Archive for the ‘This Is BUSINESS’ Category

You Are NOT a Remote Worker

I find it annoying when articles written about people in the administrative support business refer to them as “remote workers.”

People who are running businesses are not “remote workers.”

“Remote worker” is a term of employment meaning “telecommuter” (i.e., an employee who works from home).

Attorneys are not remote workers. Accountants are not remote workers. Web designers are not remote workers. Bookkeepers are not remote workers. Coaches are not remote workers. And neither are people who provide administrative support as a business remote workers.

These are professionals who are in business providing a service and expertise.

This stuff is so important to your mindset in business because how you think of yourself, how you understand your role, directly affects how potential clients see and understand your business as well, and it affects how your relationship rolls out from there.

Discussions like this are good reminders to always keep in mind that how you think about yourself and the service you’re in business to provide and the words and terms you use impacts how you portray your business and how would-be clients see it, and the kind of clients you attract.

If you don’t want clients who treat you like their employee, you need to portray your service in a more business-like (not employee-like) manner.

That includes not using employment terminology in any way — including the word “assistant” or “remote worker.”

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How about you? Did you realize that “remote worker” is a term of employment? Is there content on your website that can be improved so clients are better informed about the nature of your
business-to-business relationship?

That’s Not How This Works, That’s Not How ANY of This Works

That's Not How This Works, That's Not How ANY of This Works

You know, we always see these articles constantly telling clients who want to get help from those of us in the administrative support business that they need to instruct us on this, tell us how to do that, yada yada yada… as if how the consultation will proceed, how our businesses and processes work, what we do and don’t do and how we do it are all up to them — like they were hiring an employee.

And all I can do is shake my head as I read these confounded articles and think:

“Um, no. That’s not how this works. That’s not how ANY of this works.”

First of all, clients aren’t (or at least shouldn’t be thinking they are) hiring a trained monkey.

Second of all, if a client is talking to anyone who doesn’t have the faintest idea of her own processes in her own business, that is not someone any client should be engaging with.

The client will be pulling her hair out before the month is out trying to elicit any form of independent thought or critical thinking from the person who is waiting to be told what to do every step of the way.

That’s no help to clients in the least little way.

Figuring it all out or having to tell you how to do everything isn’t a burden clients should need to bear.

That’s YOUR job as an independent administrative expert and business owner: to have your own consultation process that you lead clients through that works to elicit the information YOU need to form a picture of the client and their business, develop a plan of support, and guide, recommend and advise clients on where and how you can help them and the best place to start.

Of course, I should clarify that these articles are always written about “virtual assistants,” not Administrative Consultants.

That’s because people only understand the word “assistant” one way: employee.

So it’s no wonder they are confused.

But this is business — not employment — so they need to be disabused of the notion that they’re running things.

One way you do that is by not calling yourself an assistant in the first place.

They’re the client, not the dictator of how our businesses and processes work. It’s not up to them to tell you how things will proceed.

It’s their place to contact you to inquire whether you might be able to help them, and for you to inform them what the next step is in your process of finding that out and then leading them competently through your systems (as any independent business owner would).

Yet another example of why smart people in the administrative support business do not call themselves assistants. 😉

The Heartbreaking Reality for Most Businesses in Our Industry

I came across something utterly heartbreaking a few weeks ago.

I’ve been sitting on it for awhile, going back and forth about whether or not to have a conversation around it.

I never want to discourage anyone from this business or have anyone take things the wrong way. Because if you set things up right, it is an AMAZING business and lifestyle.

However, it’s a cold, hard truth that no one ever talks about in our industry.

And the problem with not talking about things that are uncomfortable, that aren’t all “rah, rah, kumbaya” all the time, is that you can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge.

What was this thing I came across? An ad for a “Virtual Assistant Business For Sale.”

And what is this cold, hard truth I speak of? It’s that most people in our industry are not profitable and not making the kind of money they can actually live on.

You see, the sad thing about this ad is that it isn’t an exception. It’s actually a very accurate example reflective of what most of the businesses in our industry look like.

Now, before I dissect this for you, I first want to make it absolutely clear: It is not that people can’t make more money in our kind of business; they absolutely can! YOU absolutely can!

It’s simply that they are being taught by the industry at large in all the worst possible ways to price, operate and market themselves (like calling yourself a “virtual assistant”). And it’s keeping them poor, overworked and overwhelmed.

The fortunate thing is that YOU always have the possibility to learn better so that your business can do better for you.

And that always benefits your clients because you can’t take good care of others if your needs aren’t taken care of first.

Here is the ad:

The Heartbreaking Reality for Most Businesses in Our Industry

Let’s examine the problematic issues here:

  1. We see that the business has been around for 11 years. Great! After that amount of time, you’d expect them to be earning really well.
  2. Yet in the first bullet we see they are only making £1900/mo (British Pound) which is $2363.98/mo USD. After that many (11) years, why are they still making that little money? Those are poverty-level wages. Did they mean perhaps that this is the average value per client?
  3. Unfortunately, no, we see in the next bullets that after 11 years they have only 1 retainer client at only £350 GBP/$435.39 USD per month. The rest of their revenues come from 15 regular (but uncommitted/non-retainer) clients and 20 ad hoc clients, which I’m interpreting to mean an average of 20 project clients each month. The problem is that at this number of clients they should be making several thousands of dollars per month! I can’t even imagine (well, actually, I can) how overwhelmed and overworked they are… and for such a paltry sum on money! To give some context/frame of reference, I make more with just one of my retainer clients than they make in an entire month from 36 clients.
  4. They also mention having relationships with two typists. This business owner is barely making ends meet at these figures, where on earth is there any margin to pay anyone else? (Answer: there isn’t.) It means that they are doing all this work at a loss! Especially at gross figures that don’t even account for expenses, operating costs, taxes, etc.
  5. This is not a profitable business in any way, shape or form. What has most likely happened is that burnout caught up to them (no wonder!) and they are now trying to unload the sinking ship. But there are no assets of any value to sell here. The clients it has are being charged such an ungodly little amount, there is almost no way in hell to ever reset those kind of expectations. They’ve branded and positioned this business as “cheap” and there is just nowhere you can go with that. It would be faster, easier and less costly for you to create a business from scratch and establish the brand based on properly set foundations and expectations and charging higher, more profitable professional fees.

Don’t misunderstand me. This examination is in no way a denigration of the business’s owner.

Rather, it’s utterly heartbreaking to me that they have made so little money working with too many clients with basically no commitment and constant churn. I wish I’d had the opportunity to help them early on.

When we talk about these things, there are always a certain number of people who don’t understand why it’s so important to have these conversations.

But bringing this consciousness to the fore is integral to being able to improve things so you can better earn in your own business.

It’s why I’m always talking about money, how you are marketing and positioning your business and brand, how not charging profitably sets you up for failure, about how the expectations and perceptions you create in clients directly affect your ability to charge properly and earn well.

These are the topics that will make or break your business.

It’s this fundamental business education — and not the latest, greatest software or tools — that is key to creating a profitable, sustainable business where you can get, work with and keep great clients (clients worth having who value you, not cheapos looking for a free handout), make great money and that works around and enriches your life and what’s important to you (instead of the business running you).

What could this person have done differently?

  1. Business planning. Going through the exercise of business planning forces you to think through and get clear and conscious about all the important details of your business such as your needs, goals and intentions around money, what kind of clients you want to work with and are worth working with, and what business standards, policies and procedures to establish accordingly.
  2. Getting off the project work merry-go-round. A business based on project work needs a shit-ton of clients and work in order to stay alive. It’s a constant, never-ending hamster wheel of marketing, even while you already have clients and work to take care of in front of you, and you never know where your next meal is coming from. Nothing wrong with project work, but think of it as secondary income, the gravy to the meat and potatoes where you make your “real” money.
  3. Expecting a commitment. Retainer clients (clients who pay a monthly fee upfront for a plan of support) are where the real money is at. A commitment of working together each month allows you to do your best work and gives you something to actually work with to achieve a tangible, demonstrable value and results for clients. But of course, if you don’t ever expect a commitment, you’ll never get one. That’s why it’s so important to set standards in your business around what’s important to you. An expectation that clients must make a minimum commitment to be given a place on your client roster is a standard that will serve you (and your clients) well, even if some of them might not understand that at first. (You’ll have a far easier time getting commitments if you learn how to set up and navigate the whole consultation process and pricing conversation.)
  4. Get clear and conscious about the money. Charging fees based on what you see others charging (who are more often than not just as lost as everyone else) is the worst way to set your fees. It’s not about what everyone else is charging (stop looking at them!). It’s about knowing what your target market values, how you can improve their circumstances with your support and what they gain from working with you, and learning how to articulate that value to them in the context of their business and goals.
  5. Choosing a target market. This business is all over the map when it comes to who their clients are and the work they’re doing. And that is a huge part of the problem. Very simply, a target market is an industry/field/profession that you focus your administrative support on. This specialization is key to making the big bucks. That’s because when you know who it is you are focusing on, you can determine very quickly and clearly what they do in their business and what their common needs, goals, challenges, values and interests are and then develop your support solutions around those things. Your offerings will be much more interesting and compelling that way, and you’ll be able to charge more (because there will be more relevant, specific, higher perceived value) and get clients more quickly and easily.
  6. CHARGING MORE! At the poor fees this business would have to charging to account for so little monthly/annual revenue, it’s a clue that the business owner is not understanding the economics of business. You simply can’t charge rates that amount to employee wages and expect to earn well. Business is a completely different ballgame. It’s why I’m constantly reminding people, you are NOT an employee, you’re a business. There’s also this crazy, but nonetheless immutable law of business:  The more you charge, the better clients you get. And what do we mean by better clients? Client who value you and what you offer. Clients who are invested and make the commitment to working together. Clients who aren’t looking for the free buffet. Clients who are loyal to you and the good work and results you provide them with, not how little they can pay. When you have better clients who make a monthly financial commitment to working together toward established goals, you can make more money working with fewer clients and have more time for your own life in the process.
  7. Stop calling yourself an “assistant.” One of the reasons people have a hard time charging more or seeing their value in a different light (and gaining some business self-esteem and confidence) is because so many of them insist on calling themselves “virtual assistants.” This keeps them thinking of themselves as employees and seeing things through that lens instead of from an entrepreneurial/business mindset. Here’s what you need to understand: Assistant is a term of employment, not business. Terminology (just like pricing) is a part of marketing. How you price and the words and terms you use to describe yourself have a direct influence on how clients perceive you and the expectations, perceptions and understandings they come to the table with. When you call yourself an “assistant,” they don’t look at you as a business owner and advisor. You are teaching them to view you as a type of subservient employee, and what they expect to pay is based on that wrong, harmful perception. When you call yourself an “assistant,” you are predisposing them to value you less, not more.  If you want to be able to charge higher, more appropriately profitable fees, you have to create the proper context. The verbiage and terminology you use directly impacts that context.

I have a couple of complimentary (as in free) business-building tools that shed a ton more light on all of this and will help you course-correct in your own business. If you don’t have them yet, be sure to go get them now.

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How about you? Why did you go into this business? I’m assuming a large part of it is that you love putting your administrative talents to use and helping clients and truly making a difference in their businesses and lives.

I can’t imagine that it gives anyone joy to be broke and working too hard for too little money. So over and above that, how do you want your own life enriched and improved by owning and running your own business? What are your money aspirations? What does “profitable” and “financially successful” mean to you?

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I’m Not Anyone’s Sidekick (and Neither Are You)

I'm No Sidekick (and Neither Are You)

Words have power. They’ve been used for centuries to subjugate others and keep them in their place.

Words have kept people thinking small about themselves. With the flick of a switch, they’ve also helped them reshape their perceptions and step into their own power and sovereignty.

It’s why the feminist movement insisted on changing accepted language — they recognized that being called “girls” was a micro-aggression meant to infantilize women.

So, of course, I snorted in derision when I first heard the word “sidekick” being tossed around to describe those in the administrative support business.

I feel about anyone referencing me as a “sidekick” in relation to clients the same way this woman feels being referred to as Macklemore’s “sidekick.”

It’s fundamentally insulting as a full-grown, professional woman and business owner. It’s a condescending verbal pat on the head, a throwback to employment mentality that has no place in business in this day and age.

I’m as disdainful of the word “sidekick” in business as I am “assistant.”

That’s because using subservient words and terms of employment (such as “assistant”) to identify yourself keeps you in a subservient mindset, consciously and unconsciously.

It also causes clients to view you not so much as their valued and respected administrative expert and adviser, but as their minion and order-taker.

Would you call your doctor or attorney or accountant or designer your sidekick?

Do you think that would be a respectful way to identify and address them?

How do you think that would go over with them if you did?

Why then would you feel the need to call yourself an assistant or sidekick?

It’s a form of self-talk. What you call yourself has a way of seeping into your psyche. With a more respectful, business-appropriate term, you can raise yourself up to better lead your business and more positively affect how your prospects and clients approach the relationship with you.

If you think it doesn’t matter what you call yourself either way, then why not adopt a more respectful term that will lead to more respectful exchanges with clients and prospects?

If you are really working with clients who value you as much as you say they do, they will happily support you as you raise your standards around the business terminology you use.

And your new clients won’t know the difference because they’ll refer to you in whatever way you inform them to.

I don’t need to be Robin to serve my clients well and deliver my expertise to them. We can both be Batman in our respective businesses who value and respect each other as equals.

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What thoughts, feelings or questions does this bring up for you? Does it spur any soul-searching? Can you think of a way in which calling yourself an assistant kept you thinking small in your business? Have you already embraced the idea that you are a business owner, not an assistant, with a valuable expertise to offer?

You Are Not Employed by Clients

Short, sweet, but important reminder for you today:

As an independent professional and business owner, clients do not “hire” or “employ” you; they “engage” you.

Using proper business terminology helps ensure clients understand (and respect) the correct nature of the relationship:  one of business and client, not employer to employee.

EXTREMELY important distinction.

This understanding is critical to the success of the relationship. Where the parties do not have a meeting of the minds here, everything that follows is misaligned as well.

Dear Danielle: What If My Administrative Consultant Gets Sick?

Dear Danielle:

What do you do when your Administrative Consultant is sick? Do you go for a one-person operation or use a company that can offer a replacement if yours has the flu?

I dunno. What do you do when your attorney or accountant gets the flu? Or your spouse for that matter?

Here’s what you need to understand:

Administrative Consultants are not substitute employees/temps. This is a relationship with an independent professional, not a vending machine. You can’t just drop a coin and out pops a replacement lackey.

People get sick. You’ll live.

Your business is always your responsibility. You should be able to run it and step in when necessary with or without your administrative consultant.

If you need someone at your beck and call, you need an employee, not an independent professional.

(Tip of the hat to the Bitter Barista for the genius vending machine analogy.)

Come to the Table with Proper Preparation and Manners

If you can’t be bothered to make an effort and have the respect, good manners and professionalism to put your best foot forward when you ask others to expend their time, attention and expertise helping you, you should expect the same level of effort and interest in return. 😉

A few quick tips:

1. Be clear. Write/speak in complete words and sentences (e.g., don’t grunt at me or expect me to waste my time trying to decipher your meaning.)

2. Get my name and the name of the organization right. Demonstrate that you are observant and attentive to details. You don’t give me anything to work with if you are so oblivious you can’t even get a name or term right.

3. I don’t care about typos here and there, but do demonstrate that you at least know how to spell and punctuate properly. If you can’t, you shouldn’t be in business.

4. Have the right attitude. Don’t act like you are owed my or anyone else’s time and attention.

5. Do your own homework first. (It’s obvious when someone hasn’t bothered to read anything or done any research whatsoever.)

6. If certain procedures are requested that you follow first, then follow those procedures and instructions.

7. Your mama didn’t raise you like that. Remember your manners and say thank you, always. It matters.

Surround Yourself with BUSINESS-Minded People

So often in business we hear platitudes about surrounding yourself with like-minded people.

You don’t grow from surrounding yourself with “like-minded” people.

All that does is breed sheep who are pressured to conform to the herd, are afraid to upset the status quo and will only give you “nice” rather than meaningful feedback.

You grow by surrounding yourself with BUSINESS-minded people who will challenge your beliefs and get you to think bigger, raise your business consciousness and tell you what you need to know, not what you want to hear.

Dear Danielle: Do I Have Enough Experience to Be an Administrative Consultant?

Dear Danielle: Do I Have Enough Experience to Be an Administrative Consultant?

Dear Danielle:

I only have 2 years experience as an executive assistant and 6 years as a receptionist/data entry clerk. Could I still be an Administrative Consultant? Any suggestions are helpful. –BT

Well, it’s not really for me to say. It’s what the marketplace has to say.

What I mean is, yes, as an industry, those of us in it definitely have thoughts, opinions and expectations about what the qualifications should be for those who want to enter our ranks. Generally, we want to protect the reputation and credibility of the profession to protect interests of ourselves and clients alike.

Ultimately, however, this is an unregulated industry so no one can tell you that you may or may not open an administrative support business if that’s what you want to do.

That said, clients have very demanding expectations. So the better question might be, do you have enough experience that you will be professionally qualified enough to meet those demands?

Business savvy also plays a critical role here because if you don’t know how to run and manage business well, that also will directly impact your service to clients and their satisfaction.

If you don’t have a sufficient level of these things, are you prepared to deal with the extra difficulty and rejection you might face? Do you have the stamina, perseverance and tenacity to keep working on whatever you need to work on to get to a level that is marketable?

The less skill and experience you have, the much more difficult a path you face. It will be much harder for you to command the kind of fees that will earn you a real living and it may take you much longer to get established.

You can be the most likable person on the planet and have no problem developing rapport with prospective clients, but when it comes right down to it, the proof is always in the pudding. Clients get frustrated (and do not work long) with those who don’t have a business level of skill, competence and business management sense and ability.

What I might personally suggest is that it might be a good idea to stay in the workforce a few more years. Grab every opportunity to grow in your administrative support skills and at the same time become a student of business (and I don’t mean enrolling in an MBA program; simply start reading business books).

Use this time now to start thinking about a target market and studying what kind of administrative needs and challenges that market has and how you can support those needs and solve those challenges.

Lay the foundation of your business now so that when the time is right and you’ve got enough business knowledge and marketable expertise under your belt, you will be more prepared for success.

Then again, maybe you feel you’ve already got what it takes. If so, go for it. ;)

Client Complaints Are Almost Always a Result of Setting the Wrong Expectations

Outside of sheer incompetence and lack of skills, almost every complaint between clients and those in the administrative support business can be traced back to one problem: allowing clients to think of you and work with you as a substitute employee.

If you are running a business, you are not anyone’s assistant.

If you market yourself as a replacement for employees, clients naturally expect that you are going to work with them and be available to them and do the same things for them as an employee would.

That’s an expectation you will absolutely be unable to sustain, and you’ll kill yourself in the process of trying to live up to that kind of promise.

Because that’s what an expectation is: the perceived or actual promise of something. And I say perceived because, if you don’t take charge of what expectations are set, clients will make up their own assumptions, assumptions that might not be correct or that simply won’t work for you.

The problem is not that you need to be more, do more, be more available, create a bigger business model or turn into something else entirely.

It’s that clients aren’t understanding what you are, what your role is and the true nature of the relationship. And most of the time, that’s the fault of our own industry and how many people in it are marketing themselves.

You have to understand that you are not a contract employee. You are not a replacement for employees. You aren’t an employee of any kind whatsoever.

As a professional business service, you are an alternative to employees. And when something is an alternative, there are necessarily going to be differences and trade-offs in how and when you work with clients.

Your value isn’t in doing everything, being everything, meeting every need or solving every problem. You can absolutely provide top-notch ongoing administrative support without being available on a daily basis or trying to fulfill every single role in the same way that an employee would.

It’s what I call strategic support – even just a little helps clients make great strides forward in their businesses, keeps them running and humming along smoothly, and creates vastly more time and space at their disposal than they had before your help, even beyond the retainers they pay you.

And since you are a business provider, not an employee or contract worker, you may need to make clear to clients that there are certain things you simply can’t do for them and that they may not expect, such as on-demand/same-day work or any work that requires daily maintenance and check-in. With several clients to service, you will absolutely need to build-in breathing room and space in which to schedule and organize your workload.

This can sometimes also mean recognizing when a client really needs an employee rather than an independent service provider and informing them of such.

Once you start grasping this, you can begin to change the expectations, change your language and how you market and pre-educate prospective clients.

YOU’VE got to clearly and consciously create the definitions, set the expectations and discuss these things upfront. That’s when we’ll start seeing more harmony and alignment of understandings and expectations between clients and those in the administrative support business.