Archive for the ‘You Are NOT an Assistant’ Category

Bargaining for Your Value Is Doing Nothing for Your Business

Bargaining for Your Value Is Doing Nothing for Your Business

You aren’t going to convince clients to pay your fees because you have taxes and bills to pay.

And telling them you are more affordable because they don’t have to pay for breaks and lunches is not compelling either.

(When is the last time you heard any other business professional use that kind of bargaining to market their expertise?)

All that does is put them even more in cheapskate mentality.

Calling yourself an assistant results in the same.

Your value also has no relation to what you or they charge per hour (and by the way, it’s high time you stopped charging by the hour anyway).

Your value isn’t in how little they pay (stop making that argument or you’ll forever be stuck with cheapskate clients who want everything for little to nothing).

Your value is in what they gain by working with you:

How many more clients are they able to work with? How much more marketing and networking are they able to engage in? How much more are they able to get done in a day, a week, a month? How much more free time do they have to brainstorm, develop their business, or plain live life?

Are they able to get those projects done that have been on the back-burner for forever? Are they finally able to write that book, complete that training program, or write that signature talk they’ve been dreaming of? How much have their revenues increased or have the potential to increase as a result? How many more dollars per year does that represent?

How do they profit in their life from working with you beyond money? How much easier and stress-free are their life and business?

How much are those results and accomplishments worth to them?

THESE are the things to be talking about, not “you only pay for time on task and don’t pay for office equipment, lunches, breaks or vacations.”

Do you see how silly and pedestrian the latter is in comparison?

Which do you think will excite potential clients more and fill them with the sense of abundance and possibility?

Delete “Self-Employed Worker” from Your Business Vocabulary

Delete "Self-Employed Worker" from Your Business Vocabulary

Do you want clients who treat you like their beck-and-call employee or as a trusted business professional delivering a valuable expertise?

If it’s the latter, then delete the words “self-employed worker” from your business vocabulary.

When you are self-employed, you’re not a worker, you are a business, period. (That’s a legal distinction, not an opinion.)

This all goes back to properly educating clients about the correct nature of the relationship.

If you set the perception that you are some kind of little worker bee, that’s exactly how they are going to think of and treat the relationship.

The first place you nip that in the bud — so that you can get more ideal clients who properly treat and understand the relationship as a business-to-business one — is through the language and
terminology you use.

Dear Danielle: Client Won’t Stop Calling Me Her Assistant

Dear Danielle: Client Won't Stop Calling Me Her Assistant

Dear Danielle:

Hi there! I am looking for your advice on a matter. I quite often will attend meetings or business functions with my clients. They tend to introduce me as their “assistant,” even though I have brought it to their attention that I am not an “assistant.” What would you suggest I have them introduce me as? Or how to go about ensuring it doesn’t continue to happen? —KP

Hi KP 🙂

Good question. It’s one I get a lot from people who are trying to transition away from the “assistant” model to administrative business owner.

The first thing you can do immediately is add a component to your Client Guide and new client orientations that instructs clients on exactly what to call you and how to introduce you to others.

In my own practice, I tell clients to refer to me as their administrator (for short) or Administrative Consultant (for more formal situations).

Next, put together a form letter/email and send it out to all your current clients so everyone is equally informed and updated at the same time and no one is singled out.

The side benefit to this kind of communication is that seeing it come from your business as a general communication helps underscore the fact that they are working with a business, not an employee.

Which leads us back to the original question: what to do about a client who continues to call you this when you have repeatedly asked them not to.

On the one hand, it could be an innocent mistake.

It is sometimes difficult to rid clients of old habits when they’ve been with us awhile. In which case, a heart-to-heart conversation with the client would be in order.

You could start the discussion, for example, with something like this:

“We’ve talked a few times about what I prefer to be called and how I ask my clients to refer to me when introducing me to others. This is something that’s important to me and my business. I’ve noticed that you still call me your assistant in those situations. Is there a reason why? What can I do to help you remember how to introduce me?”

I would very intentionally incorporate use of the words “client” and “business” to help this client understand the nature of the relationship. Because it’s also often the case that they simply haven’t been properly educated about that (which is on us, not them) and so they very innocently, but still mistakenly, may think you are an assistant.

And then listen to what they have to say and work toward a solution.

Of course, if you have a client who doesn’t give a good darn about your feelings and wishes, you have to ask yourself, “Is this a client who respects me? If there’s no mutual respect, is this someone I should be working with?”

Here are some blog posts that expand on this topic further that I think you’ll find helpful:

Dear Danielle: How to You Introduce Yourself to Clients and Prospects?

How to Have Clients Help Promote Your Business

Dear Danielle: This Client Is About to Ask Me to Pose as His Employee

Thanks for the question, KP. Let me know if this was useful to you. 🙂

***

Have you ever been in this situation? How did you handle it? Do you think my tips will help you better educate your clients and navigate this in the future?

Shaping the Relationship with Your Words

I never use the word “outsource” or “delegate,” and I don’t let clients use that kind of terminology with me either.

They aren’t delegating or outsourcing to me any more than they “delegate or “outsource” to their attorney or accountant or designer, etc.

I’m not their lackey. I’m a professional they engage so that they can benefit from my valuable expertise (in our case as Administrative Consultants, that is the expertise of administrative support).

We work together collaboratively (together being the operative word here) on administrative work and goals they have entrusted to me.

This kind of languaging changes the flavor of the relationship in the way I need for clients to see and understand it: as their business peer, administrative expert and trusted advisor.

Clients come to you with varying degrees of understanding about what you do, how you work together, and what the nature of your relationship will be.

Many may not have the faintest idea about what we do.

Others might have some vague notion that it’s like having an employee only you work from home for them (which would be wrong).

Others may have read an article filled with all kinds of misinformation and come to the table with the wrong preconceived ideas and expectations entirely.

This is why it’s always your job to educate and inform clients when they come to your website in the way you need them to be, so they have an accurate understanding about these things and approach you with the appropriate mindset and manner.

This makes for far more ideal client candidates and getting and working with those clients much easier.

The words you use are setting perceptions and expectations in clients, painting a picture for them of how to understand the relationship.

How are you educating yours?

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.”

***

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?

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. 😉

I’m Not Anyone’s Sidekick (and Neither Are You)

I'm No Sidekick (and Neither Are You)

Words have power. They’ve been used for centuries to subjugate others and keep them in their place.

Words have kept people thinking small about themselves. With the flick of a switch, they’ve also helped them reshape their perceptions and step into their own power and sovereignty.

It’s why the feminist movement insisted on changing accepted language — they recognized that being called “girls” was a micro-aggression meant to infantilize women.

So, of course, I snorted in derision when I first heard the word “sidekick” being tossed around to describe those in the administrative support business.

I feel about anyone referencing me as a “sidekick” in relation to clients the same way this woman feels being referred to as Macklemore’s “sidekick.”

It’s fundamentally insulting as a full-grown, professional woman and business owner. It’s a condescending verbal pat on the head, a throwback to employment mentality that has no place in business in this day and age.

I’m as disdainful of the word “sidekick” in business as I am “assistant.”

That’s because using subservient words and terms of employment (such as “assistant”) to identify yourself keeps you in a subservient mindset, consciously and unconsciously.

It also causes clients to view you not so much as their valued and respected administrative expert and adviser, but as their minion and order-taker.

Would you call your doctor or attorney or accountant or designer your sidekick?

Do you think that would be a respectful way to identify and address them?

How do you think that would go over with them if you did?

Why then would you feel the need to call yourself an assistant or sidekick?

It’s a form of self-talk. What you call yourself has a way of seeping into your psyche. With a more respectful, business-appropriate term, you can raise yourself up to better lead your business and more positively affect how your prospects and clients approach the relationship with you.

If you think it doesn’t matter what you call yourself either way, then why not adopt a more respectful term that will lead to more respectful exchanges with clients and prospects?

If you are really working with clients who value you as much as you say they do, they will happily support you as you raise your standards around the business terminology you use.

And your new clients won’t know the difference because they’ll refer to you in whatever way you inform them to.

I don’t need to be Robin to serve my clients well and deliver my expertise to them. We can both be Batman in our respective businesses who value and respect each other as equals.

***

What thoughts, feelings or questions does this bring up for you? Does it spur any soul-searching? Can you think of a way in which calling yourself an assistant kept you thinking small in your business? Have you already embraced the idea that you are a business owner, not an assistant, with a valuable expertise to offer?

A Brief History of the Administrative Support Business

A Brief History of the Administrative Support BUSINESS

A while back, one of my new-at-the-time colleagues asked me this question:

I guess I’m too new to the industry so I’m lost with the concept “team VA” or “multi-team VA.” And “partnering with clients?” It sounds interesting though, could you define for the benefit of the clueless (me)? Thanks!

To understand these terms and concepts, it’s helpful to know the evolution of our industry. With that in mind, here’s a quick history of the administrative support industry.

Originally there were secretarial services. That industry had been around for decades, since at least the 40s or 50s and probably earlier.

However, secretarial services were sort of like a print shop: where someone would go, for example, to get a quick typing or desktop publishing job completed by someone on an ad hoc/incidental basis.

Think of it sort of like a drive-through typing service. It was project-based and there was no deeper role of the secretarial service in a client’s business or consistent relationship than that.

Then, in the late 80s/early 90s, the concept of administratively supporting clients remotely as a business became more formally realized. This new business model differed very distinctly from secretarial services in that the idea was to:

  1. provide a spectrum of across-the-board administrative support to clients (not simply typing or data entry), in
  2. an ongoing, collaborative, partnering relationship (as opposed to the ad hoc/incidental/occasional/sporadic/project-based nature of the secretarial service business model).

In the early 90s, a life/business coach by the name of Thomas Leonard coined the term “virtual assistant” that this new industry adopted in large part to describe this new and distinctly different kind of administrative support business.

What’s funny/interesting is that when the secretarial service industry was first introduced to this idea of an administrative support/partnering business, it was met with cold-shouldered resistance and disapproval (much as most “newfangled” things are met by people who don’t yet understand them).

After a few years, however, more and more these same secretarial services who sneered at the idea started calling themselves “virtual assistants” even while they were still operating as project-based secretarial services (clearly only adopting the term without understanding the concept).

More and more people started using the term “virtual assistant” without understanding the original business concept around it. Which is no wonder: it’s an ambiguous term and one that those in our business didn’t even coin themselves.

Then there came onto the scene people whose thinking was “I know! I’ll make money having a business where I don’t do any of the work (perhaps don’t even have the expertise or administrative background myself), I simply outsource it to third parties, preferably at cheap, third-world rates.”

At the same time, there were others who wanted to have a one-stop-shop kind of business where they had colleagues and others who did things they did not. In this way, they could say (for example) they did web design when really all they were doing is having someone else do that work.

Both of these distinct groups began calling this sub-genre a “multi-VA/team-VA” business.

The problem with this term, however is that:

  1. legally speaking, unless these people are your employees, they are not part of your team, and using that terminology will cause the IRS to think you are engaging in illegal misclassification;
  2. it’s not a collaborative/partnering relationship as defined by the administrative support business concept; and
  3. there is already a term for that kind of relationship between colleagues who are not employees of each other. It’s called “subcontracting.” 😉

In the early 2000s, there also began to be discussions around the aptness of the “virtual assistant” term. Too many people who were not running actual administrative support businesses were co-opting the term, bastardizing it for their own purposes, and confusing the marketplace.

Another problem with the term is that clients commonly do not understand the relationship. They mistakenly think it is one of employer/employee and treat it (and devalue it) accordingly.

It erroneously shapes their expectations and perceptions in negative ways that cause people in our industry problems. That’s because people only understand the word “assistant” one way: employee. Which is why calling themselves assistants was causing a whole host of misalignments in expectations and understandings.

Therefore, a large contingent of people in the administrative support industry began having a conversation around moving away from the “virtual assistant” term and adopting/coining a new term for those of us who were very specifically running ongoing administrative support businesses where we work with clients in actual collaborative partnering relationships.

That’s when our group ultimately landed on the term Administrative Consultant and the benefits have been multi-faceted:

  1. It’s a term WE chose for ourselves, not one that was foisted upon us and defined by a client (who at the time when he was working with his own VAs acted like he thought he was their employer, not their client).
  2. It more clearly denotes our BUSINESS OWNER/CONSULTANT (i.e., NOT employee) status and the fact that our business is specifically administrative in nature.
  3. It isn’t ambiguous and leaves little room for misinterpretation.
  4. It sets better expectations, understandings and perceptions in clients about the correct nature of the relationship (business-to-business, not employer/employee).
  5. In turn, this improves our consultation conversations, the demeanor with which potential clients approach us (i.e., professionally rather than like an employer seeking a worker bee), and our ability to command proper professional-level fees (not employee slave wages).

To be clear, the Administrative Consultant term was never intended to replace the “virtual assistant” term. Many of the people using that term are not running administrative support businesses so our term does not apply to them.

Our term is only meant for those who are specifically running administrative support businesses and who work with clients in true collaborative, partnering relationships. If that’s the kind of business you are running, we encourage you to use the Administrative Consultant term because it is going to help improve how clients view and understand your business and how they treat you as a fellow business owner.

What You Call Yourself IS Important

What you call yourself is the VERY first place you are training clients how to treat you.

What you call yourself absolutely matters in shaping in client perceptions and expectations in the way YOU want them to be set.

If you continually have clients who treat you like like an employee and do not approach the relationship with the professionally respectful demeanor of a business equal, the first place you can begin changing that story is by not calling yourself an assistant.

Because when you are in business, you are NOT an assistant, no matter what the clueless out there try to tell you otherwise.

Dear Danielle: Should I Choose a Name Looking to the Future of My Business or Just Go with Virtual Assistant?

Dear Danielle: Should I Choose a Name Looking to the Future of My Business or Just Go with Virtual Assistant?

Dear Danielle:

I’m just starting out in this adventure and I’m having trouble choosing a business name. I’ve read your blog on Administrative Consultant and I’m intrigued, BUT I’m just starting out and will be doing anything and everything from answering phones to data entry.  Should I choose a name looking to the future of my business or just go with virtual assistant? I appreciate your help with this. — Karen E.

Hi Karen 🙂

I see you that you did notice the name of this organization. That’s good. Because I do need for people to understand that this is NOT a virtual assistant organization. This is an organization for Administrative Consultants.

What that means is if people want to ask me questions, I’m happy to help, but they need to pay attention to details (which is an important qualification in this business) and respect the proper terminology used in this organization.

Here is our position on the VA term: “Virtual Assistant” is a term of employment and has no place in any business owner’s vocabulary. It most certainly has no place in our organization or conversations.

I’m here to help people put on their big girl business britches, not perpetuate detrimental, employee mindsets.

That starts with encouraging them to hold themselves and what they do in higher esteem and not use terms of employment to describe themselves, which is counterproductive to every single effort they must make in starting and growing a business successfully.

Why do I point this out? Because your choice of words and terminology directly impacts everything in your business from getting clients, the kind of clients your marketing and terminology attracts, their correct or incorrect perceptions and expectations about the nature of the relationship, the demeanor and attitude with which they approach the relationship, your ability to command professional level fees… EVERYTHING.

Are there folks out there who aren’t ready to think bigger about themselves and what they do? Yes, of course.

There are also people who aren’t really focused on being anything specifically in business, who are better described as gophers. They are more in business to be this, that and the other and letting clients dictate their roles and what they are in business to do.

For them, the VA term is actually the better fit.

But that’s not who this organization is for. We don’t cater to those folks or old ways of thinking and operating.

Our interest, and who this organization is for, are those who are specifically focused on the business of providing administrative support.

The people who are attracted to the ACA tend to have a more sophisticated view of business and the administrative work they do. They are ready to gain deeper understandings and engage in new ways of thinking and doing things in order to continue to more positively grow their business, strengthen their business skills, get more ideal clients and make more money while operating in a way that allows them to still have plenty of time for a great life.

So, with that understanding in place, here’s my advice:

What will help you answer these questions for yourself is going through the exercise of completing a business plan.

You have to decide for yourself what kind of business you want to be in, what you want your work to consist of and what you want your days to look like.

One question that really helps is asking yourself, why do I want to be in business for myself? What am I hoping to achieve? Is this just to earn a little side money or do I want/need my business to be financially sustainable and profitable enough that I can earn an actual living from it?

And then build your business around the answers to those questions.

It’s not enough to “just want to make some money from home.” Because being able to do that is not as simple as that.

It takes intention and thoughtful preparation and foresight in setting up the business, creating standards around what you want for yourself and from the business, and what kind of work and clients will bring and sustain happiness and joy in your business so you can both do your best work for them AND remain in business for a long time to come.

As far as naming your business, I have a category on my blog called Naming Your Business that will give you excellent some guidance and helpful insights and advice. All of the articles in this category are very important in gaining deeper understanding about the importance of how you name your business and will raise your consciousness around that task.

And then this one specifically will give you some practical tips for coming up with a unique and differentiating name for your business: How to Name Your Business for Success

I would like to address something else as well.

You mentioned answering phones. This idea tends to come from people thinking that being in this business will be the same as being an employee/administrative assistant and nothing could be further from the truth.

I try to get people to understand that how and when they support clients is not the same as when they were an employee and is going to look much different once they are in business for themselves.

For both legal and practical reasons, you can’t be someone’s administrative assistant in the same way you were as an employee. They are just two completely different animals and trying to do so will keep you from creating a real business that has room for enough clients that you can actually earn a real living.

I personally have never answered phones for any client, and I wouldn’t dream of taking on that work because it would keep me tied to a phone day in and day out, which is NOT what I went into business for.

I’m not saying you have to do what I do, but in my experience, most of the people who think they are going to act as their clients’ receptionist really haven’t thought that idea all the way through about what their business and day-to-day life would be like being chained to a phone and computer all day long answering calls for clients.

Most of them, once they really think about it, realize that’s not what they really want to do. It’s more simply that they don’t know what else they could be doing for clients so they can only think in the most general, generic, traditional terms.

So, I always ask people who bring it up: Is answering phones what you really want to be in the business of doing? Have you really considered what that would actually be like and how it would impact your goals and ideals and what you envision for your business and life? Take a moment and try to picture what your days would look like doing that work.

It’s okay if that is work you want to do (you can always change your mind later if you realize it isn’t and chalk it up to a learning experience). Just make sure you are going into it consciously and intentionally with eyes wide open. Because answering phones can very quickly and easily turn you into a receptionist with little time or concentration to do anything else.

And you don’t need a business to do that. You can get a telecommuting job answering phones and still work from home if that’s your aspiration. When it comes to that kind of work, there are businesses already set up to do that work and get clients and you could simply apply for an employee position with them.

There are four posts on my blog in the category Answering Client Phones. Check those out as I think you’ll find them very illuminating on the whole topic.

Which leads me to my next point:

The one thing that is going to help you plan EVERYTHING more easily in your business and with greater intention, clarity and detail, is by choosing a target market.

A target market is very simply an industry/field/profession that you cater your administrative support to.

For example, in my administrative support business, I work with solo attorneys in business, intellectual property and entertainment law. This specificity allows me to very precisely identify in more depth, detail and clarity exactly what kind of work is needed to best support my clients and, thus, structure my offerings more specifically and meaningfully as well.

Deciding on a target market will help you plan, market and get clients so much faster and easier in your business. With a target market, you’ll be able to better identify with more depth and detail the specific kind of administrative support those clients need, what will have the most meaningful impact and results for them, and cater your offerings around that so that you can be their trusted administrative expert, advisor and strategic support partner instead of their receptionist with a ball and chain around your neck.

Next step: Download my free Income & Pricing Calculator and How to Choose Your Target Market guides.

These two exercises will get you thinking more critically about your administrative support business and what you want out of it.

And then I recommend you check out the resources in the ACA Success Store, one of which is the business plan template geared specifically for the administrative support business. These things are going to help you immensely in getting on the right track toward creating a more ideal, profitable,  happy-making business.

I would like to know how all of this lands with you and if you’ve found it helpful so please let me know in the comments. And if you or anyone has further questions on the topic, we can continue the conversation there as well.