Archive for July, 2009

If You Want Ideal Clients, Be an Ideal Administrator

I always say to clients and business owners:  If you want an ideal administrator, be an ideal client.

You should absolutely get the kind of quality support you deserve, but great Administrative Consultants are not going to deal with prima donnas who don’t value their AC’s contributions, don’t want to pay for the value of skilled, competent expertise, or are in any other way a negative drain on their time and energy.

The same goes in reverse… If you want ideal clients, you had better be an ideal Administrative Consultant.

What makes for an ideal Administrative Consultant? Here’s my list:

  1. An ideal AC has the skills she says she has.
  2. An ideal AC does what she says she will.
  3. An ideal AC is respectful of her clients’ time.
  4. An ideal AC follows directions and pays attention to details.
  5. An ideal AC asks questions and obtains clarification when needed.
  6. An ideal AC is an active listener.
  7. An ideal AC has great communication and follow-up skills and doesn’t leave clients guessing.
  8. An ideal AC runs her business like a business.
  9. An ideal AC takes pride in her work and service delivery and doesn’t do things sloppily.
  10. An ideal AC is consistent, committed and follows through.
  11. An ideal AC has excellent organizational skills.
  12. An ideal AC is able to maintain focus.
  13. An ideal AC is proactive and takes initiative.
  14. An ideal AC is a critical thinker.
  15. In the same way that she expects to be valued, an ideal AC doesn’t devalue others or expect them to work for free or below their worth.

Do you have any others to add?

Be Unique, Not Cryptic

I read an article recently by C. J. Hayden. In it, she was talking about the idea that marketing that is too unique can hurt you.

In one anecdote, she related how she had met a fellow who had a “unique process” for helping companies resolve conflicts between employee groups.

When asked, he couldn’t explain his process. All he would say is that it had to be experienced to be understood.

When she asked him how it compared to solutions like mediation or team building, he told her it was a totally different approach that defied comparison.

She said she would have liked to have referred him, but couldn’t picture herself calling a company and saying “Hi, I know someone who says he can fix your problem, but he can’t explain how. You’ll just have to hire him and see.”

This reminded me exactly of a prospective client who once contacted me.

He couldn’t give me any clear idea about what he did or who he did it for.

He abjectly refused to categorize himself (and was quite pleased with himself about that), much less give me any kind of term for what he did, say only, “I don’t believe in labeling myself. What I do is too unique.”

Needless to say, that conversation went nowhere real quick.

I can’t help someone who makes what they do so completely inscrutable, for both me and their would-be clients.

When you are marketing your administrative support business, the idea isn’t to be mysterious or so all-encompassing that no one can figure out exactly what you are.

It’s about creating clarity and understanding — clearly categorizing the business (Administrative Consultant), what you do (administrative support), who you do it for (your target market) and how you help improve things for them (what they gain from working with you, how their circumstances are improved, what results and benefits your clients typically receive through working with you).

The more you focus your message on a specifically defined audience, the more attractive, resonate, compelling — and unique — it will be, and the less you will be parroting the same tired, outdated, ineffective message that clients see on every single other site out there in our industry.

On the Topic of “Variety”

When you ask people in our industry why they started their businesses, one of the top reasons they’ll give is to have a lifestyle that allows for more free/quality time for family or taking care of loved ones.

So it always surprises me that these same folks end up creating practices and operating conditions that allow them to do anything but that.

One of the problems is that they resist the idea of narrowing down their focus to a specific target market.

(Note: A target market is simply an industry/field/profession that you cater your administrative support to. For example, financial advisors or attorneys or coaches or speakers…

It’s so crazy because it’s the one thing that will make everything in their businesses easier and more profitable — in terms of money and time — in marketing and running a successful administrative support practice.

One of the rationalizations I always hear is some variation of the theme, “But I like lots of variety; I’ll get bored if I do the same thing all the time.”

This is when I know I’m dealing with a newbie and/or someone who has no clients.

Because when you have clients, particularly in a specific target market where you specialize in supporting their particular industry, the LAST thing you are is bored. That’s because the more you specialize in supporting a specific target market, the more interesting the work is, the more you can uncover more meaningful and valuable work to do for clients, and the more kinds of work/ways there are for you to support them.

These newbies/people with no clients mistakenly think that in order to have variety, they have to have all these different kinds of clients.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that per se.

But what happens in having all these widely varying kinds of clients is that they have to shift so many mental gears in doing the work, that it actually make the work more difficult, more time-consuming and keeps them from making more money.

So my question is always this:

What’s the point of “variety” if you’re working yourself to the bone trying to scrape together a living at this and that while never have any time to enjoy the fruits of your labor?

Because I have news for ya: spreading yourself all over the map in an effort to have “variety” is going to keep you from creating the kind of administrative support business that comes with more ease, more time and more freedom to spend with friends and family and live and enjoy your life.

None of us wants to be bored or unchallenged in our work. And if you choose the right target market, you won’t be.

You will have lots of interesting work and variety and experiences within a target market. Because one of the things that a target market should be is one where you have an affinity for and enjoyment of the kinds of people and work that is involved.

If you choose a target market on that basis,  variety will never be an issue.

Another benefit to focusing on a target market is that you get really good at doing the kinds of work that that market really needs. In the process of that, it allows you to become the go-to expert.

Not only will that make your business easier to run, thus allowing you more freedom and time away from the work, but you can also command higher fees.

When you command higher fees, you don’t have to work with as many clients to make what need/want to make.

When you have a clearly defined target market, it gives you direction. You can better study your market, talk to its needs and frame your offering in ways that are the most resonate and attractive specifically to it.

Your efforts are more focused and more effective as a consequence. You’ll be able to build your practice more quickly and easily.

Some people worry that focusing on a target market will exclude other markets.

But here’s the thing: it’s not going to.

The irony is that the kind of clarity that grows out of extreme focus only makes you more attractive to all kinds of other markets besides the one you’ve chosen to “speak” to.

Your message becomes more differentiated and more attractive and compelling.

And even if it was true, what would it matter if other markets were turned away if you were already getting all the clients you needed and more within your target market?

Communication Is Key

Great administrators love helping their clients.

They put smart systems, policies and standards in place because they know that ultimately these things allow them to deliver greater service to their clients.

They also know that excellent communication is absolutely key to the relationship.

While there are lots of things Administrative Consultants do to facilitate great communication flows, it’s also a two-way street.

Following are some things you can do as the client to help your Administrative Consultant help you.

1. Clearly communicate your goals and objectives. Your Administrative Consultant wants to know why you do what you do and where you’re ultimately wanting to go. She can then be more proactively involved in helping you achieve those things.

2. Provide the big picture. An Administrative Consultants support is limited if you only give her or him a piecemeal understanding of things. Let your Administrative Consultant know how the task or project fits into the whole. She can then make sure all the pieces fit together even better and often will have suggestions you might never have thought of. Two heads are always better than one!

3. Place a priority on meetings. Administrative Consultants who offer telephone meetings to their clients do so as a benefit to them. They know that meeting regularly to talk nurtures the collaborative process and keeps both of you in sync. Your work and goals can only be as important to your Administrative Consultant as they are to you. If you don’t make the relationship a priority, you may find yourself looking for a new Administrative Consultant.

4. Organize your thoughts. The more “stuff” an Administrative Consultant has to wade through, the more likelihood there is for simple human error and having some things fall through the cracks. You can help your Administrative Consultant when emailing work requests by keeping messages limited to one idea, one project or task, at a time, and providing a clear and descriptive subject line.

5. Too much detail is better than too little. Don’t assume your Administrative Consultant can read your mind. We’re good, but none of us is superhuman! It’s better to be overly forthcoming with details, especially when you first begin working together. A confident Administrative Consultant is not going to be defensive. She/he will appreciate your effort to be thorough in providing everything needed to do a great job.

RESOURCE: Administrative Consultants are administrative experts who very much appreciate business owners who extend them the same professional courtesy and respect they give to clients. If you want to be a great client, make sure you understand and honor how Administrative Consultants want to be treated: Working With an Administrative Consultant.

© 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: What to Do When Clients Don’t Call Back?

Dear Danielle:

Does it ever bug you when prospective clients who you’ve gone to the trouble of responding to and perhaps even consulted with don’t call back? I mean, doesn’t it seem like the polite thing to do to at least let me know they’ve decided to go with someone else? It takes me a lot of time to put together the proposals they ask for and then to not get a single courtesy reply sometimes really upsets me. –PO

Sweetie, you have to separate business from personal. In business, it’s not about you, it’s about the client. When clients are out looking for solutions to their pains, it’s neither their obligation nor their priority to make sure every last vendor or service provider they contact or hear from gets a courtesy reply.

Would it be nice and the polite thing to do? Of course! Still, it’s just a fact of business. Keep in mind that clients often receive hundreds of responses to a single inquiry. It can be a huge, and unbelievably daunting, overwhelming task just to wade through responses. So we have to cut them some slack and realize that they are more likely too overwhelmed to respond to each and every contact and inquiry.

That’s not to say you don’t count (you absolutely do!) and shouldn’t create a business that makes you personally happy, one that you enjoy working in and that brings you in contact with clients who energize you, appreciate your gifts and expertise, and extend to you the same kind of manners, graciousness and courtesies that they would want to be treated with as well. (In fact, it’s imperative that you DO!) So, here are several things you can do to get off the track where you are going to great lengths to cater to prospects and then not hearing anything back.

1. Don’t respond to requests for proposals. Inevitably, these are just price-shopping forays. Don’t audition if you want ideal clients. Instead, create your own pipelines and engage in marketing and networking that drives traffic to your website. This way, you are drawing your right clients to you and getting them into YOUR process rather than the other way around. That’s the way it should be. Look at it like this: your entire website should be your “RFP.” It should be holding up a mirror to clients and then showing them how you can help. Do this and you can get off the RFP merry-go-round that rarely pays off for your efforts.

2. Pre-qualify prospects. Once you have clients at your site, make sure they are the kind of clients you want before you go expending any great effort on them. What’s the point of doing that if they can’t pay, aren’t serious about hiring you, or don’t look like they will otherwise be an ideal fit? Make your website do this work for you by creating an online form for prospects to submit.

3.  Have an initial conversation (also known as the complimentary consultation). Once a prospect appears to be worth your effort and interests, offer them a consultation (at a scheduled time/date, not on the fly). The idea is to get to know more about the client and their needs before you (or they) commit to any further efforts. This conversation allows you to gain some clearer insight into the goals the client is trying to reach and how you then may be able to help them. From there, you both get to determine whether you want to talk more or work together.

4. Be a client snob. The longer you maintain a mindset of scarcity and desperation for work, any work, you will keep yourself on the hamster wheel of aggravation, ill-fitting clients, and the never-ending, exhausting work of jumping through proposal hoops with little return on the effort. It’s your choice. But if you choose to be desperate instead of selective, don’t complain about the clients because you’re the only one keeping you there.

Be Careful Who You Take Your Business Advice From

Recently, a member shared her experience working with a business coach who told her that her $50/hr rate was too high and that coaches in solo practice expect to pay between $15-$30/hr for a Virtual Assistant.

Around the same time, I came across a listserv post where a coach was schlepping his wife’s new Virtual Assistant business around to the lowest bidder.

In the very next breath, he’s posting business advice to Virtual Assistants about what they need to do to create successful businesses.

Um, newsflash to Mr. Coachipoo: Charging professionally/profitably should be at the top of the list.

You know what really pisses me right off, folks?

That these so-called coaches are out there mentoring, advising and coaching people on business success–you know, like valuing/honoring yourself and what you have to offer, charging professionally–but then seem to think those things don’t apply to Virtual Assistants.

Be careful who you take your business advice from.

Make sure it’s NOT from people who just rolled out of bed yesterday and decided to call themselves “coach.”

Most of those people don’t know jack-shit about business.

Yes, You CAN Write Articles to Market Your Business

Yes, You CAN Write Articles to Market Your Business

How do you think you will get prospects into your pipeline if they don’t know you’re out there?

Article marketing is one of the simplest and least expensive methods for marketing and promoting your business (often costing nothing but your time).

It’s one of the most effective ways to drive traffic to your website and improve your SEO (search engine optimization) at the same time.

Yet business owners come up with all kinds of reasons to avoid article marketing.

In this article, I’m answering all your objections. No negative self-talk allowed. You CAN do this!

Objection #1: I don’t think I’m a good enough writer.

No one is asking you to be Hemingway. In fact, some of the best articles out there are those that are down-to-earth and from the heart.

All you have to do is be yourself, write conversationally (like you would in real life) to your target market on a subject they care about or a problem or question they want advice on.

Objection #2: I don’t have anything interesting or of value to say (I’m no expert).

You’re a human being, aren’t you?

Unless you are a mannequin, you have thoughts. You have opinions. You have experiences. There are things you are passionate about.

Not to mention, you’re a business owner with some skill and knowledge in your field or else you wouldn’t have gone into business, right?

You have something to offer and that is yourself.

It doesn’t matter that the topic may have been covered a million times before.

No one else can write from your perspective, in your voice, with your personality and your unique insight.

Your right clients need to hear you so they can get to know, like and trust you.

Objection #3: I don’t have enough time; I’m too busy with clients.

That’s great that you have clients. But clients aren’t necessarily permanent fixtures in your business. They move on for all kinds of reasons.

Sometimes, it’s you who outgrows them.

Even if you have more business than you can handle at the moment, it’s always a smart idea to maintain your marketing presence to keep those prospects flowing into your pipeline.

One article a month is completely doable even for the most time-strapped entrepreneur.

Objection #4: I don’t have enough time; I’m too busy trying to get clients.

That’s exactly what article marketing will help you do, silly. 😉

Article marketing is a way to drive traffic to your website, which is what you want prospects to do.

Articles help increase your expert status in the eyes of would-be clients; they see you as an authority in your field.

Articles give them a chance to get to know you, which is what establishes rapport and gains their trust and confidence in you.

Articles also lend to the laws of attraction and intention: your right clients will be drawn to you and want to learn more about how you can help them by clicking through to your website.

Objection #5: I don’t know what to write about.

Here’s my own simple technique: Imagine you’re at a networking function. You’re talking shop with the business owner next to you, getting to know each other.

The business owner, now knowing that you are in the ___ business, asks you about ___.

Your answer to their question is your article!

It really is that simple. So go to those business get-togethers. Write down the questions that current and prospective clients ask you. These are the topics for your next articles.

What to Do Next with Your Articles

  • Post them to your blog.
  • Publish them in your ezine.
  • Post them on LinkedIn.
  • Post links to them on your social media accounts.
  • Shop them around to the professional publications of your target market.
  • Identify the popular expert blogs of your target market and ask to them to guest-post your article.
  • If a particular article topic proves to be especially popular (i.e., gets a lot of feedback and/or comments), expand it into a white paper or guide for your target market that you can use a free or sign-up give-away.

© 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.

How Many Times Do You Have to Be Told “No?”

When someone goes to the trouble to tell you “no” as honestly and as politely as they can or care to be, accept the answer. Period.

It is neither polite, gracious nor respectful toward that person to keep pushing the issue.

What it is, is self-centered and self-absorbed.

Who are you to argue with their boundaries, standards and priorities?

Do you think they were put here on this earth with nothing better to do than wait on you hand and foot?

You are not the center of the universe.

No one owes you their time, attention or energy.

No one even owes you politeness or graciousness, for that matter, and especially not when you don’t extend good manners or graciousness yourself in the first place.

Those things are gifts and it is each and every person’s right to decide upon whom they will bestow those things.

They give what they choose or are able to give and you should have the good grace to respect that and not demand anything more as if you were entitled.

When you’re paying for that person’s time, then and only then do you MAYBE have any say-so as to who and what they give their time and attention to.

Get conscious about this.

Take responsibility for how you treat others (givers are conscious and grateful; takers are self-entitled and think everyone owes them).

Be mindful of your manners and what kind of imposition you may be creating.

Stop thinking about only yourself.

Dear Danielle: Do You Subcontract Your Work to Others?

A prospective client recently contacted me and asked a good question. Here’s how I responded:

Dear Danielle:

If we work together, will you be outsourcing any of my work? Do you subcontract to other Administrative Consultants? —LA

Just as clients shouldn’t be doing everything themselves in their business, neither should Administrative Consultants. We are business owners/solopreneurs just as our clients are.

However, I know why you are asking.

There is a trend lately where a certain segment of people (often those with no experience or expertise themselves) starting businesses in our industry where all they are doing is farming the work out to third parties.

That is not administrative support. It’s an attempt to exploit an industry and mine it for whatever money they can get any way they can.

That is most definitely NOT what we as Administrative Consultants are in business to do.

There’s no personal one-on-one dynamic involved in working like that, which is precisely what defines ongoing administrative support: that deeply collaborative, personal relationship.

There are all kinds of pitfalls when working with a company that treats the work transactionally like that. I hear about them all the time from clients and from colleagues who are being farmed out or taking on subcontracted work.

The chief complaints I hear are that clients don’t like having their work sent out to people they don’t know. (If they wanted to hire someone else, they would have done that in the first place).

They frequently complain of problems with consistency in service and poor work quality in these arrangements as well.

And for the colleagues working for these companies, they simply don’t make much money and often have to deal with issues of late or non-payment.

It sounds like you have encountered your own negative experiences with that type of arrangement as well.

My business model is not one where I do the marketing and then spread out and rely on non-employees to do the work.

I am the craftsman in my business. When clients hire me, it’s my brain and my skills and my expertise they get.

That said, I do have my own small panel of long-time support administrators who help me in my business.

I have this help not only so that I can create the same kind of smooth-running business and life of freedom that clients are seeking to create themselves, but also, ultimately, because it allows me to provide my clients with vastly superior support and attention.

It does my neither me nor my clients any good whatsoever if I’m frazzled, overworked and spread too thin from trying to do everything all by myself.

But here’s the difference:

My relationship with clients is never outsourced.

When clients hire me, it’s me they work with directly.

Mainly, my panel of support help me with things related to the running of my business.

There are also some instances when I might delegate certain tasks or non-critical, non-confidential, non-sensitive parts of my work. However, my responsibility and control over the proper completion, quality and accuracy of the work is never abdicated or outsourced.

I don’t farm out or subcontract anything to any stable of third parties I may or may not know well (which is what happens in those subcontracting farms, often to other countries that are rife with identify thieves and credit card hackers).

I only work with my small, consistent, long-time support administrators who are colleagues I’ve known and worked with for many years.

In answer to your question, No (emphatically), I never subcontract your work. Your business, information and trust is too important to me to ever betray that.

What I do have is my own Administrative Consultant whom I monthly retainer for a body of support in the same way you retain me. Huge difference.

If there’s something additionally a client needs that is outside the scope of administrative support (e.g., they need a bookkeeper or a web designer, etc.), I can refer them or help them find the proper professional whom they can hire directly.

If a one-on-one partnering solution is what you are seeking, there is no place for a middleman in the equation.

How to Follow Your Own Act

One of the attorneys I’ve worked with over the years is a wonderful fellow.

Family man. Very personable. Knows his stuff. Gets done what he’s hired to get done. A real credit to his profession.

So what was always so disconcerting after he’d finish a matter for me was this utterly abrupt end to our communication.

And I mean A-brupt. Every time.

It’s crazy, because whenever I’d contact him again on something new, we’d pick up as if we’d just spoken yesterday.

Yet, at the end of each project, I couldn’t help feel as if I’d done something wrong.

Was I a horrible client? I don’t tend to think so because being an independent service provider myself, I’m always very conscious about how I treat other service professionals.

I know what I don’t care for in clients and I make sure I am the kind of client I would want for myself.

I clearly communicated my needs, made sure I understood what to expect and I always paid on time (and as you know, attorneys are not inexpensive).

But I’d never get so much as a thank you for my payment.

All communication would just end completely until the next time I had need to call on him.

And then it would be, “Hey, Danielle! How’s it going?” as it nothing was amiss and we were long-lost buddies.

So I got to thinking:

  • How many of you business owners out there are failing in your end game?
  • What are you doing to nurture your relationships?
  • Are you making sure clients and customers feel welcome to contact you again?
  • How are you helping them in between services?

In answer to these questions, here’s a list I drew up that I think will be very helpful to you if you are neglecting your all-important follow-up act. Clients want to know you like and appreciate them — before, during and after your interactions.

1. Thank your customers and clients. It seems simple enough, right? I mean, it’s just good manners. But as I shared in my story above, sometimes it’s the most obvious things that fall through the cracks. So be sure and thank your clients and customers. And I mean something beyond simply typing a line on your invoice template. Automate it or delegate it if you have to, but do go to the extra effort to thank people in a more deliberate way for their business at the conclusion of your interactions. Each and every time.

2. Ask them what’s next. Find out what projects or goals they’re thinking about currently or that are on the horizon. Not only is this good relationship-building, but it’s also a great way to find out where there are more opportunities to business together.

3. Be a knowledge center and resource. When you make the effort to know a bit more about your clients and target market, and where their interests are, you can pass on information that you think will be useful and of interest to them. You can do this individually and/or use the information to come up with relevant topics for your blog and/or ezine. “The list is the thing!” as they say, and I can’t stress enough how perfect an ezine and blog are for this task. As long as you are providing content that is of value to your clients/target market, this is a fantastic way to keep in touch, maintain connection and rapport, and create your own marketing pipeline. While you’re delivering all this great, helpful information to subscribers, it also gives you a platform to keep them informed about the goings-on in your business and remind them about services you provide that they might not know or remember (hint: refer back to #2).

4. Invite them into your networks. Hey, you’re not the only one looking to make connections. Inviting your clients and customers into your social/business networks is a nice gesture, gives them opportunities to make new contacts, and keeps them in your pipeline as well. They might even extend the favor back.

5. Be a referral source. Know what your customers do. Ask your clients what makes a good referral for them. And then spread the word. One good turn tends to result in another.

6. Get their feedback. Clients appreciate the opportunity to be heard. It shows them you care. Of course you want to know what you’re doing a good job, but don’t be afraid to look in the mirror if clients point out areas where you can stand to improve. This is pure gold to your business and you should be grateful for having those blindspots illuminated. Let them know how much their input means to you and that it will be used to make improvements whenever, wherever needed.

7. Let clients know how to refer business to you. Clients are people and most people like to help others. Clients who love their service providers enjoy spreading the word on their behalf. Tell them what makes a great referral for you and exactly who you are looking to work with. The more clear and specific you are, the easier you make it for them to send others your way and the more frequently they will do so.

RESOURCE: If you’re looking for a fantastic, comprehensive feedback form that can be adapted to any business, get our Client Feedback Form the ACA Success Store.

© 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.