Archive for the ‘Starting Your Biz’ Category

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.

Final Hours: Opportunity Knocks

FINAL HOURS: Take 25% off now through midnight tonight only!

COURTESY REMINDER:

Today is the last day to get 25% off everything in the ACA Success Store. After midnight tonight, there won’t be another chance.

I’ll be launching something brand new soon, and it’s pretty darn awesome, if I do say so myself.

This will be a getting back to basics of sorts and it’s going to fit the needs of both new and already started administrative support business owners.

And don’t worry. What it will NOT be is yet another huge program that is going to cost a small fortune. In fact, a large part of it is going to be completely free.

BUT (and this is the important thing), you are going to need all the pieces of my administrative support business system in order to participate. As with any education, there are required school supplies and materials you need to get. Same idea.

So, toward that effort, I’d like to give you a little leg up in the meantime:

From now until midnight tonight, take 25% off all  Success Store products with this code: opportunityknocks

Simply paste that code into the discount field when you checkout and it will give you 25% off your purchase price.

If you’ve followed me long, you know that I don’t do sales and discounts. These are top-level professional-quality business materials and information. So, this is rare opportunity you don’t want to miss out on because it won’t be offered again.

Plus, we have hundreds of reviews from colleagues like you who love the products they’ve purchased and are so happy they chose the ACA to support them in their business journey.

Head over to the Success Store and place your purchase now.

I hope you’ll avail yourself of this chance so you’ll be ready to partake in something amazing!

Opportunity Knocks (Time Sensitive Offer)

I received the loveliest review from my colleague Mary Culbertson the other day and wanted to share with you:

I’m always so thankful and appreciative to hear from my colleagues who have purchased my administrative support business products because I know we all lead busy lives.

So, when someone takes time out of their own busy day to let me know how I’ve been able to help them in their business journey, well, it’s just the best feeling in the world and makes my heart so happy.

Starting a business, any business, can be very daunting, especially if you’ve never done it before. It’s not just the practical stuff that you have to figure out, but there’s all this mental chatter and self-doubt that goes on in our heads.

The one thing that I know for a fact helps people get over those nagging self-doubts and feeling unsure of themselves is having a plan, a template, a system to guide our efforts all along the way. This is what each and every business guide, template and tool in the ACA Success Store gives you.

I’m going to be launching something soon and it’s pretty darn awesome, if I do say so myself.

I’m working on the finishing touches and if you’re on my mailing list, you’ll get the announcement (if you’re not on my mailing list, simply subscribe to this blog and you’ll be added).

This will be a getting back to basics of sorts and it’s going to fit the needs of both new and already started administrative support business owners.

And don’t worry. What it will NOT be is yet another huge program that is going to cost a small fortune. In fact, a large part of it is going to be completely free.

However, you are going to need the pieces to the system that I offer in the ACA Success Store to be able to participate.

So, toward that effort, I’d like to give you a little leg up in the meantime:

From now until midnight, Sunday (April 30), take 25% off all Success Store products with this code: opportunityknocks

Simply paste that code into the discount field when you checkout and it will give you 25% off your purchase price.

If you’ve followed me long, you know that I quit doing sales and discounts a long time ago, so this is a rare opportunity that would be foolish to waste. I won’t be offering it again.

Head over to the Success Store and place your purchase now.

I hope you’ll avail yourself of this chance. It’s going to be amazing!

Too Much Accessibility Is Not a Good Thing

Too Much Accessibility Is Not a Good Thing

Contrary to popular belief, too much accessibility is not a good thing.

This advice column is a good reminder of that.

It uses the example of a co-worker overstepping boundaries, but the same principle applies when it comes to clients: You don’t need to be so instantly available.

In fact, it can actually lead to the opposite effect of what you intend: poor customer service and unrealistic client expectations.

When you respond instantly to every beck and call, you are training your clients to think you have nothing better to do than sit there and jump as soon as they command.

That is NOT a good precedent to set in your administrative support business as it leads to all kinds of boundary overstepping, disrespect (of you and your time as a business owner with other clients to care for), and resentment (and resentment is a relationship-killer).

Keeping some buffer area around you is actually healthy for your business and the relationship.

This is why I’m always advising people in our industry to formalize their communication standards and turn-around times, and then inform clients about those policies and protocols so they know ahead of time how things work in your business and what to expect (as well as what they may not expect).

So whose fault is it when this becomes a problem?

Hint: It’s not the client’s.

That’s like getting mad at someone for calling you in the middle of dinner. You’re the one who answered the phone. They didn’t have a gun to your head. 😉

It’s you who has to adjust the behavior and set the standards.

I don’t let clients call or text me for several reasons:

  1. I don’t want to be chased around and sweated like that.
  2. I’d never get anything done.
  3. I’m not trying to be that technologically connected. Remember: healthy boundaries. Technology should be a tool, not an obsession. There’s a time and purpose for it, but outside of that, I don’t want it taking over and interrupting my life. For me, it’s a conscious decision to keep it to a minimum.
  4. I don’t want to have to chase after a million loose ends scattered all over a bunch of different channels. That just creates more work and chaos that is neither efficient nor a productive use of time and energy. Plus, it allows more room for error. Order is the name of the game.

I inform and instruct clients at the beginning of our relationship that all our communication is to be by email (with separate emails for each separate topic, by the way). Client calls are reserved for our regularly scheduled weekly meetings or by appointment otherwise.

This way, I can use my inbox as the central communication hub, have a “paper” trail (so to speak) for everything, and be able to keep everything organized, sorted and tidy in one place.

So, I tell clients: You can email me any time of day or night, but here is how and when your communications and requests are handled…

(I also explain why these standards are of value and benefit to them: because ultimately, they allow me to provide them with better service and support.)

And then I honor those standards I’ve set and don’t overstep my own boundaries.

Have you formalized your communication and turn-around standards and protocols? Have you incorporated that information into your client guide? Are you going over that information with clients in your new client orientations?

If not, make it a priority to do so now. You’ll thank yourself later, and clients will both respect and be impressed by it.

It demonstrates to them that you have good management skills which gives them greater trust and confidence that you will competently manage and deliver the work you do for them.

And, you’ll be modeling smart business practices that they can implement in their own businesses (with your help).

Better Yet, How Important Is It to YOU?

What Is Important to YOU?

A new colleague posed this question to would-be clients on another forum:

“On a scale of 1-10, one being low and ten being high, how important is it to you to connect on a personal level with your administrative support partner?”

What I want to know is how important is it to YOU to have a personal connection with your clients?

Once you know what kind of clients YOU want, you can focus on attracting the kind of clients who are ideal for you.

A few years ago a colleague came to me seeking help out of a desperate situation in her administrative support business.

She had inherited her business from someone who used others to do the work. So, the clients she also inherited had no personal knowledge or connection with the person(s) who did the work. They just barked orders and expected it to be done.

The problem with that is she came to resent being treated like a robot, like a human vending machine.

Because there was no personal, human connection, these clients treated her poorly, spoke to her disrespectfully, and on top of that, expected everything instantly, and, of course, wanted to pay little or nothing for it.

And there were virtually never any thank-yous or words or gestures of appreciation. That’s what happens when you have an impersonal, transactional relationship with clients: you get treated like a commodity, a human vending machine.

She also didn’t have a business website — and didn’t think she needed one since her practice was already full and she was having difficulty dealing with her current clients as it was.

I explained to her that without a website, she was missing out on the opportunity to humanize her business and fix the very problem she was having.

A website would allow her to put her face and personality on the brand, pre-educate potential clients about how her business works and the kind of clients with whom she was looking to work — thereby presetting expectations and organically prequalifying more ideal client candidates.

You can do the same.

Figure out who would make you most happy working with and gear everything on your website to speak to those types of clients and educate them about who is a fit for you.

This makes for a much happier, more fulfilling business.

You may have to kiss a few frogs before you perfect your client-qualifying criteria. Just don’t think that you have to accept any and every client who comes your way, or that you have to live and die by what clients (think) they want.

YOU get to decide what you want your business to look like and how you want to work with clients and what kind of clients you want to work with. Everything else will fall into place from there.

When you build your business to suit your needs and requisites first, the right clients will follow. You’ll get more ideal clients, and your business will be much more profitable and gratifying.

***

How about you? Do you have a business website or are you trying to get by with just a LinkedIn or Facebook account? How much of a personal connection do you prefer with your clients? Have you ever had clients who didn’t treat you like a person?

Truth or Platitudes?

Truth or Platitudes?

I read an article recently where the author observed that most people don’t really want to know what it takes to be successful:

“Most people want to hear platitudes about success. You have to work your ass off to create a successful business. But when you start talking about the work required, their eyes glaze over. They don’t want to hear the truth about what it takes to be successful.”

The difference, the author notes, is that winners DO want the truth (not platitudes) about what it really takes to get a business off the ground — the good, the bad and the ugly.

As a business trainer and industry mentor for the past 13 years (in business for 20+), I have to say, I tend to agree.

It’s what separates the ones who are going to succeed and those who are likely to close up shop within a few short years.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with being positive and optimistic.

You’re going to need it to keep believing in yourself, persevere during the difficult start-up times in business, and endure the naysayers in your life who want you to “go get a real job.”

The problem occurs when people become addicted to woo-woo and magical thinking and seeking out platitudes is all they focus on. (This is exactly how they get sucked into the web of lies and illusion from internet marketers.)

You have to strike a balance between encouragement and optimism and getting honest, pragmatic business learning and advice and taking action (doing the work).

Because believe it or not, all those platitudes and “inspiration” can turn your brain to mush, no matter how “uplifting”  they are, if that’s all your diet consists of.

If inspiration is the thing you’re seeking, let me tell ya, there’s nothing more inspiring that deciding on a target market, doing the work to get to know them (e.g., asking them questions, getting involved in their professional communities, researching their industry), learning what their common needs, goals and challenges are, and developing your administrative solutions and marketing message around those things.

That’s the kind of direction and focus that makes the kind of headway that gets your motor running and fuels excitement (and more action) in your emerging business!

I see so many people in our industry who spend more time trying to network with their colleagues than ever they do with their target market. And then they wonder and get depressed about why they aren’t getting clients and moving forward in their business.

The other pitfall is they get involved in “networking” groups where a) their target market isn’t to be found, and b) is just a room of other people trying to get clients.

You aren’t going to find clients in those places. Decide on a target market and go where THOSE people are and learn them. THAT’S where/how you’re going to get clients.

(For those who are new, a target market is simply an industry/field/profession that you cater your administrative support to. If you need help deciding on your target market, download our free guide How to Choose Your Target Market.)

What are your thoughts?

  • If you examine your own actions, are you chasing after feel-good platitudes and otherwise focusing on what you want to hear instead of honest business advice and what you need to know? How do you discern the difference?
  • How prepared are you to put in the time and do the actual work required?
  • How much time are you wasting dinking around with colleagues, signing up to each other’s social media accounts (I call this “playing business”) compared to actual work learning how to be better at business, involving yourself in your target market’s communities and getting clients?

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