Archive for September, 2010

Dear Danielle: How Do I Advertise for Referral Partners?

Dear Danielle:

I am new at publishing e-newletters and blogs, however, I know these are great tools to get the word out about my company and to attract new clients.  I plan to create a monthly e-newsletter and I want to be able to add great news about my referral partners. However, I want to know what is the best way to get the word out that I am looking for referral partners. Should I add it to my website or make a note in my e-newsletters? Thanks for your advice.  –GD

I think that’s a terrific idea–to spotlight your referral partners in your blog and ezine.

Because if you’re going to be referral partners with someone, it’s the “partner-y” thing to do to actively promote them in the same way you hope they are doing for you.

So often we see folks becoming referral “partners” and it becomes a one-way street with one person doing all the referring and the other person not making an equal effort.

That’s not cool, and if that’s the case, they don’t deserve to be referral partners with you.

What they fail to understand is that one of the best ways to get referrals is to give them.

For those who don’t know what we’re talking about, a referral partner is someone in the same or similar business or complementary field that you refer business to.

There are a lot of reasons you would refer business to someone else:

  • Your practice might be full.
  • A client who isn’t your cup of tea, might be perfect for that other person.
  • A client is seeking a service you aren’t in business to provide (e.g., you in the administrative support business and they need a marketing consultant or web designer).
  • You like to be a resource to your current clients whenever they seek services that aren’t related to what you are in business to do.

Print shops offer a good example of the complementary referral relationship. They always know of several designers and photographers they can refer their customers to.

Each of these is a different business and profession, but the work is related and they all serve the same sort of market. So they complement each other in that way.

It makes perfect sense for them to refer to each other, and being a resource who can refer others and make qualified recommendations is a HUGE help to clients and customers.

Referral partnering is an informal, but intentional, relationship where one business owner approaches another and says, “Hey, I think you’re awesome and you do great work. If you feel the same about me, let’s refer clients to each other when those opportunities arise. Maybe we can even meet once a month or so to brainstorm ideas on how we can promote and refer business to each other.”

Now while I think it’s absolutely wonderful to promote your referral partners whenever you have the chance, I do have a few thoughts about the rest of your question.

First, I don’t know that I would necessarily advertise for referral partners.

That is, if I advertised for referral partners, do I really want to receive what might be tons of emails to wade through and create for myself the extra work and burden of basically interviewing people?

And second, how substantive and authentic would it be for me to refer those I really don’t know much about or have actual experience with?

I would prefer to find and nurture those relationships more organically, and selectively choose or approach potential referral partners based on the fact that I’ve developed a relationship and/or gotten to know them to some good extent over a period of time.

I don’t want to just have people I can refer to. I want to refer to people whose talents, work and reputation I have confidence in and will be a good reflection on the recommendations I give. I want my word to mean something. A disingenuous, unsubstantive referral is not helpful.

One last thought, while you are helping give back to your referral buddies, think about also devoting a separate space or blurb about what makes an ideal client referral for you.

Those who are reading your blog and ezine might not be ready to work with you, but they might know of someone who is.

So make it really clear about who you are specifically looking to work with (your target market—which is the industry/field/profession you cater your administrative support to—and ideal client), and you’ll get many more referrals because you’d made it easy for them to remember and send people your way.

Dear Danielle: What Does the Waiver Mean?

Dear Danielle:

As you may remember, I purchased a set of your awesome business forms. Question: Can you clarify the waiver? “Any waiver by either party of a breach or violation of provision of this Agreement by the other party shall not operate or be construed as a waiver of any subsequent breach by either party. No waiver shall be binding unless executed in writing.” –TG

Great to see you reading so thoroughly! First, I need to make clear that I’m not an attorney (obviously) so this isn’t to be construed as legal advice.

However, as business owners, we do need to have at least a basic working knowledge about contracts and such, what certain terms mean and why you have them in your contracts (or understand them when you are signing contracts). So this is a really smart question for you to be asking. :)

What this clause basically means is that if one party breaches (violates) a part of the contract and that breach is waived (allowed or “forgiven”) by the other party, that doesn’t mean that if they breach another part of the contract, that second breach will also automatically be waived or forgiven.

It means that each breach is handled independently, and if a waiver is given (i.e., you decide to let it slide), it won’t be binding or enforceable unless it’s put in writing. It also means that just because you might waive one occurrence of a breach, you are not obligated to waive it again or allow it to continue.

The reason you have these in your contracts is like anything else in business–because it helps make sure everyone is operating under the same understandings. It’s about putting things in writing and clearly spelling out expectations for doing business together, and what happens when those expectations and obligations to each other are not met.

Without these kind of terms committed to writing, it’s much more difficult to enforce them legally should that become necessary. Ultimately it’s all about keeping things fair and honorable and creating the best circumstances for playing nicely with one another.

As with all things legal, always, always consult a lawyer for the last word in these matters.

A Little Marketing Imagination

I was catching up on some ezine reading over the weekend. Judy Murdoch always has great stuff, and one of her recent articles inspired an idea I thought I would share.

In this particular article, she talked about working with a client who designs children’s clothing using vintage fabrics and patterns and how retailers were extra picky these days about taking on untried vendors due to the ecomony. Although neither she nor the client had much experience in retail marketing, she very handily relied on a tool from her advertising days with great success: the customer profile.

(Excellent stuff; be sure and read the article in full.)

Before I’d even finished reading the article, my mind was racing with ideas. One in particular was a riff on the old “trunk sale.”

Don’t know what a trunk sale is?

Back in the day, I knew someone who was friends with Tarina Tarentino. Maybe you’ve heard of her? She has a makeup line in Sephora now and is getting her finger in all sorts of other fun things. But her main claim to fame is jewelry design. Lovely, sparkly, wonderfully imaginative little beauties.

When she was first starting out, she would have trunk sales at high-end retail stores like Nordstrom’s. At a trunk sale, what you do is set up a little display (sometimes even literally out of a trunk), and the store makes a special event of it. If your sales and products go over well with customers, the store buyer may decide to officially pick up your product line. It’s one of the ways folks get their foot in the door of selling their products at retailers.

My first thought was how Judy’s client could do trunk sales with great results. After coming up with the customer profile and using that to determine the best retailers to focus on, she could propose the idea of putting on a special trunk sale and making an event out of it.

It would give the retailer an opportunity to promote their own business in the process by contacting their customers and giving them a fun reason to come into the store. They could provide drinks and refreshments, maybe come up with some interactive activities and giveaways. And they could be sure to give folks a reason to leave their email addresses (such as a giveaway or contest) so they could be added to their mailing lists.

So not only would Judy’s client be creating an opportunity, in a fun way, to get her foot in the door of these retailers, she would also be helping them market their businesses at the same time. If I was a retailer, I can’t think of anything that wouldn’t be irresistible about that.

Well, there’s no reason you couldn’t do a version of the trunk sale in a professional services business–live or online–with a little imagination.

Put together a little presentation, combine it with some fun, interactive games or contest, and make sure there is a call to action and some way of capturing email addresses. Fun and interactive would be the keys here. Organize it like a party or a shower, not a self-serving promotion. Propose the idea of having a client or another business host the event and you’re giving them an excuse to get in front of their audience as well.

Put those thinking caps on!

Do You Need an Administrative Consultant or an Employee?

One of the biggest challenges the administrative support industry at large has is helping a significant part of the marketplace understand that independent professionals are business owners, not employees.

In reading this, you might be wondering, “Huh? I just need someone to do my stuff.” But as a business owner intending to work with a Administrative Consultant, understanding the nature of your relationship is going to be critical to your success in working together, and making sure there is an alignment of expectations.

It’s important that you understand one thing very clearly: An Administrative Consultant is not a replacement for employees. As independent professionals running businesses (not working in employment to you), there are going to be very distinct differences in how and when you work together. The better you understand this, the better the chances are for a successful business relationship.

How to Tell When You Need an Employee

Sometimes a business just needs an employee. This is generally the case if you need someone to be solely dedicated to you and pretty much at your beck and call. Also, if you require control over the worker’s schedule, how the work is performed, etc., you need an employee. You might also need an employee if the workload is so great that it simply requires a dedicated in-house employee (or several) to manage it on a daily basis.

When an Administrative Consultant Is the Best Solution

Sometimes, having an employee isn’t an option for a business. It might be because there’s not enough of a workload to warrant hiring an employee (and dealing with all the attendant taxes and legalities that go along with it). Or, you might not have anywhere to put an employee, such as if you work from a home office or are on the road a lot. Or, you simply aren’t interested in the extra administration, supervision and management that comes with an employee, and prefer to work alone.

But just because your business is smaller, doesn’t mean you don’t need help. Every business does!

When that is the case, working with an Administrative Consultant will absolutely offer you the very best, most convenient and strategic alternative in meeting your administrative support needs.

What’s the Difference?

An Administrative Consultant is an independent professional who is in the business of providing ongoing administrative support to business owners. As administrative experts, they can also help you streamline your business and instill systems and processes to improve your workflows and create a more cost-effective operation. While Administrative Consultants do a lot of work that is similar to what an employee would do, it’s important to keep in mind that since they are not employees, there are going to be differences in when and how you work together.

When you hire an Administrative Consultant, you are hiring an independent professional who runs her own business. That means, unlike an employee who is paid a wage or salary to be solely dedicated to you and your business, an Administrative Consultant sets her own fees, has her own business policies, procedures and systems for working with clients, and is in business to support several clients at once.

The very best way to create a successful, mutually respectful relationship with an Administrative Consultant (and avoid costly liability due to worker misclassification) is to understand that you are a client, not an employer. That means you understand that:

The Administrative Consultant runs her own business and sets her own fees, hours, policies and procedures;
You won’t be managing or supervising her, or the work, in any way;
The Administrative Consultant doesn’t “report” to you in the way that an employee would (e.g., reporting for duty, submitting time sheets, etc.); and
You as the client have the right to control or direct only the result of the work performed by your Administrative Consultant, and not the means and methods of accomplishing that result.

This Isn’t a Choice, It’s the Law

In the United States, the U.S. Dept. of Labor and the IRS govern what constitutes an employee versus an independent contractor relationship. A business owner who gets it wrong can wind up paying not only costly back taxes and penalties, but also all the expenses that the worker would have had as a full-time employee, including overtime and benefits.

You can avoid all of that by simply understanding that your Administrative Consultant is a business owner—a vendor to whom you turn for administrative consulting services—NOT your employee, and treating the relationship accordingly. The resources below provide excellent information on understanding the differences so that you can establish a great relationship with an Administrative Consultant and avoid getting yourself into legal hot water.

RESOURCES: For more information, check out these publications: IRS: Independent Contractor vs. Employee (U.S.); IRS Publication 1779: Independent Contractor or Employee? (U.S.); CRA Publication RC4110(E): Employee or Self-Employed (Canada).

Marketing Lessons from a Greasy Spoon

Sometime last year, I happened upon a greasy spoon in some out of the way corner of our city that I never knew existed. My guy and I absolutely love down-home food (especially of the breakfast persuasion) and we giggle like little kids whenever we find a gem like this.

If you blink, you’ll miss the place entirely. It presents such an unassuming face from the outside. But the minute you set foot into the small, crowded room and are warmly greeted by the friendly waitress, you know it’s something special.

You would think that a teeny tiny space might be a little off-putting, but somehow it just works. You feel like you’re in a cozy cocoon bundled up with friends, even though you don’t know a soul there. The tables have pretty, embroidered cloths on them and each is brightly accentuated with a vase of fresh meadow flowers. Customers sitting at different tables laugh and chat as if they’d known each other for years.

When the menu is brought to you (along with some iced water to sip on while you peruse your choices), you can’t help but notice the personal care and attention that went into the details. The pages are stitched together by hand with some happy-colored yarn. On the cover is a photo of the owner and a letter (written as if to you, personally) about her joy in bringing good food and good spirit to her customers. The love she has for what she does is undeniable and you immediately feel cared for.

After ordering, you notice a little guestbook with pens and crayons next to the flowers. You look around and see that every table has one. You open yours up and begin reading all the precious, sometimes hilarious, notes left by previous customers raving about the food, the owner and the atmosphere (or commiserating about their hangovers). On some pages there are drawings by children whose parents, I’m sure, were grateful to have something with which to occupy their attention.

Before you know it, your food arrives and you are unexpectedly delighted by the portions, which are neither meagerly small nor gluttonously indulgent. They are just perfect and you feel you are getting way more than your penny’s worth. As soon as you sink your teeth into the first bite, you realize the food lives up to every promise of the delicious aromas that have been teasing you.

You learn from the menu that everything is made fresh each day from scratch–right down to the jam, which you can purchase to take home with you–and locally grown whenever possible. You realize you will never again be able to stomach another processed, assembly-lined Denny’s meal in your life now that you’ve had this humble, yet sumptuous, repast.

As you bring your head up for air (which is difficult to do as your dish is just soooo good), you notice a couple maps on the wall, one of the United States and one of Europe and the rest of the world. Hundreds of little pushpins are tacked all over each map. A note to the side that asks, “Where do you call home?” invites you to push your own pin into your home town. How fun! As evidenced by the maps, customers here come from far and wide.

The other thing I should mention is that this little home-away-home only serves breakfast and closes by 1:30 p.m each day (except Sundays and Mondays when they are closed). They focus on doing that one thing so spectacularly well that they’ve gained a devoted flock of customers from around the world standing in line outside the door.

As I finished my hearty, satisfying first meal there, I couldn’t help but think about what an extraordinary service and marketing example this little hole in the wall sets for businesses of any kind. Big companies could take quite a few cues from them!

Look at the creative way they used guestbooks to generate testimonials and reviews. See how they build a sense of community in a fun, interactive way with their pushpin maps. Notice how all the attention to small details evokes the feeling of home and family. The owner makes a personal connection with her photo and her message on each and every menu. You really feel the warmth and enthusiasm she has put into her labor of love–her restaurant, her customers and her cooking–and it’s contagious.

Think about the last time you did business with someone where the experience was so wonderful it really sticks in your memory. How did that business deliver that experience to you? What was it they did that made it so memorable? What were the little touches that really brought it home for you? What could you be doing in your own business to have the same effect on your clients and customers?

I don’t have all the answers on this topic; none of us does. This is a journey each of us experiments with and sees and feels for ourselves. The point is that soulful business inspiration abounds in our world every day! Be conscious and aware of your own experiences as a customer. What kind of wonderful ideas can you adapt and implement in your own business to delight those you serve?

Dear Danielle: Do I Need an Address on My Website?

Dear Danielle:

There’s a conversation going on in another forum regarding addresses. Some people think it’s important to have one on your site and others think it’s unnecessary. What’s your opinion? –KH

I’ve spoken on this topic before on more than one occasion. Let me take the slightly longer road in answering because it’s important you understand the psychology behind this.

One of the reasons we talk so much about standards and serving ourselves first in business is because our industry continues to really, really struggle in this area.

A big part of the problem is the term “virtual assistant.”

When you keep calling yourself an assistant, it’s hard to look upon yourself as a business owner.

On top of this, and very often because of it, many people in our industry literally do not understand that they are business owners.

They really do think they are simply assistants, only they are now working from home.

And like good little assistants, they let clients tell them what to do in their own businesses.

They think it’s all about the client and whatever the client wants, needs and demands. <Give that good little girl who knows how to follow orders a pat on the head.>

And that just doesn’t help anybody.

It certainly doesn’t help those colleagues grow successful businesses (and by successful, I mean a business — not a hobby — that is solvent, self-sustaining, and earns them an actual living).

And whether they understand or realize it or not, it doesn’t help clients who much prefer not to have to shoulder the burden of leading everything in the relationship. (That’s what they come to the professionals for.)

But if they aren’t looking at you like a professional, they’re looking at you like a trained monkey (i.e., employee/assistant), which puts us back to square one.

You don’t have a business if you aren’t leading it and aren’t making any money.

Thus, getting over employee mindset, remembering that you are a business owner, having standards and making sure the business meets your needs first and that you get to say how it all works and how it doesn’t, is a constant and necessary conversation we have.

You’ve heard the saying, “You can’t care for others unless you first care for yourself.” That’s exactly what all that is about.

But then there are some folks who get carried away with all that to the point that all they think about is themselves in business.

They declare (and we’ll use the topic of the question here), “Well, I don’t want to put an address on my website. I don’t need to and I don’t have to because I’m virtual!”

To that I say, what on earth does being virtual have to do with anything? A business is a business.

They forget that being in business is about being in a relationship with clients. And a relationship is a two-way street. It’s not all about you (me, me, me, me, me)  and what you want and what works for you.

Yes, you get to say how things work in your business. Yes, you get to have high standards around the kind of work you do, the kind of clients you work with, and the kind of money you charge. You can not truly  and superbly help clients without those things.

At the same time, there are some considerations you must be willing to extend to clients – because you don’t have a business with them. And the bottom line is people are people.

So having an address on your site isn’t about what’s important to you. It’s about what’s important to the clients visiting your site.

It’s about helping them view you as credible and legitimate. It’s about trust, instilling confidence, and helping them feel safe about potentially doing business with you.

It’s not for you that an address should be on your site, it’s for the benefit of your would-be clients, and helping put their minds at ease.

Long story short, YES, it’s absolutely vital to have an address on your website.

It doesn’t have to be a physical address (and if you run a home-based business, I would absolutely tell you NOT to use your home address. It’s unsafe, and you do not want clients or strangers showing up on your doorstep out of the blue).

Get a post office box instead. If a post office isn’t close to you, businesses like Mailboxes Etc. come to mind. Alternatively, you can get a mailing address with a service like Earth Class Mail (which is a phenomenal service, by the way).

I would add that besides an address and phone number, put some kind of photo of yourself on your site, in your email signatures, in your forum profiles.

Get a gravatar so that when you post comments to blogs, people see your smiling face.

Being able to “see” who they are talking with goes a LONG way in establishing trust and rapport and facilitating conversation. It helps folks see you as a person – rather than a nameless, faceless entity – and they’ll remember you much better when they have a face to go with the name.

10 Tips for Harnessing the Power of Referrals

One of the ways you will get new clients in your business is through simple word-of-mouth. What’s wonderful about referral-based business is that when you are referred by a happy client or business associate, they are giving you an automatic seal of approval.

People trust the recommendations of their friends and business associates. You can’t buy better advertising than that!

Here’s how you can help nurture your referral-based business along…

1. Create a hardcopy referral kit. If you do an in-person business of some kind, create a referral kit that you can provide to clients and associates. Collateral you might include are:

  • Ideal referral profile
  • Business cards
  • Brochures
  • CDs
  • Mailers
  • Sign-up forms (to capture email addresses)
  • Case studies
  • White papers
  • Promo items

2. Create an online referral kit. It’s a virtual world anymore so make things even easier by creating an online referral kit (similar to an online media room). Items you might include are:

  • Ideal referral profile PDF
  • Case study or two PDF
  • Brochure PDF
  • White papers in PDF
  • Ad graphic that referrers can place on their site
  • Links to specific pages you want prospects directed to
  • Links to your social media profiles

3. Solicit feedback from clients on a regular basis. Always ask clients for their feedback at the end of every project. Don’t be afraid to hear anything negative. You can’t grow unless you know exactly where your blindspots are. If you work with retained clients, get their feedback every six months to see how you are doing.

4. Include testimonials on your site. Besides clients actively referring to you, you can also use their testimonials to refer business to yourself. Ask happy clients for testimonials. If they’ve provided a glowing review on a feedback form, ask if you can use it in your marketing.

5. Provide full client profiles. Testimonials have more meaning when the visitor sees they are from real people. Provide the full name and business of the client with a link to their website. Better yet, include a photo.

6. When you make it clear, you make it easy. You notice I mention “ideal referral profile” up in #1 and 2. Here’s what that means: You can’t work for anyone and everyone, and you can’t be in business to do anything and everything. The more narrow and specific you are about who your target market is and how you help them, the easier you make it for others to refer to you. And they’ll do so more often.

7. Buddy up. Become referral partners with several other colleagues, vendors and professionals. That way, when you each have clients you can’t work with or work you can’t or don’t do in your business, you can refer to those people and vice versa.

8. Join forces. Sort of like co-branded advertising and marketing, you get referrals at the same time someone is referring you.

9. Say thank you. It really is important! People like to be acknowledged for their help and they like to keep helping those who remember their manners. Make it job #1 to let the person who referred that recent new client know how much you appreciate them.

10.  A quick word about paid referral programs: don’t. When it comes to professional services, my advice is don’t pay for referrals. Not with money, not with free time, not with free services. You don’t need to and it really casts the referral in a less than authentic light and makes it suspect. You don’t want prospective clients to think the only reason someone is referring you to them is because they’re getting paid in some way. On top of that, you just create more administration in your business and work and accounting you have to keep track of. It’s an unnecessary headache you don’t need.

People like to help. They like to help their friends, clients and colleagues. They love it when they can be a resource and font of information. Help them be a resource to others by providing them with fabulous service and work and giving them the tools to spread the word about you—and they will!

RESOURCE: What are clients really thinking about your work and service? How well are you meeting their needs and expectations? The Client Feedback Form gives you the tool to really find out with a combination of quantifiable measurements and free-form responses. The client sentiment information this tool collects is like gold and will help you create before and after case studies and turn feedback into testimonials while capturing referrals at the same time.

Is a Web Designer an Assistant?

Is a Web designer an assistant?

Is a bookkeeper or accountant an assistant?

Is an attorney an assistant?

Aren’t all these very specific areas of expertise? Do they call themselves assistants?

No? Then why do you think you have to call yourself an assistant in order to deliver your administrative support and expertise?

Change how you think of yourself, your expertise and what you are in business to do, and you will absolutely revolutionize your ability to be more financially successful and have more freedom in your life and business.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you have to be an assistant in order to be of value, deliver your administrative expertise, and help clients move forward. It’s absolute crap.

Dear Danielle: How Do I Know to Whom to Refer?

Dear Danielle:

Love your blog. Just one question: In terms of finding other Administrative Consultants to refer clients to that I cannot or will not serve, how do I know who is good or not? Is there a way around shooting in the dark? –TJ

Great question! Here are a few thoughts and ideas for ya:

  1. Don’t feel like you have to refer to actual colleagues if you don’t know anyone yet. If you are new to the industry, it will simply take time to get to know others well enough to decide who you’d be comfortable referring prospective clients to. As you recognize, your reputation is tied to the referrals you make, so you want to make sure you only refer to those you have found to be competent and professional. You never want to make a recommendation willy nilly.
  2. Getting involved in industry organizations, forums and listservs is really the only way to get to know colleagues. As you interact with others, you’ll begin to notice those folks who really stand out in terms of demonstrating their competence, professionalism and knowledge.
  3. Taking that a step further, make a point of establishing relationships with those folks and become referral partners for each other.
  4. Another way to help those clients out that you can’t or don’t want to work with, when you don’t have a specific person to refer them to, is to simply provide them with a link to your industry organization. That’s a perfectly helpful gesture as well.