Archive for the ‘Working with Clients’ Category

Setting Policies for Great Communication with Clients and Prospects

Setting Policies for Great Communication with Clients and Prospects

It’s true to a certain extent: you may lose some prospects by not getting back to them right away. At the same time, you’d never get any work done if you answered every call the second the phone rang. It can be crazy-making to even try.

As with most things, instituting smart policies and procedures in your business will help you improve your response times and communications. and by informing prospective clients and site visitors upfront so they know what to expect and asking for their understanding, they are going to be more inclined to be patient.

So, here are a few tips for doing just that:

  1. Establish communication policies. Set a standard for responding to inquiries (e.g., “within 24-48 hours”). Decide which inquiries get priority attention (e.g., clients or prospective clients).
  2. Post your office hours and response protocols. Tell folks, on your website and in your voicemails, what days and times your office is “open” and how soon they may expect your return email or call.
  3. Require clients to follow certain procedures. While it might seem like letting clients call you for anything and everything at any time is great service, doing so will actually create conditions in your business that lead to poor performance and reduced quality of service. To be successful, you need to have some boundaries in place that that let you manage work and communications well in your business. Don’t be afraid to tell clients how work requests must be submitted (e.g., you might require that they be submitted by email only) or that phone calls/meeting are done only by appointment.
  4. Get a receptionist. If you worry that a happy, informative Voicemail message isn’t enough, but still need uninterrupted concentration time to get work done, hire an answering service.
  5. Map out a process for qualifying inquiries. There are lots of ways your website can do this work for you so you can reduce the time you spend on unnecessary calls and emails. You can design your website so that visitors are guided toward one action (e.g., submitting a form to schedule a consultation). If you prefer one method of contact over another, emphasize that method and make it the most visible and prominent. Another way to pre-qualify clients is to have them complete an online form that will help you determine if someone meets your minimum criteria for an ideal client and what your next steps should be with that person. In your Voicemail message, ask callers to be sure and visit your website (if they haven’t yet) and give them the url.

Remember, in order to give great service you have to set foundations (policies, standards, protocols, workflows) in your business that enable you to do that consistently and sustainably.

(Originally published August 2, 2010.)

Dear Danielle: Client Thinks He Shouldn’t Be Billed for Time on the Phone

Dear Danielle: Client Thinks He Shouldn’t Be Billed for Time on the Phone

Dear Danielle:

Do you bill your clients for time that you speak with them on the phone? I have a client who wants to have phone meetings twice a week. A phone meeting with him can run from 15 minutes to an hour. Yet, he feels that I should not bill for that time. Instead, I should only bill for the time that I am “actually doing work.” (His words…not mine.) —Anonymous by request

Warning, this may be a little ranty, lol

And just to be clear, it’s no way directed toward the person asking the question. I give them all the props in the world for having the courage to ask. That’s how we get help, by asking.

What gets my dander up is more about the ridiculous, ignorant information that continues to be spouted out by business morons that create this kind of thinking in clients and colleagues in the first place.

The idea that in this day and age people in our industry are still asking questions like this as if they need permission from anybody about what they’re allowed to do in their business tells me there’s still an insane amount of employee-mindset going on.

NEWSFLASH: Talking with clients IS part of the work.

When you talk with clients on the phone, that’s part of the service product you’re providing to them.

You are expending business resources (your time) and that time comes at a cost to your business.

You are being a brainstorming partner and sounding board. You’re also presumably offering your own input, ideas, opinions, feedback and expertise in those conversations, which are service products and value your client is benefiting from.

So, um, yeah, you should be charging for that. And it’s not up to ANY client to dictate what you do or don’t charge for or how you charge. If he doesn’t want to pay for it, then he shouldn’t be given it.

Now, all that said, this question points out a few things that are going on in this person’s business that need to be addressed.

  1. This client sounds like he thinks you’re some kind of employee. That means YOU haven’t done a proper job of educating him before ever working together about the fact that you are an independent professional—ahem, a BUSINESS—providing a service and expertise, no different than if he were to hire an attorney or an accountant or a coach, etc. You have GOT to set your prospects and clients STRAIGHT about this right from the get-go (which means you have to get this straight first yourself). You are not an employee. Period. End of story. That’s not how business works. There is no such thing as a 1099 employee. When clients are operating under no delusions about this, they approach the relationship with a more appropriate professional demeanor and respect, and they expect to pay for services they are provided.
  2. You haven’t defined your policies and procedures and your boundaries and parameters thoroughly. This is really business planning 101, which makes me wonder if you’ve done any of that. If you haven’t, go back now and do that. It’s important if you want happy clients and a happy, profitable and long-lived business! How you bill; what you bill for; what is included in the service and what is not; how many phone calls a client is allowed each week; what time limit they get per call; whether or not phone calls are by appointment only and need to be scheduled or not; how regular communication is to be conducted (e.g., email only)… these are just some of the things you need to clarify in your business. And then put all that information in a Client Guide to be given to every new client at the start of the relationship. (By the way: Set-01 The Administrative Consultant Business Set-Up Success Kit in the ACA Success Store includes a New Client Welcome Kit guide and Client Guide template to help you get this sorted in your business.)
  3. The fact that this client is complaining about being charged for phone calls now tells me you did not properly inform him upfront, before working together, how things work in your business. Of course, when you haven’t set your policies and procedures in the first place, how can you inform them upfront, right? Which is why you have to get clear about them first (see #2). You want to eliminate any misunderstandings and surprises as much as possible because those all too frequently become relationship killers.

And while it’s not any client’s business to tell you how to run yours, this does point to several of the reasons I don’t advocate selling hours as a billing methodology:

  1. It puts your interests at odds with each other. You only make more money the more hours you charge, and clients don’t like what they view as being nickeled and dimed.
  2. If you work fast, you are penalized financially while clients are getting the value and benefit of that speed without paying for it.
  3. Everything becomes a transaction which becomes the focus instead of the results, goals and objectives that together you wish to achieve.

Learning how to price, package your support, and talk about fees with clients is an area of business education in and of itself—part art, part science. There is a way to make sure you are paid for the time and value of the service you provide to clients without using time as the measurement and without clients feeling like they are being nickeled and dimed.

I teach a methodology called Value-Based Pricing that unties your earning ability from the hands of the ticking clock, and brings you and the client’s interests back into alignment so you can begin working more truly together with the same goals, intentions and motivations.

The fantastic byproduct of this methodology is that clients never again complain about being charged for this or that because it’s all part of the package.

You can learn more about all that and get my Value-Based Pricing and Packaging self-study guide here >>. (Be sure and watch the video!)

If you have any questions about any of this, please post in the comments and I’m happy to keep the conversation going there.

Hope this helps! (And if you have your own question on a different topic for me, please feel free to submit it here.)

How Do I Deal with a Client Who Constantly Misses Appointments?

How Do I Deal with a Client Who Constantly Misses Appointments?

A good question came up on one of the LinkedIn groups I belong to about a topic that is a frequent source of vexation for people in our industry:

“I have a client that is continuously scheduling my time and then when it’s time to “meet” she is otherwise engaged with family, etc. I understand “things come up,” however this is becoming a pattern. She is not very versed in the world of business and I’m not into giving my time away. This has happened three times now. I plan to begin billing for this time moving forward and want to put a policy in place. Thank you in advance for any guidance or words of wisdom you can share with me!!”

This falls under the category of “we teach our clients how to treat us.”

If a client normally respects your time and keeps their appointments with you, it’s easy to be understanding when life gets in the way and they are unable to give you sufficient notice when they need to cancel or reschedule a meeting with you.

However, once you recognize a pattern, and it’s causing you wasted time, irritation and resentment, that’s when you need to nip things in the bud.

Here are a few ways to help prevent this problem in the first place, as well as what to do when it does occur:

  1. Work with ideal clients. It’s fine to add a policy for the sake of clear understanding and communication (and you would not legally be able to impose fees if that language isn’t in your contract), but there’s something else to consider here: why would you want to work with the kind of clients who would only respect your time under threat of penalty? And what if the added charges don’t deter or change the behavior? You’d still have a PIA (pain-in-the-ass) client causing problems and negative energy in your practice. Examine whether that client is really worth continuing to work with.
  2. Run your business like a business. That means having a professional web presence, proper email and signature lines, formal business policies, documents and procedures, etc. The more you present yourself as a business, the more clients will respect it (and you) as such.
  3. Always have clients sign a contract. A contract isn’t just for legal purposes. It’s also to help clients take you and your business seriously, to view your business as a business. People who see you as a professional are more likely to respect your time.
  4. Include a section in both your contract and your New Client Guide that talks about the importance to the relationship of respecting each other’s time, what your expectations are of them (and that you will extend the same to them) and what the policies are around canceling and missed appointments. For example, how much notice do you ask clients provide if they need to cancel an appointment (this is common courtesy and respect)? Do you charge for missed appointments, and if so, how much? How long will you wait for a late-arriving client before you will no longer meet with them for that day? By informing them upfront what your policy is on this, you are indicating the value and respect you place on your time (as well as that of your other clients and priorities). Personally, I wait no more than 10 or 15 minutes; after that, they will need to reschedule their appointment for the following week. So, this is the other thing that contracts are for: formalizing what your expectations are for each other and the relationship and informing clients how things work in your business.
  5. Don’t be so quick to always instantly respond to clients. I know this sounds counter-intuitive because you want clients to feel you are responsive, but there is such a thing as being a too-eager beaver. When that’s the impression clients have, they think you have nothing better to do than sit there waiting for them to tell you to “jump.” You undermine your own authority in that way. Establish a communication standard in your business of 24-48 hours turn-around time in your replies, whether you have other clients or not. This helps set proper business expectations and clients will respect your time more appropriately.
  6. Don’t let clients slide. As soon as you realize you’ve clearly got a client who has no regard for you or your time, you’ve got to have a conversation about what is going on. Be prepared to fire any client who continues to abuse your time after this conversation. Because by letting them continue to do so, you are teaching them that your word, your time and your value mean nothing and they are free to do as they please and you’re just going to keep taking it. If you don’t respect your boundaries, clients won’t either.
  7. Re-examine your business, your standards, and who you are choosing as clients. If you have clients who continuously abuse your time there are two things going on: a) you are not working with ideal clients (and starting an Ideal Client Profile list is going to help you tremendously), and b) there are areas in your business, how you are presenting it and how you are working with clients that is contributing to this problem. This presents you with a good opportunity to improve your business, who you accept onto your client roster, how you might better communicate your needs and expectations of clients, and how to identify and get better, more ideal clients. Because if you are working with clients too informally, too loosey-goosey, and not being selective about who gets a place on your roster, those are definitely underlying root causes.

How to Leave a Bad Client Relationship When You’re Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place

How to Leave a Bad Client Relationship When You’re Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place

This post was inspired by some recent correspondence with a colleague who shared that she was mired in an unhappy relationship with a client who is far from ideal.

She dreads hearing from this client and rushes through this client’s work to get it over with as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, she stated, she can’t afford to let this client go as it is her only source of income at the moment.

What I told her was that she couldn’t afford to NOT get out of this relationship… quick. It’s keeping her stuck and zapping her energy and morale.

What’s also important here, but not commonly talked about, is that we all have a moral duty to work with ideal clients and let go of the unideal ones.

We are not walking in integrity taking money from people we don’t care for and, thus, for whom we are not doing our best work. You’re not serving their best interests, and it’s not fair to them to keep them on.

Staying in a bad relationship also steals your life from you.

It keeps you from moving forward and opening space for the better and more ideal.

You are holding yourself hostage by letting fear rule your decisions.

I totally understand practicalities, though.

If you feel you are stuck between a rock and hard place financially, here’s what you can do strategically if you don’t feel at choice (yet) to let go of a client you are not happy working with any longer:

  1. First, take a moment to be in gratitude. Thank the universe for providing this client to you and for all the business lessons and experience you gained. You can still be grateful even while you recognize you have outgrown the relationship and that it’s time to move on.
  2. For the moment, keep doing what you’re doing with that client. Gradually, when and where you can, make changes that are more to your liking. They don’t have to be drastic. Sometimes, it’s the smallest tweaks that can have the biggest, most positive impact. And with each small success with these changes, you will feel empowered and gain courage. Always announce these changes (without asking for permission) and put them in the most positive, client-focused terms as possible. For example, “In order to better serve my clients, I am now…” “I’m doing this so that you can experience better…” Anything that improves your life and business is always in the best interests of your clients, but you don’t want to explain things from that perspective. You always want to relate that information in terms of how it better serves them, not you. Understand?
  3. Simultaneously, work your BUTT off to get new and better clients, taking them on under all your improved and heightened standards, policies, procedures and pricing, and doing everything in the way you wish you would have with that client who is no longer a fit.
  4. Once you’ve got yourself in a better position financially, you can give that unideal client an opportunity to adapt to how you are doing things now in your business. Write a formal message letting them know that you are making changes to how you are doing business and working with clients, and outline what those changes are. If the client isn’t willing to accept those changes, you can very genuinely thank them for your time together, wish them well and let them go, happier trails to everyone.
  5. Finally, be cognizant of the ways you contributed to the unhappy relationship. Many people fail to realize that bad clients are often created by a) not being discerning and choosing clients carefully in the first place, and b) spoiling them with unsustainable practices. They promise these clients the moon, work with them in ways they can’t possibly keep up with once they have more than one client and don’t set boundaries and parameters for clients to observe. In recognizing these problem areas, you can improve and avoid them in your future relationships. That’s called growing and maturing as a business owner and service provider.

Have you found yourself in an unideal situation with a client, but don’t feel free to change things or move on due to financial constraints? Please do share your story in the comments below as it is very helpful to others in the same boat. They find validation that they are not the only one going through this. And I would love to know, as well, if this information has helped you get unstuck.

Dear Danielle: This Charity Is Offering a Low Hourly Rate. Do I Walk Away?

Dear Danielle: This Charity Is Offering a Low Hourly Rate. Do I Walk Away?

Dear Danielle:

I have recently been approached by a local charity that wishes me to work for them for a number of hours per week, but they cannot get away from the number of hours and are offering a very low hourly rate on the grounds that they are a charity and don’t have budget for more. No matter what I do or say they are stuck on hours/hourly rate. Should I walk away? Normally I would, but because it’s a charity I want to work with, it feels different. —Name Withheld by Request

I’m going to give you some straight talking tough love today, okay? :)

Do you want a business or do you want a hobby/charity?

If it’s a business you want, then you’ve got to stop wasting your time.

Not all business is good business—or business at all.

You, your family and the ones you love are your “charity.” They deserve for you to be smart in business—which includes being paid properly for your time, energy and expertise.

And by “properly” I mean at whatever business rate you (not clients) determine is profitable.

People in our industry have got to get off of this bleeding heart kick. It’s one thing to be charitable when you are doing well financially and can afford to give back. But most people in our industry are barely scraping by in their businesses themselves.

(And it’s not because they can’t do better; it’s just that they aren’t taking the time or making the investment to learn what it takes to be a financially viable, solvent, sustainable and humanly manageable business operation).

You’ve got to have a pot to pee in yourself before you can start sharing the wealth, know what I mean?

If you want a real business making real money, you need to start talking to real prospects.

Anyone who can’t pay your fees is not a prospect. Period.

First of all, clients don’t dictate or “offer” you anything. YOU set your fees. They have only to accept them or stop wasting your time.

Second, the reason they can’t get off the hours/hourly rate is because you don’t know how to reframe that conversation and what to talk about instead. And that simply takes investing in the proper learning in how to do that.

You’re trying to talk yourself into accepting this and I’m not going to help you. You’ve come to the wrong place for that. 😉

Here’s what you need to do next to start talking to real prospects:

  1. Stop calling yourself an assistant. You’re running a business now and when you are a business owner, for both legal and practical reasons, you are not anyone’s assistant. Calling yourself an “assistant” is the very first reason that people are approaching you in a non business-like manner and think it’s their place to “offer” you “positions” and “low hourly rates.” That’s because “assistant” is a term of employment, not business, and people only understand the word “assistant” one way: employee. When you call yourself an assistant, you predispose people to balk at your fees because they are expecting to pay employee wages, not professional business fees. You see? You are creating the wrong expectations and understanding in clients right from the start.
  2. Download my free Income & Pricing Calculator so you can get clear and conscious about what you really need to be charging for your business to be sustainable and profitable.
  3. Get a target market. You need a direction for your efforts and to improve your offers. That only comes by focusing on a very specific industry/field/profession and catering your support to that market.
  4. Fix your website so there is an actual prequalifying, conversion process in place. This will help ensure you talk to real prospects who are more likely to be ideal client candidates.
  5. Learn how to conduct a proper consultation. My consultation process shows you what to do before you ever speak to anyone, what to ask and talk about during the conversation, and exactly how to follow-up after, as well as how to prequalify prospects so you can weed out the poor broke duds who waste your time, and filter in the ideal client candidates worthy of your time and attention.
  6. Separate business and charity. Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with helping those you think are doing good work in the world. Just don’t mix your charity work up with your business. Instead of taking on a discount client indefinitely (which impacts not only your profitability and administration, but your other clients who are paying full fee for your quality time and attention), volunteer some hours here and there as you see fit when you have them to spare. And by the way, the more financially successful you are in your business, the longer you’ll actually be around in business and the more time and money you will have to give and help others outside your business. But if you make people who can’t pay your proper fees your clients, your business won’t be around long enough to do anything for anyone. You giving yourself away to those who can’t afford you doesn’t serve anyone.
  7. Alternatively, if you insist on putting yourself on sale, at least do it in a way that will actually benefit your business. Charge them full rate with your normal invoice, and once they pay, you can turn around and write a check back to them for the discounted amount. That is the legal way to actually write that money off as a charitable donation. And in the process, that charity client never takes for granted what you really charge and the fact that they are getting a generous gift, not an entitlement to your time and service at a discount.
  8. Likewise, use your normal and customary contract and go through all your usual processes that you would with any other client. I would also advise that you set a time limit/end date for any discounted charity rate at which time it would go back up to your full fee.

Is It Time to Start Earning More in Your Business?

3dcoverweb

Do you hate tracking and reporting time to clients? Would you be excited to know of an easier, more profitable way to charge that clients also love? If so, you’re not alone.

Tracking hours is a HUGE administrative burden that eats into your profitability and takes time away from life. And clients hate being nickeled and dimed on minutes and hours.

If you’ve been in business any amount of time, you have at least some idea of the problems with selling time instead of your solutions, results and expertise. What you may not realize is just how much billing by the hour is killing your business and keeping you from earning better.

  1. It focuses clients on hours and reporting. When clients think they’re buying hours, that’s what they zero in on to the exclusion of just about everything else that’s more important.
  2. It measures time instead of results. Is that really how you want clients judging the quality of your support, by how long things take instead of how you actually help them?
  3. The faster you work, the LESS you make. When you charge by the hour, you’re penalized financially for being better and faster at what you do. How much sense does that make?
  4. The better you are, the harder you must work to make the same amount of money. That’s because the more you can do in an hour, the more you have to fill up that hour.
  5. And how do you track time for all those intangible, incidental things you do for clients, like thinking, reading and replying to emails and making calls? Are you really going to stop and punch the clock every second you lift a finger? How practical is that? And what happens when you forget?
  6. It puts you and the client’s interests and motivations at odds with each other. When you charge by the hour, clients want things to take the least amount of time possible, and you only make more money the longer things take. Instead of being focused on the goals and objectives the work is in support of, you end up playing a tug-of-war with hours.
  7. Most importantly, billing by the hour is keeping you BROKE! You automatically limit your earning potential when you tie it to how many hours you have to sell.

Your time is the least valuable thing you have to offer clients. It’s your skill, knowledge and expertise that make things happen and help them move forward in their businesses.

And be honest, aren’t you sick and tired of tracking and reporting time to clients like you were some little employee?

You’re in business to help clients, right? Well, how helpful is it to them when you have to stop work right in the middle of things because they’ve run out of hours?

Wouldn’t you rather offer your support in a way that allows you to get things done and serve clients better without discounting your fees or having your hands tied by a ticking clock?

The trick is to price the solution, NOT the hours. You want for both you and the client to be in alignment of interests and motivations. So the question becomes, how do you do that? How do you price the solution, how do you set parameters, when time is not the unit of measurement?

This is EXACTLY what I show you how to do in my value-based pricing guide, How to Price and Package Your Support Based on Value and Expertise—NOT Selling Hours.

Charging by the hour is keeping you from earning AND serving clients better. If you struggle to earn well even though you have clients; if you feel like there’s no room for you to grow based on how you’re charging and doing things now; if potential clients balk when you tell them your hourly rate, I can show you how to change ALL of that in your business!

This self-study course shows you how to create a simpler, easier business to run, where your earning potential is hugely expanded because it’s not tied to how many hours you have to sell.

Clients find it much easier to say YES to working with you, and, best of all, you’ll be able to toss those time sheets out forever!

I’ve been studying value-based pricing for over 10 years now and use this methodology that I’ve uniquely adapted especially for the administrative support business in my own practice.

In this guide, I show you the exact methods I use to earn more in a month with just one of my retained clients than most people in our industry are making with 5 to 10 (or more!) clients. I have far more freedom and flexibility to live life. And clients LOVE this way of working together because it’s easier to pay, easier to work together, and they see results more quickly and clearly because we’re focused on the goals and objectives the work is in support of, not the time it takes.

If you, too, would like more life, more money and more freedom in your business while serving clients BETTER, click here for more product details.

25 Ways to Get Better, More Ideal Clients

baddog

One of the biggest complaints people voice in our industry (the administrative support business) are clients who are a pain in the ass, otherwise known as PIAs, or more gently, unideal clients.

Bad clients are also one of the biggest business killers. One bad client (particularly in a new business) can suck up all your resources and destroy profit—and your morale—to the point of no return.

Despite your best efforts, it’s possible to end up with a rotten apple once in awhile.

Far more often, however, it is we who create the conditions that bring un-ideal clients into our lives in the first place.

You have far more control in this area than you may realize. So, here’s a list that will help you have more ideal, joy-to-work-with clients who won’t tear your business apart:

  1. Own your role. Bad clients don’t happen to you. You’re the one who took them on and continues to work with them. Acknowledge that so you can fix it and start doing things differently from this point forward.
  2. Trust your gut. If you have a bad feeling or see red flags, pay attention. Your instincts will never fail you.
  3. Treat and respect your business like a business. When you do, your prospects and clients will as well.
  4. Have self-respect. Don’t beg, bribe and prostrate yourself to get clients. The only clients who are attracted to desperate people are bad clients.
  5. Don’t be so available. Have a process that prospects go through to become clients. It’s an indicator that you are a professional, successful business, and that is going to attract professional, successful prospects. Anyone who is in a rush and wants to sidestep your processes is never an ideal client. Better clients are willing to wait for the best.
  6. Never take on work or clients just for the money. This is often where at least 75% of the problems start.
  7. Have standards. For example, choosing to work with only honest, ethical people is a standard. What others can you think of? Write them down and hang this list where you’ll see it every day.
  8. Set proper expectations. Remember, you’re not running a mass consumer, assembly-line business like McDonald’s. You’re running a professional service firm where there is a personal, ongoing relationship with each client. Sometimes clients can seem unideal because you haven’t properly managed expectations. They’ve been left to their own devices and so they assumed or made up their own rules. Similar to raising children, if we are too permissive, over-promise, and establish policies that we can’t possibly sustain on a consistent basis (such as 24-hour, on-demand, instant assistance), we can turn clients quickly into spoiled brats who throw tantrums the second you don’t instantly jump at their request. Picture your business with a full roster of retained clients. What kind of turn-around and communication policies does THAT business need to take great care of all your clients, consistently and reliably, now and in the future, without overcrowding and burning you out in the process?
  9. Set policies, procedures and protocols. These are relationship-preservers that bring order to your business, ensure it runs smoothly and gives you the space you need to take fantastic care of all your clients, evenly, consistently and reliably. Without this structure, clients can quickly (and often do) turn into monsters we dread dealing with.
  10. Establish boundaries. Besides helping ensure your business runs smoothly so you can do great work for all your clients, your policies and protocols also establish boundaries. For example, having formal office hours between 9a and 5p is a policy that also sets a boundary that tells clients you are running a professional business that opens and closes at certain hours and they may not expect you to be working past those times. See? Boundary.
  11. Honor your standards, boundaries and protocols. Here again is where we often “do it” to ourselves by taking shortcuts and stepping over our standards and boundaries or allowing clients to. They’re in place to ensure you have a happy business and happy clients. Ignore them at your peril.
  12. Know who your ideal client is. Start an Ideal Client Profile. This is a list of all the traits, characteristics and demographics of the kind of person you really enjoy working with, who you work best with, and who benefits most from working with you. Keep adding to and refining this list throughout the life of your business. This formalizing exercise helps you get more clear, conscious and intentional about who you want to attract and focus on in your business.
  13. Start an UN-ideal Client Profile. Likewise, as you grow in your business, you are going to get more and more clear about who is not the right fit for you, with whom you don’t enjoy working. List these traits and red flags so that you can better recognize those folks when they appear on your doorstep—and quickly and politely send them away.
  14. Work with business people rather those who are employees themselves. Business people get it. Non business people are more often going to be difficult to work with because they aren’t coming from a business context and don’t understand the proper business etiquette and rules of engagement.
  15. Have a target market. A target market is simply an industry/field/profession that you cater your administrative support to. Having one will not only make everything in your business easier, it will also help you get better, more ideal clients.
  16. Have a proper business website. Your website isn’t merely an online brochure. When you have a proper website that informs, educates and markets you like a business, it’s a powerful influence in the clients you attract and how those clients approach you in a proper business context. It helps set expectations and prequalify clients so you get more ideal business people contacting you. The image it presents, the message it conveys, and the process it takes them through set a precedent that is going to attract either ideal or unideal clients to you. If you want better clients, have a better website.
  17. Stop marketing yourself like a substitute employee. Face it, if people are approaching you like a potential employer instead of a client, it’s because you aren’t educating them properly. If you don’t want clients who treat you like their substitute, beck-and-call, under-the-table employee they don’t pay taxes on, then you have to stop marketing yourself like one. Model your marketing message more like that of other independent professionals like attorneys and accountants. You want to position yourself as someone with the expertise of administration, not some order-taking gopher. Reframe the message and you’ll get better clients.
  18. Have a consultation process. And I don’t mean some penny-ante 15-minute chat. That is NOT going to help you or the client whatsoever. I’m talking about a full and proper consultation process that begins before a prospect ever contacts you. Not only does this process help you prequalify prospective clients for mutual fit, it also helps them take your business more seriously.
  19. Always use a (proper) contract. A contract is a relationship-preserver as well in that it helps everyone remember and honor their agreements to each other. A contract helps clients respect you as a business, and a respectful client is an ideal client.
  20. Have a Client Guide. Formalize your policies, procedures and prototols into a written Client Guide that you give to all new and current clients. Part of setting and managing expectations is making sure you are informing clients about how things work in your business. None of us are mindreaders and neither are your clients. If you want your relationship with clients to go smoothly and ideally, you have to inform them of what that means, how things work in your business and what is expected of them (remember, it’s a two-way street; it’s not all about their needs).
  21. Conduct a New Client Orientation with new retained clients before you begin working together to go over and clarify the information in your Client Guide and answer any questions they may have. Do this with existing clients as well whenever your business undergoes significant changes. This further supports your efforts in educating clients about the nature of the relationship, setting and managing expectations, how things work in your business and what the standards, policies, protocols and procedures are for working together.
  22. Issue formal announcements to all your clients whenever there is a change in your business. Whenever you make changes or improvements to your business and how you do things, don’t mention these things in passing. Make it formal. Send out a formal business communication to your clients on company letterhead as well as any ezine and blog you publish. Here again, you’re reinforcing the business aspect of your relationship and treating the business like a business which then influences how clients treat and respect you and the relationship.
  23. Raise your rates. When you’re cheap and there is no barrier to entry for working with you, you get cheap, unideal clients. It’s an immutable law of business that when you raise your rates, you get better, more ideal clients. It’s a way to sort the wheat from the chaff in prequalifying clients.
  24. Face difficult conversations. It will only be worse for both of you the longer you wait. However, the quicker you are to face difficult conversations, the more often those relationships can be turned around for the better. You can learn many new positive things and possibly keep a client .
  25. Let go of unideal clients quickly. They’ll keep you buried in the muck and you’ll never grow or move forward if you continue to work with them. Unideal clients are highly unprofitable to work with and suck up three times the space in your practice compared to ideal clients. They cost your business far more than you realize and you can’t afford the psychological toll they take. You have to let go of the bad and unideal to make room for the better and more ideal.
  26. Bonus Tip: Stop calling yourself an assistant. Who you attract is all about your marketing. Marketing is about educating, setting expectations and creating perception. The words you choose to call yourself influence how clients perceive you and understand the relationship. The fact is, people only understand the word assistant one way: employee. So when you call yourself an assistant, you’re telling them you are some sort of employee. When they think you’re an employee, they want to treat you like one. And when you call yourself an assistant, causing their perception to be that you are some sort of substitute employee, you predispose them to balk at your fees because they expect to pay you no more than an employee. If you want more ideal clients, it’s not enough to change how you work with clients  and insist that you’re a business owner. You have to stop calling yourself a term that contradicts all those efforts. When you do, you”ll get higher quality prospects and more easily command higher, properly professional fees because you haven’t created a disconnect in their understanding and perception of the nature of the relationship right from the get-go.

8 Tips for Transitioning to Business from Full Time Work

Tips for Transitioning to Business from Full Time Work

While you’re still working is the best time to get your business foundations solidly in place before opening your business doors:

  1. Become a student of business. Study up particularly in the areas of practice management in a professional services business, marketing of professional services and all things related to the administrative support business industry (starting with the best resource of all, the ACA website and blog here! 😉 )
  2. Create your business plan. Going through the exercise of business planning forces you to think through certain aspects of the business and get clear about why you’re going into business, what your goals and challenges are, how much money you want/need to make, etc., and then formalizing the map for how you plan to get there.
  3. Create a business map (not to be confused with a business plan). This is basically a modeling of what the business looks like in a visual, illustrated format and how it earns its revenues and profits. RESOURCE: The ACA Business Plan Template is tailored specifically for those in the administrative support business! It’s not only a business plan; it’s also a visioning tool for how you want your business to support your life.
  4. Get the practical working pieces together. This includes your contracts, ideal client profile, and beginning policies and procedures. This is also the time to begin drafting your Client Guide, which is a basically a formalizing/documenting of your standards, policies, procedures and protocols. This guide is given to new clients for the purpose of informing them how things work in your practice and how to get the most out of the relationship and work together successfully. This is a particularly useful tool because, while it should be written in positive, client-centric language, what it does is help to outline boundaries and inform clients what the “rules” are (for lack of a better term) so that they don’t think it’s their place to be making them up. YOU have to instruct them about how things work in your practice, not the other way around. It sets proper expectations and helps them view and respect you as a business and professional, not their beck-and-call employee. RESOURCE: One of the reasons many businesses in this industry fail is because they never learned how to structure their operations to handle more than one or two clients at a time. This is where my Power Productivity & Business Management guide comes in. In this guide, I give you all my trade secrets, systems and tools for running a six figure practice that scales with the growth of your roster and makes sure you still have room for a life in the process.
  5. Get your website started. This will always be a work in progress. No one is ever “done” with their website, nor should they be. One should always be working to improve and clarify their educational marketing message for clients. And while you are working is a great time to get the framework up and begin the work of crafting and honing your message. RESOURCE: Build a Website that Works. In this guide I show you exactly how to put your website together using my own proven conversion system for more consults and more clients, and how to articulate your value as I walk you step-by-step in creating your own unique, irresistible marketing message so you can get those lucrative, well-paying monthly retained clients. Throughout all this, you’ll get the bonus of a crash-course in in-bound marketing, business modeling and more clearly identifying your offers and how to position them on your website for best results.
  6. Learn those all-important business skills. Getting clients isn’t at all like applying for a job. In this way, going into business is like going back to college because there are several skill you’re going to need to study and learn if you’re going to be successful. These include pricing and packaging your support; conducting consultations with clients; and marketing and presenting yourself among other things. RESOURCE: I’ve been in this business for darn near 20 years and have packaged up every single bit of my knowledge, know-how and expertise into the ACA Success Store. When I say it has everything you need, that’s not some cheesy marketing line. It actually has exactly all the right information and tools you need to set your business up properly and learn the important skills you need to be successful far more quickly and easily than trying to do it (slowly, blindly) all by yourself.
  7. Take on that first client! While you’re still working can often be a great time to take on that first client. Keep in mind, you’ll only be able to handle so many retained clients (possibly only one, maybe two) while still working a job, and you still need to provide a professional, business-like level of quality and care they would expect from any business. Don’t use having a job as an excuse for providing anything less. That said, I often refer to those first clients as “starter” or “practice” clients. That’s because this is a time when we’re getting our business legs and learning about what we like and don’t like in our business, in clients, and how we want things to work. So, it’s quite common that these clients aren’t neccessarily ones you’ll keep for the long-haul (although that is entirely possible as well). Sometimes we’re lucky and have a client who happily and gratefully grows with us. You’ll also find that as your business standards and boundaries change and improve, as you course correct things that aren’t working in your business, there will also be some clients you naturally outgrow and need to let go. And then there will be others who are just plain intractible and not amenable to any change in your business (and probably weren’t a great fit anyway) and  leave of their own accord. Don’t view those clients as losses or failures. They are absolutely not! They provided invaluable growth and learning experiences and helped you better know yourself and improve your business. So, be grateful you had them and remember that when you let the undeal go, you open up space for the more ideal to flow in and take their place. You won’t grow by clinging to that which is not ideal and absolutely happy-making for you.
  8. Start a slush fund. As you’re working is the best time to start socking away operating capital for the business. This is because for most people, there are only so many clients you can feasibly take on while still employed in a “day job” and still have time, room and energy for all the other things you have to juggle in life. So there comes a transition where, if you’re wanting to go into business full hog, you have to make a leap, and most people don’t yet have a full roster of retained clients when they make that leap. So there’s going to be a period of time once you make the leap and leave your job where you’re working to fill your roster with clients. Having that operating capital (or some other means of income) while you get established can be a lifesaver and help ensure you can pay the bills and not make choices out of desperation (which leads to stepping over of standards) until the business becomes profitable and fully self-sustaining.

Hope that helps!

How Do I Terminate a Client Who Is No Longer a Fit for Me?

Today’s conversation came from a thought I posted on our Administrative Consultants Facebook page:

Your “mistakes” are a necessary part of your business growth (and I use quotes because they aren’t really mistakes, they are learning experiences). You will take on a lot of what I like to call “practice” clients in the beginning. One thing, though, that has the ability to kill your spirit and morale—and possibly your business entirely—is continuing to work with a bad, unideal client. So, have standards around who is worthy and entitled and a fit to work with you. Choose clients thoughtfully, carefully and deliberately. Do your best to prequalify ideal clients (and weed out unideal one) before you ever begin working together with what knowledge and self-awareness you have at the moment. None of us is perfect or has a crystal ball and sometimes we take on a client who turns out to be not so great later. And sometimes we just outgrow some clients. Either way, never prolong a bad relationship, no matter how much you need the money because the psychological cost is far greater than you can afford. Let those clients go quickly and just feel the weight lifted off your shoulders and that of your business.

And what that means is, you do the best you can with what you have at the time.

You have much more business savvy today than when you first started. And you will continue to learn and grown every day. It’s impossible not to.

That doesn’t mean you won’t make some mistakes, have some missteps, do some second-guessing, and ignore your gut, red flags and the advice of others along the way.

These “mistakes” include clients we choose.

It’s a sure bet that the kind of clients you deem ideal in your business today are not at all the same as those you chose in the beginning. Heck, for most people new in business, any client is a good client.

But then they live and learn. They realize they are not a fit for everybody and not everybody is a fit for them. That’s the beginning of their inklings about standards and getting smarter and more self-aware about who they work best with. They learn through their experiences the kind of clients they want to avoid working with in the future.

In response to this post, Kellye Dash (who permitted me to share the convo with you) wanted to know this:

How do you terminate a client? That’s my challenge. I had a client that questioned every task, every minute billed. She had very little patience too. Every month, I found myself crediting time just to satisfy her. Every month! Yes, I know bad-bad-bad! I let it go on too long and, after several months, the client terminated me! It was not a good situation and I was very upset about it as I felt that I bent over backwards for her. I knew it was bad after about a month in, but felt tied. I wasn’t sure how to end the agreement already in progress in the best possible way. I struggle with how to avoid it from the very beginning. I always meet/speak with potential clients, assess their needs then follow up with the proposal/agreement. How do I decline servicing them if I can tell its a bad match?

So, what Kellye wanted to know wasn’t how to terminate clients, but rather how to avoid bad clients in the first place. And I’ll share with you what I shared with her:

  1. Have a consultation process. And I’m going to plug the ACA consultation guide here because it is the absolute best in our industry and will save you from a WORLD of hurt in the future. A consultation process isn’t just about the phone call itself. There are things that need to happen and be set in place before a client ever contacts you, as well as things that happen in the follow-up that make all the difference in the world in attracting and working with ideal clients and setting the tone for a successful relationship moving forward. My guide lays that blueprint out for you step-by-step, including how to follow-up and what to say in every kind of client scenario:  the ideal client you want to work with, the maybe client, and the unideal client you determine is not a fit and don’t want to work with. Mind you, I don’t just tell you exactly what to do, I explain why these steps are in place so that you gain a really deep understanding and knowledge of this aspect of your business and client psychology.
  2. Get conscious about your business standards and formalize them in writing. This includes clearly outlining your business policies and procedures as they are an important aspect in communicating your standards and boundaries, working more easily with clients and facilitating a more successful relationship. If this is an area you struggle with, my Power Productivity and Biz Management guide can help you. In it, I share my own business policies and management techniques that not only allow me to take exquisite care of my clients, but that also allow me to actually live a very flexible and freedom-filled life (one that most people only pay lip service to, but aren’t actually doing).
  3. Market more like an attorney. It’s a sad fact, but most people in our industry market thesmelves like employees, not independent professionals in a certain expertise. This creates the very first disconnect and misalignment in expectations and understandings. You want clients who treat (and pay) you not only as a peer and administrative expert. Instead, because of your marketing message, you get clients who think you’re merely some sort of substitute employee and want to treat and pay you as such.
  4. Stop making your marketing message all about the money. Besides marketing like employees, the other thing people do in our industry that is causing them problems is making their value ALL about how little clients pay. Think about it. Go to just about any website in our industry and see what the message is. It’s all about how much cheaper they are than an employee, how much the client will save, freebies here, discounts there… Is it any wonder they attract nothing but nitpickers and penny-pinchers? Their own message TELLs clients to think that way. That marketing message is a cattle-call for every cheapskate and freebie seeker out there, the worst kind of clients to deal with. Your value is not in saving clients a dime. Your value is in how much they gain from working with you, how your work and your unique, personal approach improves their business and life and helps them grow and succeed. Talk about THOSE things. (And if you can’t think of anything more valuable about working with you except that you are cheap, then you need to go back to the drawing board.)
  5. Raise your rates! Remember: you are not your ideal client. Price your services according to what your business needs to be profitable and the ability of your IDEAL client to pay, not what you can afford to pay yourself. You can’t afford to work with anyone who can’t afford you. Not charging enough attracts all the worst clients. It is an immutable law of business:  the higher you price, the better kind of clients you attract. This is because your pricing is also part of your marketing positioning. Cheap pricing you get cheap clients.
  6. Stop selling hours and instead price the overall solutions and results. When you use time as the measurement of performance (instead of results), you are training clients to focus on time and so they naturally end up nitpicking your hours. I’m going to point you to my Value-Based Pricing Guide because it is the only one in our industry that can truly teach you how to stop selling hours entirely and instead price and package your support based on value and expertise (the concept and adaptation of this methodology for our industry originated with me).
  7. Use your website as a tool for attracting and prequalifying ideal clients. Your website shouldn’t be just a pretty placemarker on the internet and it shouldn’t be parroting the same industry rhetoric that clients see on everyone else’s website. It should be working to support you in your standards, educating your prospects (to find more fit), setting expectations and understandings for a successful relationship, and prequalifying ideal clients (and avoiding unideal ones). When your site is set up properly for these purposes, you will attract more clients and better, more ideals ones at that. If this is an area you struggle with and your website just isn’t doing much for you, I recently released my proprietary web design blueprint and conversation system for building a website that actually works in our industry. It also includes a plug-n-play process for creating your own unique, compelling marketing message.

Now, all that is about how to avoid bad clients in the first place. But how about when you need to terminate a client? What do you say?

Well, if you use the ACA Retainer Agreement, there is language included that gives both you and the client the option to end the relationship with 20-30 days notice (you decide which).

If you decide that a client relationship is not working for you any longer for whatever reason and you want to end it, you simply exercise your option to terminate the relationship.

I have ended a few client relationships over the years and for me, I’ve found that being honest, to a degree, is the best approach.

What I mean by that is, maybe you absolutely can no longer stand or tolerate a client. Hey, it happens. You chose wrong, ignored red flags and then lived to regret your choice to take on a wrong client.  Does that mean it’s a good idea to tell them exactly how you feel about them? Of course not. It wouldn’t serve you or them.

You don’t have to elaborate or go in-depth. Keep it professional and be heart-felt where/if you can.

There are lots of reasons why a client is no longer a fit, all of which are perfectly legitimate and can be framed in the nicest, most professional way.

For example, maybe they are growing in different directions in their business or you are making changes in yours and you can no longer support or accommodate their needs.

You can even just simply say (particularly if it’s a bad situation), “I feel we are no longer a fit for each other and I think the time has come to end our relationship. I will continue to support you for the next X days according to the terms of our contract.”

And you honor your end of the agreement, do what you can or are willing to do to be helpful and just let them (and all the angst) go. Quickly and cleanly.

Let me know how all this sits with you and any thoughts or questions that come up. I’m happy to continue the conversation in the comments as this is a topic many people struggle with.  :)

Dear Danielle: How Do You Introduce Yourself to Clients & Prospects?

Received a great question today on Facebook that I thought would be helpful to share with you here as well.

Earlier in the week, I posted this:

When you’re running a business, you aren’t anyone’s assistant. When you liberate yourself from that term (and stop subjugating your expertise), you’ll get better clients and command higher fees.

This prompted the question from Lisa:

ok when you contact a clientscustomer or prospect how do you introduce yourself hi I’m so and so’s whatif you can’t say Executive Assistant or assistant what do you say?

Here is the conversation:

ME:  What you’re describing sounds like a cold-calling situation. Is that what you mean? If so, I don’t recommend anyone in professional services engage in cold-calling. Cold-calling is selling, not marketing. No one likes a salesman, which is exactly what prospects will identify you as when you cold-call. When you aren’t cold-calling, but instead marketing and networking and getting people to come to you (i.e., visit your website where they can be educated about what you do and who you do it for), this is a non-issue. Or do you mean something else? If you can elaborate, I will try to help.

LS:  No, not cold calling. I don’t offer that service in my business at all! I offer executive assistance and transcription services (I know you hate that word, assistant, but I’m trying to reorganize my business so for lack of another word for now I’ll use it.) I work with CEOs/Presidents/owners (i.e., executives) from small/medium size companies and provide full-service administrative support to them. Some are home-based, some are office-based. I have 2 right now who are my mainstays. They use my services for 40-60 hours a month consistently; been working with them for 2 and 3 years now. I do heavy calendar management for them. When they ask me to schedule a call or meeting with someone, I need to contact the person either via phone or email to coordinate a date/time to schedule the meeting. Since most don’t know me initially, I feel I need to introduce myself and rignt now I’m saying “this is Lisa, so-so’s assistant.” But maybe I could say, “this is Lisa, I work with so-so and assist him with managing his calendar. Here are some dates/times he is available for a call/meeting, etc.” I would like to learn your concept and change my business image to administrative consultant vs. assistant, but because of the services I offer, there’s a gray area that is confusing me and trips me up. I’m revamping my business, website, processes, etc. but am in transition right now. sorry for long message.

ME:  Nothing to apologize for, Lisa. I really appreciate the genuine question and venturing forth. I LOVE helping people transition out of the assistant mode!

So you mean when you are calling people on behalf of a client, right? In that case, I simply say, Hi, I’m Danielle, so-and-so’s administrator. I instruct clients to identify me this way as well, NEVER to call me their assistant, because I’m not.

This will not be a problem with new clients that you educate/orient fresh, as much as it sometimes can be with old clients who are used to thinking of and working with you like their employee and who need to be re-educated. This is just a fact of life any time you change anything in your business or up your standards. Hopefully, no one gives you any flak, but if they do, you can always point out to them that there are legal ramifications involved. You don’t want them to get in any trouble with the IRS which is why it’s important that you not represent yourself in any way as an employee of that client—because you aren’t, they are your client.

Plus, any client who does give you flak, it’s a sure bet they are not viewing or understanding the relationship correctly and need to be set right. Since when would they tell their accountant or attorney or web designer what to call themselves or how to introduce themselves? They wouldn’t and they have no business or say so about the matter when it comes to you either.

It would probably be a good idea to sit down (figuratively) with each of those clients and have a heart-to-heart with them about the changes in your business and what to expect. Alternatively, because obviously there are practical considerations, if you’re worried about upsetting the status quo with any existing clients, you can continue on with them as you are and just focus your changes and new marketing/educating/orienting approach with new clients. But eventually, I guarantee, as you grow in your new mindsets, there will come a day when you will need for those old clients to get on board or let them go. It’s just natural that we will outgrow some folks who can’t grow with us along the way.

I hope this helps everyone! If you have more questions on this, post them in the comments and I’ll be happy to continue the conversation. :)