Archive for the ‘Working with Clients’ Category

Too Much Accessibility Is Not a Good Thing

Too Much Accessibility Is Not a Good Thing

Contrary to popular belief, too much accessibility is not a good thing.

This advice column is a good reminder of that.

It uses the example of a co-worker overstepping boundaries, but the same principle applies when it comes to clients: You don’t need to be so instantly available.

In fact, it can actually lead to the opposite effect of what you intend: poor customer service and unrealistic client expectations.

When you respond instantly to every beck and call, you are training your clients to think you have nothing better to do than sit there and jump as soon as they command.

That is NOT a good precedent to set in your administrative support business as it leads to all kinds of boundary overstepping, disrespect (of you and your time as a business owner with other clients to care for), and resentment (and resentment is a relationship-killer).

Keeping some buffer area around you is actually healthy for your business and the relationship.

This is why I’m always advising people in our industry to formalize their communication standards and turn-around times, and then inform clients about those policies and protocols so they know ahead of time how things work in your business and what to expect (as well as what they may not expect).

So whose fault is it when this becomes a problem?

Hint: It’s not the client’s.

That’s like getting mad at someone for calling you in the middle of dinner. You’re the one who answered the phone. They didn’t have a gun to your head. 😉

It’s you who has to adjust the behavior and set the standards.

I don’t let clients call or text me for several reasons:

  1. I don’t want to be chased around and sweated like that.
  2. I’d never get anything done.
  3. I’m not trying to be that technologically connected. Remember: healthy boundaries. Technology should be a tool, not an obsession. There’s a time and purpose for it, but outside of that, I don’t want it taking over and interrupting my life. For me, it’s a conscious decision to keep it to a minimum.
  4. I don’t want to have to chase after a million loose ends scattered all over a bunch of different channels. That just creates more work and chaos that is neither efficient nor a productive use of time and energy. Plus, it allows more room for error. Order is the name of the game.

I inform and instruct clients at the beginning of our relationship that all our communication is to be by email (with separate emails for each separate topic, by the way). Client calls are reserved for our regularly scheduled weekly meetings or by appointment otherwise.

This way, I can use my inbox as the central communication hub, have a “paper” trail (so to speak) for everything, and be able to keep everything organized, sorted and tidy in one place.

So, I tell clients: You can email me any time of day or night, but here is how and when your communications and requests are handled…

(I also explain why these standards are of value and benefit to them: because ultimately, they allow me to provide them with better service and support.)

And then I honor those standards I’ve set and don’t overstep my own boundaries.

Have you formalized your communication and turn-around standards and protocols? Have you incorporated that information into your client guide? Are you going over that information with clients in your new client orientations?

If not, make it a priority to do so now. You’ll thank yourself later, and clients will both respect and be impressed by it.

It demonstrates to them that you have good management skills which gives them greater trust and confidence that you will competently manage and deliver the work you do for them.

And, you’ll be modeling smart business practices that they can implement in their own businesses (with your help).

Better Yet, How Important Is It to YOU?

What Is Important to YOU?

A new colleague posed this question to would-be clients on another forum:

“On a scale of 1-10, one being low and ten being high, how important is it to you to connect on a personal level with your administrative support partner?”

What I want to know is how important is it to YOU to have a personal connection with your clients?

Once you know what kind of clients YOU want, you can focus on attracting the kind of clients who are ideal for you.

A few years ago a colleague came to me seeking help out of a desperate situation in her administrative support business.

She had inherited her business from someone who used others to do the work. So, the clients she also inherited had no personal knowledge or connection with the person(s) who did the work. They just barked orders and expected it to be done.

The problem with that is she came to resent being treated like a robot, like a human vending machine.

Because there was no personal, human connection, these clients treated her poorly, spoke to her disrespectfully, and on top of that, expected everything instantly, and, of course, wanted to pay little or nothing for it.

And there were virtually never any thank-yous or words or gestures of appreciation. That’s what happens when you have an impersonal, transactional relationship with clients: you get treated like a commodity, a human vending machine.

She also didn’t have a business website — and didn’t think she needed one since her practice was already full and she was having difficulty dealing with her current clients as it was.

I explained to her that without a website, she was missing out on the opportunity to humanize her business and fix the very problem she was having.

A website would allow her to put her face and personality on the brand, pre-educate potential clients about how her business works and the kind of clients with whom she was looking to work — thereby presetting expectations and organically prequalifying more ideal client candidates.

You can do the same.

Figure out who would make you most happy working with and gear everything on your website to speak to those types of clients and educate them about who is a fit for you.

This makes for a much happier, more fulfilling business.

You may have to kiss a few frogs before you perfect your client-qualifying criteria. Just don’t think that you have to accept any and every client who comes your way, or that you have to live and die by what clients (think) they want.

YOU get to decide what you want your business to look like and how you want to work with clients and what kind of clients you want to work with. Everything else will fall into place from there.

When you build your business to suit your needs and requisites first, the right clients will follow. You’ll get more ideal clients, and your business will be much more profitable and gratifying.

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How about you? Do you have a business website or are you trying to get by with just a LinkedIn or Facebook account? How much of a personal connection do you prefer with your clients? Have you ever had clients who didn’t treat you like a person?

You Are NOT a Remote Worker

I find it annoying when articles written about people in the administrative support business refer to them as “remote workers.”

People who are running businesses are not “remote workers.”

“Remote worker” is a term of employment meaning “telecommuter” (i.e., an employee who works from home).

Attorneys are not remote workers. Accountants are not remote workers. Web designers are not remote workers. Bookkeepers are not remote workers. Coaches are not remote workers. And neither are people who provide administrative support as a business remote workers.

These are professionals who are in business providing a service and expertise.

This stuff is so important to your mindset in business because how you think of yourself, how you understand your role, directly affects how potential clients see and understand your business as well, and it affects how your relationship rolls out from there.

Discussions like this are good reminders to always keep in mind that how you think about yourself and the service you’re in business to provide and the words and terms you use impacts how you portray your business and how would-be clients see it, and the kind of clients you attract.

If you don’t want clients who treat you like their employee, you need to portray your service in a more business-like (not employee-like) manner.

That includes not using employment terminology in any way — including the word “assistant” or “remote worker.”

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How about you? Did you realize that “remote worker” is a term of employment? Is there content on your website that can be improved so clients are better informed about the nature of your
business-to-business relationship?

I Am Replaceable

 

I was watching a video one recent morning and it reminded me of something that I wanted to share with you:

I am replaceable… and that’s a good thing.

What I mean is this:

I am not indispensable because I keep my clients dependent on me.

I’m indispensable because I empower them to run their own businesses without me if, when and where they need to or should they ever choose to.

Any of them could walk away from me tomorrow and be okay and not lost as to what or where anything is.

If I got sick or anything happened to me (god forbid), they are all in great shape to be able to take over and run with things themselves.

I don’t withhold their own information from them (e.g., think web designers who withhold passwords or sign up for client domains and hosting in their own names instead of the client’s).

I don’t make them have to go through me to get access to their own documents, administration and services.

I specifically use certain tools and work with clients in ways that they always have access to everything they need.

They stay with me by choice, not because they’re stuck and it would be too much trouble to extricate themselves.

They stay because I make their business (and life) better. I ease their burdens. They have less stress and more free time.

Because I’m good at what I do and always do what I say I will, they trust me implicitly.

Those are the best reasons for clients to stick with you.

How to Come Back from Burnout

How to Come Back from Burnout

A recent article I came across on Lifehacker (What Causes Burnout and How to Avoid It) inspired some thoughts about burnout.

Burnout happens to everyone in our business, to varying degrees, at one time or another.

Some of it is the natural ebb and flow of things, and it’s good to be cognizant of that.

It’s also not necessarily a permanent state. There are some underlying causes for burnout that you have some measure of control over.

For example, burnout can happen if we don’t feel appreciated in our work, if we aren’t getting enough positive (or any) feedback from clients, if we’re being treated like a peon rather than a respected administrative partner:

Burnout can also happen when we over-complicate our business. What are some of the things you can examine there?

  • Can your systems and processes be simplified?
  • Are you making exceptions to your normal processes for certain clients? (Maybe it’s time to stop doing that.)
  • Are you billing by the hour and tracking time for clients and submitting time reports to them? Maybe it’s time to stop doing that as well.  (That was a rhetorical question. Yes, it’s HIGH time everyone stops doing that!).
  • Are you charging different rates for different clients? How about deciding what and how you charge and applying it to ALL of your clients?

Every exception you make, every standard you step over, every policy you bend, is making your business (and life) more difficult. More ease goes a long way in curing burnout.

Maybe you aren’t charging enough and constantly being broke is bringing you down. Well, things are never going to change until you do something different.

What could you differently there? RAISE YOUR FEES, SISTAH!

The alternative is to stay broke and unhappy in your business, which I’m going to guess is not what you went to the trouble of starting it for, now is it?

  • If you’ve never done any kind of proper business planning around fees, be sure to download our free ACA Income & Pricing Calculator. This is going to help you get clear and conscious about the economics of business and what you really need to be charging for a profitable, sustainable business that will earn what you need to thrive.
  • Get off the hourly-billing merry-go-round — because it’s killing your business. Watch this video to learn why.
  • Learn how to implement value-based pricing instead in your administrative support business. This will teach you a whole other simpler, yet more profitable, way to run your business and offer your support.

Have you experienced a bit of burnout at any time in your business? What did you feel was the root cause of the burnout? Were you able to overcome it and get inspired again? What helped you?

What We Mean by “Partnering” with Clients

What We Mean By Partnering with Clients

Partnering is a word we use often in our industry.

Sometimes people (both in and outside our industry) don’t know what we mean when we use that word in relation to administrative support. They don’t understand why a partnering relationship is useful to them.

We’re actually talking about a few things when we use the term partnering:

  1. We’re referring descriptively to the personal, one-on-one, ongoing relationship between two people (as opposed to an occasional, impersonal one where the work is a one-time or sporadic series of transactions with no deeper relationship than that).
  2. We’re referring to fit and chemistry.
  3. And most importantly and beneficial to clients, we’re talking about the sympatico, intuitive, shared body of knowledge and understanding that occurs when a client works with an administrative support partner in an ongoing relationship.

This is the only way to get to know and understand a client and his/her business at any deeper level.

The benefit and value of this, of course, is that clients get someone who “learns” them: who they are and how they think, how they like things done, what their frustrations and annoyances are, what their challenges and obstacles are, what their idiosyncratic workstyle is, and what their bigger picture goals and aspirations are.

It’s only in that kind of personal, ongoing relationship that an administrative partner can learn to anticipate her client’s needs in a variety of ways. As they get to know each other more and more, an administrative partner can work and think more independently on behalf of her client and complete work with that “big picture” context and understanding of the client’s business in mind.

The client then doesn’t have to repeat him/herself over and over to every different person and can feel more confident and at ease in letting go and allowing things to get done on his/her behalf.

This makes the client’s life infinitely easier, and he/she has more time to focus on other things.

By investing in the relationship for the long-term, clients eventually get someone who is always working in a way that supports their needs, their interests, their ways and their objectives in mind, just as the client would themselves.

The longer they work together, the more that knowledge and understanding grows, and the easier it is to work and do more together.

But that only happens within an ongoing, one-on-one relationship.

A cog in a wheel is just that — a cog.

A cog’s ability to think critically and act independently (which is of huge benefit to clients) is extremely hindered. The left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing (or only knows a very limited or isolated part).

Working in that context requires a lot more effort from the client, which can add to their exhaustion and overwhelm and burden.

It certainly doesn’t free up more of their time because they have to oversee and micro-manage all the myriad moving parts.

If they had an administrative partner, on the other hand, someone who takes on certain roles and functions accordingly, that is tremendously freeing for clients.

It’s important to keep in mind that clients don’t know everything and are often too close to their own businesses to see the forest for the trees (as we all are).

As someone who is able to get to know a client’s business nearly as well as they do themselves, by virtue of that deeper, ongoing relationship, an administrative partner can be immensely helpful and valuable to the client by being able to see and bring to attention those things which the client might not know or see from their perspective.

That said, we shouldn’t expect that clients already know and understand this value. They might think, I just need someone who will do what I tell them to do.

But that is a cog, a trained monkey — not an administrative partner.

That’s why it’s always our job as Administrative Consultants to help our potential clients understand how administrative partnering and working in a long-term, continuous — not transactional — relationship can be tremendously valuable to them.

Like any of us, so often it’s the case that they simply don’t know what they don’t know. So the more you develop and lead the client through your own processes, the more you define the roles and functions you can take on for them, the easier you make it for them to see and understand that value.

Flunkies and gophers are a dime a dozen. Their value and usefulness is also extremely limited. Clients don’t expect to pay them much more than that either. 😉

But that’s not what you are as an Administrative Consultant.

As Seth Godin so elegantly puts it: You are not a task rabbit. You’re a professional doing unique work that matters.

RELATED ARTICLE: I’m Not Your Partner?

RESOURCE: If you want a bit of extra help articulating to clients the value and benefits of working together, you can also direct them to the ACA Client Guide.

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What has been your experience with this? Do you ever have trouble articulating your value to clients? Do they ever have trouble “getting” it?

That’s Not How This Works, That’s Not How ANY of This Works

That's Not How This Works, That's Not How ANY of This Works

You know, we always see these articles constantly telling clients who want to get help from those of us in the administrative support business that they need to instruct us on this, tell us how to do that, yada yada yada… as if how the consultation will proceed, how our businesses and processes work, what we do and don’t do and how we do it are all up to them — like they were hiring an employee.

And all I can do is shake my head as I read these confounded articles and think:

“Um, no. That’s not how this works. That’s not how ANY of this works.”

First of all, clients aren’t (or at least shouldn’t be thinking they are) hiring a trained monkey.

Second of all, if a client is talking to anyone who doesn’t have the faintest idea of her own processes in her own business, that is not someone any client should be engaging with.

The client will be pulling her hair out before the month is out trying to elicit any form of independent thought or critical thinking from the person who is waiting to be told what to do every step of the way.

That’s no help to clients in the least little way.

Figuring it all out or having to tell you how to do everything isn’t a burden clients should need to bear.

That’s YOUR job as an independent administrative expert and business owner: to have your own consultation process that you lead clients through that works to elicit the information YOU need to form a picture of the client and their business, develop a plan of support, and guide, recommend and advise clients on where and how you can help them and the best place to start.

Of course, I should clarify that these articles are always written about “virtual assistants,” not Administrative Consultants.

That’s because people only understand the word “assistant” one way: employee.

So it’s no wonder they are confused.

But this is business — not employment — so they need to be disabused of the notion that they’re running things.

One way you do that is by not calling yourself an assistant in the first place.

They’re the client, not the dictator of how our businesses and processes work. It’s not up to them to tell you how things will proceed.

It’s their place to contact you to inquire whether you might be able to help them, and for you to inform them what the next step is in your process of finding that out and then leading them competently through your systems (as any independent business owner would).

Yet another example of why smart people in the administrative support business do not call themselves assistants. 😉

How to Manage Last-Minute Work Requests at the End of the Month

In view of recent inquiries from colleagues, today I’d like to point you to one of my classic posts that relates to setting and managing client expectations through the policies and procedures you institute in your practice, and working with clients in a way that honors your standards and boundaries around self-care, effective business management, and quality of work and client-care.

Dear Danielle: How Can I Handle Last Minute Work Requests at the End of the Month?

Why Should I Pay that When I Can Get a Temp or Offshore VA for $5 Bucks an Hour?

Ever hear a client utter these words?

It’s probably the most grating sentence in our industry today.

But what if you knew exactly how to respond?

What if you offered your services in a way that didn’t focus whatsoever on hourly rates?

Wouldn’t that be a total game changer?

It’s not so annoying when you actually begin to love responding to that question (or when you no longer get it in the first place). ;)

…If you frequently encounter price resistance with clients and want to know what to do about it;

…If you have trouble getting clients to commit;

…If you struggle with articulating your value to clients, talking about your fees, and feeling confident about them;

…If you find the whole topic of pricing difficult, I have the solution!

It’s my value-priced packaging and pricing guide, How to Price and Package Your Support Based on Hours & Expertise — NOT Selling Hours

Value-Based Pricing & Packaging Guide: How to Price and Package Your Support Based on Value and Expertise—NOT Selling Hours (GDE39)

This guide will show you how to:

  • Attract more clients, more easily;
  • Make more money;
  • Create an easier business to run;
  • And toss out those time sheets forever!

…all without discounting, bargaining, or justifying your fees whatsoever!

The Heartbreaking Reality for Most Businesses in Our Industry

I came across something utterly heartbreaking a few weeks ago.

I’ve been sitting on it for awhile, going back and forth about whether or not to have a conversation around it.

I never want to discourage anyone from this business or have anyone take things the wrong way. Because if you set things up right, it is an AMAZING business and lifestyle.

However, it’s a cold, hard truth that no one ever talks about in our industry.

And the problem with not talking about things that are uncomfortable, that aren’t all “rah, rah, kumbaya” all the time, is that you can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge.

What was this thing I came across? An ad for a “Virtual Assistant Business For Sale.”

And what is this cold, hard truth I speak of? It’s that most people in our industry are not profitable and not making the kind of money they can actually live on.

You see, the sad thing about this ad is that it isn’t an exception. It’s actually a very accurate example reflective of what most of the businesses in our industry look like.

Now, before I dissect this for you, I first want to make it absolutely clear: It is not that people can’t make more money in our kind of business; they absolutely can! YOU absolutely can!

It’s simply that they are being taught by the industry at large in all the worst possible ways to price, operate and market themselves (like calling yourself a “virtual assistant”). And it’s keeping them poor, overworked and overwhelmed.

The fortunate thing is that YOU always have the possibility to learn better so that your business can do better for you.

And that always benefits your clients because you can’t take good care of others if your needs aren’t taken care of first.

Here is the ad:

The Heartbreaking Reality for Most Businesses in Our Industry

Let’s examine the problematic issues here:

  1. We see that the business has been around for 11 years. Great! After that amount of time, you’d expect them to be earning really well.
  2. Yet in the first bullet we see they are only making £1900/mo (British Pound) which is $2363.98/mo USD. After that many (11) years, why are they still making that little money? Those are poverty-level wages. Did they mean perhaps that this is the average value per client?
  3. Unfortunately, no, we see in the next bullets that after 11 years they have only 1 retainer client at only £350 GBP/$435.39 USD per month. The rest of their revenues come from 15 regular (but uncommitted/non-retainer) clients and 20 ad hoc clients, which I’m interpreting to mean an average of 20 project clients each month. The problem is that at this number of clients they should be making several thousands of dollars per month! I can’t even imagine (well, actually, I can) how overwhelmed and overworked they are… and for such a paltry sum on money! To give some context/frame of reference, I make more with just one of my retainer clients than they make in an entire month from 36 clients.
  4. They also mention having relationships with two typists. This business owner is barely making ends meet at these figures, where on earth is there any margin to pay anyone else? (Answer: there isn’t.) It means that they are doing all this work at a loss! Especially at gross figures that don’t even account for expenses, operating costs, taxes, etc.
  5. This is not a profitable business in any way, shape or form. What has most likely happened is that burnout caught up to them (no wonder!) and they are now trying to unload the sinking ship. But there are no assets of any value to sell here. The clients it has are being charged such an ungodly little amount, there is almost no way in hell to ever reset those kind of expectations. They’ve branded and positioned this business as “cheap” and there is just nowhere you can go with that. It would be faster, easier and less costly for you to create a business from scratch and establish the brand based on properly set foundations and expectations and charging higher, more profitable professional fees.

Don’t misunderstand me. This examination is in no way a denigration of the business’s owner.

Rather, it’s utterly heartbreaking to me that they have made so little money working with too many clients with basically no commitment and constant churn. I wish I’d had the opportunity to help them early on.

When we talk about these things, there are always a certain number of people who don’t understand why it’s so important to have these conversations.

But bringing this consciousness to the fore is integral to being able to improve things so you can better earn in your own business.

It’s why I’m always talking about money, how you are marketing and positioning your business and brand, how not charging profitably sets you up for failure, about how the expectations and perceptions you create in clients directly affect your ability to charge properly and earn well.

These are the topics that will make or break your business.

It’s this fundamental business education — and not the latest, greatest software or tools — that is key to creating a profitable, sustainable business where you can get, work with and keep great clients (clients worth having who value you, not cheapos looking for a free handout), make great money and that works around and enriches your life and what’s important to you (instead of the business running you).

What could this person have done differently?

  1. Business planning. Going through the exercise of business planning forces you to think through and get clear and conscious about all the important details of your business such as your needs, goals and intentions around money, what kind of clients you want to work with and are worth working with, and what business standards, policies and procedures to establish accordingly.
  2. Getting off the project work merry-go-round. A business based on project work needs a shit-ton of clients and work in order to stay alive. It’s a constant, never-ending hamster wheel of marketing, even while you already have clients and work to take care of in front of you, and you never know where your next meal is coming from. Nothing wrong with project work, but think of it as secondary income, the gravy to the meat and potatoes where you make your “real” money.
  3. Expecting a commitment. Retainer clients (clients who pay a monthly fee upfront for a plan of support) are where the real money is at. A commitment of working together each month allows you to do your best work and gives you something to actually work with to achieve a tangible, demonstrable value and results for clients. But of course, if you don’t ever expect a commitment, you’ll never get one. That’s why it’s so important to set standards in your business around what’s important to you. An expectation that clients must make a minimum commitment to be given a place on your client roster is a standard that will serve you (and your clients) well, even if some of them might not understand that at first. (You’ll have a far easier time getting commitments if you learn how to set up and navigate the whole consultation process and pricing conversation.)
  4. Get clear and conscious about the money. Charging fees based on what you see others charging (who are more often than not just as lost as everyone else) is the worst way to set your fees. It’s not about what everyone else is charging (stop looking at them!). It’s about knowing what your target market values, how you can improve their circumstances with your support and what they gain from working with you, and learning how to articulate that value to them in the context of their business and goals.
  5. Choosing a target market. This business is all over the map when it comes to who their clients are and the work they’re doing. And that is a huge part of the problem. Very simply, a target market is an industry/field/profession that you focus your administrative support on. This specialization is key to making the big bucks. That’s because when you know who it is you are focusing on, you can determine very quickly and clearly what they do in their business and what their common needs, goals, challenges, values and interests are and then develop your support solutions around those things. Your offerings will be much more interesting and compelling that way, and you’ll be able to charge more (because there will be more relevant, specific, higher perceived value) and get clients more quickly and easily.
  6. CHARGING MORE! At the poor fees this business would have to charging to account for so little monthly/annual revenue, it’s a clue that the business owner is not understanding the economics of business. You simply can’t charge rates that amount to employee wages and expect to earn well. Business is a completely different ballgame. It’s why I’m constantly reminding people, you are NOT an employee, you’re a business. There’s also this crazy, but nonetheless immutable law of business:  The more you charge, the better clients you get. And what do we mean by better clients? Client who value you and what you offer. Clients who are invested and make the commitment to working together. Clients who aren’t looking for the free buffet. Clients who are loyal to you and the good work and results you provide them with, not how little they can pay. When you have better clients who make a monthly financial commitment to working together toward established goals, you can make more money working with fewer clients and have more time for your own life in the process.
  7. Stop calling yourself an “assistant.” One of the reasons people have a hard time charging more or seeing their value in a different light (and gaining some business self-esteem and confidence) is because so many of them insist on calling themselves “virtual assistants.” This keeps them thinking of themselves as employees and seeing things through that lens instead of from an entrepreneurial/business mindset. Here’s what you need to understand: Assistant is a term of employment, not business. Terminology (just like pricing) is a part of marketing. How you price and the words and terms you use to describe yourself have a direct influence on how clients perceive you and the expectations, perceptions and understandings they come to the table with. When you call yourself an “assistant,” they don’t look at you as a business owner and advisor. You are teaching them to view you as a type of subservient employee, and what they expect to pay is based on that wrong, harmful perception. When you call yourself an “assistant,” you are predisposing them to value you less, not more.  If you want to be able to charge higher, more appropriately profitable fees, you have to create the proper context. The verbiage and terminology you use directly impacts that context.

I have a couple of complimentary (as in free) business-building tools that shed a ton more light on all of this and will help you course-correct in your own business. If you don’t have them yet, be sure to go get them now.

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How about you? Why did you go into this business? I’m assuming a large part of it is that you love putting your administrative talents to use and helping clients and truly making a difference in their businesses and lives.

I can’t imagine that it gives anyone joy to be broke and working too hard for too little money. So over and above that, how do you want your own life enriched and improved by owning and running your own business? What are your money aspirations? What does “profitable” and “financially successful” mean to you?

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