Archive for the ‘What Services Do You Provide?’ Category

Dear Danielle: Should I Offer Inbox Management for Clients?

Dear Danielle: Should I Offer inbox Management for Clients?

Dear Danielle:

Do you recommend doing inbox management as a service offering for clients? It sort of feels a bit too ‘personal assistant’ to me. I did it for a past client and I didn’t enjoy it, but she was the proverbial client from hell and called on me night and day. I’m now molding my business to suit me. And wondering if you know of Admin Consultants who do inbox/email management. I usually suggest setting up auto-responders. But I guess if the compensation was right then perhaps it’s lucrative… I’m on the fence. Thanks kindly Danielle!Lisa Kelly, Admin Guru

Great question! I love any opportunity to elaborate on this as it’s sort of a lynchpin topic.

I don’t do any email/inbox management for clients and never have for exactly the reason you mention.

I’m not in business to be a personal assistant. I’m a strategic support partner.

That means clients and I are NOT going to be working day-to-day in the same way they would with an employee, nor am I going to be available to them (at their beck and call) in the same manner as an employee… because I’m not one.

I tell them to think of me like they would their attorney or accountant because that’s exactly how I want them to understand the relationship and how we’ll be working together.

And I come right out and tell them that if what they are looking for is a day-to-day assistant, then they need an employee.

What I do explain is that I can’t be in business to be their personal assistant for both legal and practical reasons, but that the time I do free up for them is time they can use to better manage their own inboxes (among other things) and feel less stressed and harried.

Of course, it’s also important to point out that I simply don’t have these kind of misunderstandings anymore now that I am an Administrative Consultant. When you don’t call yourself an assistant (i.e., Virtual Assistant), people don’t confuse you with one. ;)

The problem with offering that as a service is because it necessarily forces you to work with clients in a day-to-day assistant-like capacity.

Not only does that make it easy for the IRS to view you as an employee in that dynamic, but more importantly, I’m not trying to have a business that chains me to my desk every day and turns it into a job. Which is exactly what it would do because I’d have to constantly be monitoring inboxes and managing things.

I purposely never provide any kind of support that puts me in that kind of role. And it’s one of the reasons I have so much more freedom and flexibility than most people in our industry.

No one else has to do that to themselves either. You don’t have to offer those kind of services in order to still be of enormous benefit and value to clients.

In fact, one of the reasons I am of HIGHER value to my clients is because I don’t take on those kind of functions and roles. That frees my time and mental space for more valuable, important administrative work that has far greater impact and results in my clients’ businesses.

It’s not about how much you can do for clients that makes you valuable. It’s about how those things you selectively do for clients improve their businesses and lives.

I also wanted to touch on something else that your question brought up. I sense that you are about to step over your own standards. And my hope for you is that you don’t do that. Because it’s a slippery slope downhill from there.

No amount of money is ever enough to make you enjoy work you don’t like or make it worth turning your business (and life) into a drudgery and hell of your own making.

I urge you to stick to your guns about what you want. It’s the only way you will create the life and lifestyle you want for yourself.

The other thing that will benefit you in running your business your way and avoiding clients from hell is to get clear about your standards, boundaries, policies and procedures.

Start writing down how clients are to contact you, in what ways and within what time frames, how they are to communicate work to you (YOU decide that, not them), what your business days/hours are, and whatever information and protocols you need them to know, understand and follow in order to work with you.

Then inform clients of these things. Use your website to prequalify ideal clients. Talk about how things work in your consultations. Document them in a Client Guide that you give to new clients. Institute a new client orientation and go over these things again formally in that orientation.

These steps will go along way in making sure you work with ideal clients and that none of them turn into the clients from hell.

The industry at large is still so completely mired in employee mindset. They simply don’t know how to operate any other way except to keep being assistants.

So these questions and conversations are always an excellent tool to help them stop thinking of themselves as assistants and begin to think more entrepreneurially about administrative support, because it’s then that they start to see how they can operate differently, get better clients and make more money.

You don’t have to be an assistant to provide administrative support. They are not one and the same thing.

I’ll leave that for everyone to ponder. And if you just had an “aha!” moment from this, please let me know in the comments. :)

All my best moving onward and upward, Lisa!

(If you want more freedom and flexibility in your life and business, get my guide Power Productivity & Biz Management for Administrative Consultants (GDE-41) to learn all my systems, policies and standards for workload management and working with clients. One of the best tools you’ll learn in there is my 3/7 Guideline!)

Dear Danielle: How Do I Handle Requests Outside My Expertise?

Dear Danielle:

Hi! I often get asked by clients how to put together a “media kit” to get the word out for their events and what-not. While I am good at some marketing things, this stumps me with the overwhelming, not so helpful examples and opinions on the Internet. If you can, please shed some light on this brain thumper for me. Thanks so much! —Chrissy Ford, Organized Resources, Etc.

Hi Chrissy! Thanks so much for the question. :)

Rather than getting into the ingredients and mechanics of what goes in a media kit, I want to talk about some business concepts and mindsets involved in this kind of situation.

As you mention, marketing is not your field of expertise. And of course it’s not. Because you’re an ADMINISTRATIVE consultant, not a marketing consultant.

So the first concept this brings up is the idea around hiring the right professional for the job.

What I mean by that is, for example, if you’re a plumber, it’s not your job to become a mechanic just because a client needs his car fixed. You’re a plumber. Fixing cars is not the business you’re in and not your field of expertise.

See what I mean?

Now, people aren’t going to be calling a plumber when their car breaks down because they know what a plumber does and what a mechanic does. We all understand the distinctions.

But the problem in our industry, particularly for those who call and market themselves as “assistants,” is that these distinctions are not as clear. And that’s because people see and understand assistants as gophers, not as experts in one particular anything.

For those calling themselves assistants, this is why they not only have a much more difficult time commanding professional fees (because gophers are not highly valued experts and people accordingly don’t expect to pay them well), but it’s why they are frequently asked to do things that have nothing to do with administrative support.

So the second concept has to do with business mindset and understanding that you are not a gopher, you are an administrative expert. That is your field of expertise. You need to lead and focus on a clear-cut definition of what you’re in business to do and what your expertise is so that clients easily see and understand what your professional role is.

This also entails that you stop calling yourself an assistant. If administrative support is the business you are in, call yourself an Administrative Consultant instead and see just what a difference it makes!

These concepts also directly relate to managing your business and productivity as well. You can’t be in business to do anything and everything. Those who try are spread really thin, really quickly, all the time. If you want to have a productive business that leaves you plenty of time for life, you can’t let yourself be led down rabbit holes by taking on work that you consider outside your field of expertise or is not the type of thing you’re in business to do. Let clients hire the right professionals for those other things.

So when you are asked by clients to take on something that isn’t your role in your business to do, you can handle it one of several ways:

  1. You could decline the request, indicating to the client that it’s your field of expertise, and that they would be best served by a [INSERT TITLE HERE] professional/consultant because that’s the kind of thing they are in business to do and are experts at.
  2. You could accept the request, letting the client know that it’s not your area of expertise, that you know as much as they do about the topic, and if they’er okay with that, while you’ll do your best, it’s not going to be the same level or kind of expertise as they’d get by going to the proper professional.
  3. If you accept the request, you could let the client know that their request is a special project and not something included in their administrative support plan, and that you charge separately for special projects of that nature.

I know that doesn’t answer your direct question, but I hope it brings up some other ideas that are helpful to you in your business. If you have further questions on any of this, please do post in the comments. I’m happy to continue the conversation. :)

Dear Danielle: What Services Do You Provide?

Everyone is asking such great questions this week!

In response to my last post regarding how I structure my typical work week and day, several people have asked about services. Here’s an example:

Dear Danielle:

I am considering starting up my own Administrative Consultant business and was browsing through your website. I read what your typical work day looks like, but I have a quick question for you. What services do you provide for your clients?

This is always a tricky question for me to answer because it’s coming from the wrong perspective. I’ll do my best to try and clarify for everyone.

The problem with this question is that it’s thinking too transactionally. See, the first thing you need to understand is the difference between individual tasks/project work and support.

When you are in the business of support, you aren’t selling individual services or tasks because administrative support IS the service. Companies that are in the business of providing piecemeal tasks and services on an ad hoc basis are called secretarial services. That’s not the same thing as providing ongoing administrative support.

Ongoing administrative support is about providing a relationship and a body (or collection, if you will) of support areas all wrapped up into one. It’s not any one particular task or line-item service because the service that an Administrative Consultant provides IS administrative support. What that administrative support is comprised of is going to depend on your own target market. Do you see?

The best way I have come up with currently to describe administrative support is that it is the collection of tasks, functions and roles that keep a business organized, humming along smoothly and moving forward.

I created this video to help illustrate what that means (by the way, feel free to use it on your own website as it’s very helpful in educating clients in how you as an Administrative Consultant and expert help them):

Given that understanding, you can easily see that there is no way to come up with any kind of comprehensive listing of individual tasks and services that make up a body of administrative support because that support is going to be different for each and every one of us depending on each of our individual target markets. What I do for my clients administratively is not necessarily going to be the same thing you do for your clients, particularly if we have different target markets.

So, the more useful thing for you to be focusing on is determining who your target market is going to be and then learning all that you can about them. (A target market is simply a specific profession/field/industry that you plan to cater to.) How are their businesses run? Who are their clients? What kind of work is involved? What are their common goals, objectives and challenges?

Once you start answering these questions (by talking with them, surveying them, interacting with them online and off), you can begin deciding on what administrative support areas you can best help them with and tailor your offerings accordingly.

Let me know if you have more questions on this in the comments and I’ll be happy to elaborate a bit more. :)

PS: Pricing and structuring your packages is something I teach extensively on in my Value-Based Pricing & Packaging Toolkit. I also include so much more than just pricing and packaging–because these things affect just about everything else in your business:  how it is structured, your policies and procedures, marketing… everything. So not only do I teach you the foundational stuff and how to best frame and articulate your value in this self-study guide course, I also show you how to you map out your business to best frame your offerings, create additional revenue streams and make more money. Check it out!

Dear Danielle: How Should My Client Market?

Dear Danielle:

I have a client who only sells wholesale products with an occasional retail customer. I have convinced him to think about sending a mass email marketing campaign/newsletter for his wholesale customers since his previous website designer never even introduced this idea to him. His response was that he only sells to wholesale customers and is not sure what to send to them.  My suggestion was to send loyalty rewards, small one-time bonus, or a small gift thanking them for their business. Do you have any suggestions for a marketing campaign from a wholesale company to its customers? –LN

Nah, I don’t get into advising clients on how to market their businesses. That’s not administrative support and marketing consulting isn’t the business I’m in.

I might offer my views and suggestions from an administrative standpoint. I might also provide them with some of the administrative support related to executing and implementing many of their marketing activities and initiatives.

But beyond that, how they market their business is up to them. Or between them and their marketing consultant.

I think too many administrative experts are pressured into thinking that they have to fill ALL these other roles in their clients’ businesses. And that’s just not the case. The ONLY role you have to fulfill is the one you are in business to fulfill—administrative support. You will burn yourself out really quick trying to be all things, do all things, for clients, not to mention greatly diminish your effectiveness with all the constant switching of gears.

I mean, would you ask a plumber to fix your car? Of course not. They’re completely different kinds of expertise and lines of work.

Have opinions. Share ideas, resources and suggestions. Being a partner to clients means they get the benefits of your experiences and input. That’s definitely of value and they might learn or hear about something new because of that that they wouldn’t otherwise. But don’t feel like you have to take on roles you aren’t in business to take on and that aren’t your responsibility to take on.

And definitely don’t expend your time and energy being more invested in helping with something that the client isn’t even interested in. You can’t care more about their business than they do themselves.

Why Are You Asking a Plumber to Fix Your Car?

If you’re a plumber, you wouldn’t expect people to ask you to fix their car, right?

You’re someone who deals with plumbing, pipes and fixing toilets, not someone who works on cars.

So if people are asking you to fix their car, then you are not making it explicitly clear exactly what business you are in and what your expertise is.

Or, let’s say you are both a plumber AND a mechanic.

Would anyone with a properly working brain think that plumbing and auto repair are the same thing?

Of course not.

They’d expect to be charged and processed separately for each because they are two completely different things.

Just because you might do both things doesn’t make them the same thing.

Get clear about what you are in business to do. Distinguish the one main thing from other, differing things you might offer as well.

Because “anything and everything” isn’t a business category or a profession, much less an expertise.

HINT: Administrative Support is a niche, profession, business category, specialty and expertise all its own. You might also do web design, bookkeeping and any number of other things, but that does not make all those other things the same thing as administrative support. ;)

Dear Danielle: What Is “the Work?”

Dear Danielle:

I am just starting my administrative support business.  I am networking and setting things up, but I have a question (hope it does not sound silly)… If you could, please list and/or explain some of the duties/work you in real terms. I hear everyone talk about “the work,” but I want to know the details. What kinds of things do people hire you to do? —AC

Not a silly question at all. Although I can’t say it’s the easiest to answer.

That’s because the administrative support that one Administrative Consultant provides to her clients can be completely different from what another Administrative Consultant provides.

It’s impossible to create any kind of comprehensive list because the work we do is so much more than that. More importantly, there’s no way to do that because no two clients, businesses and professions are the same. There might be some general similarities and overlap, but overall “the work” all depends on the clients, the industry they are in, the work they do and what their goals, objectives and challenges are.

So like me, for instance, I work with attorneys and business consultants. HUGE amounts of document work involved in both. I also have a lot of contact with their clients in various capacities, such as interviewing, doing intakes, making calls… I also have to interact with the courts, JAs and use the various filing systems. That’s just the teeniest tip of the iceberg.

What I do for my clients, given the professions they are in, is VERY different from the work of an Administrative Consultant who, for example, works with more online-based business owners. Those two markets do completely different things, have completely different interests and motivations, and the work, therefore, is vastly different.

Instead of trying to identify “the work” in only the most general sense, I would instead have you look at things from a different perspective.

1 You can’t be in business to do everything. So YOU have to define what you are in business to do. How I look at things is that administrative support is a skill, expertise and specialty all its own. As a business owner, I am not anyone’s assistant, personal valet or gopher. I am in business to provide administrative support to clients who need that expertise in their business.

2. Once you know what you are in business to do, you will have a better idea and focus about the kind of work you provide for clients. But that’s not the end of the story…

3. You also want to define what administrative support means to you. The best way I have to explain administrative support is that it is the collection of ongoing tasks, functions and roles that keep a business organized, running smoothly and moving forward. Where a lot of people get confused is thinking that administrative work is simply paperwork.

And administrative support isn’t just about administration (the back-end running of the business). Administration is only one area of a business where administrative support is provided. Administrative support encompasses work in ALL four areas of a business–administration, business development, marketing and networking, and working with clients.

Take a look at the quick video below and see if that doesn’t help you understand a bit better.

4. You also want to define a target market. For the same reason that you can’t be in business to do anything and everything, it is also impossible to try to work with anyone and everyone and create any kind of unique, meaningful, resonate and compelling message at the same time.

As Seth Godin says, “You can be a wandering generality or a meaningful specific.” Once you know who it is you are intending to work with, that right there is going to hugely allow you to identify and define “the work” you want to do with and for clients and separate it from different categories of project work you may want to charge separately for.

(And by the way, when you work with a very specific target market, the work and running your business becomes INFINITELY easier.)

5. Beyond all that, EVERYTHING depends on the consultation. Everything. You can’t begin to know how to support someone or what work is involved until you have spoken at length to the client to learn more about them, their business, their values, goals and the challenges they face.

If you want to get REALLY good at doing consultations and know EXACTLY how to proceed with them (what to talk about when, questions to ask, how to ask, what to look for, etc.), then I highly recommend you get my Client Consultation Process, “Breaking the Ice (GDE-03).” It covers everything from before, during and how to follow-up afterward.

Dear Danielle: Do I Have to Know This and This and That, Too?

Dear Danielle:

My biggest strengths are written and verbal communication, research and word processing. Can I still be a successful Virtual Assistant or do I need to know things like 1shoppingcart, website design and desktop publishing to even have a prayer of getting any clients? —KT

I’m going to be annoying and not really answer your question directly. And the reason is because there are several aspects to consider. In pondering those things, you will end up answering the question for yourself.

My first question to you is: Do you know what business you are in (or considering being in)?

Being in business first has to be something you want to be in, want to be doing, enjoy doing and have the qualifications to do.

I mean, it wouldn’t serve you to wake up one day and decide to be a plumber if you have zero interest in pipes and sewage. And it certainly wouldn’t serve any customers you got if you didn’t have the training, experience or qualifications to be a plumber, right?

For this reason, you have to get really clear and cognizant of exactly and specifically what you want to be in business to do.

In this case, you may want to ask yourself: Am I in business to provide administrative support or am I in business to sell individual services?

Because there is a big difference between delivering ongoing administrative support (which is a business category and service offering in and of itself) and selling individual, piecemeal services (which is not support; that is what is called secretarial services).

When you are selling line-item services, the focus is on the individual project and the transaction. But if you are in business to provide administrative support, the product you are really offering is an ongoing, right-hand relationship. The relationship is the focus, not the transactions or individual tasks.

The reason this clarity is important is because it makes all the difference in how you market, articulate your value and attract exactly the right clients who have a need for what you are in business to offer.

Which brings us back to your original question, and the answer to that is:  it depends.

It depends on what you are in business to do, who has a need for what you offer and who you want to work with.

You can be an administrative expert and not have to also be a website designer and a graphic designer and a bookkeeper, etc., etc., if that’s not what you want to do.

Your value isn’t in trying to be every single kind of professional under the sun or to know how to do everything in the world. In fact, it’s really silly to and ineffective to try to do that because you can quickly distract yourself from your focus, spread yourself too thin and dillute your strengths and expertise.

You’re in the driver’s seat. You get to set the expectations and craft your marketing message in a way that attracts exactly who you want it to attract. If you don’t want to do any of those other things you mention, focus clients on the thing you do do and how that helps them in their business.

Now, I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t do any of those other things. If you want to work with online business owners, knowing HTML and being able to draft up web pages, etc., is something that will add value to what you offer.

Additional divisions and complementary layers of support in your business (such as technical support for 1shoppingcart, for example) are also ways you can add more revenue streams by offering them as stand-alone services or at higher priced support packages.

At the same time, there are plenty of clients doing real-world work and running non-virtual businesses who aren’t going to care a whit whether you know 1shoppingcart and don’t need you to know graphic design because they already have a talented graphic design house they use, thank you very much. They just need you to be focused on administrative support, and really, that’s plenty as it is!

They certainly wouldn’t turn to you for legal advice if you weren’t an attorney, and they wouldn’t ask you for financial guidance if you weren’t an accountant, right? Of course not. So focus clients on exactly what you are in business to do and explain things so they know, as clear as day, exactly what kind of expert you are and what you are in business.

The trick is to get clear about what you want to be in business to do and then target a market that has a need for exactly that. The more clear you are, the more you’ll attract exactly the right clients.

PS: I think you’d find my business plan template and my Value-Based Pricing & Packaging Toolkit specifically for administrative support businesses very helpful in sorting all this out. It’s not only a template that shows you how a professional business plan should be structured and formatted, it’s also designed to get your thought juices going with regard to these kinds of questions, figure out exactly what kind of business you want to be in and how you can create a multi-layered administrative support business with multiple revenue streams.