Archive for January, 2010

Don’t Be a Non-Listener

I like what Keith Ferrazzi had to say recently:

Failing to listen well is rude. I don’t care whether you’re talking to the Queen of England or your intern. It very loudly communicates, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” And as a master relationship builder, it’s your job to care.

As an Administrative Consultant, it’s your job to listen well.

This includes all forms of listening, not only with your ears.

Being attentive to written details and instructions is a form of listening that’s absolutely essential to what we do. It’s a critical demonstration of your competence and qualification.

This should not be confused with asking clarifying questions when you need more information to get an accurate picture and understanding.

That’s actually a sign of attentive listener who wants to do a great job.

It’s when a person can’t follow simple instructions and ask for all kinds of hand-holding, particularly when the answers to their questions are right there in the instructions… that’s a waste of everyone’s time. Which is both incompetent and inconsiderate.

I have to be ruthless about how my time is expended. I’ve got too much on my plate and take care of lots of people and moving parts. So do clients.

Out of self-care and preservation, I have to write people off who don’t respect my time and attention by abjectly refusing to pay attention and read/follow instructions.

No one is going to want to work with you or keep working with anyone who has a problem listening (in all its forms).

One Way to Sort the Ideal from the Unideal

I was reading an ezine recently where business owners were advised to offer a variety of ways for prospects to contact them.

The reasoning was that if prospects can’t reach you the way they prefer, they’ll call someone else.

And this might be good advice at a very general level if you are new in business and don’t have clients yet.

It might also be true if you are in a commoditized, project-driven business that requires a great deal of volume in order to be financially successful.  You aren’t in a position to turn anyone away when you’re in that kind of business and you are more or less forced to be at the whim and dictate of customer preferences.

But solopreneurs can be more choosy. In fact, their survival depends on being choosy about clients because a professional service business filled with unideal clients who negatively drain the solopreneur’s time and energy will take that business down faster than a cheetah felling an antelope.

If you’re in the business of administrative support (not project-based secretarial service), you don’t need to work with everyone in the world. It only takes a handful of ideal retainer clients to be financially successful.

So what I was thinking as I read the aforementioned advice was how I actually use limited communication methods as a way to weed out unideal clients.

For me, one characteristic of an ideal client is that they are very adept and comfortable with technology and particularly with communicating by email.

I’m not interested in taking phone calls all day from prospective clients, 99% of whom I will never work. I couldn’t even if I wanted to or I’d never have any time to get any work done.

Therefore, I have a very specific path set up for consulting with me.

When I hear from a prospective client who has completed the consultation form on my website, I know that there’s a 50/50 chance they’ve read a fair amount of information on my site. This is where I want them educated first about what I do and how I  help clients, and learn who I’m looking to work with and who benefits most from working with me, and they can weed themselves out if there’s not a fit.

When they complete my consultation request form, that also tells me this is someone who isn’t going to be a pain in the ass by sidestepping my processes and, thus, more likely to be the kind of client I can work with easily and happily.

I have no interest in clients who have been to my website, but call or email me instead of filling out my consult form. I know from past experience that those are the folks who are almost always going to be difficult to work with moving forward.

Is that a head-spinner for you?

It shocks a lot of people who have heard me say this before.

But you see, you don’t have to be at the mercy of the rest of the world.

How your business works and the clients you work with need to make you happy first. It’s not just about what clients what. It’s about what you both want and need from each other. There has to be a mutual fit for anything to work moving forward.

I realize a lot of new people who don’t have clients yet or who are still growing their practice will think this is crazy talk.

They are still in scarcity mindset so this won’t make sense to them at all.

But if you are further along in your practice, you probably relate a bit more to what I’m talking about. You’ve worked with more than your share of clients who turned out to be completely difficult and energy draining.

If you are looking to work with more ideal clients, the willingness to follow your protocols and not sidestep your processes is one of the telltale clues you can use to prequalify prospects and establish whether this might be someone you can work with well or not.

Dear Danielle: What Advice Do You Have for an Itinerant Business Owner?

Dear Danielle:

I am currently planning and readying my new administrative support business for its grand opening in about a month and a half, but my husband is in the military and we will be moving all over (this is why I am starting this business). So my question is two-fold: Do you have any tips for an itinerant business owner like me? And will there be different laws to follow depending on where you are located? –CD

As you recognize, that’s the beauty of a business such as ours. It doesn’t require any kind of physical brick and mortar presence, there are no geographic constraints and we can run our business and work anywhere we have access to the internet.

You don’t elaborate much so I’m not sure what kind of tips you’re thinking of, but here are a few thoughts off the top of my head:

  1. Set up a shared online collaborative office. These are not merely project management programs. They’re full-package organizational tools that you can set up by client so that each “collaborative office suite” has its own shared calendar, contacts/address book, project/task management section, full real-time document filing and sharing, forums and wikis you can set up, and all kinds of other things–all in one. There are so many out there these days; it really boils down to personal preference. Plus, it’s hard to make a recommendation without more specific details.
  2. Get Dropbox. This is a free shared file drive where you can store any and all files and documents that you a) want access to no matter what device you’re one, and b) to share with clients. Dropbox is an amazingly versatile tool that allows you do to so many things. It makes working with clients, keeping them organized and sharing documents between you a breeze.
  3. Perhaps set up your email accounts in an online tool like Gmail. That way, you can have online access to all your communications wherever you have an internet connection.
  4. Get an aircard (also called “mobile broadband”) or mobile hotspot. This is a USB you plug into your laptop or a wifi device that gives you your own secure internet access when you aren’t home. Wherever you can get a cell phone signal, your aircard/mobile hotspot will work there as well. Which means you could be anywhere: in your car, at a park, wherever, and still have internet access. I use Verizon and have been very pleased.
  5. Get a remote access service like TeamViewer. This will allow you to log into your home computer when you need to whenever you are away.

As far as different laws to follow depending on where you live, yes, that might be the case.

Different cities, counties and states have their own licensing and tax obligations. Some cities (like mine) requires a separate business license in addition to the state business license you may have to take out (also required in my state). Others don’t require any separate or special registration at all.

Some areas might have special zoning or laws pertaining to home businesses.

Some cities or counties might require you to file their own business tax reports in addition to what you might be required to file federally or with the state.

It will be your job as a responsible business owner to research those each time you move.

I want to also stress that it’s important to go straight to the source. Contact the pertinent state and local agencies and ask them those questions.

Their directions and information will be the only ones that matter.

You don’t want to rely on the guesses or opinions of others as they are not going to be paying your penalties or fines or dealing with problems if you end up not doing something right based on their “helpful” advice.

Where Do You Get Stuck in Your Consultations

Wouldn’t it be great if all we had to do was network, have business owners immediately want to work with us, and instantly sign on for our retained support without any questions?

The reality is getting to actually work with retained clients takes a bit more effort.

You have to get at least some small idea about the new client’s business.

You have to gain some insight into their needs, goals and challenges so you can figure out whether and how you can help them.

You have to be able to articulate your value in a way that makes sense to them so that they aren’t asking you, “Why should I pay you $X when I can pay bozo over there $5/hr.

Am I right?

So I’m curious about where colleagues are having trouble spots in their consultation process.

Do you have any particular stumbling blocks when it comes to conducting consultations?

Are there any areas of the consultation process you’d like to be better at?

Or maybe you feel like you do well in your consultations, but the clients aren’t signing on or calling back. Is that the case for you?

Whatever the issue is in your consultations, I really, really want to hear from you. Post in the comments or send me an email and let me know where you’re getting stuck and what you’d like to improve.

What Are Your Consultation Stumbling Blocks?

I’m putting together a special learning module that expands on the concepts for conducting consultations that I share in my guide, “Breaking the Ice: A Step by Step System for Confidently Navigating the Consultation Conversation and Converting Prospects into Retained Clients.”

Right now, I’m a bit stuck trying to figure out what should be included, how many sessions are needed to cover all the material and how to organize the outline, and I thought you all could help me out.

If you are in the administrative support business, still growing in your consultation skills and would welcome some additional hands-on help, I need to get a gauge about where you are specifically getting stuck.

Do you feel like you’re doing well in consultations, but then not getting the clients?

Are there particular parts or topics in the consultation that you struggle with?

Is lack of confidence your stumbling block?

Please email me and describe what you feel are your stumbling blocks or trouble areas and where you’d love to get help.

I’m working on something really great for you!

Good Question: Should I Provide Training to Clients on Top of Admin Support?

A member asked a great question today. I thought I’d share it here as well since it’s excellent food for thought.

This member has been asked by clients on occasion if she would come to their offices and teach them how to do this or that so they can do it or manage it themselves.

She wanted to know if this was a good opportunity or something to avoid, and if she did offer it, should the rate be significantly higher. Here’s my advice to her and you:

First, you want to decide if training is the business you want to be in.

It’s one thing to be in the administrative support business; entirely another to be in the training business (as well as going onsite, for that matter).

I’m not sure why any client would assume that, and even if they do, you get to decide whether you are or not. Don’t let clients try and twist you into any pretzels they please.

Know what business you specifically intend to be in and then keep your focus there because if you let yourself be led down every rabbit hole that anyone can take you, your real business and other clients will suffer from your distraction and the time they eat up.

Of course, if you do decide to provide training for this client, I advice you to offer it at a substantially higher fee due to the on-site, personal one-on-one training and attention.

Anytime you have to leave your office, it puts stress and strain on your normal systems and operations, especially if that’s not the thing you are normally in business to do.

That time and energy away creates a significant expense for the business and takes away from other work and clients: time-wise, availability-wise, space-wise, energy-wise and money-wise.

So yes, I would definitely offer that at a considerable premium fee to make it worth your while.

Doing so also creates an additional layer to your top-tier offerings and signifies to clients that this is a special, premium service.

Whenever you get into work that takes you out of the office, it creates significant impact on your profit margins and to the time you have left available to you and your other clients.

As solopreneurs, this is a particularly important consideration for us in the administrative support business.

What you might want to consider offering instead are online training classes (webinars). That way, you can conduct them from your own office (thus reducing the expense to produce and conduct them) and teach several clients all at once, thereby making more money.

That is, IF it’s something you want to be doing/offering. It’s perfectly okay to tell clients, “that’s not what I’m in business to do.”