Archive for July, 2010

Calm Down, Ezines Are Not Dead

An internet marketer recently announced (in the typical hypey, over-dramatic fashion of internet marketers) that she “shockingly” wasn’t going to do an ezine anymore.

Big deal. What’s so all-fired earth-shattering about that?

If something isn’t working for you, by all means, stop wasting the time and energy.

And if you want to start charging for something that you previously gave away for free, just do it.

No need to contrive a bunch of artifice as an excuse.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that maybe a thing that isn’t working could work if it were just done a different way.

Here’s what I know:

Ezines can be done well, or they can be done not so well.

They can be done simply, or they can be done in way that makes them difficult, complicated, burdensome and unsustainable.

Having put out an ezine every Monday for, what, four or five years now, I can tell you that if done right, they can absolutely be a fantastic pipeline-builder and additional marketing channel for your business.

I would also tell you (and the internet marketer) that just because the feedback or participation isn’t readily apparent, that doesn’t mean it’s not working for you.

I sometimes get frustrated with people’s timidity in our industry. But I have to remind myself that sometimes new thinking and ideas put forth are so completely different from the status quo, they often don’t know what to make of it at first.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t paying attention. Because I can see very clearly, not just from my Aweber stats and reports, but also through all the times I hear that someone found me or connected with me via the ezine (or my blog, for that matter), that they are opening and reading and saving and forwarding it.

I wouldn’t abandon the idea of doing an ezine just because some internet marketer dropped hers and now declares them dead for everyone.

The key here is to really know your stuff as well as your target market — because if you don’t, you’re not going to have much to say that is going to be of interest and value to them.

Ezines can be a great tool for growing the know-like-trust factor and nurturing relationships along. But for an ezine to be successful, there has to be some commitment on your part.

You have to write about things your audience will find useful and interesting and you need to have a regular and consistent publishing schedule.

Another thing I find really important is authenticity.

So many ezines are following the most obvious 1-2-3 steps. They get so caught up in following the internet marketer stock-in-trade formula (talk about your kids/pets, launch into self-promotion, feature article, resource) they end up losing their own voice.

Hey, I’m sure your kids are great (just as I think mine is), but I’m really not interested in hearing about them week after freaking week.

It’s just so obviously disingenuous and manipulative.

Then again, maybe I’ve just got more of a nose for the bullshit factor than most people, LOL. (Anyone else feel me on this?).

Anyway, you want to keep it short and sweet so that a) it doesn’t become a drag, and b) it’s an easy read.

There’s no point in doing an ezine (or anything for that matter) if you eventually hate doing it or it’s so long that it’s too much work for your audience to pay attention to.

If you can remember who your audience is (i.e., for God’s sake, stop writing to your colleagues and focus on your clients and what they’re interested in) and keep it real so they can really connect with you as a person (and not simply as some internet marketer trying to capture the money of the masses), an ezine can be a wickedly wonderful way to grow your list and nurture relationships.

Of course, as with anything, an ezine isn’t the only way to do that.

You don’t have to do an ezine at all. Your business isn’t going take a nosedive just because you decide not to do an ezine.

In fact, I would advise against it if you aren’t up the commitment outlined above. Then again, you never know unless you try it out. ;)

Bottom-line, there are good reasons for not doing an ezine. Ditching the idea just because it didn’t work for someone else isn’t one of them.

This Is All a Journey

Starting an administrative support business (or any business, for that matter) is going to be a journey. You won’t just open your doors overnight and bam! you’ve got clients, you’re making money and all goes perfectly. It will not all fall into place and come together neatly wrapped with a bow on top without any glitches or stops and starts along the way.

You will grow in stages. Your learning and business evolution will be ongoing. What you know and understand now will be nothing compared to what you come to know and understand a year from now, two years from now, and so forth. After five years, you’ll look back and marvel at how much you didn’t know (but thought you did). You may even chuckle and feel a little sheepish about how you railed at and resisted the advice of those who have gone before and, as you realized later, actually knew what they were talking about. ;)

Not that any of this is a bad thing. It’s all a normal part of the process. It’s also why these kind of conversations exist on blogs and forums and so forth and are beneficial to your growth. People naturally want to help others. So even though you are not going to know everything right off the bat–and no one expects you to–these conversations will raise your business consciousness. You might never have seen a path otherwise without it having been brought up in a discussion. Or things might have taken you much longer in business than need be without hearing about the mistakes of others. Without these conversations and help from your colleagues, you might keep banging your head upside the same old walls. Likewise, some things might not make sense to you in the beginning, but you come to understand them more clearly later after you’ve gained some experience under your belt. You suddenly “get” it.

Part of what got me to thinking on this was some recent correspondence with a colleague I hadn’t heard from in awhile. She related how she was agonizing over perfecting things. She was also so busy that she’d finally gotten to the point where she was actively seeking her own Administrative Consultant. She lamented that a few recent prospective clients she had consultations with weren’t so ideal. And while another one was really great, she still wasn’t happy with her consultation process and felt she could have done better.

And while she was angsting over all this, I’m seeing nothing but marvelous stuff! She’s established a pipeline and is getting consultations! She’s also got a way better idea where she wants to head with them than she did a year ago. She’s fine-tuning things to suit her needs and she’s able to more quickly identify who is right for her and who isn’t. These are all signs of business maturation and growth!

So many people who play it safe, who are so afraid of failing or making a mistake they never try anything new, who never open their minds to advice that goes against the status quo, never, ever reach these stages. Which is really sad.

So you’ve got to remind yourself now and again that growing in your business isn’t necessarily always going to be comfortable. You are going to agonize and twist and turn as you hone your processes and try new things. You simply aren’t growing without some discomfort and mess. And you will make what you feel are mistakes and gaffes, but they really aren’t. They are merely learning processes.

Honing is something that will occur throughout the life of your business. It’s an ongoing process, not an event. That is, if you’re doing it right.

You will never reach “perfection.” It’s entirely the wrong word to be associating with in the first place. I like to think of business as an artwork in progress. And “progress” is something that is always evolving, always moving, never static.

So embrace these things! What you’re going through is absolutely normal. You’ve got to pat yourself on the back for stepping up and allowing yourself to make mistakes and feel uncomfortable! Be proud about where you are now compared to where you were when you started!

Dear Danielle: Why Can’t I Find Income Tax Info All in One Place?

Dear Danielle:

I submit final draft of my business plan to my mentor soon (I can’t thank you enough for the business plan template you have included in your packages). My question is for the financial aspect of the business plan: calculating the income taxes. There are so many websites out there and not one that offers suggestions of what a someone in our business could file. I mean, you have state, federal, etc. Is it just the same when you are taking an owner’s withdrawal vs. salary? I really want to check all of my resources before I pay an accountant for the same thing I can find myself. –MK

I love to see how you are doing your actual homework!

I can’t stress enough to new business owners the importance of not being penny wise and pound foolish.

What I mean by that is I think every business owner should do this homework to make sure they have a good grasp of these things. That way, when they do talk with an accountant and/or business attorney, the information makes more sense; they understand it at a more cellular level.

Even after doing your own homework, it is more than wise to still consult with an accountant and/or business attorney.

The reason you can’t find all this info spelled out for you is because it all depends.

Your business formation will be relevant. If you are in the U.S., besides federal obligations, different states and localities will have their own varying requirements.

Every person’s situation and circumstances are different. Therefore, there’s just no way around simply going to all the pertinent agencies in your own location, talking to them and getting the low-down on exactly what your particular tax, licensing and reporting obligations are.

And don’t expect one agency to know the particulars of another. It’s not their place, and relying on wrong info they might give can cost you. You need to talk with each one.

As far as figures go, you can figure on 15.3% right off the bat to Uncle Sam. Technically, it’s 12.4% for Social Security up to $106,800 and 2.9% for Medicare. After $106,800, you only have to pay for the Medicare portion of the self-employment taxes.

However, things can get more confusing depending on individual circumstances, like for example, if you have a job in addition to running a business.

Personally, I don’t worry about cut-offs and just keep setting the same amounts aside. Anything extra can go into the fund for future payments or turned over to savings. (And realistically, it’s not likely that you would even hit the $100,000 mark, if at all, until several years in business. Not that’s it’s not possible; it’s just that most people in our industry don’t know how to work with clients or run their businesses in a way that allows them to reach that potential.)

But 15.3% isn’t all that you want to set aside for taxes from your business income…

As far as your state goes, you want to find out if there is an income tax or not (some states have one while others don’t). How much is it? When do you need to pay it? Does your state require a business license? How much is that? How often must it be renewed? What are your reporting obligations?

Your city, even your county, may also have their own business licensing and tax requirements as well. You’ll need to find all of this out.

As you can see, there’s no one-size fits all answer. It all depends. And this is exactly why it is always in your best interests to work with an accountant and/or business attorney.

Even if you think you understand things or have covered all your bases. Because unless you are an accountant or attorney, you simply don’t always know what you don’t know.

And they can literally save your butt from making potentially costly errors, giving you the right advise based on your own particular set of circumstances and business formation and saving you all kinds of time, energy and money trying to figure all that stuff out on your own.

PS: No, an owner’s draw is not the same thing as a salary. Just one of the myriad bits of knowledge you must know about in order to do your own bookkeeping.

You Are Not Truly Partnering with Clients if…

You aren’t truly partnering with clients if all you are doing is outsourcing their work third parties.

And if you have someone or several people supporting you while YOU partner with your clients (which I fully support and advocate) who are not your employees, you shouldn’t be calling it a “multi/team VA” business.

It’s a ridiculous term, and people who run their own businesses (i.e., not your employee) are not part of your team.

Why Would I Work with an Administrative Consultant?

As a business owner, you might be asking yourself, “Why would I pay someone else to do administrative work I can do myself? It seems like it would be easier and cheaper to do it myself.”

The operative word here is “seems.”

Because in all honesty, trying to do everything yourself actually exacts a heavy cost in your business, far more than you realize.

Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.

So, let me tell you why you would want to work with an Administrative Consultant.

  1. To conserve energy. You waste vital energy by trying to do everything yourself in your business. Energy is a finite commodity that comes at a premium when you are running a business. If you spend it all on back-end work, it will deplete the reserves you have for creativity, brainstorming, marketing, developing your business and working with clients.
  2. To create more time. You have better things to do with your time as a business owner than trying to take care of your own administrative work. When you allow an Administrative Consultant to shoulder some of the burden, you can double–even triple–the time you have at your disposal for more important things, such as working with clients, marketing and networking, creating new products and services, or taking time off to recharge.
  3. To stay focused. Trying to take care of every detail yourself in your business will keep you distracted and overwhelmed. Don’t do that. Hire key partners–such as an Administrative Consultant–to help shoulder the load so you can keep your eyes and mind on your goals.
  4. To make faster progress. You can’t be a master of all things. Not to mention the fact that if you don’t excel at certain work, it will be harder and take you longer to accomplish. You will get so much more done, far more quickly, working with an Administrative Consultant than you would trying to do it all by yourself.
  5. To make your life easier. Trying to juggle every single ball in your business all by yourself will stress you out and burn you out. Guaranteed. Working with an Administrative Consultant will cut that stress out and make your life much more peaceful.
  6. To double your resources. Two brains are better than one. When you partner with an Administrative Consultant, all of that expert’s knowledge, expertise and resources are lent to your business. You create a smarter, stronger business foundation as a result.
  7. To make more money. When you have more time, energy and focus to devote to working with clients, marketing and developing your business, you will make more money. It’s as simple as that.

The bottom-line is that you squander more than you save by trying to do it all yourself.

What you gain in time, energy, ease and progress will always be greater than any fees you pay for a competent, expert Administrative Consultant.

Dear Danielle: Should I Use I or We in My Business Plan?

Dear Danielle:

On the business plan template, I am having a hard time coming up with the replacement word for “we” and “our” since it is only “I” who will be doing all the work for now. My mentor stated it is not acceptable to put “I” in its place, that I need to put my business name; however, that is so redundant! Any ideas? –MK

I have to disagree with your mentor on this one.

The fact is most of us in boutique firms and solo practices are not completing business plans for the purpose of getting loans or attracting investors. We’re just not that big.

First and foremost, the point of going through the business planning process is to gain clarity and consciousness about our objectives for our businesses and how to best achieve them.

The value of a business plan is not the formatting, it’s the process, or the journey of the process, if you will.

It’s what we learn and gain insight from by going through the process that is the important thing.

The process forces you to get conscious about things and specifically address them that you might not have otherwise.

Therefore, it matters not a whit whether you use “we” or “us” or “I.”

In fact, if you are an “I’ and specifically not a “we” and your business plan is for your purposes, not for loans or investors, I would say use “I” to speak to yourself and make it more personal.

Of course, if your business plan is doubling as something you would be formally presenting, then by all means use whatever form is accepted and expected.

And don’t forget, there’s no law preventing you from directly asking about what they’d like to see, how they’d like it presented and what will help you get what you’re looking for.