Archive for the ‘Trust and Credibility’ Category

5 Options for Getting a Business Mailing Address

3 Options for Getting a Business Mailing Address

Your #1 job in marketing is establishing trust. Having an address on your website is an important trust and credibility factor.

When you don’t have one, people wonder what you’re hiding. However, for personal privacy and safety reasons, it’s not a good idea to use your home address.

Here are five options for getting a business mailing address to erase skepticism while keeping your safety and personal boundaries intact:

1. Get a post office box from your local USPS branch. The cost is minimal, it’s a tax deductible business expense and you can apply for, manage and pay for your PO box conveniently online. These days, the post office even allows you to spell out the address which can look nicer on your letterhead than “PO Box ###”. Prices vary slightly from branch to branch depending on location and can cost as little as $8/month. Visit https://poboxes.usps.com/poboxonline/search/landingPage.do for more information.

2. Get a PO box from a USPS Approved Provider. Many of your local businesses (e.g., drug stores, hardware stores, grocery stores, etc.) are also Contracted Postal Units from which you can get a PO box. This expands your options for finding the nearest convenient location. You can use the link above to search, but I’ll be honest, you might also have to just ask around as I’ve found it doesn’t necessarily give you complete results.

3. Get an EarthClassMail Virtual Mailroom. A bit pricey, but this is a really nifty service. You get a address you can use for your business and have mail sent to. They receive your mail and scan it into PDFs which can then be viewed and managed onscreen via your admin panel. Quickly and easily sort through junk mail and have them recycle or shred anything you don’t want. You can store your mail online and have them send you any physical pieces you like. These are just a few of the features and options available. Check it out at EarthClassMail.com.

4. Get a Virtual Office Location. Many similar services are springing up these days that will provide you with a business mailing address and mail receipt and forwarding. One such service is Davinci Virtual Office Solutions (they also offer virtual receptionist services). Check them out for a location near you.

5.  The UPS Store. Get a real street address (not a PO box), package notification and more. You get 24-hour access and with their MailCheck® service you can call in to see if you have mail before you make a trip. Visit TheUPS Store.com for more information.

Do You Want a Job or a Business?

Do You Want a Job or a Business?

People come into this profession with dreams of a lifestyle different than the normal 9-5 grind, to have more freedom and flexibility in their lives—and then they create a business that allows them to have anything but those things.

One of the reasons this happens is because they’re being taught and advised by training organizations to operate like employees.

The most ridiculous thing I read recently is that in managing client expectations and helping them establish trust in you, you shouldn’t “disappear, even for a day or two.”

So let me ask you this:  Do you want a job or a business?

There are lots of ways to manage expectations and instill ever-growing trust in clients.

None of it requires you to operate like an employee.

When you read books like Gerber’s “The E-Myth Revisited,” you learn that the idea is to create a business that operates by system and doesn’t necessarily require you to be the one doing the work.

However, there’s nothing wrong with you being the one doing the work.

Many (perhap even most) people go into self-employed business to practice their craft for reasons beyond money.

It has just as much to do with soul. They get a kind of deeper personal satisfaction they just can’t experience in any other situation. Doing work they love and enjoy brings them a richness of meaning, purpose and spirit in their lives.

Even the wealthy will tell you, you can make all the money in the world and not have to work another day in your life, but it’s an empty, joyless existence without the purpose and fullfillment of actual, meaningful work.

God bless those who love to pull up their sleeves and make their living in a more direct, one-on-one, hands-on way!

But that doesn’t mean they have to sacrifice the desire to have the same kind of freedom and earning potential that other businesses strive for.

There’s a way to be a solopreneur where you can do the work, but do it in a way that doesn’t require you to be at the daily beck and call of clients. You just have to make some mental shifts in your thinking and understanding about what you are and how you work with clients.

The first of these shifts is getting out of the thinking that the only way you are valuable to a client is if you are there to deal with their every need, every whim, day in and day out.

You have to get out of the stuckness that says your value lies in being in daily, constant contact with clients.

There’s a word for someone like that: it’s called employee. And you DON’T have to operate like that.

If you are operating no differently than the secretary who sits outside the boss’ door, only virtually, you’re going to be in for one rude awakening.

Because not only will you drastically inhibit your earning potential, you’ll learn (the hard way) just what a predicament you’ve created for yourself and your clients.

Eventually, when you want to enjoy the fruits of your labor and get away from the office on a whim, you realize you’ve created a dynamic, no matter how loudly you shout about standards, that just doesn’t leave you much, if any, room to do that.

And funny thing about standards… they have to work well in actual, practical application. They can’t be some lofty theory dreamt up by someone who isn’t doing the same work you do every day of the week.

Stop killing yourself trying to live up to that crap.

Your value is not dependent on whether you don’t disappear for a day or two. That’s crazy!

Who wants to live a life as a business owner and independent professional being held hostage to their phone, desk and clients?

There isn’t a single other solo profession out there that tells its denizens they have to operate like that in order to be of value or service.

You only put yourself in that cage if you believe there is no other way to operate or be of service and value.

Your value isn’t in doing everything for clients. Your value isn’t in being an “instant assistant” and being at their beck-and-call day in and day out.

Your value isn’t how much you do, it’s how much what you do selectively for clients helps them grow, move forward and keep their businesses humming along smoothly.

None of that inherently requires you to be in daily contact or to take on the whole kit and kaboodle to do that. You can be of tremendous value and service taking on just a very specific cross-section of the administrative load that clients carry.

I’m also not sure what makes people think that you can’t have a close, personal, connected relationship with clients without being at their on-demand beck and call day in and day out.

Attorneys do it. Accountants do it. Millions of other solo practitioners have real, meaningful, exceptionally trusting and connected relationships with their clients without being joined at the hip on a daily basis. And so can you.

The trick is to:

  1. Establish policies, systems and processes that give you lots of room to move around and not be at the beck and call of clients, and
  2. Only take on clients and work that are the best fit for those policies, systems and processes.

Part of putting order to chaos and managing client expectations is setting up a system and a promise for how things work consistently and reliably so that clients know what to expect ahead of time, each and every time.

Don’t create expectations that will fence you in and that you can’t sustain. You want to set expectations that you can realistically, consistently and reliably live up to. It’s really as simple as that.

And setting those expectations does not have anything to do with nor require you to be under any client’s thumb on a daily basis.

This is what allows you to build freedom, flexibility and space in your practice which in turns truly does serve clients much better.

By taking even just a few specific tasks or areas of work off their plate, you are allowing them to grow their business, move forward and get things done. That isn’t dependent on whether they hear from you each day or not. It’s all in how YOU decide what expectations to set and how YOU want things to work in your business. You can do all of that without being forced to be at your desk, in your office, each and every cotton-picking minute of every day under the thumb of clients.

Let me tell you how I do that in my practice:

First, when I consult with clients, one of the things I discuss with them is the nature of the relationship. I need to make sure they are 100% clear that they are not hiring an employee, that they are hiring an independent professional no different than if they were hiring an attorney or accountant (which is exactly how I want them to view the relationship and how we’ll be working together). I point out that how and when we work together and my availability to them will necessarily be different than working with an employee.

So, that’s setting expectation #1—making sure the client understands the nature of the relationship, how it’s going to work and how it’s not going to work (i.e., I’m not going to be their secretaryor personal assistant sitting outside your door only virtually).

Next, for setting expectation #2, I talk about how our communications will work. They are free to email any time of day or night, but I let them know upfront what my formal business hours and days are (so that they respect this as a business relationship and don’t expect that I’m going to be dealing with anything outside those times or on days that I am closed) and when to expect a reply.

I promise that they’ll get a response to every communication they send me within 24 business hours, even if it’s just a “received” or “gotcha” or “will do.”

And then I follow-through on that promise. That way they aren’t left scratching their heads wondering if I got the message and it keeps the line of communication flowing. It’s that kind of consistency that grows trust.

I explain that all work requests must be in sent via email because that is the sytem which best allows me to track and prioritize and schedule things. They can use whatever tools they need to in order to submit their requests as long as they result in an email in my IN box.

And if a client doesn’t like any of that, if he or she doesn’t care to communicate by email and prefers another method? They’re not a fit and I don’t work with them. Simple as that.

You gotta stop investing so much in clients who can’t go with your flow. Work with and focus only on those who can.

For setting expectations #3, I explain my 3/7 guide. My 3/7 guide is how I set their expectations with regard to turnaround time.  Within that framework, simple tasks that can be accomplished easily are done within a 3-day turnaround.

Most often, things are done far more quickly than that, but I don’t want clients to start expecting that I’m going to instantly respond to each and every thing immediately. That’s not an expectatation that anyone can promise and deliver consistently, and I don’t want to live or work that way. It’s a recipe for unhappiness and unsustainable promises.

The “7″ part of my guide is for larger, more complex or ongoing projects and work. This is where the client and I regroup every 7 days at our regularly scheduled weekly one-hour meeting. During this meeting, I give them status updates, we talk about progress, new goals, brainstorm, you name it. Sometimes we just shoot the breeze.

I think it’s important to note that I only do client meetings on the same day each week. I don’t hold them willy-nilly throughout the week. Like any other professional, this is how I’ve decided it works in my business.

My business, my schedule. It gives me the time I need to focus on client work the rest of the week without interruption to my concentration, and gives me the space I need to move around as I need to in order to stay energized.

This system gives clients a tangible, reliable idea of how things will work consistently.

It manages their expectations in a way that leaves me great freedom and space to enjoy my work, enjoy them, and get things done far better than I ever could working lucy-goosey at the whim of clients.

And I end up serving them far better in the process. That constancy, that reliability and predictability is what gains their great trust—all without being joined at the hip.

Throughout this process, clients and I are having all kinds of fun, productive and effective email communications. There isn’t any lack of connectedness, and they don’t get all up in arms if they don’t hear from me for a day or two because they already know how things work in my business.

In other words, they know what to expect. And when they know what to expect upfront, you don’t have to inform them of your every move, every second of every day.

This is what the business concept of “managing expectations” is about. When you set things up like this, you CAN “disappear” for a day or two with ease without any client notification or upset. I do it all the time!

If you need help understanding what setting expectations is really about and how to do that in your own practice, please post your questions in the comments below.

And if you want to learn how to employ my complete practice management and business set-up systems to live a similar lifestyle, I’ve got it all written out for you in my guide, Power Productivity and Business Management for Administrative Consultants.

I’m absolutely happy to help in this area because I think it’s a great disservice to let those in our industry continue to think they have to operate like employees in order to be of value and service, which deprives them of the freedom and flexibility they could enjoy that every other business owner dreams of.

Originally posted February 10, 2009.

Are You an Irritant In Someone’s Day?

Are You an Irritant in Someone's Day?

What are you doing to respect the time of others by NOT creating loose ends and being an irritation to them?

This is important when it comes to your business.

Clients do not work with people who irritate them by creating more unnecessary work, follow-up and loose ends to deal with.

Colleagues will not work with you either when that’s the case.

If you create more problems and work for them, they will not have any confidence in your ability to keep organized, follow-through and respond to things in a timely manner (or at all) and will not refer anyone to you.

Plus, wasting people’s time is a sin. ;)

When you fail to meet deadlines, when you take days or weeks to respond to messages, when you don’t follow-through as promised or requested, what you are marketing is that you are not competent, professional, capable or reliable.

All of which will lose you business and clients.

Always put your most professional foot forward no matter who you are dealing with. Everyone is making judgments and assessments about your skills, competence and professionalism.

And everyone is a potential referral source.

Dear Danielle: Should Prospects Be Allowed to Contact Clients Who Have Provided Testimonials?

Last Chance to Save: Register by midnight, August 5, to save $50! http://www.administrativeconsultantsassoc.com/classes/2013/091913

Dear Danielle:

Do you think I should allow a prospective client to contact my “testimonials” to get information about me.  They call them references, but they’re not references, they’re testimonials from folks I’ve known and/or worked with over the years who have spoken highly of me and my work. I told the prospective client that I do not want them to contact my testimonials directly without their permission. I provide testimonials and they can view recommendations on my LinkedIn profile to further my credibility, but that’s it. If I allowed every prospective client to contact my testimonials or recommendations, they would be inundated with calls and emails and I do not want to burden them with that. I told the prospective client that I operate as a professional business provider and that I wasn’t applying for a job or work as an employee, but rather offering my services to them. If they wanted to do business with me, then they should take the testimonials and recommendations for their face value and trust that they are authentic. Otherwise we are not the right fit to work together. I may have lost this opportunity to work with the client….I haven’t heard back from her yet. But I feel strongly about this. Do you think I did the right thing? I don’t want them to think I’m hiding something by telling them I don’t want them to contact people directly. I’m confused…I know. Any advice would be greatly appreciated thanks much!  —Anonymous by request

Thanks for the great question! And as usual, I have lots of feedback for ya. :)

I feel the same as you about it:  Much as I know they love me, I don’t want my past or current clients pestered by every Tom, Dick or Harry who comes along. That’s one of the reasons I gathered their testimonials in the first place:  to have that information already prepared for prospective clients and save and be respectful of my clients’ time and energy.

Plus, there are lots of reasons why many service professionals prefer their client lists be confidential, this being one of them.

What I do in my practice is reserve that information only for serious prospects. In my practice, that means only those who I’ve prequalifed as good client candidates, met in consultation already and determined there is enough of a fit to move further in the process.

If I’m asked, I let prospective clients know that I am happy to provide contact information of those clients who have given me permission to give it out and are happy to speak with others about my work once we have met in consultation.

However, I have to say that I’ve never been asked! And I firmly believe it’s because of the way I have presented testimonials on my website.

When your prospective clients and site visitors get all the competence and credibility they’re looking for demonstrated on your website, they don’t feel the need to go to elaborate lengths. You’ve gained their trust enough that they put faith in what you’ve presented because all evidence (your demonstration of skill and competence) tells them to take things at the face value you’re wanting them to.

When it comes to testimonials, the more transparency you provide, the better. What I mean is when you put a real face to an actual name, people put more trust and credibility in the testomonial.

You don’t have to have testimonials from every single client you’ve ever had, nor do you have to put your entire client list, past and present, on display. Even just a couple well-written and nicely presented testimonials will accomplish everything you need them to.

So how I’ve done that is by including with the testimonial:

  • A headshot of the client
  • The client’s full name
  • The URL of their website

With that information you are making it clear this is a real person and real testimonial. When you make it real, people feel far more trusting of the information, which is what you’re trying to accomplish.

And then try to get testimonials that give useful, substantive information. Simple statements like “She is great to work with!” may be well-intentioned and genuine, but they are pretty boring and useless as testimonials. I’ve developed the ACA Client Feedback Form (FRM-04) and the Client Info Sheet (FRM-06) to be used together to both elicit great testimonials and develop before and after case studies. I highly recommend you check them out.

Another thought occurred to me that I’m going to throw out here as well. You mention that this person referred to “references.” The concern I have is they are not understanding the nature of the relationship, which leads me to ask, why not?

Examine the content on your website.

Your website should be pre-educating clients in a way that they correctly understand the nature of the relationship, and that they aren’t interviewing you for a position, they are seeking collaborative support and guidance from an administrative expert.

Big difference in definitions and big difference in how they will approach you in their demeanor and understanding as well. So that’s really important.

If you are talking about yourself like an assistant, they are naturally going to go about things as if you were. They don’t know any better. So it’s your place and in your best interests and priority to educate, inform and instruct them as to how to go about things with you.

On the flip side of that is to look at where clients like this are coming from.

There are lots of channels where clients are being completely miseducated about what we do and what our relationship to them is. Indeed, so many are getting the impression that we are basically under-the-table employees. So, if you are getting prospects from avenues where they are being miseducated, those are not good client pipelines for you.

Improve your message and educational information on your website so that prospects are properly informed before they ever contact you, then focus on developing your own target market pipelines, and you’ll get far fewer (if any) of those kind of inquiries in the future.

Let me know if this is helpful. And as always, we can continue the conversation in the comments.

All my best!

Are You a Proficient Business Owner?

I’m not talking about being masterfully skilled at the thing you are in business to do.

I’m talking about being ALSO masterfully skilled at running a business.

Because you can be as masterfully skilled in administrative support as all get out and still not serve your clients well if you don’t know how to manage and run your business well.

More business, trust and credibility has been lost not because someone couldn’t do the work or didn’t have the skills, but because they failed in other areas of business: customer service, workload management and communication.

Having policies and systems that help you manage and put order to things in your business is smart. Letting clients run your business and dictate certain fundamental management policies is not.

You have to run your business and institute protocols in a way that works for you first so that you can in turn take fabulous care of your clients.

Dear Danielle: What If I’m New and Don’t Have Any Testimonials Yet?

Dear Danielle:

What if you are brand new and only have one testimonial for your site? Should I wait until I have more and add that component later? –EB

Heck no! Get ‘er up on your site today. :)

You’ve heard the expression “you gotta use what you’ve got.” Well, if you only have one testimonial so far, work it, girl!

So how do you do that? By making it a feature on your site instead of an afterthought. That means using the client’s full name and link to their site. Bonus points if you can add a headshot (people like to see faces with names). Give it a dedicated page, perhaps, and even list the client’s contact information.

(Caveat: Make sure you ask and that the client gives you permission to do this first. Inbound links are always great for SEO so it doesn’t hurt to point that out as well.)

People are skeptical about anonymous testimonials so you never want to use initials or only first names. Prospective clients put more stock in testimonials they can see are from actual, real people.

You also don’t need millions of testimonials, just a handful of quality ones. So the other thing I recommend you do immediately is institute a feedback process in your business. For example, in my business, I solicit feedback from my monthly retained clients every 3 or 6 months and immediately upon project completion from any project clients I work with.

The very best way to get your feedback process going is with my Client Feedback Form which you can get from the Success Store. My Client Feedback Form is designed especially to help you elicit meaningful testimonials and start building great before/after case studies.

Now, what if you don’t have any testimonials yet? There are a couple things you can do.

  1. Use comments/reviews of past employers.
  2. Use comments/reviews from volunteer work you’ve done.

Again, get permission or ask them if they’d be willing to write something fresh for you.

Anyone who can speak to the quality of your skills and professional qualities and how great it is to work with you can provide you with a testimonial. It doesn’t necessarily need to be clients. It’s just better coming from paying clients so work toward replacing those employer/volunteer testimonials as you get established.

Here’s another great little trick you can do that has lots of credibility and “social proof” (which, again, is ultimately what clients are seeking in testimonials)…

If you are using social media like Twitter and Facebook, you can use those positive comments you get as testimonials. Post them on your website. Compile them in a PDF. You can even use widgets to your advantage such as the Twitter Faves widget (really simple: whenever someone says something nice about you, favorite it and it will show up in the widget, which you can place on your website).

Let me know if that helps you, and if anyone else has tips, please do share in the comments!

Dear Danielle: Do Clients Need to Know If I Am PT or FT?

Dear Danielle:

I am launching soon, but still have to work 9-5 to support myself so I don’t have to take a paycheck from the biz right away. I will cut back to part-time and give more time to the biz ASAP on my way to full-time with it. In the meantime, I don’t want to be thought of as someone unreliable, distracted, or who can’t get back to people in a timely fashion. Any ideas about minimizing how obvious it is that I am just starting out part-time? –JN

Ah, this is the beauty of making sure you don’t think of nor market yourself as an assistant, something I’m always preaching here.

I want to talk about that some more, but first here are some practical tips for being timely and professional in your business, whether it’s full-time or part-time (and really, anyone could tell you these):

  1. Only take on retained clients you can support or projects you can complete timely and professionally.
  2. Establish a communication turn-around policy and display that policy on your website (e.g., “I will return your call or email within 24-48 hours.”)
  3. Do what you say you will. This is a form of being consistent, and consistency is about reliability and dependability. So, if you say you’re going to do something, do it. If you say you’re going to do something by a certain date/time, do it by that date/time. Things come up and exceptions happen, but make sure they are RARE. Yes, life happens and by all means you are allowed and you should immediately communicate when you aren’t able to honor a commitment you made. BUT you WILL still be viewed as an unreliable flake if you constantly use that as an excuse or crutch. The solution–only make commitments that you are 99.999% sure you can keep.
  4. Along those lines, give yourself PLENTY of space to honor your commitments. Where people go wrong with making promises and commitments is that they allow clients to have wrong or unrealistic expectations and simply don’t give themselves enough room and time. Don’t box yourself into a corner. Manage expectations in clients by setting conscious, specific policies in your business when it comes to communication, work requests/management and turn-around times.

Now, let’s talk about some conceptual things that will really change the entire ballgame for you and how you approach your business.

Let’s first clarify the terms “part-time” and “full-time.” When I refer to part-time and full-time, it has nothing to do with the number of hours you put in or are available in a day or week. When I refer to part-time and full-time, it has to do with whether your business is your sole livelihood (“full-time”) or whether you are still working a job to support yourself (which makes your business a “part-time” effort/livelihood).

When you call yourself assistant, clients come to the table with the mindset that you should be doing assistant-like things for them and be at their on-demand beck-and-call.

That just doesn’t work in business (that is, if you are trying to create the kind of business where you can both earn AND live well without having what amounts to a J-O-B and having to take on hundreds of clients just to break even).

If you create a business like that and allow those kind of expectations, your daily PT or FT availability will be an issue. You don’t want your value to be dependant upon that.

So how do you change expectations around that and how you are able to operate your business in a manner more like a professional and not an assistant? It starts with not calling yourself an assistant. ;)

If you don’t want part-time or full-time status to matter, then you want to instead frame yourself as an administrative expert, not an assistant. As an adminstrative expert, you focus clients on the fact that your expertise and skills are all about administrative work, not in being an assistant. These are two completely separate concepts.

When you frame yourself in this manner, you begin to see your role in your business very differently. You begin to understand that like any other kind of professional who is hired for a specific expertise and talent, the fact that you “assist” clients doesn’t make you an assistant.

When you decide to be an administrative expert and not an assistant, you then realize that you do not need to operate and work with clients nor be available to them in the same manner as an assistant. Since you aren’t an assistant, you aren’t working with them for specified hours in a day or week.

And because you aren’t trying to be an “assistant,” clients don’t need to know whether you have a full-time or part-time business. The point becomes moot because you aren’t selling your availability of hours, you are providing a partnership of administrative expertise.

The other thing here that will change the game entirely is to sell your value and expertise, not your hours. Your value is about how your work and expertise ultimately helps clients grow and move forward in their businesses to accomplish their goals and overcome obstacles. If you keep trying to sell your time (hourly billing) or packages of hours, you will keep yourself enslaved to the clock, which will automatically put a lid on your earning potential.

When you make these shifts in your thinking about who you are and what you do in your business, you are freed from all kinds of burdens that those who are trying to be assistants find themselves saddled with. When you are not an assistant, you do not need to accept on-demand kinds of work and roles that others are enslaved by. (I always say, if a client needs an assistant, then they need to employ one. ;) )

As an administrative specialist, you can instead choose to take on only work that can be scheduled and where you can give yourself plenty of space to complete. This is the kind of business model I teach folks how to build. When you operate this kind of business, whether you are full-time or part-time in your business becomes irrelevent because you aren’t marketing yourself like someone who is going to be available to clients like an assistant and you aren’t selling hours.

 

 

 

Dear Danielle: How Do I Get Over Blogging Writer’s Block

Dear Danielle:

There are so many things to consider in starting or re-starting a business, as I’m sure you know. At this point, there are so many different marketing avenues to promote our business and the industry as a whole.  Let me tell you, I am so excited about this up and coming ‘virtual’ profession.

One of the areas I was going to start off with again is a blog. And you are correct – sometimes it’s difficult to come up with ideas or topics to talk about. Frankly, sometimes I even think before I start to write ‘What could I possibly have to say that may make a difference in someone’s life?’ or ‘Do I really have anything to offer to benefit the VA industry – individually and as a whole?’

Do you have any suggestions on how to overcome this writer’s block or how to research what topics would be interesting to my peers and potential customers?

Oh, you know I do. ;)

My first bit of clarity for you is to stop thinking you need to write for your peers and the industry. You are wasting your business building time and energy.

I can’t tell you how many people I see and mentor who complain about not having clients and needing to get more clients–and then waste all their time and energy talking to and blogging for each other instead of their would-be clients!

You may have heard the phrase “wasted real estate” when experts talk about how business owners waste valuable website space with content that has nothing to do with anything when it comes to attracting clients and being of interest to them.

In the same way, you don’t need to be writing for your peers or for the industry. They are not your clients. If that’s what you’re doing, you’re wasting one of your most valuable pieces of marketing and networking “real estate.” If you are starting your business or trying to grow it and attract more clients and be of service to them, write your blog for them.

And my second bit of advice for getting over writer’s block is to get a target market.

(For those who don’t know, a target market is a specific field, industry or profession you focus your business support on.)

Of course you will be at a loss as to what to write about when you don’t know who you are talking to. When you try to write for anyone and everyone, you end up being interesting to no one.

This is yet another way having a target market helps you:  it gives you clarity, focus and direction. When you know who you are talking to, it’s easier to know or figure out what is going to be of value, use and interest to them. And this is what will help make your content far more interesting, useful and compelling.

A few other little blogging tips:

  • Make sure you have several ways for your target market to subscribe to your blog. First and foremost, use a service like Aweber which will help you build your list and automate the distribution of new post notifications to these subscribers. Make the subscription form your most prominent feature in your upper right sidebar (“above the fold”).
  • There will be people who prefer to subscribe by RSS or with things like Networked Blogs. Give them those options as well. However, if you are interested in building your list, you may want to feature those options less prominently.
  • Give your blog a title and/or tag line so that your target market knows instantly that your blog is especially for them.
  • Survey your subscribers periodically. Pick their brains. Ask them questions. Your blog isn’t just a way to connect with clients. It can also be an excellent research tool for getting to know them better and find out more about what their challenges and common goals and interests are in business–which is going to help you in your business and offerings to them as well as knowing what to write about for them.

Dear Danielle: Will Certification Make Me Look More Professional?

This question comes up frequently. And I often see  newcomers to the industry being preyed upon due to their mistaken belief that “certification will make me look more professional.”

The fact is, no one’s little piece of paper is going to make you look more professional.

The only thing that will make you look more professional is by DEMONSTRATING your expertise and competence and skills in everything you do.

That includes how your website looks, how you speak, your message, your business operations and processes… These are the things that make you look more professional.

In over 14 years of business, I have never once been asked by a client if I am certified. They simply do not care.

And it’s not something that ever occurs to them to ask when every other demonstration to them indicates that you are professional, credible, trustworthy and competent.

Sadly, many people will waste their precious time and money on certifications that will have absolutely nothing to do with getting clients and whether they succeed or fail.

I’ve written about this topic extensively on my old blog and have just moved all these posts over to the new blog here under their own category called “Certification Is a Joke.”

If you are thinking about paying for certification in our industry, read the posts I’ve written on this subject first.

Dear Danielle: Client Wants to Do a Background Check on Me

Dear Danielle:

I have recently purchased a few of your items and love them. They have helped me tremendously! Thanks. :)

I have a question: I have done a couple of consultations and the client has asked if they could run a background check because they will be disclosing some bank and financial information to me. I have no problem with them doing this and can’t blame them for asking; however, I was wondering if you had heard of a service where I could get the background check for myself and just be able to send it to the clients when they ask for it? The main reason for this is that in the same way that they don’t want to hand over their banking info to me, I do not want to hand over my SS#, birth date, home address, etc.

Great question and thanks so much for asking. I don’t have any recommendations for you when it comes to background checks. Obviously, it’s everyone’s personal choice, but I highly discourage allowing clients to do personal background checks. Even if they themselves have honest intentions and are not some kind of shady character, if their computer or systems or office security are compromised somehow, that information can get leaked out in all kind of ways through no fault of their own. Having been a private investigator in a former life, this is a really bad idea for all kinds of reasons.

Plus, it’s just the wrong mindset to cater to. If you were an employee they were considering hiring, it might be appropriate, but this is a business relationship, not an employment one. A background check also doesn’t guarantee that someone can be trusted. There simply has to be a certain level of trust extended to each other or there isn’t room to do business together.

You didn’t say what kind of work you will be doing for them, but generally, trust in business is something that grows and is earned in stages. With some exceptions, of course, it’s very often not necessary to need that kind of sensitive client data right off the bat. You can let the relationship grow naturally as you continue working together over those first months and getting to know each other. As they see things progress and they get more comfortable, they will know the right time to share that information if and when it’s needed.

I do want you to think about this from a different perspective. Have a conversation with the client. What might really be going on behind their request? Do they simply have trust issues beyond what is reasonable? Is there something they aren’t seeing or feeling from you that they need to in order to feel more trusting?

There are all kinds of ways you can help instill trust and credibility without submitting to background checks:

  • Put your name and face on your website. People connect with people, not anonymous, nameless, faceless entities. This is one of the most potent, instant trust and rapport builders you can employ!
  • Put an address on your website. Not your home address, but some kind of mailing address as well as an email and contact number. This satisfies an emotional (not logical) need people have to see that you can be contacted in the “real” world if need be. It just gives them added assurance. When you don’t provide that info, they feel there is something to distrust.
  • If you are in the U.S., get an EIN number from the IRS (this is so that you don’t have to provide your SSN when you are an unincorporated sole proprietor), and then provide new clients with a completed IRS Form W-9.
  • Put a copy of your business license/registration in PDF format so you can provide that to clients as well. This shows that you are credible, legitimately registered business.
  • Have errors and omissions (E & O) insurance and provide a PDF copy of your certificate to new clients.
  • Provide a values/promise statement on your website. Tell clients that you have a feedback process instituted in your business and will solicit their input at regular intervals throughout the relationship. Let them know if they are ever unhappy, you encourage and welcome their feedback and will do everything in your power to rectify any unsatisfactory performance.
  • If you belong to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and have a spotless record, place your membership seal on your website (their code will link to your BBB profile where they can read your record for themselves).
  • Provide clients with testimonials on your website. Have a PDF list of clients who are happy to talk with your prospective clients about you and your work.

As you can see, there are all kinds of things you can and should be doing that will help new clients feel comfortable and safe with you. But do politely decline the background checks. It’s far too intrusive and just not the right place to start the relationship off.

Do you have others to add to the list? Please post in the comments!