Archive for June, 2009

Creating a Communication Plan

Excellent communication (not good or okay, but GREAT) is vitally important in your business relationships, even more so when your mode of doing business is entirely virtual.

How well you communicate with prospects and clients directly impacts the trust and confidence you instill in them.

One aspect of beyond-excellent communication is consistently following through in your responses to emails and voicemails.

To be clear, I’m not talking about the occasional message or response that falls through the cracks; that happens to the best of us.

What I’m talking about is establishing consciously-devised standards and policies for handling communication your business.

This includes being in the habit of making sure those who correspond with you by email know that their message was received.

There is nothing more frustrating than sending someone a message and hearing nothing but crickets in response.

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end, you know what I’m talking about.

You’re left wondering whether the recipient is taking whatever action might have been required, or if they even got the message at all.

This kind of poor communication is not only an instant trust-killer, it creates extra work for the folks trying to correspond and work with you.

It doesn’t put you in a good light and definitely doesn’t engender any confidence in your professional abilities.

Don’t do that to your clients and customers — or yourself, for that matter.

Here’s a quick checklist to improve your customer communications (and earn greater trust from your clients) today:

  1. Establish a timeliness standard in your business. Be disciplined about sticking with it. If you have a 24-48 hour turnaround policy, make sure you demonstrate a pattern of consistently responding to all messages within that timeframe.
  2. Inform clients and customers upfront. Include your communication policies in your new client welcome kits. Talk about it in your new client orientation meetings. If you are closed on weekends or holidays or any other particular days of the week, let clients and site visitors know that. Let them know exactly how communication is handled in your business, during what hours, and what the response turnaround policy is. When clients know how things work and what to expect ahead of time, they don’t worry and wonder so much in the meantime. It helps them relax and manages expectations.
  3. Create a management plan. Devise a system for keeping track of messages and following-up efficiently. Email programs and plugin these days have an extensive array of customizable tools and settings for organizing and prioritizing your inbox. Make good use of them.
  4. Respond to every message. Even if you can’t do anything right away, you should still acknowledge receipt of the message. A simple “Got it!” or “Thank you. I’ll let you know as soon as I take care of that” makes all the difference in the world to the person at the other end.

© Copyright by Danielle Keister for the Administrative Consultants Association. You are granted permission to republish this article only if used without alteration in its entirety with this copyright notice, title, article content, resource, and links left intact.

Dear Danielle: How Much Can I Expect to Earn in this Business?

Dear Danielle:

I’m still in the market research phase of starting my administrative support practice. Recently, a colleague and I were discussing yearly salary and work hours with her practice, and I was wondering if your experience has been similar to what she’s explained, before you got into training and from what you know of others in this business. Here’s what she said:

“I consider myself well established now. Despite this, I work between 15-25 billable hours a week and another 20-40 non-billable hours each week (on marketing, accounting, non-billable matter, etc.).”

My research suggests that someone who’s been in business for five years could anticipate gross earnings of approximately $30,000 per year. However, very specialized people make far more (in the range of $40,000 to $55,000).” –RD

If after 5 years someone is still only making $30,000 a year, there is a something seriously wrong in their business. They haven’t done proper business planning, are not charging appropriately and most like are charging hourly rates (selling hours/time) instead of setting fees based on value and results.

If you base your income on how many hours you have to sell, you will always limit your earning potential. I teach people how to use value-based pricing methodologies instead. Once you increase your business knowledge around pricing and how to price, package and present your fees and support plans, your earning ability goes up dramatically. In fact, you can earn more working with fewer clients that way.

Before we talk about what you can expect to make, I want to first make sure we are on the same page about what this business is about. This is important because your understanding of this will directly impact the profitability of your practice.

You mention the word “specialize.” What this usually indicates is a fundamental lack of understanding about what administrative support is.

Administrative support is already a specialty in and of itself. An Administrative Consultant is someone who specializes in providing ongoing, right-hand, across-the-board style administrative support. That’s an important distinction to understand for a few reasons.

For one thing, it’s a completely different business model from, say, a secretarial service, which is in the business of providing individual, transactional, project-based secretarial services.

They’re the Kinko’s, so to speak, of the administrative world. And the reason it’s important to understand the difference in these business models is because the businesses earn money in very different ways, they operate very differently, they have very different labor and administration needs, expenses and operating costs, and they market very differently and attract a completely different kind of clientele.

However, the very most important reason to understand the distinction is that these two business models deliver completely different solutions.

Administrative support is a relationship, one where you’re providing a long-term, more impactful and integral solution that supports the client’s business as a whole and where the focus is the ongoing dynamic and evolving work relationship.

A secretarial service is more like a one-night stand, where what is provided is a quick transaction where the focus and sole purpose is the completion of a single project or task at hand.

As you can see, then, administration is a specialized function already. It’s also work that is inherently ongoing. So going back to what it means to specialize, we already have a specialty: ongoing administrative support for clients we work with in continuous, collaborative relationship.

If someone specializes in some other function, then they are something else completely. For example:

  • If someone specializes in marketing, they are a marketing professional.
  • If they specialize in web design/development, they are a web designer/developer.
  • If they specialize in bookkeeping or accounting, they are a bookkeeper or accountant.

Your colleague is confusing specialization with categories of business. What you specialize in IS the business. If you specialize in administrative support, you’re an Administrative Consultant.

People in our industry also commonly confuse specializing with the tasks involved.

When we talk about specialization, what that really refers to is not the work or tasks, but rather a target market.

Those who specialize in a target market (which is simply a field/industry/profession you cater your administrative support to) have a much easier, quicker time getting started and gaining clients. That’s because it provides them with greater focus and direction.

Now, that’s not to say that you can’t offer additional related services and support. The point I’m making is just because you offer something else doesn’t make it all administrative support. Web design is web design. Bookkeeping is bookkeeping. Marketing is marketing, and so on. These are each their own separate and distinct professions and categories of business.

There are lots of folks who offer creative and technical services in addition to their administrative support. But that doesn’t make those additional services or divisions or specialties in their practice the same things as administrative support.

They are still distinct from one another.

This is all very important because your understanding of these distinctions will directly impact how you structure and charge your fees to earn well.

Is this becoming clearer to you?

If so, you can begin to see that your ability to charge well doesn’t have to do with specializing in any one task.

As an Administrative Consultant, you already have a specialty (that of ongoing administrative support).

What earning well in this industry has to do with is your view and understanding of your value and the solution you are in business to provide, how you frame and portray yourself as a professional,  how you effectively articulate your value to your desired clientele in the context of their needs, goals and challenges, and the pricing strategies you employ to focus them on the value and benefits rather than hours.

Earning well also doesn’t have to do with how long you’ve been in business or how many billable hours you have at their disposal.

(And if after five years someone is still only earning $30,000 a year, there is something seriously wrong and need to get the help of someone like me).

Those who intimately and more deeply understand the solution they provide and its value to their target market have much more confidence.

This understanding, in turn, allows them to have more effective, resonate, compelling conversations with clients and command professional fees.

Those fees can earn them well into six figures, but you only get there by doing things smartly and strategically. It will require some shifts in thinking about the pricing you offer clients. People who are still stuck selling hours in their retainers don’t commonly earn into six figures.

I really recommend you get my marketing guide. It will walk you through a systematic, step-by-step process of understanding more deeply and clearly the solution and value you provide to clients, choosing a target market, profiling your ideal client, and then putting it all together to come up with your own unique value proposition.

You can also get off the hourly rate merry-go-round (which drastically limits your earning potential) by learning how to implement value-based pricing and how to focus clients on value and results rather than selling hours.

These Are the Clients You Do NOT Want

Uh, no… that’s not how this works. That’s not how ANY of this works, lol.

Can you relate?!

I love this video because it brilliantly illustrates exactly what is going on for so many business owners.

Personally, I have some of the most fabulous, wonderful clients in the world. They are an absolute joy to work with and know.

However, it’s all because of the simple fact that I don’t put up with or work with any of the kind of clients portrayed in this video.

They don’t exist in my world because I don’t give them the time of day. As a result, I make great money and live a fabulous life.

It wasn’t always this way for me, though.

TRUST ME, I’ve lived to learn and tell every about every stinking pothole you’ve ever found yourself in, LOL.

So I talk about this stuff because bad clients happen to good people all the time, and I want to help them see how they can avoid becoming hostages to them.

(To be clear, I go to bat for clients as much as I do for colleagues. Good, honorable clients deserve no less than skilled, competent Administrative Consultants who know how to run their businesses well and thereby provide clients with great service and value.)

The bad clients I talk about are exactly the ones portrayed in this video. They’re the clients you don’t want to work with, who will literally steal your soul.

I have zero sympathy or tolerance for them because at its core, what’s really going on with these types is that they are self-entitled, self-absorbed cheapskates who think the world revolves around them.

They would have you treat yourself poorly and operate in way that’s detrimental to your own personal or financial well-being so that they can profit at your expense or get something for free.

That’s not brotherly/sisterly love, much less a mutually respectful or equally beneficial business relationship. That’s not caring about your fellow human being and doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.

It’s a selfishness and soullessness that is at the root of so many problems in the world today.

I have no use for folks like that and unlike the bleeding hearts who are probably busy as we speak twisting themselves into pretzels over the poor, poor clients who just can’t afford things, I refuse to make excuses for them.

It’s not your job to make excuses or allowances for them either.

Some Words to Delete from Your Business Vocabulary

If you are a virtual assistant who is happy where you’re at in your business, this post is not for you.

BUT, if you are someone who is not satisfied with the kind of money you’re currently making … If you’re having trouble commanding even the most basic level of professional fees … If you always seem to get clients who want to pay peanuts and treat you more like the hired help rather than a respected professional advisor and administrative expert, this post is for you.

Words are important. The specific words you choose to portray you and your business directly impact, shape and mold client perceptions and expectations. The words and termininology you use can mean all the difference in attracting a higher caliber of clientele. Following are some words that I advise you to take out of your business vocabulary if you want more clients who approach the business relationship with the proper mindset and are more given to understanding the value of professional services.

1. “Affordable” (and any variation thereof). As a business, it’s not your job to be the most affordable. It’s your job to provide the most value. Talk about value, benefits and results—not money—and you will focus and attract more value-minded clients. Of course, if you like working for peanuts, not being able to make a full-time living in your business, and you want to keep cattle-calling every cheapskate and tire kicker in the universe, then keep bringing up cost, savings, discounts and how affordable you are.

2. “Contract worker” (and “Independent Contractor,” for that matter). A contract worker is an employee of a company that farms workers out. You are not a contract worker. As a Virtual Assistant, you are a professional service provider and specifically an administrative expert. But by all means, keep using that terminology if you want clients who continue to view you as an under-the-table employee and who don’t want to pay professional level fees because you are merely an interchangeable commodity to them. That terminology doesn’t portray the correct context needed to help clients perceive the value and understand the nature of the relationship.

3. “Outsourcing.” I know you’re going “wha?!” on this one, but really, get rid of that word.

Here’s the connotation: When you use the term “outsourcing,” it suggests an impersonal kind of transaction where there is no participation from the client. But that’s not what Virtual Assistance is all about.

Virtual Assistance is about a two-way, participatory relationship. It takes the input of both client and Virtual Assistant. That two-way, back-and-forth interaction is critical to the dynamic that makes Virtual Assistance a much higher value to clients than simple, commoditized, secretarial transactions.

If you allow clients to view the work as something they simply offload without any further input, you’re going to keep getting clients who don’t value the relationship, don’t understand the value of the work and who dump on you instead of working with you.

Instead, emphasize the idea that you are a professional who specializes in administrative support and related services and that you work collaboratively (together). You must hold the work in respectful regard if you expect clients to as well. If you treat it, talk about it and dismiss it as mundane, unimportant, something any ol’ flunky can do (which we know it’s not), you will attract clients who think exactly the same and who definitely don’t respect it enough to pay much for it.

4. “Generalist.” As a Virtual Assistant, are you a lowly generalist who doesn’t really do anything of any real value or importance? Or are you an administrative expert who specializes in delivering ongoing administrative support? As a client, which would you hold in higher regard? Which description inspires more confidence? Which portrays a more professional image and status?

Don’t buy into the propaganda of exploitists who want to keep pounding it into your head that you and administrative work are nothing special, not worthy of valuing and honoring and respecting. They are preying on your lack of professional self-esteem (instilling it even!) so that you’ll keep feeling like it’s not enough and you’ll keep paying for their ”hot” skills training and products.

Hold your head high! You HAVE a specialty. You ARE an expert—a consultant and expert of administration and support. Don’t you let anyone, ever, get away with calling you a generalist! Administrative work is THE backbone of every single business on earth. Each and every one would fall apart without that foundation, support and diligence. It’s an expertise and a highly valuable and marketable service–as long as you value it and yourself in the first place.

5. “Interview.” Employees “interview.” Professionals “consult.” Don’t submit to client interviews. Offer a consultation. See the difference there? Virtual Assistants have a hard enough time getting clients to view them as independent professionals and administrative experts. If you want to stop the confusion, don’t use any language or verbiage that is a holdover from your days as a employee. Leading your own show causes clients to view and respect you as a professional and expert. It also helps instil more trust and confidence.

6. “References.” I addressed this topic in my last post (Dear Danielle: What About References?) so I won’t go into it fully again here. Suffice it to say that employees provide references; professionals provide testimonials. Use the terminology of professionals rather than employees (be sure to reinforce that language at every opportunity when talking with clients), and you will set the conditions and perceptions for more of the professional treatment that you want from clients.

7. “Resume.” Business owners don’t provide resumes. Employees provide resumes. Here’s how to understand this stuff:When you were an employee, the cover letter is what got your resume read. In the business world, your marketing and networking become the “cover letter” that leads clients to your business website. As a business, your entire website and other marketing collateral are your “resume.” So whereas your resume is what you hoped would secure you an interview when you were an employee, your website is what should now be converting visitors into consultations with prospective clients.

Here’s a visual:

Cover Letter –> Resume/References –> Interview

Business Owner
Marketing/Networking –> Website/Testimonials –> Consultation

If you continue to indulge requests for resumes and references from clients, you have no one but yourself to blame when you keep getting clients who don’t extend you professional respect nor view the relationship in its proper context, namely one of business owner and client. Professional respect and understanding of the relationship are very important ingredients in shaping client perceptions, showing them how to treat you, and commanding a professional level of fees.

Insist on being treated as a professional. Use the right language to reinforce that expectation and instill proper understandings and perceptions.