Archive for the ‘Starting Your Biz’ Category

How NOT to Choose Your Clients (and What to Do Instead)

How NOT to Choose Your Clients (and What to Do Instead)

One of the best investments you can make in the long-term sustainability of your business, happiness and peace of mind is choosing your clients wisely.

As you grow in your business, your selection process will evolve and your discernment skills will improve.

No matter how young or inexperienced your business is, though, having clients meet at least some minimal criteria before you allow them on your roster will always serve you well.

That’s because choosing to work with shady or otherwise unideal clients will come back to bite you in the butt, one way or another, either sooner or later.

I was reminded recently of a colleague who reached out to me after being approached by a client who raised all kinds of red flags with her.

Being new in business, she asked me what I thought she should do, and I gave her the advice I always give in this situation: trust your gut.

And she, as new people often do, ignored her own wise counsel and all the telltale signs indicating that this was a bad idea and took the client on anyway.

While she found this client’s honesty and integrity questionable, she wanted the experience and was too eager and impatient for clients to let this first one go.

She rationalized this decision by telling herself that it wasn’t her place to judge, that everyone deserves benefit of the doubt, that she would just put blinders on and do whatever honest work she was given and not involve herself in anything beyond that, and that it wasn’t her place to question things.

She wouldn’t engage in anything illegal, unethical or dishonest, she told herself, and what she didn’t know beyond that wasn’t any of her business.

But here’s the thing: It IS your business to question things. You are deluding yourself if you think you can keep it separate and not be complicit.

Well, long story short, this did come back to haunt her, as all her instincts about this client (the ones she chose to ignore) turned out to be accurate.

It came to light that this client was engaging in some disreputable and unethical practices and ended up being sued by several parties.

She was forced legally into all the drama which caused her a lot of stress and anxiety, not to mention diverted her time, attention and energy away from her own business.

Ultimately, this client lost his business and because she had put all her eggs into this one basket, she was left with no client and no income at all. Back to square one.

These were very painful lessons she learned from this experience that caused her serious damage and could have been avoided.

It took her more than a year to start over. But I don’t think she ever gained any confidence back in herself, and it wasn’t long before her enthusiasm for her business petered out and she closed up shop.

The takeaways I hope people can glean from this are:

  1. You can’t separate your values and principles from your business. They are each a reflection of the other.
  2. You can’t associate with dishonest, unscrupulous people and expect to come out unscathed.
  3. You can’t afford to work with shady or otherwise unideal clients. It will cost you in far more ways than you realize with potentially disastrous results you may not be able to recover from. It’s an unwise, unshaky platform on which to build your business and reputation.
  4. All good things come to those who wait. Don’t be so desperate to take on the first client who comes along if they are not a good fit.
  5. Always trust your gut. It won’t ever steer you wrong.
  6. It’s okay to make mistakes. Just be aware that the damage bad clients can do to you can sometimes be devastating. Walk away from any client, immediately, who doesn’t seem like a good fit.
  7. Maintain an abundance mindset. This is not the last or only client in the world. Walking away from problem clients opens you up to attracting better, more positive and ideal ones.
  8. Never put all your eggs in one basket. A good rule of thumb is that no one client should make up more than 20% of your business and income.

What can you do to avoid this trap in your administrative support business?

  1. Sit down now and list the values, standards and principles that are important to you in life. The act of writing things down formalizes these standards and makes them more concrete and tangible. Continue to add to this list throughout the life of your business. Then devise your policies, protocols and procedures around these standards and values.
  2. Create ideal and unideal client profile lists. These lists, again, are extremely useful tools that help you formalize your intentions around choosing ideal clients and avoiding bad ones. As you go along in your business, use these lists to note those traits, behaviors, conditions, etc., that are and are not a fit for you. This will help you be more and more conscious about who you do and don’t want to work with. Any time you are tempted to ignore your standards and gut instincts, pull these lists out for a jolt back to reality.
  3. Always conduct a thorough, formal consultation with each and every client. Don’t take shortcuts with this process. It’s an incredibly important and useful step in helping you identify and choose the most ideal clients for you and your business. (And if you aren’t sure how to conduct a good consultation, you can get my complete, step-by-step guide that will show you exactly how to do it as well as beef up blind spots and make improvements to your existing process.)

You’ve heard some version of the fable of the scorpion and the frog, I’m sure. The bottom-line is this: A slippery eel is a slippery eel. Don’t let one sweet-talk you out of your better judgment.

How about you? Have you ever taken on or been tempted to take on a client you had reservations about? How did it turn out? How did you resolve to do better the next time around? What insights do you have to share with others on this topic?

Reaching for the Heights

AHMAHGAHHHH, this is so cute!

Also, I can’t help but think how perfectly this resembles building our businesses:

We start at the bottom, often knowing little or nothing about business, looking up at what seems like an insurmountable height, and s-s-s-t-r-e-t-c-h-h-h-h ourselves to reach upward, outside of comfort zones, attaining new knowledge, growth and confidence at every next stage, one foot after the other.

It’s why I always say: slow and steady, with everything in its due time and course, wins the race.

When you are impatient, try to cut corners and take shortcuts, you miss out on vital, necessary foundational learning and understanding that is going to help you succeed in rising to the next level.

Stay the course. You can do it!

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.

How to Get Clients

How to Get Clients

Getting clients is a process, not an event.

You aren’t going to get them by selling your service like you were hawking a Shamwow.

Drop the tiresome, disingenuous, robotic “elevator speeches” as well.

No one likes being sold at. All that does is make people feel like you’re looking at them like they’re your next meal.

It certainly doesn’t foster any real, meaningful connection (and they won’t be able to get away from you fast enough).

There is more finesse involved in marketing a professional service-based business and developing honest rapport with potential clients.

It’s also not that difficult to do:

  1. Decide on a target market. A target market is simply an industry/field/profession you cater your administrative support to. This will give much-needed focus and direction to your administrative solutions, website marketing message, and marketing efforts. In turn, this will make you more interesting, memorable and compelling to potential clients. To learn more about target marketing and how it will help you grow your practice more quickly and easily and make more money, get my free guide on How to Choose a Target Market.
  2. Always be learning and studying your target market’s industry and work nearly as well as your own, almost as if you were going into that business yourself. It will help you understand them and their common needs, goals and challenges more intimately. This will naturally elevate your conversations, marketing message and solutions, making you more attractive to potential clients and raise your value to them.
  3. Network with your target market. This simply means putting yourself out there and talking to the people in your target market (these are your would-be clients after all), contributing to their conversations, adding your ideas, being helpful and making friends. Comment on their blogs. Join their online and offline forums and groups. Attend their business conferences. Read their publications and look for opportunities to get in front of their audience (e.g., Do they have newsletters you can publish or advertise in? Can you interest them in articles or a guest column written by you? Can you purchase ads?).
  4. HAVE A WEBSITE!!! It’s not enough to only have a Facebook page or LinkedIn profile. People want to learn more about you on their own before they will ever contact you for a consultation. Your business website is that vital link that connects your networking and marketing to the next step in the conversion process: pre-educating prospective clients, setting proper expectations and understandings, and prequalifying your ideal clients while organically weeding out those you don’t want. You want to let your website speak for you at this stage. It’s job is to inform your site visitors and potential clients in more depth about who you are, what you do, who you do it for, and how you help them (i.e., how you improve their business and life). Not only will this help you get more consultations, the people who contact you will be more ideal and informed in the way you need them to be and far more likely to go on to become actual clients. If you need help building your website, implementing a proven client-getting process, and crafting your marketing message to get more clients and consultations, get my step-by-step guide, Build a Website that Works.
  5. Direct everyone and everything to your business website. Put the link in all your online and print marketing collateral. If anyone you converse with wants to learn more about what you do, send them to your website. Instruct your friends, colleagues and associates to send people to your website (not give out your email or phone number) when they want to refer someone to you. Provide useful resources your target market will find of value and interest (e.g., a report, a guide, an instruction manual, some kind of e-learning), and invite them sign up from your website to receive those items.

Is the haphazard hunting-and-pecking, trying to reach anyone-and-everyone method working for you?

No? Give these steps a try then and see how much faster and easier you can grow your  practice and get clients.

There Is No Secret to Marketing

There Is No Secret to Marketing

There is nothing magical about marketing.

There’s no closely guarded secret still waiting to be revealed to you.

There are no heavenly curtains to part and rain clients down upon you — if only you could find the draw cord.

A lot of people also waste huge gobs of time trying to cobble DIY SEO together.

They think if they can just crack the SEO code, millions of clients are going to mystically materialize out of the airwaves, and they won’t have to lift a finger to get them.

I’ve got news for you: That’s not going to happen.

And, your least qualified client candidates will be those who accidentally stumble upon your site on the internet.

SEO is the last thing you need to be concerning yourself with.

Here are the straight-up facts:

It’s true that there are some foundations you need to have in place first before marketing, such as your website, which is THE single most important conversion tool for your business.

BUT your website can’t be set up any ol’ haphazard way.

To get results (i.e., consultations and clients), it needs to instill trust, rapport and credibility.

To do that, there are some presentation basics you must follow.

You also have to understand the conversion process and have an intentional system in place to educate site visitors, in the right way, about what you do and who you do it for, organically prequalify your ideal prospects, and then move those folks to the next step in the process: the consultation.

Build a Website that WORKS!My Build a Website that WORKS guide shows you exactly how to do this.

Beyond that, you are simply going to have to get out there and TALK TO PEOPLE.

This is the ONLY “secret” to marketing and getting clients.

You can’t hide behind your computer and be silent. Nothing is going to magically do that work for you.

Choose a target market (which is simply an industry/field/profession that you cater your admin support to) so you can focus and hone your message.

​And then get out there (online and/or in person) and interact with them:

  • Join their groups (online and off).
  • Learn their business/industry/profession.
  • Ask questions.
  • Ask more questions.
  • Inquire about what their common goals and challenges are in their business/industry/profession.
  • Read and comment on their blogs.
  • Pay attention to the kinds of topics and conversations they have in their industry forums.
  • Write articles/blog posts for them and their topics of interests.
  • Find out what their industry associations and publications are and think about the ways you might be able to get published or in some other way get in front of their audience (e.g., can you take out an ad in their trade journals? Can you interest them in guest articles/blog posts?).

It is THESE interactions that will bring people to your website, which then should be set up to do the job of moving the right ones to the next step: the consultation. (My guide shows you how.)

At its core, marketing is very simply like making friends: introducing yourself, asking about others and being interested in them, and partaking in conversations and being curious and sociable (not salesy). No miracle marketing tonic needed.

Dear Danielle: Should an Administrative Consultant Have One Specialty?

Dear Danielle: Should an Administrative Consultant Have One Specialty?

Dear Danielle:

In your opinion should an Administrative Consultant have one specific specialty, or should you specialize across a few specialties to maximize profitability. My idea is to focus on providing admin services to local small bankruptcy law firms, who may not have a paralegal on staff, as I have extensive work experience as a paralegal. Any insight on this would be most appreciated. Thank you an advance for your help. —TR

Thanks for the question… because it’s something I see a lot of people confused about in the administrative support industry at large.

In an Administrative Consulting business, you already have a specialization: administrative support.

What you’re in business to do is already your specialization.

What I see a lot of people not understanding is that administrative support is a specialization in and of itself.

They confuse being an administrative assistant when they were an employee (who very often had everything-and-the-kitchen dumped on them without any say-so or proper additional compensation) with administrative support as a business.

One is a role of employment while the other is a specific expertise. They are not one and the same thing.

And what you don’t want to do under any circumstances is run your business and work with clients as if you were their employee.

First of all, it’s illegal. Second, because it’s unprofitable and unsustainable.

When we talk about specialization in the Administrative Consulting business, we’re talking about having a target market, which is simply a field/industry/profession you cater your administrative support to.

You provide a good example: Bankruptcy attorneys is a target market.

Generally speaking, attorneys is a target market and the practice area of bankruptcy attorneys specifically would be called your “niche” or “specialization.”

My target market is attorneys as well, but specifically intellectual property/entertainment law attorneys.

See what I mean?

The reason this is the useful thing to focus on is because (in the case of our example of attorneys), one practice area can do such drastically different work from another practice area, that the administrative support would be completely different as well.

The marketing message you would need to come up with if you worked with estate law attorneys would be very different from the one you’d create if you were speaking to criminal law attorneys.

I have a number of blog posts that elaborate on this topic. Dig around in the Target Market category and I think you’ll find some that hit this right on the nose for you.

As far as profitability goes, I would need a bit more information about what you are worried about. I think it does, however, pinpoint a fear that a lot of people new to business in our industry have.

They think if they focus on a target market they’ll miss out on opportunities. In fact, focusing on a target market makes marketing your business and getting clients vastly easier.

That’s because instead of being a meandering generality, they become a meaningful (and more compelling and attractive) specific.

The market expects to pay those with a specific expertise (like that of administrative support) much more than those they perceive as merely gophers and jacks-of-all-trades (e.g., the person who will do anything just to make a buck, from whose website it isn’t clear what exactly they do, whose marketing message is all over the map).

Plus, there is so much constant mental switching of gears when you try to be this, that and the other. That in itself is unprofitable (Been there, done that.)

So I would tell you: focus your business on the one thing. You’ll be perceived as someone with a specific expertise (in our case, the expertise of administrative support), your business will be easier to run and the work easier to do (which makes it more profitable), you’ll get clients much more easily, and you’ll be able to command higher fees that allow you to make more money working with fewer clients.

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. 😉

Remember What You Are Trying to Accomplish

Remember What You Are Trying to Accomplish

It’s useful to interact with colleagues: to support each other, share triumphs and foibles, get ideas, collaborate, and find resources.

Remember, though, that you’re trying to build a business, not belong to a club.

It’s not helpful to your business or your potential clients to look and sound the same as everyone else.

Your business needs you to express your individuality, your own thoughts and ideas, in your own unique way of speaking.

It’s one of the easiest ways to differentiate your business and make it stand out in the crowd.

You become much more interesting and compelling to your site visitors in this way.

Newsflash: No One Cares About Your Brochure

Newsflash: No One Cares About Your Brochure

People would save themselves SO much wasted effort if they listened to me on this.

So many folks, when they’re new in this business, waste a lot of time and money putting together a brochure.

And 99% of them end up in the trash.

Why?

Among other reasons, it’s because your brochure is all about you and your business.

And clients don’t care about you. They care about their business and their problems.

Not only is a brochure an unproductive tool, it’s the wrong medium with which to reach your audience.

Clients have a problem they want solved. Your job is to identify their overarching problem and show them how you solve that problem.

But here’s the thing: even if clients generally have the same problem—lack of administrative support—that problem manifests differently and they experience that problem in very different ways depending on the specific field/industry/profession they’re in.

It’s impossible for you to speak to every aspect of this problem for every conceivable kind of client and industry/profession in the world all at the same time.

When you try, the result is more of the same boring, generic nothingness that everyone else puts out there, that doesn’t capture the interest or excitement of clients in the least.

Specificity is the key ingredient that will bring your message to life.

Which is why you want to identify their problem and address the way they experience that problem, along with the way you help solve that problem for them, within the context of their specific field/industry/profession.

Instead of putting together a brochure, your time is better spent identifying a target market.

(HINT: A target market is simply a field/industry/profession that you cater your administrative support to.)

Once you have a target market to focus on and give your efforts direction, identifying how they specifically experience the problem of lack of administrative support and how that manifests in their business—as well as how you can help them—is much clearer.

From there, you’ll have a much easier time creating your website marketing message that, instead of speaking generically and forgettably to “everyone,” will speak more uniquely, meaningfully and compellingly to that specific group—and get you clients!

Ditch the brochures. You don’t need them:

  1. No one wants your brochure (or your flyer or post card, for that matter).
  2. I guarantee, as a new business owner, you don’t know enough yet to make a good one that would pay off for all the time and money you put into it. You might as well flush that money down the toilet for as much good as they are going to do you.
  3. Most of your marketing isn’t going to be done in-person anyway.

Invest the time, money and learning instead in your website and making it the best it can be.

(And if you need help, which most people do, my guide will show you exactly how to structure it and walk you through creating a marketing message gets results.)

Using Terminology Correctly

It’s important to use correct terminology in business.

Communication, and ensuring there is understanding, hinges upon using language and terms correctly.

For example, a lot of people use the term “outsourcing” incorrectly.

Outsourcing is when a business (typically a large company) offloads specific functions, or even a whole department, to a contractor to perform that service independently.

Like when you call a company and they have outsourced their customer service to an offshore call center. That is both outsourcing and offshoring. There is little or no personal, collaborative relationship.

Or when a service subcontracts their client work out to a third party provider… that is also outsourcing. 

Administrative Consulting is the opposite of that.

Administrative Consulting is a one-on-one, direct and personal, collaborative partnership with the client providing a right-hand relationship of administrative support across-the-board. The client and Administrative Consultant work together closely and personally.

That’s not to say that someone can’t or shouldn’t be in an outsourcing business if that’s what they choose to do. However, that is not an Administrative Consulting business.

If you’re in the outsourcing business, you are not in the Administrative Consulting business.