Archive for the ‘This Is BUSINESS’ Category

Interview with Danielle Keister, Founder of the Administrative Consultants Association

Interview with Danielle Keister, Founder of the Administrative Consultants Association

Last month a colleague asked for an interview with me, and I thought I would share my answers with you here as well.

Your Name:

Danielle Keister

Name of Your Business:

I am the founder of the Administrative Consultants Association (ACA), a professional organization for those running administrative support businesses. I also run my own administrative support business supporting solo attorneys who practice in the areas of business, intellectual property and entertainment law.

Years in Business:

I’ve been in business since 1997 when I officially took out my business license; longer if you want to include the years I did this work on the side informally. I originally started the organization now known as the Administrative Consultants Association (ACA) in 2005.

Q1. Tell me about starting your business. Why did you start it?

My husband died without warning in 1995, leaving me a young widow with a daughter to raise on my own. An unexpected loss like that really makes you question life and what you want out of it, how you want to live, what you want for yourself and your children, etc.: Are you living life on your own terms? How happy are you in the 9-to-5 grind? Is my child really getting the best of me if I’m tired and working all the time just to make ends meet? What kind of life am I providing for her? Is this really all there is?

I had previous forays into a few side businesses that I never really took anywhere. It was after the loss of my husband that I decided to get serious about taking the skills I had and turning them into a real business I could make a viable income from to create a better quality of life for myself and my daughter. I didn’t want to be a 9-to-5’er the rest of my life.

Q2. What is your role/job? What sort of responsibilities do you have?

I would say “job” is the wrong terminology to be using here since we are business owners, not employees. Some people may think that is pedantic, but consciously understanding the difference between employment and business ownership and having a business (not employee) mindset begins with using correct terminology.

In all my years of mentoring, what I’ve found is that those who never truly get over employee mindset and continue to work with their clients as if they were still employees don’t survive long in this business.

This is why I continue to clarify the distinction and make sure everyone I come across “gets” it. I want people to succeed in this business, which really starts with developing that all-important business sensibility.

As a solo business owner, I wear three hats: 1) I’m the CEO responsible for the development and direction of my business and making important decisions about the business; 2) I’m the manager responsible for managing all the moving parts and taking care of administration of the business; and 3) I’m the service provider — the craftsperson whose skills are the stock and trade of my business services.

Q3. What is your typical day like?

Very generally speaking, on a typical day, I wake up according to my own internal clock (I haven’t used an alarm clock in years).

Once I get up, I do a little yoga and stretching, eat, and then get cleaned up and dressed for the day. I fully admit to working in my bathrobe every once in awhile if I don’t have any plans to go anywhere that day, lol. But most of the time, leggings or long skirt with a comfy but stylish tee is how I roll.

I don’t like to rush into the day and prefer to check emails and get things sorted in my in-box as the first thing I do.

There is a lot of talk in many online places that discourage this, but I prefer the opposite and find this email clearing and organizing step much more conducive to my productivity for the rest of the day.

I then tend to dive into client work around 10 or 11 am (I always joke with people that my brain doesn’t get juiced up fully until around 11 am).

Depending on what’s on my plate for that day, I may work until between 4 and 6 pm. But it really varies, depending on the day’s workload, what priorities are in the queue, and what else I’ve got going on.

If the work in my queue gets done early, I don’t jump into the next day’s pile. I go enjoy life!

It does take discipline, though, not to fill your free time with work, work, work.

I think for most of us, our first instinct is to get as much done as quickly as we can. But that is really counterproductive and keeps you on a hamster wheel. It’s not good for you and ultimately it ends up not being good for clients.

You have to be diligent about respecting your own boundaries (which in turn trains clients to respect them as well) and give yourself lots of breathing room so you don’t burn out in this business.

At some point around noon or 1 pm I’ll knock off for lunch, maybe go somewhere to eat.

I also try to get a good walk/hike on most days (try being the operative word here lately). Depending on the weather, sometimes that’s first thing in the morning, sometimes it’s around midday, sometimes it’s later in the evening.

It really all depends, and this is the beautiful thing that I’ve created in my business: the freedom and flexibility to be able to listen to my own natural rhythms, structure my business around my life, and do what I want, when I want, while still taking great care of my clients. (I never sacrifice their needs; it’s all a matter of setting proper expectations and boundaries.)

I’ve also created what is essentially a 3-day work week (you can get my entire business management system here):

  • Mondays are my Admin Days where I take care of the admin in my own business or working on my business.
  • Tuesdays are my meeting days that I reserve for telephone meetings and appointments with clients and others.
  • Wednesday through Friday is when I do client work.

For the past few years, my life has been extra stressed caring for a sick, elderly dad. In full disclosure, I’ve really let my own self-care down. I’m beyond grateful I’ve built a business that allows me to do this for my dad, but it’s not easy and still comes with a cost that has taken a toll on me. Making my own self-care a priority again is something I wrestle with on a daily basis and am currently working to improve.

(For a more in-depth snapshot of my typical day, check out this post.)

Q4. What is the best thing about owning your own business?

As touched on above, the freedom and flexibility to live a less rushed/forced life; the ability to live according to my own natural rhythms and internal clock; and the ability to structure my business and its policies, procedures, and protocols so that I have plenty of time for life (or whatever is most important at any point in time; for me, right now, that is my dad).

I never ever want a business where I am living to work instead of working to live.

One of the things I’m always saying to my clients and colleagues is that your business should support your life, not suck the life from you. It took a lot of fits and starts, trial and error, and course correction, but I’m very proud of the business and income I’ve created today.

I also love that my daughter was able to see that self-sufficiency and determination modeled and be a part of my business journey.

Q5. What is the hardest thing about owning your own business?

Well, I’ll be frank with you: business ain’t for sissies, that’s fo sho!

I was extremely fortunate to have had some opportunities come up that gave me the financial means to take care of myself and my daughter while I started my business.

And later I was also fortunate to have a significant other to lean on during the rough spots, of which there were many, make no mistake.

It takes an extreme amount of perseverance, determination, self-motivation — and time —to get a business to a point where it’s actually solvent and sustainable and eventually profitable.

And, of course, everyone’s mileage and set of circumstances will vary. You just take advantage of everything you’ve got going for you, figure out the rest, and if you can get past all that, the rewards are amazing!

Q6. What advice do you have for someone wanting to start a business? What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started?

One of the reasons I started the ACA was to provide others with the knowledge and easier path in starting their own administrative support business that I didn’t have way back when. I did it all without knowing there were others doing what I was attempting to do.

One thing that was pivotal in my success was realizing that a secretarial service is not administrative support.

Secretarial services are project-based businesses where the person does something here and there for drive-by clients.

It’s an inherently volume-driven business, one that requires you to always be on the hunt for your next clients and projects, even while you try to complete the work in front of you.

It’s a plodding, exhausting way to try to make a living and extremely difficult to get profitable.

Once I realized that, instead of project work, I could provide administrative support being an ongoing right-hand to a handful of regular clients on a monthly basis instead of a constantly revolving door of one-time or sporadic clients and rinky-dink projects, that’s when I cracked the revenue code.

But it took me a few years to get to that realization and figure out how to structure things properly.

Now, I base all my training and business education products around that basic tenet so that others won’t waste so many months or years.

I show them how they can build a business based on retainer clients (which is where the bread-and-butter is) while still taking advantage of project work that comes along that is of interest to them (which is gravy).

Another bit of advice I have for folks is not to take shortcuts with the business startup process. Every step helps build your business mindset and sensibility.

People get impatient with the process and want to jump ahead of themselves and it’s really to their detriment and that of their clients.

I’ve seen more businesses shutter their doors because the owner didn’t put the proper foundations in place before taking on clients.

Don’t rush things. There is a little bit of back and forth involved as you figure things out, but beyond that, there is a basic step by step process involved in any business start-up. Don’t skip those parts:

  • Do the business plan.
  • Learn how your local, state and federal taxing and licensing works and what your responsibilities/obligations are.
  • Don’t take on clients before you’ve got at least a basic website up and mapped out a rudimentary set of policies, procedures and protocols. Your website is an incredibly important tool in properly educating clients about the nature of the relationship and bridging understanding so that you attract your right, most ideal clients. You will find that having something there to start with is going to be incredibly helpful in building, growing, and honing your business from there.

These are all exercises that help you create the strong foundations you need to be able to get — and keep — clients. The problems with clients and not getting the right ones happen when those things are absent.

If you were interviewing me, what other questions would you have for me? Let me know in the comments!

Why Being a “One-Stop Shop” Is BS

Why Being a "One-Stop Shop" Is BS

I think the idea that very commonly travels around our circles that we should be “one-stop” shops is dangerous.

Dangerous in that it sets you up for failure and mediocrity.

Dangerous because it’s rooted in employee mindset.

Dangerous because it stems from an underlying lack of healthy professional self-esteem that who you are and what you do is ENOUGH.

And dangerous because it teaches clients and others to devalue the expertise you ARE in business to provide.

It is ENOUGH to be in one business, not a million different businesses at once (i.e., administrative support… not administrative support AND web design AND graphic design AND bookkeeping AND marketing AND social media AND writing/copywriting, and any and every other hat you can find to put on).

That BS is something employers pulled on their admin staff because they could get away with it (i.e., dumping every kind of work and role onto them beyond their job description without any promotion in title or pay).

You don’t need to carry that wrong and negative influence over into your business. And you shouldn’t.

Because you are not a human garbage dump.

Because business and employment are not the same thing.

And because running your business and working with clients as if you were still an employee keeps your business from really flourishing.

It is ENOUGH to keep your eye on your one focus and discipline.

In that way, you beat mediocrity and can be the very best you can be at the particular thing you are in business to do.

Trying to diversify and be all the things to every body keeps you unfocused and dilutes the time and energy needed to do any one thing particularly well.

People who specialize in mediocrity don’t make the big bucks, are tired and scattered all the time, and never gain traction in their businesses.

You DON’T have to solve ALL problems for clients. You only have to solve the problem your business is set up to solve.

You DON’T have to be all things to every body.

Dear Danielle: Client Wants Me to Cut My Fees By $200 a Month

Dear Danielle: Client Wants Me to Cut My Fees by $200 a Month

Dear Danielle:

I recently had a contract client who could no longer afford to pay me the regular contracted amount because of a slowdown in her business so she asked that I drop my price about $200 until she was back on her feet. How should I deal with that? She’s been my client for 3 years and she’s always paid on time and every penny. I agreed to the cut but not sure for how long. Any words of advice? —KP

It sounds like this is a good client with whom you’ve had a happy, healthy business relationship thus far.

It also sounds like this client is paying some sort of monthly fee, if I am surmising things correctly.

And there’s no reason to throw all that away.

BUT there’s also no reason why this client’s financial woes should be your problem. Especially since you aren’t sure how long it will continue.

There IS a compassionate, client-centric way you can offer to help this client out during what I assume is only a temporary predicament without sacrificing your own business needs and well-being.

And it starts with this handy phrase: You don’t get what you don’t pay for.

That’s obviously not very client-centric the way it’s phrased, but the solution in its meaning is, very simply, to take something off the table.

What that means is, if you are selling hours, take $200 worth of hours away from their retainer. Only work up to the number of hours they have paid for.

If they can only pay for 15 hours instead of the usual 20, then they should only get 15 hours of support, not 20.

Alternatively, if you are using my value-based pricing methodology (which is a faster, more effective way to make an impact and give clients more readily apparent, targeted results), take a $200 task/function/role away from the monthly support plan.

Have a conversation with the client, identify what the most important functions are to their operations during this financial lean-time, and then offer to remove/temporarily suspend a $200 value task/function/role that is least necessary and will have the least impact on their continued smooth functioning and profits.

Give them two or three options of what could be removed for $200 less a month, and let them decide which one to sacrifice.

It’s also possible during this discussion that the client realizes even more the value of what you do for their business and decides to find the money to keep paying your full fee for full services to continue.

If this were me, I would also be curious about the reasons for this client’s financial down-turn.

If they were open to sharing, it’s possible I would have some ideas and insights on what we could do and where we could focus our work to create some new/fresh revenue.

Perhaps you even saw this coming, but the client had previously been resistant to exploring your ideas, trying something new, or doing things a little differently than they were used to that might have helped them improve financially. They might now be a bit more receptive to hearing you out.

I would, however, certainly expect to be paid for any additional work/consulting I provided. It’s up to them to decide where their priorities are.

No reasonable client would expect you to work for free.

And despite any client’s best (or unrealistic) intentions, they don’t have a crystal ball no matter what grand promises they make.

So the best policy is to go about things in a way that serves your business interests.

Keep in mind that you have an obligation to safeguard your financial well-being and business profitability not only for yourself, but for your other clients as well.

It doesn’t serve them for you to be giving away time, energy, and work for free to someone who isn’t paying fully for it.

And don’t even think about letting this client pay on credit (a la “I will gladly pay you tomorrow for a hamburger today”).

You won’t be doing them, yourself, or your other clients any favors by letting them go into debt to you.

If they are already in financial straights, owing you or anybody else more money is only going to bury them further.

Remember, you teach people how to treat, value, and respect you.

Lower your fee for this client if you want to help and keep them on your roster; just make sure you also take away an equal amount of work from what you provide them with.

And have another conversation with this client to reset the expectations around what they will and won’t get for the reduced monthly fee.

I also suggest giving the client a definite time limit on this special arrangement.

Give it a month or two and inform the client that you will need to review and discuss things again at that time to determine whether or not it’s still feasible/profitable/in your business interests to continue the arrangement.

If there’s no improvement in sight, you may even decide that, while you wish this client well, keeping them on your roster is no longer profitable for you.

If any of this is helpful, one way you could return the favor is by letting me know in the comments. I would truly value that.

And if you or anyone else has more questions on this, please feel free to ask in the comments, and I’ll be happy to continue the conversation and share my further insights and advice.

How to Converse with a Ninny

How to Converse with a Ninny

Recently, something reminded me of a conversation I had a while back with a colleague.

She was frustrated by an interaction she’d had with someone in a networking group and wasn’t sure what to do about.

The person had asked what she did. She answered that she was an Administrative Consultant and attempted to relate some of the tasks she helped clients with.

The person’s response was “Oh, so you’re a virtual assistant?”

She wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that because she most vehemently did not want to be associated with that term whatsoever.

In all honesty, some people aren’t worth your time. And the person she was talking to was obviously an uncouth ninny.

On what planet does anyone dictate to you what your title or term is, especially after you have just told them?

(That was a rhetorical question. The answer is it is never anyone’s place to call you anything except what you have instructed/informed them to call you.)

However, a big part of the problem was in how she was describing what she did.

At the time, this colleague was resistant to pinning down a target market, and the kinds of things she said she did were so broad, vague, and generalized that it’s no wonder people were confused and wanted to lump her in as a VA.

That term has become a garbage dump for “anyone doing anything.” It’s basically branded itself to mean “cheap gopher.”

She got caught up in reciting lists of tasks instead of having the more abstract conversation about how she helps clients through the expertise of administrative support.

If you’ve found yourself in a similar conversation, and you deign to indulge in it with someone, here’s how you could respond in order to better educate said ninnies:

THEM: “Oh, so you’re a VA?”

YOU: “No, as I mentioned, I am what is known as an Administrative Consultant. That is something different and more specific.”

THEM: “But aren’t you basically an assistant?”

YOU: “No, that’s not an accurate way to understand the business-to-business relationship I have with my clients. Let me ask you this: As a coach/attorney/accountant/designer/(insert their profession here), are you an assistant to your clients?”

THEM: “No, I’m their coach/attorney/accountant/designer/(whatever their business/profession is).”

YOU: “Exactly! That’s how to understand my relationship with clients as well. You and I both run businesses that offer a specific service and expertise. We both assist clients, but that doesn’t make us assistants, right? What each of us does doesn’t matter. The fact that we run independent businesses, each delivering a specific service and expertise is the important thing. For me, I happen to be in the business of providing administrative support. But I’m not an assistant because 1) assistant is a term of employment and I am not an employee to my clients in any way, shape or form, and 2) I don’t act as an assistant to clients. I am a business owner and professional who provides a specific service and expertise to my clients; they turn to me for my expertise in providing ongoing administrative support and guidance. And the term we use for someone in that specific business is Administrative Consultant.”

This is how I have had similar conversations in the past. But what I’ve found is that once you a) stop calling yourself an assistant, and b) stop describing your business and the service you provide and how you work with clients in assistant-like terms, people get it, and you aren’t going to have to deal with too many ninnies after that.

Have you ever found yourself in a similar conversation as this colleague? How did you navigate it?

Do Your Family and Friends Respect Your Business?

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

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

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

Here’s an example of what I mean…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what’s the solution?

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

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

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

Maybe we need to say “no” more often.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If You Do Nothing Else, These Are Words to Live By

If You Do Nothing Else, These Are Words to Live By

I was reading Brit Marling’s article about Harvey Weinstein yesterday morning. In the first paragraph, she relates some powerful wisdom her mother imparted to her when she was a little girl:

“To be a free woman, you have to be a financially independent woman.”

It’s akin to something Suze Orman always reminds women of: “A man is not a financial plan.”

This is one of the most important reasons I work to help other women in this business earn better, to better understand the economics of business and how the business-to-business relationship with clients works, and teach them the important business skills that are integral to being able to ask for and get professional fees and how to navigate those business conversations: the consultation, pricing, your marketing message, chief among them.

Even if you are not your family’s primary breadwinner, life can change in an instant.

Divorce, illness, death, accidents, acts of nature… there are any number of unforeseeable events that can befall any of us at any moment and put us in the position of having to be the sole provider. Being a single mom is perhaps one of the most important reasons.

This is why my goal is to always show other women how to build a business that can take care of itself, to show them how to create the kind of income they can actually live on whether they are or need to be or should become the primary breadwinner; to establish a business that runs like a business and can scale at any point in time, even if right now you only want to work with one or two clients.

Being financially independent and creating a business that can take care of you and your family if need be is one of the best things you can do for yourself and those you love.

Freelancing IS Running Your Own Business

See, it’s phrasing like this that is troublesome:

“If you have previous experience freelancing or running your own business…”

Freelancing IS running your own business. It’s not an or; it’s the same thing.

Phrasing like that makes people think it’s something different and separate, which is incorrect.

That’s why we have so many people in the industry who don’t realize that they are not employees, that they are running their own business, that it IS up to them to set the contracts and dictate the rules, etc.

It’s also why you should never use the term “freelancer.” Because it gives everyone the wrong idea all the way around.

How Can They Have It So Wrong?

It’s astounding to me that there is an entire organization based wholly on a misunderstanding of the law.

While Freelancer’s Union has its heart in the right place, they are utterly wrong about its most basic premise.

Freelancers are not part of the workforce. Freelancers are not “workers.” Freelancers, by definition of law, are self-employed BUSINESS OWNERS.

With articles like this, Freelancers Union is actually perpetuating the idea to employers to continue to disregard and abuse employment laws.

People who are “self-employed” are just that: self-employed. They are not employees or “workers” nor part of the “workforce.” (Those are terms of employment, not business, and have no place in a business-to-business context.)

They are running their own business providing a service. And when you are running your own business, it is up to you — and only you — to provide your own agreements and determine and dictate when, where and how you work, what you charge and everything else that goes along with being self-employed.

If you’re going to combat the problem, THIS is the education you need to be having with the self-employed who don’t understand these legal distinctions.

Freelancers Union could do more good by abolishing the idiotic word “freelancer” because it does nothing to educate the self-employed about their role as a business owner and how to run their business like a business and not work with clients like an employee.

That right there is responsible for nearly 100% of their nonpayment problems. As it is, all they are doing is creating more victims.

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.

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.