Archive for the ‘Starting Your Biz’ Category

Here Is How to Stop Spinning Your Wheels in Your Search for Clients

Here Is How to Stop Spinning Your Wheels in Your Search for Clients

So I saw this question fly by in my Google Alerts:

“I am still working on getting my business off the ground and feel like I’m still spinning my wheels. I need to get clients so that I can invest in more learning and certifications and such. I keep researching, but I’m starting to come to the point that I don’t know what I’m looking for anymore. What daily tasks should I be doing every day???”

One of the most common problems in getting clients that I see in our industry is that people jump into business without doing any of the necessary business planning and foundation work that is key to moving forward smoothly and successfully.

They slap up a website (or worse, a mere Facebook page or LinkedIn profile) thinking clients are going to magically rain from the sky.

They then proceed to go about things as if they were looking for a job.

That’s simply not going to get you clients. That’s not how business works.

I mean, sure, if they’re lucky, they might get some nibbles here and there. But generally speaking, they only ever earn spare change from those types of prospects.

Getting clients — real, honest-to-goodness clients willing to pay the kind of real bones you can actually live on — requires more methodical and intentioned approach and set-up.

You simply can’t skip the parts in-between.

If you do, and you happen to hit upon a piece of real business, you aren’t going to be set up with the proper infrastructure to keep that business.

That’s why one of the most important steps in your business planning is deciding on a target market.

(For those who are confused, a target market is simply an industry/field/profession that you cater your administrative support to.)

This question about what they should be doing every day wouldn’t even arise if this person had a specific target market to give direction to her actions and thought processes.

That’s what a target market does: it gives you direction for your message and marketing efforts, and informs all your next steps accordingly.

If someone asks where should they look to find clients, the answer is “Well, where is your target market?”

When you know who your target market is, you can then research where they hang out online and off and go to those places and get active and involved.

If they ask what they should write about, again, you look to the target market.

What are your target market’s common pains, challenges and interests? What problems can you help them solve? What questions do they commonly ask? What can you educate and inform them about related to these things?

When you know who your target market is, you can more easily identify those things and then speak to and write about them.

If you don’t know who you’re writing for, it’s much more difficult to figure out what to write about because your looking at some nameless, faceless void.

Every single question you have in your business can be answered if you first decide on who you intend to cater your administrative support to (i.e., a target market).

Here is a list of how a target market can help you establish your business and get clients more quickly and easily:

  • A target market simplifies and streamlines everything in your business:  operations, marketing, administration, work processes, billing structures, policies… everything!
  • It’s much easier to systemize and manage your business when you cater to a specific clientele.
  • Your expertise in serving that market increases, allowing you to command higher fees, work with fewer clients and make more money.
  • When you know who you’re concentrating on, it’s easier to learn everything you can about a particular market and its common needs, goals and challenges.
  • When you know who you are talking to, you can create a message that will be music to their ears.
  • You’ll be able to tailor your solutions in ways that are more attractive and meaningful.
  • When you have direction, it’s far easier to identify what marketing actions to take and where.
  • It’s easier to find your would-be clients, online and off.
  • With a target market, you can extend your reach beyond the local/in-person market.
  • Instead of trying to be everywhere, talking to everyone (and reaching and resonating with no one), you can focus your efforts on just those places where your target market is found (online and off).
  • In turn, you’ll have far more time and energy for actually working with clients once they start coming through your doors.
  • You’ll get more and better referrals because people find it much easier to send business your way when they know who you specialize in supporting.

If you haven’t yet, be sure to download our free guide on How to Choose Your Target Market

Dear Danielle: What Is the Best Approach to Physically Obtain Quality Clients?

Dear Danielle: What Is the Best Approach to Physically Obtain Quality Clients?

Dear Danielle:

I am very new to the Administrative Consulting business although I have almost 20 years of experience supporting senior-level executives. I agree with you that we are so much more than “virtual assistants” and I would like to attract customers who understand that and value what we bring to the table, if you will. Therefore, my question to you is now that I’ve created a website and all other social media accounts, what is the best approach to physically obtain quality clients? Eventually, I may narrow my target but for now, my target is Small Business Owners. Thank you. —ND

Hi, ND. Welcome and thanks for reaching out. :)

Sounds like you’ve got the perfect background and a solid body of experience to offer clients. Wonderful!

Of course, there’s much more to business than simply knowing how to support clients and do the work, as you realize.

Learning how to run, manage and market a business and get actual clients (much less good ones) is a whole other skillset and area of education in and of itself.

This is why your question is more of a training one, rather than something that can be answered in a simple blog post.

It requires a more in-depth, systematic process of learning to understand the components, dynamics, and psychology involved.

To get that kind of knowledge and learning, I will refer you to my step-by-step self-paced training guide I created specifically for that purpose: How to Build a Website that WORKS!

This guide is centered around your website because your website IS the critical link in connecting your marketing and networking to actually getting clients, and not just any clients, but the kind of clients you want to reach: quality clients who understand your value.

This involves pre-educating your site visitors so they are in the right mindset, setting the right expectations, and prequalifying clients to help ensure you are productively spending your time in consultation with your most ideal and likely client candidates.

In the process of going through the steps and exercises, my guide also gives you a crash-course in inbound marketing because the two go hand-in-hand. You can’t set up an effective website and conversion system that gets results unless you understand all the components and mechanics involved.

Another thing I show you how to do in my guide is how to articulate your value and write your marketing message (and I have a clever system that helps you do that, no writing talent required; couldn’t be easier).

This is where having a target market is absolutely vital.

If there are any “secrets” in business and getting clients (and there aren’t), this is it.

And that’s because it’s not so much a “secret” as it is an area of misunderstanding and resistance for so many people.

You mention that right now your target is “small business owners.” But that isn’t a target at all, you see.

“Small business owners” is merely a demographic, and a very vague, general one at that which isn’t going to be helpful to you in any meaningful way whatsoever in creating a compelling marketing message and getting those ideal clients who value what you do.

It’s like saying “people” are your target market. That’s literally anyone and everyone in the world — which is the opposite of a target market (which by definition is a specific market).

A target market is simply an industry/field/profession that you cater your administrative support to. That’s it. However, it’s a vitally important component in getting those quality, ideal clients who understand your value that you wish for.

And this is where people struggle because they resist the idea that they actually expand their attractiveness and opportunities if they narrow their focus to one specific group.

Because here’s the thing: you can’t articulate your value in any truly meaningful, compelling way until you know who it is you are providing that value to. And that requires you to decide what industry/field/profession that will be.

Because it’s all relative.

Your value — what you provide, the solutions you offer, how you deliver those solutions and the results you create — all depends on who your audience (i.e., target market) is: who they are, what their commons interests, needs, challenges and goals are, what work they do in their profession, how their businesses are run, who their clients are, how they get those clients, and so much more.

You have to decide who it is you specifically intend to help in order to identify, understand and articulate your value in a way that speaks to these things as it relates to them. Otherwise, all you’ll ever accomplish (by trying to create a message for anyone and everyone) is being generic and forgettable.

To stand out, to create real meaning, to get focus and direction for your message and your marketing, you need specificity.

That specificity (i.e., deciding on a target market to cater your administrative support to) is what is not only going to get you more ideal clients who value what you do, it’s also going to make your business and marketing easier, you’ll have an easier time charging higher fees and making more money, and you’ll be able to get more clients more quickly and easily.

If you haven’t yet, be sure to download my free guide on How to Choose Your Target Market.

Start there, decide on a target market and then get my marketing/website guide, and you’ll be well on your way to getting those ideal, quality clients who absolutely understand how valuable you can be to them.

Dear Danielle: Do I Need a Professional License to Be an Administrative Consultant?

Dear Danielle: Do I Need a Professional License to Be an Administrative Consultant?

Dear Danielle:

I am very serious about becoming a full-time Administrative Consultant. I have done quite a bit of work on the side and really enjoy the business. I have one question:  Do I need any type of professional license to work as a full time Administrative Consultant, something similar to a real estate agent being licensed by the state or an accountant, lawyers, etc.? Thanks very much. —RD

This is not a regulated industry in the U.S. (or anywhere else that I’m aware of). You don’t need any special kind of license to start an administrative support business.

Depending on your state or country, however, there may be some required business licenses and registrations to be in business, that you may need to pay either annually or on a one-time basis. That’s something you would definitely need to look into.

I always advise people to contact their respective city, county and state agencies to determine what their business taxing, reporting and registration/licensing requirements are.

In the U.S., you would also need to educate yourself about the federal IRS self-employment business taxes and reporting.

Hope that helps!

You Don’t Get Clients by Sending Them PMs; Here Is What to Do Instead

You Don’t Get Clients by Sending Them PMs; Here Is What to Do Instead

You don’t get clients by mass-messaging people who don’t know you.

You’re going to waste a lot of time and energy (and annoy a lot of people) that way.

There are far more effective methods that will have people come to you of their own accord and interest.

In the professional services business, it’s not about soliciting strangers and indiscriminate cold-calling.

In our business—the administrative support business—the name of the game is trust and credibility.

And that is established through relationship-building and nurturing the know-like-and-trust factor: allowing a group of people to get to know you and come to you after becoming interested in how you might be able to help them.

When I was having this conversation on LinkedIn, someone asked me:

“I was just thinking about this today! I want to let everyone know about me venturing out on my own, but I don’t want to annoy people either. I thought about sending out an email with some very brief information and then asking them if I can send them more information. Is this a good approach or would you advise a different way?”

This falls in the same category of soliciting people that you don’t know are even interested. It’s a waste of your time, money and effort when 99.99% of these people are just going to toss your letter in the round file.

Instead, I have a Business Letter of Introduction that does this job in the right way so it doesn’t look like you are desperate and begging for business, which turns people off. This letter comes as a free bonus with my Administrative Support Business Set-Up Success Kit (Set-01 in the ACA Success Store).

Beyond that, here are some basic steps to make getting clients faster and easier (and this is where I would have you focus your time and efforts more productively for more fruitful results):

  1. Choose a target market. A target market is simply a field/industry/profession that you cater your administrative support to.
  2. Learn about your target market inside out as much as you can. When you know your market intimately, you can better and more easily identify their problems and pains and cater your solutions accordingly.
  3. Get out there and interact with the people in your target market, online and off! When you have a target market, it also makes it vastly easier to figure out where to find them.
  4. In all of your marketing communications and networking conversations, direct everyone to your website. This is the vital link that educates your site visitors about what you do, who you do it for and how you help and moves those who are actually interested further in the process so that you are wasting your time willy nilly on every Tom, Dick or Harry who isn’t going to ever be a client.
  5. Make sure there is a lead capture system on every page of your website. What this means in simple terms is give your site visitors a gift in exchange for their email address. It could be a free how-to guide, a free report, some free DIY training, a form or e-book, you name it. It just has to be highly compelling and of value and interest to your target market (which is another reason to have a target market: it’s easier to identify what will be of great, specific interest to them.). This is so you can get them on your mailing list and continue to keep in touch with them and nurture the relationship. This is where an autoresponder/list management service like Aweber comes in; it automates this process and allows you to send out personalized messages to thousands of subscribers all at once.
  6. Keep in touch with your subscriber list of client prospects on a regular weekly basis. Consistency is critical here. If you are irregular or there is too much time between communications, they’ll forget who you are and why they are hearing from you. You want to allow people to get to know you so this frequency is very important in keeping those on your mailing list subscribed and interested.

What next? The best place to start is to get my free guide on How to Choose Your Target Market.

I Can’t Work for Pennies, How Are You Making This Work?

I Can't Work for Pennies; How Are You Making This Work?

I am still trying to lock down clients. Any suggestions as to how to obtain clients? I have been using Fiverr for sample gigs (decent income for small projects). I am reaching out to people on Linkedin as well as my previous employer (we have a great relationship so it’s no fluff, but no clients need me yet), but once I move to the pricing for everyone else, they are no longer interested. I feel my price point is comparable, but I can’t work for pennies on the hour. How are you guys making it work? —RB

Fiverr might be good for pocket change if that’s all your needing out of it. But you’re never going to find real clients there (i.e., the kind that pay the kind of money you can actually live on), much less retainer clients who pay a monthly upfront fee for across-the-board administrative support.

“Decent income” is relative. What does it mean to you? Have you done any cost and pricing analysis on what it takes to run your business, earn an income (yes, they are two separate things) and earn a profit? (Profit is yet a third category of earning; you don’t have a business unless you are earning above and beyond your operational and income needs.)

It’s important to understand that there’s a big difference between the economics of employment and the economics of business. That is a huge area of education for a lot of people who are new in business. They often don’t initially understand that $12/hour employee wage will not begin to earn them a living as a business.

You’re also looking at things from the wrong angle and going about the process too generally. Because it’s not about the price point.

(Don’t worry. Everyone goes through this thinking when they’re new in business—it’s a process of education, and I’m here to  help you with that). 

Getting clients begins and ends with WHO your target market is. Have you done that work yet?

RB: I have my target market (insurance), I guess it’s that I am not known maybe? Yeah, I love Fiverr for some quick cash, but trying to convert the folks I am talking to is what I am having trouble with (none from Fiverr). Maybe I need to reevaluate.

You’re not going to be able to convert those people because they aren’t the right audience, and it’s the wrong process/intention on the wrong platform. You’re trying to fish in an empty pond basically.

It’s not about being known. You don’t have to be known. Prospective clients don’t even need to have ever heard about our industry whatsoever.

It’s about YOU understanding THEM (your target market), their business, their industry, how their business is run and how you can support them, a
nd you understanding what they gain and how they benefit from this solution (this is how you will articulate your value to them).

And, of course, choosing the right market.

“Insurance” is pretty broad/generic. What does that mean? What kind of insurance specifically? Who in the “insurance” field are you focusing on?

Because insurance “companies” don’t need what we do. When a company is large enough that the workload inherently requires in-house staff, and has their own staff, you are barking up the wrong tree.

You want to target solo/boutique business owners. They are the ones who have the highest/greatest need for the solution we’re in business to offer, value it more, and are thus more interested and willing to pay for it.

Once you get clearer about all of these things, that is going to tell you where you should be focusing your efforts for more fruitful results.

And the smarter you get about that, you’ll find that you won’t want or need to waste your time in places like Fiverr. 😉

Here’s what I recommend:

1. Get my free ACA Income & Pricing Calculator and go through those exercises. It’s important to get very clear about your numbers and know your pricing baseline.

2. Download my free guide on How to Choose Your Target Market and go through those exercises. This is a necessary part of the process of getting clients. If you don’t know and specifically define who you are talking to, how can you ever find them much less know how to support them administratively? 😉 Once you get clearer about who it is you are seeking, that will inform all your next steps and answer all the questions you have about how to find them, where to find them, how to support them, how to craft your solution and speak their language. This is such a vital step that will make finding clients so much easier.

There’s a lot more to it than this, of course, but these two exercises are the best place to start.

You CAN do this! It’s work, but it’s legwork that must be done first if you’re going to start seeing results. The alternative is to keep plodding along for years on end as many people do.

SEE ALSO:

Dear Danielle: What Do You Think of Odesk and Elance?

Dear Danielle: Should I Market on Craigslist?

What Zirtual (and Any Virtual Staffing Agency) Workers Need to Know

What Zirtual Workers Need to Know

You may have heard that virtual staffing agency Zirtual abruptly ceased operations August 10 without any warning or notice to workers or clients.

Today, we learned that Zirtual has been bought by Startup.co.

There were a lot of problems with this company, not the least of which was poor business planning, unsustainable growth, and the illegal misclassification of employees as independent contractors, the latter of which is my biggest peeve.

A business model based on exploiting workers and disregarding employment laws is bound to fail sooner or later.

This is why it’s so important for business owners to do business with companies and independent professionals who operate legally and ethically.

It’s also why it’s important for you, as a worker, to recognize going in whether a company you consider working for is operating legally and going to treat you fairly and lawfully.

Nothing angers me more than people being taken advantage of and exploited without their knowledgeable and fully-informed consent.

For anyone who worked at Zirtual (or any virtual staffing company), before you jump from one exploitive situation to another, I want to shed some light on employment and business so that you cannot be taken advantage of so easily in the future.

First, Some Basics

In the world of work and services, you are either an employee or you’re a business.

There is no legal middle classification where someone “works like an employee but is paid like an IC.”

That is illegal.

Independent contractor, 1099 contractor, freelancer, self-employed, independent professional… these are all just different terms that mean the same thing: business owner.

As an IC, you are required to pay 100% of your own employment taxes whereas when you are employee, your employer pays half as well as other taxes that are fully employer-paid.

There is also no such thing as a 1099 employee. That’s a made-up, imaginary term for a classification that does not exist and is in fact illegal.

You are either an employee (in which case you enjoy the rights and benefits provided to employees by law) or you are a 1099 contractor, which (again) is just another name for independent contractor and means you are in business for yourself and as such are responsible for all the duties, taxes and reporting obligations that entails.

This is where the problem starts because most of these workers do not understand the difference and the legal and financial implications involved. They don’t realize that when they allow an employer to call them an IC, they just became self-employed business owners.

That’s not what most of them bargained for. Most aren’t fully aware of all the rights and benefits that they are deprived of in the process.

What this also means is, even if a company classified you as an independent contractor (even if you signed a contract), the law may still consider you an employee. The law does not uphold contracts that are illegal in the first place.

What Is an Employee?

An employee is someone who works for a company in exchange for a paycheck.

Being an employee or independent contractor isn’t something individual employers get to arbitrarily decide.

There are legal standards and definitions about what constitutes an employee, control being first and foremost.

As an employee, the company you work for has the right to dictate (among other things) your work schedule, hours, pay, where you do the work, what equipment to use, and when, where and how to do the work. (When you are an independent, self-employed business owner—in other words, independent contractor—clients MAY NOT dictate ANY of that whatsoever. YOU are the one who decides your fees, when, where and how you will work, what you will and won’t do, etc., and you do NOT “report” nor are you managed by clients in any way, shape or form. The only thing a client has the right to convey to you is what they would like accomplished, what outcome/result they desire for the work to produce, and what their timeframe/deadlines are.)

As an employee, you are supervised and directed by your employer who requires you to report to them and turn in timesheets. You may also be required to undergo training at the company’s direction.

If a company exerts any measure of control and management over a worker, that worker is an employee (and must be lawfully classified as such).

Likewise, if the workers ARE the very product of the biz (as is the case with temp agencies, staffing agencies, virtual staffing agencies, etc.), they must be classified as employees.

In exchange for this luxury and privilege of control and the benefit that is gained therefrom, an employer is held to some legal and financial obligations and requirements.

How Are Employees Paid?

At the start of employment, an employee completes an IRS Form W-4.

The employee is then given a paycheck in exchange for their work at the usual established company pay cycles and in accordance with local, state and federal laws.

By January 31 of every year, the employer is then required to provide the employee with an IRS Form W-2 Wage & Tax Statement which summaries the total monies you earned the previous year, the amount of taxes that were withheld from your pay, as well the employer-paid half of your FICA taxes (Social Security, Medicare, FUTA) and any other particular taxes (eg., unemployment) as may be required by local, state and federal law.

I highlight that last part because this is what many people don’t understand.

They don’t realize that when an employer illegally misclassifies them as an IC (self-employed independent contractor), that employer is essentially stealing from them.

Those are rightful monies owed to you that they are legally required to pay when you are an employee according to the legal definition.

What that means is that by illegally misclassifying you, they are shifting 100% and more of those costs onto you instead of paying their legally-required share.

Understanding Employment Taxes

Everyone who works and has earnings must pay FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) taxes.

FICA consists of 12.4% Social Security tax (up to whatever a given year’s wage cap is; for 2014 the cap was $117,000) and 2.9% Medicare (there is no wage cap on Medicare tax; however, beginning in 2013, if an employee earns more than $200,000, there is an additional 0.9% Medicare surtax that must be withheld from their wages).

If you are an employee, 6.2% Social Security and 1.45% Medicare tax is withheld from your paycheck, and your employer must pay the other 6.2% Social Security and 1.45% Medicare taxes.

FUTA (Federal Unemployment Tax Act) is another tax that must be paid, which is 6.2% up to $7,000 in wages. This tax is paid 100% by the employer. If you are an employee, there is no employee portion to be withheld.

If you are an employee who has been illegally misclassified as an IC, this is more money that is rightfully due to you that the employer is cheating you out of.

FUTA, in conjunction with state unemployment insurance systems, provides for unemployment compensation to workers who have lost their jobs.

This is another of the rights and benefits that an employee enjoys that an independent contractor is not eligible for.

Why Do Companies Classify Employees as Independent Contractors?

Why do they do anything? Because of the money.

Employees cost a business a lot of money. And I don’t mean only in terms of pay.

Besides their benefits and pay, it costs a lot to manage them. Taxing and reporting responsibilities must met. There are employee rights and labor laws that must be observed and complied with.

Compared with all that, it’s easier and cheaper to work with ICs than it is employees.

So a lot of companies will think, “You know what? We can’t afford these employees. Let’s call them independent contractors instead.”

But here’s the problem with that: it’s illegal.

The legal phrase is “illegal missclassification of employees.”

They don’t get to have their cake and eat it, too. Not when it cheats those workers out of their lawful, rightful employer-paid taxes and benefits.

If they don’t want the cost and headache, then they have to give up the control.

And if they don’t want to give up the privilege and luxury of control that comes with beck-and-call employees, then they have to comply with the law.

That’s just how it works, folks.

Companies don’t get to decide at their whim whether to classify someone as independent contractor just because it’s cheaper and more convenient for them.

The second they start exerting the control of an employer over a worker, that worker becomes an employee.

What to Do if You Feel You Have Been Misclassified as an Independent Contractor

As I said before, even if a company you have worked for classified you as an independent contractor, even if they had you sign a contract, the law may still consider you an employee if that company exerted any of the control that only an employer is allowed to exert (see Independent Contractor or Employee?)

The first thing to know is that it is 100% the company’s duty and responsibility to properly classify workers. The worker is never responsible for this.

I mention this only because many workers worry about taking recourse for fear the law will come down on them, and that is not the case.

Keep in mind that if you were an employee missclassified as an IC, you were missing out on all the usual rights, benefits and perks afforded regular employees of the company that ICs are not eligible for such as : unemployment benefits; worker’s comp benefits; severance pay; workplace rights such as minimum wage, overtime pay, sick pay, rest breaks, vacations; healthcare coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

The law may determine that you were entitled to those as an misclassified employee.

And if you worked for a company that closed up shop and left you high and dry, you’re going to want those unemployment checks.

The good news is that you have nothing to lose by looking into these things and possibly a lot to gain.

If you were feel you were misclassified as an IC, one of the simplest things you can do is fill out an IRS Form SS-8. The IRS will do the rest of the work after that. If they find that you were misclassified and should have been an employee, it’s the employer who is on the hook any penalties and back taxes you were deprived of.

If you’re young, it may not mean much right now, but when you get older and near retirement age, those retirement funds and medical benefits become more real and relevant to you. No matter what your age, those are accounts you should be concerned about and attentive to. They are part of your rightful benefits.

Another way a lot of these misclassifications come to light is when people file for unemployment insurance.

Yes, even if you were told by the company that you were an independent contractor, even if you signed a contract, I  encourage you to file for unemployment insurance.

Once you do that, they will also examine the relationship and make a determination. If they find that you should have actually been classified as an employee, it’s the employer who will be liable for those benefits and back tax payments.

And, talk to a local employment law attorney. Because I am not one and I don’t want any of this information to be construed as legal advice. I only share this information to point you in some directions where you can get the full information and advice from the proper agencies and legal advisors.

That kind of attorney can better and more fully explain all the ramifications of being misclassified as an IC, what benefits and rights you may have been deprived of, how long the statutes of limitations are in your case, the recourse and remedies available to you, and what the next best steps are.

There may even be, as we speak, some attorneys or law firms working on some kind of class action.

Moving Forward

Armed with this information, you can be more knowledgeable of your rights and how things are supposed to work should you decide to work with another company similar to Zirtual.

If you work for anyone who dictates any of your working conditions to you, you know now that you must be classified as an employee, that there are employer-paid taxes and other employee rights and benefits that are your right.

And if any employer exerting a level of control over you tries to tell you they are going to start paying you as an IC, you can say:

“Hold up! Not so fast! That’s not correct. People who are in business for themselves as ICs, know they are in business for themselves. Last I checked, I don’t recall starting a business, and I am not in business for myself. You are exerting a level of control over my pay, schedule and work conditions that constitutes employment. As such, I am an employee and must be paid accordingly, including all the rights and benefits afforded to employees. If there’s any question about that, we can have the IRS make the determination.”

Okay, I’m being a bit snarky, lol. But you get my drift.

Now that you are better informed, in whatever pleasant or diplomatic fashion is your preference, you can be more assertive and point people in the direction of the resources I have linked throughout this post.

If you have any questions about any of this, I am happy to answer and help in any way. Please post your questions in the comments.

And if you are in a former Zirtual worker, I understand several groups have been started to support each other.

I would be happy to speak to your group, either by phone or online, and help shed further light and answer any questions you may have about any of this information about employee classification.

Likewise, if any of you are interested in actually starting your own business (otherwise known as self-employment, being an independent contractor), I can definitely answer any of those questions as well. As a business owner since 1997 and the founder of the Administrative Consultants Association, that is my specialty!

RELATED ARTICLES: The topic of subcontractors is another important area for people in business to understand. I have a whole category on my blog that covers subcontracting:

ACA Blog: Subcontracting Articles 

Definition of Subcontracting

What You Need to Know About Subcontracting

Dear Danielle: Sole Proprietor or LLC?

Dear Danielle: Sole Proprietor or LLC?

Dear Danielle:

Would you recommend filing a state business license as a sole proprietor or an LLC when doing business as an Administrative Consultant? I’ve looked on the Nevada state business sites and am unable to find the information needed. Please advise and thank you in advance. —Tiphenie Montes

Hi Tiphenie :)

So here’s the thing. States aren’t in the business of advising you about what corporate formation you should seek. That’s why you aren’t finding that information.

You might find something on their websites that explains what the different corporate forms are to choose from in your state, but they aren’t going to tell you or advise one way or the other which one to choose or which one may be best for your business.

That’s a question for an attorney or CPA in your local area or state.

Whenever it comes to legalities, it’s so important to talk to the proper, licensed professionals. No colleague, even the most experienced and knowledgeable one, is qualified or licensed to give you advice on that kind of thing.

And you definitely don’t want to rely on the guesses and “legal opinions” of unqualified, unlicensed laypeople because that could cause you some serious harm or get you into legal hot water at some point or in some way or another.

When you start a business, you are by default a sole proprietor (or a partnership if there is more than one owner). And there’s no special incorporating you need to do for that (although, you may still need to register the business with your local and/or state agencies, but you’ll have to research that as every city/county/state is different).

If you do incorporate, there are possibly some protections and advantages. There is also a lot more filing and reporting obligations and tax designations you may also need to determine.

You might hear around the industry that LLC is the most common form of incorporation for our kind of service-based business. However, that’s a generalization that doesn’t take into account your specific and unique business circumstances and information and the kind of work you are doing in your business and how you are doing it.

If you were to talk to a CPA or attorney, it’s possible they might tell you that depending on your stage in business, incorporating is too soon or not the right time just yet, or may be overkill, or may not give you the kind of tax breaks or protections you thought you might get.

There are just SO many variables unique to your business and your circumstances that have to be weighed and considered by those who are licensed and qualified to advise you properly.

So I can’t recommend highly enough that you do that so you can make the best decisions for your new business based on the right information from the right people. It would be irresponsible and unhelpful for me to tell you otherwise. And I wish for the best for you as well so I won’t tell you otherwise. 😉

Here is another blog post that touches a little bit more on this topic from another angle that you may also find some helpful tidbits in:

Dear Danielle: How Do I Pay Myself?

Also, just to let everyone know, you get an Introduction to Business Formations guide included when you purchase the Administrative Consultant Business Plan Set (FRM-32) from the ACA Success Store.

Thanks for the question. Hope this has been helpful. :)

Dear Danielle: I Have a Bunch of Questions

Dear Danielle: I Have a Bunch of Questions

Dear Danielle:

Thank you so much for all of your offerings through the Success Store! Getting my company planned and put together has been much easier thanks to you than it might have been.  I just need some clarification:

  1. How exactly do referrals work?  I am giving a two-hour free referral bonus to any client who refers another paying client. What do you think of that idea?
  2. What marketing tools have you found the most effective?  I am on unemployment which is not enough to make ends meet, and I have had to get things for my business by raiding my grocery money (maxed out credit).  I am trying to get a micro-business loan, but have not done so yet. Are online directories and search engines the way to go?
  3. How did you find your industries small prospects for sales calls?  Do we have to worry about “Do Not Call” lists if someone uses one phone number for everything?  How much “cold calling” did you do to get started?
  4. About your website screening intake form:  I could not find your business website, nor could I find anything in the store about an intake form.  Is there another resource or should I just pull together my own and tweak it through experience?
  5. If a client asks for a particularly dicey project that I am not sure I can handle, how do I address that without looking incompetent, undersupplied technologically, or setting myself up to fail?

I apologize if you have already addressed these issues. Thanks for your help! –AJ

Whew! I’ll do my best to answer these and keep ’em short and sweet…

1. How do referrals work and what about giving a referral bonus?

A referral is when someone (could be a client, could be a colleague, could be a business associate… anyone) refers/recommends/tells someone about your business.

What do I personally think about paying people to refer you? I don’t advise it.

Let referrals come organically through the good will and high esteem you generate from doing good work. Those recommendations and referrals will carry far greater weight because of it.

Plus, keeping track of referrals and rewards just creates another needless task and complication in your administration that you don’t need.

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

Dear Danielle: How Do I Advertise for Referral Partners?

Tips for Harnessing the Power of Referrals

2. What marketing methods are most effective? Are online directories and search engines the way to go?

It doesn’t hurt to be in directories, but you don’t need them.

And SEO is the least effective way your most ideal, qualified client prospects will find you. It’s not the thing to waste your time focusing on right now at this stage of your start up.

Your best leads will always come from your own incoming marketing pipelines. And how do you do that?

In our business (as it is with most professional service-based businesses), networking is hands-down the most effective marketing strategy.

Not ads. Not cold-calling. Not direct mail.

The great thing about networking is that it doesn’t cost anything but your time. And that’s not a cost, it’s an investment because those efforts will ultimately pay with new clients and prospects.

The reason networking is so effective is because people look to work with those with whom they have established some kind of relationship and feel some kind of rapport.

Every opportunity you have that lets a group of people get to know, like and trust you is going to make it that much easier for you to attract clients.

Of course, the key to networking successfully starts with a target market. Otherwise, you’ll wear yourself out networking anywhere willy nilly.

Be sure you download the free ACA guide on How to Choose Your Target Market, which elaborates a bit more on what a target market is and how it will make growing your business and getting clients much faster and easier.

3. What cold calling did you do to get started and how did you find prospects for sales calls?

None. I didn’t look for any.

I never did cold calling and I don’t advise you do either.

People don’t like to be sold to; it’s completely the wrong strategy.

Professional services are a bigger ticket item and requires more relationship building and nurturing than that.

Sure, you might hear some people say they got this client or that project all from a sales call. But those are the exceptions, not the rule.

I can just about guarantee you don’t have the kind of money and energy to ever make cold calling a worthwhile ROI.

Even if you get one project, it isn’t going to come close to covering all the time, energy and effort you put into getting it.

And think about it. Do you really think you can keep putting in that kind of work just to get one or two nickel-and-dime projects? You need bigger money and bigger clients to stay in business and be profitable.

There are MUCH better, faster, more effective strategies for getting clients, one of which is deciding on a target market to focus on and then getting involved with that industry in every way you can (online forums, business groups, events, etc.). The more you interact, the more they get to know, like and trust you.

4. Is there a resource for an online intake/consultation request form?

If I’m understanding your question, I think you are referring to an online form you have clients fill out to request a consultation.

Having a form like this on your website will help screen and prequalify prospects.

By asking a few simple questions, this form can help you determine what stage of readiness a potential client is at, whether or not they are in your target market, and whether they can afford your services.

Depending on the questions you ask and how they fill out your online consultation form (which has the dual underlying purpose of helping prequalify clients), this can tell you what level of priority or attention to give a potential client or whether to guide them to further information on your website to learn more before moving on in the process.

For example, if someone is only “browsing,” you may not want to waste your limited time and effort on a consultation. You may instead want to send them to a white paper you have prepared for these kind of instances, and invite them to subscribe to your blog or ezine.

Many clients are not ready to work with us immediately so it’s all a process.

Here is a blog post that talks more about how the consult form can act a prequalifier: One Way to Sort the Ideal form the Unideal.

As far as a resource, I recommend you get my Client Consultation guide. Not only does it give you usuable examples of an online intake/consultation form and questions you may want to ask, it will walk you through the entire consultation process from start to finish: from targeting clients, identifying your ideal client profile, prequalifying clients, how to conduct the actual consultation conversation and what questions to ask, how to follow-up afterward and what the next steps are once you take on a new client. It’s VERY thorough!

5. How do I handle a request for something I don’t know how to do (or do well)?

First, you have to distinguish what kind of business you are in.

Are you in the secretarial business where you’re simply doing one-off, transactional, piecemeal project work?

Or are you in the business of administrative support?

Because the two are completely different business models.

Once you answer that question, it will help answer subsequent questions about what kind of client needs that work, what work is entailed and so forth.

When you know what you do and who you do it for, and educate clients accordingly, this kind of thing isn’t as much of an issue.

However, let’s say you are in the administrative support business and the client asks if you do X thing.

Honesty is always best so tell them if it isn’t something you know how to do or that you have limited experience/knowledge with it.

That said, you can always let them know that you are willing to learn how to do it (IF you are interested in doing so, that is).

Or, you might look at this project or work and think to yourself: You know, this really doesn’t fall under administrative support at all and isn’t what I’m in business to do. They really need to be working with someone who is in the X business.

In that case, you might offer to help them locate the proper professional who IS in business to do that thing.

Or, in yet another example, perhaps you have a separate division in your company that does this thing, in which case you would take them through those separate processes for intaking that kind of work or project and charge them separately for it.

You have to always remember that administrative support is not a catchall term for “anything and everything.”

Just because a client asks doesn’t mean you’re supposed to comply. They need educating.

If you were a plumber and someone asked you to fix their car, that wouldn’t make any sense, right?

And you’d inform them very simply and helpfully that what they need is an auto mechanic, not a plumber.

Same thing here.

YOU have to decide what administrative support consists of in your business and what doesn’t.

When you have that clarity yourself, you shouldn’t have any qualms about letting clients know when something doesn’t fall under the umbrella of your support.

Always be clear and upfront with clients about what’s what in your business. You’re not going to look bad in any way for not taking on or knowing how to do something or needing to refer them to another kind of professional entirely when that’s the case.

The only time you will look bad and create ill will is by not being honest and straightforward.

I hope that helps! Let me know if you questions on any of this. :)

Do You Understand the Difference Between a Project-Based vs. Ongoing Admin Support Business?

Do You Understand the Difference Between a Project-Based vs. Ongoing Admin Support Business?

When I started out (and didn’t really understand the concept of providing administrative support as a business), I was what is correctly termed a secretarial service doing one-off projects here and there where I could find them.

Someone would hire me to do their resume, make a flyer or brochure, type some documents, that kind of thing.

It’s equivalent to the business model of a print shop for example.

A customer might be someone who only ever uses you once or it could be someone who is a repeat customer, but still on only an as-needed basis—occasional and sporadic.

The problem as I discovered was it was a paltry income, nothing I could actually live on. It was pocket money at best, and I still needed to work a full time job to pay the bills.

Okay, I thought, how do I make a living at that?

There is no recurring or consistent income when a business is project-based. You never know where your next meal or client will come from or when.

In order to make a living in a project-based business, it inherently requires that it be volume-driven, which comes with its own set of problems.

In a project-based, volume-driven business, you have to CONSTANTLY be marketing and networking and ever on the hunt for your next project, that next not one but five clients, all while you still have work in front of you to do.

It was EXHAUSTING.

It was a huge amount of work just getting those projects and clients I did have coming in here and there. It was this never-ending hamster wheel that left me little time to breathe.

And to have to multiply all those efforts 20-fold? No way. That was NOT the kind of business I wanted.

You also can never make up for in volume what you really need to make a living, not as a solo/boutique business.

The answer would seem to be add more people doing the work.

But that wasn’t a solution that worked for me either because:

  1. I have ZERO interest in being in the people management business, which is exactly what I’d have to do if I added more people;
  2. I would make even less money because my profit margins would be reduced with all the increased costs and expenses. Not only that, but my business would be much more complicated and less easy with all the added administration; and
  3. it would turn the work into an assembly line which is NOT what I want in my business or my life. I believe in artistry and craftsmanship in work product and that’s the quality I want to give to my clients. Churning work day in and day out as fast as possible (which is what you are forced to do in a volume-driven business) is NOT how I want to work or live my life.

It’s not that a volume-driven project business can’t work. But it’s a much bigger and more difficult business to build and sustain. And it’s simply a different business model altogether, one I had not the slightest interest in.

That’s when I started realizing that the way to make better money and more consistent income was to provide support as an ongoing RELATIONSHIP, not a one-off, piecemeal transaction.

Once I got conscious about that, I started building a retainer-based practice where clients paid me in advance on the 1st of every month for ongoing administrative support in their business, not a project here or there. I took on specific areas and roles that were ongoing in their business.

It was a lot more money—money I could actually LIVE on.

It was consistent, recurring CASHFLOW.

AND it didn’t require the constant merry-go-round of chasing after new clients and new work every minute of every hour of every day.

I could live and work in a much more relaxed, sustainable, breathable pace, growing my roster slowly one client at a time.

But I still had a lot of things to learn in my early years. I was still operating with the poor professional self-esteem that many in our industry suffer from: that I wasn’t enough, that admin support wasn’t enough.

Part of the problem was I still didn’t really have a target market.

And without that, I couldn’t really envision, much less paint a picture for prospects, about what admin support could look like in the context of their business and how it could help them in anything except the vaguest, most general (and uncompelling) terms.

So I thought I needed to offer a lot more. I thought I had to DO everything, BE everything, and be ANYTHING a client tried to twist me into at their whim in order to be of value.

First, I added web design.

And then I thought bookkeeping would be a good service to also offer because who doesn’t need bookkeeping?

What I failed to realize is that these are separate businesses in and of themselves.

It’s a full time job to just to provide bookkeeping to a roster of clients.

And design work requires a whole other part of the brain. It requires a switching of gears and lots of creative space that are simply too crowded when you are trying to do too many other things.

Eventually, as I got busier and busier (without really ever getting too far in anything much less making any better money), I realized that I needed to focus on ONE thing, be in ONE business, not multiple businesses.

Trying to be too many different kinds of businesses not only was keeping me from earning well, I wasn’t able to fully commit to any of them and was constantly distracted and pulled in different directions due to too many multiple focuses.

That’s not a recipe for doing your best work for clients.

I also realized that by focusing on ONE business (I got out of the bookkeeping business and then later discontinued doing any kind of design work completely), I did far better, more high quality work for clients, built my business faster, and ended up with far more discretionary time (i.e., freedom and flexibility) as a byproduct.

All of which ultimately benefited my clients in a multitude of ways.

I also realized (and look back now at how foolish I was back then) that if I had just gotten clear about being in ONE business earlier, I would have built my business and made more money so much faster.

Because once I did, I also soon realized that by focusing on the ONE business (admin support), I didn’t have the time or need to do anything else.

So now I’m VERY clear about what I’m in business to do and what I’m not.

If a client needs something I’m not in business to do (e.g., you wouldn’t ask a plumber to fix your car), I point out that they need to talk to the professionals who are in those other professions. If I happen to know someone good, I will refer them.

But I don’t bend over backwards making it my job to find them someone any more than it would be my doctor’s job to find me a lawyer. The only people who think that’s their job are those who are operating their business like an employee (or being trained to).

Whether You Think You Can or Think You Can’t, You’re Right

Whether You Think You Can or Think You Can't, You're Right

This quote stuck out to me after reading (yet another) a post on a business forum by someone who wanted to start her business, but had just lost her job, had no money, lived in a rural area… and so on and so forth.

She had every excuse in the book about how there was absolutely nothing she could do about her circumstances.

I wanted to point out to her, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you are right.” 😉

Whether You Think You Can or Think You Can't, You're Right

She was looking at all the negatives and resigning herself to her circumstance—and victimhood—instead of focusing on what she COULD do, what opportunities she COULD find or create for herself, what circumstances she could change and which actually had more options available to her than the ones she was resigning herself to if she just put her mind to it.

I’m not saying certain challenging circumstances don’t exist. I’m no Pollyana when it comes to facing facts.

There IS a difference, however, in taking stock of what IS and acknowledging those things, and staying stuck in self-pity and creating self-fulfilling prophesies.

How you deal with the hand you are dealt and what you do to make optimum use of that hand is going to determine your success not only in business, but in life.

Instead of lamenting about everything that is wrong, focus on what is RIGHT and how you can go about making lemonade about of whatever lemons you’ve got in your basket at the moment.

Put on your thinking cap and you can always create new possibilities for yourself and your life.

May not be easy, it may even be incredibly difficult (who said it was all supposed to be easy anyway?). It might be something you’d rather not have to do (and don’t have to do forever), but there is ALWAYS a way forward, a way out, a way around, a way up.

It all depends on your own outlook.