Archive for the ‘Vacations’ Category

Dear Danielle: Do You Turn Away Clients and Customers Who Object to Your Policies

Dear Danielle:

I’m curious. Do you ever make exceptions regarding payment of your administrative services, your educational services or products sales, allowing for advanced payment by bank check or money order? Or do you always turn away potential customers if they do not accept your payment policies? I find it hard to believe that I’m the only one you’ve come across that will not use PayPal. I have many clients that would be leery and put off if that was all I offered them for a payment method. I must admit, though, I’m curious if you just turn people away or if you ever make exceptions to your rule? —CS

To be clear, this wasn’t an actual Dear Danielle question, but rather an email conversation I had recently with someone who didn’t want to make a purchase from me through PayPal, which is my payment processing vendor of choice and the service I use exclusively for that purpose. This person reported that she’d had a really horrific experience years ago with PayPal and she is reluctant to go through them for anything since. Perfectly understandable.

She asked if I would contact her if I ever decided to use a more “reliable” payment service and wanted to know my experience with it. While I am very much honored by and appreciative of her interest, and very sorry to hear of her terrible experience, my reply was that PayPal has been a very convenient, reliable service for me (I’ve been using it since around 2000 or so with no problems) and that I didn’t have any plans to move to or utilize any other service.

This prompted her question above and I thought it made for a very relevant business topic for you here on the blog today. As incomprehensible as it is to her that I would turn away money and clients (!), such lack or fear-based thinking is as incomprehensible to me. Because my answer is this:

Yes, I absolutely turn away clients and business that don’t fit with how I’ve set things up in my practice.

You will never have an ideal life or business if you work with unideal clients or accept situations that are less ideal than you’d prefer.

Life is simply too short. I learned that at the ripe “old” age of 30 when my late husband died and left me a widow and young single mother. That kind of experience really makes you reflect on life, what you want for yourself and your children, and how you want to live. It’s what fueled my fire to go into business for myself and have the self-determination, independence and lifestyle that self-employment brings. And it’s why I’m so passionate about sharing and helping others achieve what I have.

You’ve heard the saying, you’ve got to take care of yourself first so that you can take care of others. That is exactly the principle in play here.

One of the most basic tenets for having a successful business AND quality of life is running things in a way that suits your needs first and then working with only those who are the best fit for that.

This is how I run my business and it’s why I have a much more freedom-filled, stress-free life than most other people do in our industry. It’s nothing personal, but I’m not going to upend all my systems and processes for one person (or even a few) when the way things work in my business suits me fine.

I would expect and encourage you to do likewise in your business. When you put your focus on the ideal, you open space and invite more of the same into your life and business.

I consciously engineered my life like this long before I’d ever heard of Seth Godin, but this quote from his book Tribes sums up my life and business philosophy perfectly:

Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from.”

By focusing on the ideal, I don’t have to spend my time and energy dealing with the extra work, headaches and rabbit holes that making exceptions brings. And that gives me more time for life!

If you want to learn how you can engineer your business for more money, more life and less stress, I’m doing a class on a topic that directly affects your ability to do this:  pricing and packaging your retained support. The methods and principles I teach in this class can be implemented immediately for a simpler, easier business to run. I’d love to have you with us!

Dear Danielle: How Do You Cope with Holidays?

Dear Danielle:

I have a question for you. How do you cope with holidays? I’m about to go on holidays for a month. The first year I was doing this full time, I actually worked while I was traveling. Last year I had a friend fill in with a couple of my clients doing some of the work and other parts were left until I returned (mainly database entries). However, this year, I am requiring my friend to take on a lot of my clients (about six of them). One particular client requires my friend to take over everything I do which has required me writing a very long and extensive manual and take the day to train her tomorrow (only part will be for this client). However, when I asked if the client was willing to pay for some of the cost of my time in preparing the manual and for training, they have baulked. It has taken me approximately 8 hours to write the 60 page manual plus there will be another 3 or so hours training tomorrow for just this client. Who do you think should be responsible for paying for this? Sarah Munro, Sarah’s Office Services

Two questions for the price of one! lol

Let me preface things by saying there’s no right or wrong way when it comes to how you want to handle things in your business. So I’m just going to offer my own personal thoughts on this.

As far as the manual goes, to me, that’s just the cost of doing business. The client didn’t ask you to go on vacation and they didn’t ask you to develop a manual so you could have your support step in to do things. They just want to have the support they are paying for each month. If it were me, I wouldn’t charge the client for this as I initiated it as something to make things go smoother for me while I’m away.

And even if they had asked for the manual, I would still include it as part of our relationship retainer. Of course, you may not be pricing and packaging things the way I do, so that makes a difference as well.  I charge and get paid well enough that things like that don’t even need to be a blip on the radar, so to speak.

You actually have me somewhat stumped on the month-long vacation, lol. I mean, I have never taken an entire month of vacation away from my business. But I also don’t feel deprived in any way because I’m not working like a slave the rest of the time either. I don’t ever have feelings where I need to escape, which I know a lot of people do have (not saying you do, just saying in general).

My business is part of me, part of my life, so when I go on vacation it doesn’t bother me to keep a certain amount of tab on things and keep up with the most important things and delay or reduce others to half-mast.

In fact, maybe it’s just me, but one of the things I really enjoy when traveling or going on “vacation” is (for example) sitting in front of the ocean and doing a little work or checking emails on the laptop and aircard. When I lived in Europe, one of the things I absolutely loved to do was “set up shop” at my favorite cafe and do work while savoring the sights and sounds, people watching and soaking all the atmosphere in. Cafe society in Europe is so delicious!

Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m going to actually deprive myself of a real vacation either. What I do is let clients know at the beginning of our relationship my policies and standards when it comes to the fact that I will be closed at times and even go on vacations. I don’t want them to be taken by surprise (which they really shouldn’t be anyway, but still it’s helpful to have those conversations upfront so they expect it and know exactly how things work).

I let them know how and what things will still be taken care of during that time (or not, as the case may be) and how/when they may need to step in and do things themselves. Yes, clients should never be dependant upon you! It’s their business and they should be able to step in when they need to.

I want clients to view our relationship as a whole, in the context of ongoing, so when they pay by monthly retainer, it’s more of an installment type of thing, in an abstract way of thinking of it. At the same time, I can’t justify for myself being paid a full month’s retainer if I plan to take an entire month off without giving them any level of support whatsoever. If I were to ever do that, and really and truly not work at all (and I’m just speculating here because I’ve never fully taken an entire month off), I would probably make sure there is some kind of support still available while still being half mast and/or maybe give them some kind of reduced retainer rate.

The whole vacation thing is one of the reasons I advocate for Administrative Consultants partnering with their own Administrative Consultant in the same kind of ongoing, monthly relationship that our clients have with us. When you do that, you have someone who gets to know you far better than someone stepping in off the cuff, who learns the ropes of your business and is a partner to you, not a subcontractor. This makes it much easier and more fluid for them to step in and take care of things when you are away.

I hope you have a blast on your vacation. And if I do ever decide to take off a whole month, I’ll be coming to you for advice!

How to Ask for Sick Days

Recently, a member asked colleagues how to handle sick days.

It’s a good question, one that’s frequently asked by many who are new to the business of administrative support.

Oftentimes, the person isn’t yet owning her role as a business owner (what I refer to as still being in employee mindset). She goes about things as if she were still in a subservient role to her clients and feels they must ask for their permission.

If you are wondering about this, too, here is my advice:

Your mindset about your business and your ownership of it is going to be vital as you grow in your business. It’s important to remember that you are not your clients’ employee. You are a partner to them and an independent business owner who makes her own decisions and determinations about your business and operations.

As an independent business, you don’t have to “ask” anyone for permission on whether it’s okay to take a day off. You simply let folks know you are closed.

This is important to understand because the permissions you give clients control over in your own business are doing to directly impact your ability to grow your business in ways that you prefer, to stay happy in that business (and not burn out or become resentful), and to begin to build a business that not only creates profit in terms of income, but also freedom and flexibility.

What also what helps naviigate these situations is to establish your policies ahead of time and make clients aware of them upfront.

If you haven’t yet, now is a great time to devise your office closure policy and then let all your clients know about that policy. People always handle things much better when they know what the guidelines are in advance and what to expect.

This is an example of what is referred to as “managing expectations.” When you set the expectations upfront, things will always go much better for you in practical application.

The problems come in when we let clients form expectations that don’t allow us room to breathe in our own businesses and to take those days off when we need to for whatever reason.

Doing instant, on-demand work (as if you were their daily, beck-and-call assistant) and being in constant, daily contact with clients is one way you  cause clients to form those kind of constrictive, unsustainable expectations. Instead of independent business owners, they begin to see you as their employee, their worker bee who needs to ask them permission to do things.

One way to combat that is to set work request procedures and turn-around policies that give you the freedom and breathing room to take time off and not be chained to your desk day in and day out.

Changing how you talk with clients in these situations will have a huge affect on how they view your relationship. If you approach the conversation from a position of asking for permission, you are telling the client that they control you and are subservient to them. They won’t view you as an equal, independent business partner.

Instead of a mindset seeking permission, look upon your notice to clients that you will be closed for the day (or whatever the situation may be) as a helpful customer courtesy.

Letting them know as early as you can, and when they may expect you to be back open and how or what they can do in the meantime is going to make all the difference in maintaining a healthy respectful relationship of partners AND excellent client relations.

Dear Danielle: Where Can I Get a Replacement

Dear Danielle:

Its not easy to find a virtual assistant. Do you go for a one person operation or do you use a company that can offer replacements if your VA has the flu. –DA

Here’s what seems to be the tricky part for folks to understand about virtual assistants. They aren’t employees and they aren’t temps.

So maybe to help you better understand the relationship, it might help to switch the question around:  Do you offer “replacements” to your clients when you get the flu?

Sometimes businesses are closed for whatever reason. Avirtual assistant is not going to be working with you in the same capacity as an employee so it should not matter if they get the flu or go on vacation.

Your business shouldn’t be dependent on whether ANY of your service providers happens to be closed or sick or whatever.

It’s not the role or responsibility of a virtual assistant to keep your operations going. That’s your job.

If that’s what you need, then what you really need is an employee, not a VA.

Grateful Mondays: Vacations

Since I’m on vacation through August 8, what better thing to be grateful for today than being able to take vacations!

This first week we are road-tripping… travelling over to the coast and just winding our way down wherever our curiosity leads us. We left first thing Friday morning and it’s been so nice to get away.

We have a huge Suburban which is just perfect for traveling. It’s like a little home away from home, and we’ve been sleeping in the truck at nights alongside the ocean. It’s been delicious.

I did happen upon a realization that you might find useful. I’m not much of a planner when it comes to vacations and stuff. I prefer the spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment kind of getaways. And with my guy’s old job, planning ahead for a vacation was not a luxury we had. They frequently had him on call and he could get called away at a moment’s notice. I can’t count the number of times we had plans dashed that way. We’d have to sneak away like thieves in the night sometimes just to prevent them from putting him on-call. I tell ya, I don’t miss that one bit!!!

That said, a small bit of planning ahead is necessary when you have clients you take care of. A couple days off here and there, I don’t worry about at all because I don’t do any on-demand work for my clients that requires me to be in daily contact with them. But when I plan to be gone for a length of time, I let my clients know one to two weeks in advance.

The thing I just realized is that the last and first weeks of a month are great times to take off for vacations.  My payments are automatic so I don’t have to worry about billing and so forth during the first week of the month. And taking the last week off leaves more than enough time in the previous three weeks of a month for clients to take advantage of their retainer plans.

I hope you all are having a lovely summertime and have taken vacations of your own or have plans for them!

Dear Danielle: What Is Your Backup Plan?

Dear Danielle:

There’s a discussion happening on a coaching listserv where some coaches are wondering what a Virtual Assistant’s backup plan is. How do you respond to this? –SA

Well, at the root of this is some miseducation of the marketplace. This is the kind of question that usually comes from a client who thinks he or she is hiring an employee when hiring a Virtual Assistant.

First, it’s really important that you educate clients that when they hire a Virtual Assistant, they are hiring a service provider–a business–and not an employee they don’t pay taxes on. If they want an employee, they need to hire an employee. Simple as that.

Virtual Assistants are an alternative to employees; not the same thing as employees. That means, there are necessarily gonig to be some differences in how you work together.

Now, when it comes to backup plans, I would say this:

A backup plan is a good thing to have for your business as a Virtual Assistant. That means, having some kind of risk management plan in place to mitigate issues, problems and unforeseen events and catastrophes from seriously interrupting or interfering with your ability to conduct your business and assist clients–and make money.

You might also want to formalize your vacation and minor emergency (such as illness) policies, as well as what happens if you are unable to fulfill any contractual obligations (e.g., partial refunds). That way, when you consult with clients, you can let them know right from the beginning that you periodically take vacations or that you try to give XX days advance notice; and that in the event of minor emergencies, you might be “closed” on occasion. Those are just simple client-friendly policies and courtesies to have, and let’s them know what to expect.

All that said, it’s very important that you understand the distinction between being a smart business owner and knowing what you are obligated to provide for clients:  It’s not your job to have a backup plan in place for clients. You aren’t their employee–you’re a service provider to them.

No client’s business should be so dependent upon your services that it can’t run without you. Their business is never your responsibility; you are each responsible for your own business. So if they want a backup plan, then they are the ones who need to put that in place in their business, not you (although you might assist a client with that as their Virtual Assistant).

The Virtual Assistants I associate with are honorable and do all they can to fulfill their contractual obligations. If they can’t, I am confident they will do whatever is fair in the situation. But that’s where your responsibility ends as a Virtual Assistant and business owner. If for some reason you are unable to provide services to clients for any extended length of time, they have the same recource all of us has when we deal with any business that has closed or no longer meets our needs–which is to take their business elsewhere.