Archive for April 30th, 2009

Growing Pains and Strategies

So yesterday I was answering a colleague’s question on business growth, and I wanted to talk a bit more about strategy, as I mentioned in the last sentence of that post.

By strategies, I mean tightening your operations, policies, workflows and standards up with purpose, intention and critical thinking. Reviewing how you’ve been doing things and putting a new critical eye to those things and considering whole new possibilities. Because with growth comes choice and the ability to refine. Some of the things you can do when your business is in a state of growth and choice include:

1. Increase your rates. As Mikelann Valterra says, not everyone should be able to afford you. If literally every client who approaches you can afford you, that’s a good indicator that you’re far overdue to give yourself a raise. When you become a hot commodity, you simply aren’t going to be able to work with everyone, nor should you. Raising your rates will not only help sort the wheat from the chaff, it will also increase the caliber of clients you have to choose from.

2. Lose the dead weight. If you have any clients that you don’t enjoy working with for any reason, let them go. The mental anguish and negative energy they create in your business literally pulls your business down. Really, you will physically feel a weight lifted from your shoulders and a new spring in your step. The time and energy you get back will triple, which you can then set loose on replacing those poor-fitting clients with more ideal clients, focusing on your business instead of constantly working in it, and indulging the newfound creativity that always occurs when mental gunk is cleared away.

3. Make some mental shifts. I find that most people in the beginning years of their business operate as if they were still admin assistants, that secretary sitting outside the boss’ door with the only exception being they are now working from home. They really don’t do anything differently from when they were an employee except that they now call themselves business owners. But really, for all intents and purposes, those are just words that don’t really mean anything. Traditionally, that’s how the industry originated. But when you reach a stage of growth that you now find yourself in, it’s a perfect opportunity for you to take a more critical look at who you are as a business owner. Ask yourself… Am I just a lackey, just an assistant, just a gopher? Or am I an administrative expert?

When you start to better define your role and the business you are in, you start to realize that not only can you portray your business differently, you also don’t have to operate or take on work in the same way as an employee.

Don’t let anyone tell you that your value depends on you being able to take on or handle everything that a client throws your way. You don’t have to work with clients on a daily basis. You don’t have to manage their email boxes. You don’t have to act as their receptionist on top of everything else. You don’t have to run their personal errands or deal with anything that isn’t directly related to their business. You can focus just on administrative works—because that’s what experts do. And they get a pretty penny to do it.

4. Review your operations. With the mental shifts, you will also start to realize how you can tighten things up in your policies and work processes. For one thing, you can lose the timesheets and reporting. You aren’t anyone’s employee and you don’t have to agonizingly report every minute detail of how you spent every second of time on behalf of a client. Some of the things you can look at changing are how you package and frame your offerings to clients, the support you provide and don’t provide, your pricing, your communication protocols and processes, refining your prequalifying processes, how you consult with prospective clients, where you can delegate (while understanding what work is critical for you to focus on and not abdicate), creating support plans and taking charge of the delegation process, taking a look at what you are offering and identifying services or support that can be classified in separate business categories (to create additional revenue streams), and coming up with info products or stand-alone/DIY products/services (because not only will those things allows you to provide something for those clients you can’t work with or who aren’t ready to work with you, they also create passive income streams).

5. Narrow your focus. If you don’t already, this is a perfect time to decide on a target market or refine the one you have even further. Not only will it give you clearer direction, it will laser-focus your efforts so you aren’t willy-nilly exerting them without any strategy or focus (which means the ROI yielded will be based more on luck than purpose and intention). When you do this, you get really good at marketing to a specific group. You spend less time marketing and networking. People have a much clearer idea of who to refer to you and thus, will do so  more often. Your message becomes more attractive, compelling and resonate (in fact, it will attract even more people beyond your target market, creating even more choice for you in your business). You get to know that group way better than you ever could marketing to anyone and everyone and therefore can hone your offerings specifically to their needs and wants. And ultimately, all of this allows you to command higher fees working less and with fewer clients. It’s not magic and it’s not a secret. It’s as basic as 1+1=2.

Bigger isn’t necessarily better. Everyone is always telling us how to become successful doing or becoming something else. Well, my passion is helping administrative experts be successful AS ADMINISTRATIVE EXPERTS. You aren’t some lowly person on the totem pole. My advice is always geared towards the person who loves what she does and wants to be financially and operationally successful as an administrative specialist.