Archive for August, 2012

Every Once In Awhile We Need a Little Reminder

I have to laugh. I wasted some time this past Saturday trying to help a stranger out who emailed me (I get tens and tens of emails every day from people wanting help). Sadly, she ended up being rude, insulting and acting like spoiled, petulant child stomping her feet when she didn’t get the answers she wanted.

In her last message, she said “I’m not even in the same country as you so would hardly be any threat to your market share yet you couldn’t share even a minute piece of helpful information.”

Mind you, I had just spent the course of several emails back and forth with her over a 2 or 3 hour period trying to help her.

(Sweetheart, I’m not looking for new clients so that has nothing to do with it. Don’t blame other people for your inability to understand and lack of business sense and comprehension skills.)

Here’s the funny thing, she had emailed me a month or so back. I replied, but only out of courtesy and gave it as much time and energy as I wanted to give it, which wasn’t much.

See, over the years, I have developed a very keen sixth sense about these things. I couldn’t tell you why exactly, but I just knew that she was someone I shouldn’t expend my time or energy on.

There’s just a way some people ask questions that I just know they aren’t going to understand anything and/or they have some kind of self-entitled, do-everything-and-spell-everything-out-for-me-so-I-don’t-have-to-do-any-thinking-or-work-myself-and-of-course-I want-it-for-free kind of attitude, even if there’s nothing overtly on the surface of their words to indicate that. I just KNOW when I’m dealing with someone like that.

But I ignored my previous gut instinct when she emailed me again and decided that if she put in the effort to reach out twice, I would give her benefit of the doubt. And it got me nothing but a slap in the face.

So yet again, it’s a reminder to listen to your first instincts. Your intuition, your gut, ALWAYS knows when something or someone is not right for you.

But don’t worry. If you forget, there will always be a reminder like this to help you remember. 😉

The Difference Between an Assistant and an Administrative Consultant

There’s a difference between an assistant and an Administrative Consultant.

An assistant is a gopher who is told to do anything and everything. Being an assistant is a role, not an expertise.

An Administrative Consultant is someone who specializes specifically in the art and expertise of administrative work.

You can tell people that you’re a business owner until you’re blue in the face and not their beck-and-call employee, but if you call yourself an assistant, people will always think of you as an assistant, consciously or subconsciously. So stop calling yourself one.

Don’t buy into the idea whatsoever that clients should be able to come to you for anything and everything. It’s utter BS in business and will bury you in muck work and rabbit holes. You’ll never be able to build a flexible, freedom-filled practice if you make yourself stuck being an assistant/gopher to clients. And I’m telling you this as someone who actually DOES this work and runs a business as an Administrative Consultant, not someone sitting in an ivory tower who hasn’t run a support business in over 15 years.

Teaching people how to be assistants except that they now work from their own office instead of sitting outside the boss’s office is not a new paradigm whatsoever.

Being an Administrative Consultant IS a new paradigm because it’s about specializing in the expertise of administrative support, not being anyone’s assistant, not being their gopher, and not being their personal valet or servant.

As an Administrative Consultant, clients come to you specifically for administrative support in the same way that they go to their lawyers for their legal expertise, their accountants for their financial expertise or their designers for their visual and technological marketing expertise.

When you run your business in this way and focus on your specific expertise, not on being anyone’s anything and everything assistant, you can command higher fees, have more freedom and flexibility and more time for your life instead of being chained to your computer.

Why It Matters What You Call Yourself

It’s not the only thing that’s relevant when it comes to educating your market.

And it’s not the most important thing.

BUT…

What you call yourself is the very first marketing message and instructional tool you employ in educating your market, setting expectations and creating understanding.

What you call yourself sets a tone and informs everything that follows.

What you call yourself is the very first thing that sets perceptions, understandings and expectations in prospective clients, particularly in an industry such as ours where it’s not common knowledge or understandable or clear to most people what we do.

What you call yourself affects how clients think of you and understand the relationship (rightly or wrongly).

What you call yourself plays a role in helping you attract ideal (or unideal) clients. It can make the difference between attracting well-paying professional clients who recognize the value of your talents and expertise, and amateurs just looking for a cheap gopher.

Whether you realize it or not, what you call yourself affects the way you perceive yourself, the way you market, how you talk to clients, how you end up working with them and running your business, and the ease or difficulty you have in commanding professional level fees.

You’re a business owner and expert in the art of administrative support. So stop calling yourself an assistant. If you portray yourself as an assistant, that’s exactly how clients will expect to pay you and work with you.

Dear Danielle: I or We?

Dear Danielle:

I have been struggling with “me/I” versus “us/we” when wording my website. The reason I am asking is because I will have my daughter helping on occasion. Do you think that the “we” sounds more professional than the “I”… or should I just represent as a one-woman-show? Thoughts? —Katie Burke

Hi Katie 🙂

I have people who help me in my business as well. However, I predominately use “I” and “my company” because the rapport I want developed is between me and my prospective clients.

I also want to underscore the fact that it is a partnership in which we will be working one-on-one together. I won’t be abdicating or outsourcing our relationship or their work to outside third-parties.

Your website content should be a conversation between you and your ideal prospective client. If you want to bond your reader to you, you make it personal (“you”) and write in the present. Talk with that person as if he or she were sitting right there across from you.

And always remember that your conversation should be focused on and about that other person in the conversation. Done right, you should have a lot more “you” and “your” in there than “I”, “me,” and “my.”

Dear Danielle: How Do You Respond to RFPs?

Dear Danielle:

I really enjoy reading your blog. My question for you is, how do you recommend responding to an RFP (Request for Proposal)? As a member of other forums in our industry where RFPs are posted I struggle with knowing exactly how to submit an effective proposal. I did a quick search on your site and didn’t see anything directly mentioning RFPs or responding to them. I could be wrong. I would really appreciate your input. Thank you. —Anita Armas

Hi Anita 🙂

You didn’t find much on my blog about this because I don’t recommend people pay attention to RFPs whatsoever.

RFPs are the worst way to build your business. Your highest quality potential clients always come from your own pipelines and networking efforts. The lowest quality “leads” come from “job boards” and RFPs. (Hint: As an independent professional, you aren’t applying for “jobs.”)

Clients need to be brought on through your processes and hoops, not the other way around. If you allow them to lead those things, all you’re doing is auditioning to be the lowest priced bidder. Those are never good clients.

Don’t waste your time on RFPs. That’s not how you will build a high-earning, professional administrative support practice.

Here is one of my posts from 2010 for more of my thoughts on the topic.

You can also find more in the RFP category of my blog.

How to Achieve Your Standards, Values and Desires in Your Business

It’s all well and good to be told that to be successful in your business, you should have incredibly high standards, you should refuse to compromise them for anyone, you shouldn’t move too fast, and you should do your best work.

Easier said than done, particularly in the administrative support business!

And what do we mean when we talk about standards? Standards are boundaries, desires and values you have for your life, your business and what you want for your clients.

It can help to look at standards in view of some of the issues we run up against in our businesses that we want to avoid or solve:

  • Clients thinking you’re their beck-and-call substitute employee;
  • Becoming overwhelmed or disorganized with the workload;
  • Being so bogged down and crowded in the work that you aren’t able to do your best work; reacting and scrambling instead of being proactive and having the space to apply critical thinking and creativity (creativity is KILLED by crowding and overwhelm);
  • Working beyond normal business hours into the nights and weekends has become the habit in order to keep up with work and deadlines;
  • Never having time to take proper care of yourself;
  • Having so much work or working so much for one client that you don’t have time or room for anyone or anything else;
  • Living to work; not having enough time for your own life.

Most of us want to do a great job for our clients AND we also want to have plenty of time to enjoy our lives, right? These are two of the most basic standards we all have for being in business.

So how do you avoid these kind of pitfalls I’ve mentioned so you can achieve those standards? How do you ensure you are able to meet those goals and live up to the values you have for yourself, your business and how you want to take care of clients?

With a system!

And what is a system? A system is a method, plan or series of steps involved with the goal of streamlining or reducing work, improving efficiency, instilling consistency and dependability, and creating the circumstances that allow you to do your best work, all the time.

So a system becomes a plan, a roadmap, a tool for being able to achieve certain results, uphold your standards and values, and accomplish your objectives for your life, your business and your clients.

Without a system for being able to uphold your standards and boundaries, for managing the workload and client expectations, for working in a way that allows you to earn well without sacrificing quality of work and service, you will always feel a downward pull and drag that works against you in your business.

This, in turn, directly impacts your earning ability and income potential.

  • You NEED to avoid being crowded in the work so that you can do your best work, all the time, for all your clients.
  • You NEED the right conditions and operating policies and procedures in place so that you can work with your right number of clients and earn well in the process (business success is no success if you are not profitable and earning well in terms of both money AND discretionary time).
  • You NEED to have time for your life or you will become unhappy and resentful of your clients and the work, and won’t be able to serve either well.

This is what my class on August 22 is all about… teaching you my simple, unique, insanely easy-to-implement systems, policies and methods for achieving these kind of results in YOUR business.

This Wednesday, August 15, is the VERY last day to register and I don’t want you to miss out. These systems will change your life.

Check it out here >>

You Are an Administrative Partner

When you are in business, you are not anyone’s assistant.

As an Administrative Consultant, you are an administrative expert clients partner with for support in that area in the same way that a client “partners” with an attorney for legal support or an accountant/CPA for financial advice and guidance, etc.

Two More Phrases to Delete from Your Biz Vocabulary

Two more phrases to delete from your biz vocabulary and website content: “work-from-home” and “home-based business.”

You are sending out the wrong signals and setting wrong perceptions in your potential clients with these phrasings.

“Work-from-home” is a phrase that refers to telecommuting—both of which are terms of employment, not business.

The fact that you run your business from home is completely irrelevant. A business is a business, period.

Even thought it might be true that you technically are a “home-based business,” that phrase detracts from your professional image and has a subtle, subconscious implication that it is somehow different or less than a regular business.

I’m not suggesting you lie about it; you merely don’t need to point it out or emphasize it or focus on that detail whatsoever.

‎(By the way, this is also the reason the word “virtual” is completely ridiculous to be using in business. It’s a completely superfluous, inane, irrelevant detail that doesn’t need to a part of your title, marketing or business conversations whatsoever.)

Dear Danielle: How Do I Handle Requests Outside My Expertise?

Dear Danielle:

Hi! I often get asked by clients how to put together a “media kit” to get the word out for their events and what-not. While I am good at some marketing things, this stumps me with the overwhelming, not so helpful examples and opinions on the Internet. If you can, please shed some light on this brain thumper for me. Thanks so much! —Chrissy Ford, Organized Resources, Etc.

Hi Chrissy! Thanks so much for the question. 🙂

Rather than getting into the ingredients and mechanics of what goes in a media kit, I want to talk about some business concepts and mindsets involved in this kind of situation.

As you mention, marketing is not your field of expertise. And of course it’s not. Because you’re an ADMINISTRATIVE consultant, not a marketing consultant.

So the first concept this brings up is the idea around hiring the right professional for the job.

What I mean by that is, for example, if you’re a plumber, it’s not your job to become a mechanic just because a client needs his car fixed. You’re a plumber. Fixing cars is not the business you’re in and not your field of expertise.

See what I mean?

Now, people aren’t going to be calling a plumber when their car breaks down because they know what a plumber does and what a mechanic does. We all understand the distinctions.

But the problem in our industry, particularly for those who call and market themselves as “assistants,” is that these distinctions are not as clear. And that’s because people see and understand assistants as gophers, not as experts in one particular anything.

For those calling themselves assistants, this is why they not only have a much more difficult time commanding professional fees (because gophers are not highly valued experts and people accordingly don’t expect to pay them well), but it’s why they are frequently asked to do things that have nothing to do with administrative support.

So the second concept has to do with business mindset and understanding that you are not a gopher, you are an administrative expert. That is your field of expertise. You need to lead and focus on a clear-cut definition of what you’re in business to do and what your expertise is so that clients easily see and understand what your professional role is.

This also entails that you stop calling yourself an assistant. If administrative support is the business you are in, call yourself an Administrative Consultant instead and see just what a difference it makes!

These concepts also directly relate to managing your business and productivity as well. You can’t be in business to do anything and everything. Those who try are spread really thin, really quickly, all the time. If you want to have a productive business that leaves you plenty of time for life, you can’t let yourself be led down rabbit holes by taking on work that you consider outside your field of expertise or is not the type of thing you’re in business to do. Let clients hire the right professionals for those other things.

So when you are asked by clients to take on something that isn’t your role in your business to do, you can handle it one of several ways:

  1. You could decline the request, indicating to the client that it’s not your field of expertise, and that they would be best served by a [INSERT TITLE HERE] professional/consultant because that’s the kind of thing they are in business to do and are experts at.
  2. You could accept the request, letting the client know that it’s not your area of expertise, that you know as much as they do about the topic, and if they are okay with that, while you’ll do your best, it’s not going to be the same level or kind of expertise as they’d get by going to the proper professional.
  3. If you accept the request, you could let the client know that their request is a special project and not something included in their administrative support plan, and that you charge separately for special projects of that nature.

I know that doesn’t answer your direct question, but I hope it brings up some other ideas that are helpful to you in your business. If you have further questions on any of this, please do post in the comments. I’m happy to continue the conversation. 🙂

Dear Danielle: What Is a Retainer?

Dear Danielle:

I am fairly new to the business and have a few clients I know and trust, but am branching out and will be acquiring clients I have no prior experience with. Do you have any recommendations or suggestions on how to deal with billing new clients who you have no prior working relationship with?  When billing a monthly retainer package of $1,000, for example, if you do a month’s worth of work, then send them the bill, and wait another 30 days to get paid, you could potentially be working for 60 days before you get paid.  Do you recommend asking for part or all of your monthly fee up front or would you bill at the end of the month? —LB

This is a great question because it’s another reminder for us veterans that we can never take for granted that everyone knows what we think are commonly understood principles or details in business.

So, the first thing I would explain is that a retainer is a monthly upfront fee paid in full and in advance of service. And the service for which retainers are charged in our business is a month of ongoing administrative support.

The idea is that you and the client are entering into a relationship. With the retainer, they are securing a spot on your roster, reserving your time and preserving their priority over any other side (non retainer) clients or project work you do in your business.

With retainers, they are generally billed with due dates of “on or before the 1st.” There are no “deposits” toward a retainer because it’s not a layaway plan. They either pay beforehand or they don’t receive services.

In my practice, I have clients sign a credit card authorization form (AGR-30 in the Success Store) so that I can automatically run their credit card when it’s time for them to pay their retainer each month. So essentially, I pay myself, and my due date is the 25th of each month (and I never pay myself late, lol).

I do this because:

  1. the 1st is one of the busiest days of the month for me and for my clients (and most people running businesses, I think). I don’t want my money and being paid held up in any way; and
  2. if I happen to do billing for any clients (i.e., invoicing their clients on their behalf), I don’t have my business’s billing and theirs all trying to compete for my attention on the same day.

If you are billing after the fact, that is not a retainer. For the reasons you recognize (and that fact that you’ll run into far more nonpayment issues with nothing to mitigate your losses), you will have all kinds of financial problems if you bill at the end of the month for services already rendered. The last thing you need to be in is the credit lending business (which is basically what you’d be creating by billing after the fact and waiting to be paid).

How you bill in your business becomes part of your business management and systems for success. It should be given as much careful thought and consideration as every other planning and operational aspect of your business.

This is also an example of the kind of things I will be sharing with attendees at my business management systems class this coming August 22. Check it out!