Archive for the ‘Working with Clients’ Category

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?

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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

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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. :)

You Are Not Employed by Clients

Short, sweet, but important reminder for you today:

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

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

EXTREMELY important distinction.

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

Do You Want a Job or a Business?

Do You Want a Job or a Business?

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

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

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

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

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

None of it requires you to operate like an employee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stop killing yourself trying to live up to that crap.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The trick is to:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally posted February 10, 2009.

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!)

Is the Client Always Right?

Here’s some fodder for conversation:

How do you balance between making things easy/convenient for your prospects and clients and your standards/boundaries around ideal clients? Where do you draw the line between honoring your standards/boundaries and what makes someone an ideal client for you, and being client-centric?

For example, I was reading an article that was telling business owners they should make themselves available in every way possible (phone, email, mobile, IM, etc.) to accommodate everyone’s contact preferences.

I’ve seen this advice a million times over the years and always thought it was crazy.

That might be true for big business, but as a solopreneur/boutique business, I would go insane being interrupted and contacted every which way like that. Which is why my standards around who makes an ideal client include the fact that they are amenable to MY systems first.

If someone only wants to deal with me on the phone and be able to call me any time they like, they are not an ideal client for me because I can’t run my business and do my work under those conditions.

And besides just the operational impracticalities and boundaries, being too available invites disrespect and makes you look desperate. If you don’t respect yourself to have and honor your boundaries, your clients and prospects won’t either.

Another example: I read an article that said to make it easy for clients to remember appointments and other important dates.

If I can automate or systemize that, great. I have no problem doing that.

But, if it this instead turns out to be a needy client who lives in constant chaos and disorganization and has to be constantly reminded and have their hand held all the time, that’s not an ideal client for me and I wouldn’t work with  them. I’m an administrator, not a babysitter, and my ideal clients need to come to the relationship with some responsibility for themselves.

So where do you draw these lines in your business? Do you get similar advice that makes you second-guess or feel guilty for honoring your boundaries and standards around who is an ideal client for you?