focus is the ongoing dynamic and evolving work relationship.

A secretarial service is more like a one-night stand, where what is provided is a quick transaction where the focus and sole purpose is the completion of a single project or task at hand.

As you can see, then, administration is a specialized function already. It’s also work that is inherently ongoing. So going back to what it means to specialize, we already have a specialty: ongoing administrative support for clients we work with in continuous, collaborative relationship.

If someone specializes in some other function, then they are something else completely. For example:

  • If someone specializes in marketing, they are a marketing professional.
  • If they specialize in web design/development, they are a web designer/developer.
  • If they specialize in bookkeeping or accounting, they are a bookkeeper or accountant.

Your colleague is confusing specialization with categories of business. What you specialize in IS the business. If you specialize in administrative support, you’re an Administrative Consultant.

People in our industry also commonly confuse specializing with the tasks involved.

When we talk about specialization, what that really refers to is not the work or tasks, but rather a target market.

Those who specialize in a target market (which is simply a field/industry/profession you cater your administrative support to) have a much easier, quicker time getting started and gaining clients. That’s because it provides them with greater focus and direction.

Now, that’s not to say that you can’t offer additional related services and support. The point I’m making is just because you offer something else doesn’t make it all administrative support. Web design is web design. Bookkeeping is bookkeeping. Marketing is marketing, and so on. These are each their own separate and distinct professions and categories of business.

There are lots of folks who offer creative and technical services in addition to their administrative support. But that doesn’t make those additional services or divisions or specialties in their practice the same things as administrative support.

They are still distinct from one another.

This is all very important because your understanding of these distinctions will directly impact how you structure and charge your fees to earn well.

Is this becoming clearer to you?

If so, you can begin to see that your ability to charge well doesn’t have to do with specializing in any one task.

As an Administrative Consultant, you already have a specialty (that of ongoing administrative support).

What earning well in this industry has to do with is your view and understanding of your value and the solution you are in business to provide, how you frame and portray yourself as a professional,  how you effectively articulate your value to your desired clientele in the context of their needs, goals and challenges, and the pricing strategies you employ to focus them on the value and benefits rather than hours.

Earning well also doesn’t have to do with how long you’ve been in business or how many billable hours you have at their disposal.

(And if after five years someone is still only earning $30,000 a year, there is something seriously wrong and need to get the help of someone like me).

Those who intimately and more deeply understand the solution they provide and its value to their target market have much more confidence.

This understanding, in turn, allows them to have more effective, resonate, compelling conversations with clients and command professional fees.

Those fees can earn them well into six figures, but you only get there by doing things smartly and strategically. It will require some shifts in thinking about the pricing you offer clients. People who are still stuck selling hours in their retainers don’t commonly earn into six figures.

I really recommend you get my marketing guide. It will walk you through a systematic, step-by-step process of understanding more deeply and clearly the solution and value you provide to clients, choosing a target market, profiling your ideal client, and then putting it all together to come up with your own unique value proposition.

You can also get off the hourly rate merry-go-round (which drastically limits your earning potential) by learning how to implement value-based pricing and how to focus clients on value and results rather than selling hours.

Colleague Q & A: Working with Clients

A colleague and I were chatting online recently. It was a great conversation and I realized afterward the information would be so helpful to others as well.

With that in mind, here’s a transcript of our mini Q & A session:

Danielle: So you had a great call with a client this week?

KT: This morning. I’ve really found my rhythm with all of my clients. It feels great.

Danielle: What was it about the call that made it especially energizing?

KT: I discovered that I need to know my clients in order to do a good job with them. We got to know each other a little better on a personal and professional level. I feel more confident in myself as a service provider and as a business owner. I think that is coming across to the clients.

Danielle: So what was not happening before that you weren’t getting to know your clients?

KT: I think I was busy getting to know me, the business owner. I am great with people. I just had no idea how much of my successful interaction with them was dependent on visual cues. Initially, virtual relationships were a bit disconcerting for me. Truth be told, they still are in some ways. However, I do think I’ve found my sea legs and I’m becoming more comfortable.

Danielle: Excellent! And how often were you meeting with clients? How often are you meeting now?

KT: Before, it was very irregular. With one client, we have a scheduled monthly update meeting, but we call each other in between if necessary. Another client is bi-weekly. The third client is as needed.

Danielle: May I suggest something that I think will help?

KT: Absolutely.

Danielle: Cool… I suggest weekly telephone meeting with clients, especially, and most importantly, with new clients, at least for the first 3 to 6 months (if not the first year). Make it part of the process and part of your standards. Because it absolutely will work like nothing else in: a) establishing and maintaining that personal connection that is vital to the partnership, and b) creating a platform in order to better serve clients and thereby growing and increasing your role and understanding in the work.

KT: I have found it immensely helpful to have that regular personal contact, so making it a regular part of the week sounds good to me. I really like the opportunity to find out how the client’s priorities may have shifted, and what new information may impact projects we’re working on.

Danielle: Absolutely! Eventually, when you’ve worked with a client for a number of years, you may both find that the connection is so solid you don’t need that level of frequency, that your communication and relationship with each other is so sympatico that your email exchanges pretty much take care of everything. At that point, you may find that twice or once monthly meetings is all that’s needed. But do continue to meet on a regular basis of some kind. It helps “water” the relationship and keep it thriving.

KT. I think this is a fabulous idea!

Danielle: The important factor, I’ve also found, is making it systematic. Don’t let it be willy nilly. Make it a planned and regularly scheduled event in the relationship. Not only will it make it that much easier to manage all your weekly telephone meetings with clients, but it will also be less disruptive to actual work. Set it and forget it is the idea (not forget it, of course, but just get it scheduled for the same time/same day every week so it becomes a routine for everyone).

KT: Ideally, I would like to do them on Monday morning. I can’t think of a more productive way to start the week.

Danielle: Whatever day makes sense for you. I don’t know how you feel about this, but one thing that’s helped my business run smoothly is that I don’t let clients decide what day these calls are held. I tell them right in the consultation process that we’ll have a weekly one-hour meeting and I do those on Tuesdays and I give them a couple times to choose from that will be their regular “slot” from that point on. They don’t get options so they have to be able to work with that or we can’t work together.

KT: How do you get around a client saying that they aren’t available at the time you want to schedule the call?

Danielle: What I tell them is that if they aren’t available for a particular week’s call, I would expect them to give me advance (not last minute) notice so that I can schedule other things and that we’ll just resume the following week. I don’t do reschedules for that same week. I have a very systematic, scheduled system and I serve clients exceptionally well because of it. I don’t worry too much about the time unless it feels like there’s a real abuse or disrespect going on. Then we’ll have a talk and if it ever comes down to it, the time will come out of their hours. Of course, when that is the case, it’s usually time to recognize whether a client is a fit or not. But that’s worst case scenario stuff. Personally, I haven’t had much problem with that in many, many years and you usually don’t when you make sure you’re working with ideal clients who value you in the first place.

KT: Is there any advantage regarding who places the call, you or the client?

Danielle: Whatever your personal preference is. I think there can be power plays with that whole thing, which isn’t of any interest to me personally. I tend to see that stuff as game-playing and that’s definitely not relational. I call clients because I feel it’s an opportunity to demonstrate customer service. But either way, you might both decide that it will be the client who calls you. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way as long as it’s not decided out of game-playing or power-tripping.

KT: Are your clients fairly long-term?

Danielle: All of my clients since about 2002 have been long-term (i.e., monthly retainer).

KT: When a client wants to work with you, what criteria do you use to determine whether you want to work with the client?

Danielle: That’s a good question… of course, there are my hard criteria — the qualifiers and list of prerequisites that help ensure I’m not wasting your time with anyone who is absolutely not going to be a fit. They have to be in my target market (I work with solo attorneys in business, intellectual property and entertainment law). They have to be at a certain income level. I avoid those in start-up phase; they’re generally too disorganized and tend to have no money or reliable cashflow at that stage. Then, once I do meet with someone in consultation and I determine that their goals are things I can help them with, I look at the person themselves and ask questions to get some insight into their their relationship/communication/work styles are. That’s when it comes down to intuition and chemistry. If you have a reasonable sense that you’d enjoy working with someone, go for it. You do what you can to make as educated a decision as possible when choosing clients (because it’s definitely not profitable to work with poor-fitting clients and after all that work you’ve invested onboarding them, you want it to be worth your while), but if it doesn’t work out, no big deal. Either of you can walk away at any time (with some courteous amount of notice, of course).

KT: Regarding certain income, how do you verify that the client isn’t just telling you what you want to hear?

Danielle: Well, you don’t ever know absolutely for sure. Trust goes both ways. You just have to go with your gut. If they appear to be truthful (looking the part) and you feel they are being truthful, and you feel a good chemistry and authenticity, go for it. And again, if it doesn’t work out, walk away. Exercise your option to terminate the contract with whatever notice is stipulated. Simple as that.

KT: How did you handle it when your gut was telling you to walk away, but your wallet was telling you that you desperately need the income? (I ended up walking away, but not nearly soon enough.)

Danielle: There’s no miracle solution for that. Reality is reality. I think the best you can do when you feel you can’t immediately walk away (because you need the money), but recognize that the situation isn’t good for you or your business, is that you work as hard as you can to replace that client ASAP so that you can let them go. I’ll say this, however: that being invested in the money or outcomes is exactly what enslaves you to poor-fitting clients. It’s a tricky business, but if you can somehow mentally train yourself not to care about the money or what happens, however you want to explain how that works in the world (laws of attraction, power of intention, whatever), it really does work out for the best. In fact, I would tell you just out of my own experience, things always work out far better when you can do that. You make better decisions and more ideal things come in to replace the unideal much more quickly.

KT: Danielle, you are such a sweetheart to share your wisdom with me. I really do appreciate it! I’m gonna try and log some billable time in this afternoon, but even though it wasn’t billable, this has been the most productive part of my day.

Danielle: My pleasure; it was fun talking with you. You ask really smart questions and I love that about you.