Archive for January, 2013

There’s No Such Thing as “General” Administrative Support

There’s no such thing as “general” administrative support.

Well, there is, but if you are only providing something “generally,” you deserve to be low-paid.

Administration is the backbone of every business in the world. Without proper, attentive administration, a business flounders and fails.

Administration, therefore, can only be provided—properly—when it is uniquely geared for that client’s unique business set-up, needs, challenges and goals.

And when that is the case, it is anything but “general.”

So stop using such a derogatory, devaluing word in reference to your administrative expertise and support. What you do makes all the difference in whether a client’s business succeeds or fails. There’s nothing general about that.

When you use the word “general,” you create a subtext that sabotages and contradicts your efforts in attracting well-paying clients who value your expertise.

What you are telling the world and your prospects, in between the lines, is that the support is “less than” and less important than other things they could be spending their money on.

So you are telling them to devalue it at the same time that you are trying to earn their business and be paid properly just by using the word “general” in reference to your administration and support.

Shift your thinking about what you do and it’s value in the world. What you do is vital, it’s important and it’s specific.

Dear Danielle: How Can I Refuse a Client without Getting Into Legal Trouble?

In this episode of What Would Danielle Say?, LH from the United States writes to ask:

Dear Danielle:

I am in the process of starting my Administrative Consulting business and am at the point where I need to develop policies and procedures. I was reading your post of Oct. 23, 2012 (You Do NOT Have to Take the Good with the Bad) about being able to choose which clients you want to work with and having the right to refuse any client you choose. How exactly do you go about refusing a prospective client diplomatically and without setting yourself up for legal troubles? Have you ever had an experience like this? —LH

I asked LH to elaborate a bit more on what legal troubles she was referring to:

I’m thinking, for instance, if I were to say to a prospect that I didn’t think we were a good match for a business relationship because of the type of business they are in. I have not run into this problem and I’m just thinking generally and hypothetically because I know how crazy people can get over the least little thing. I wouldn’t want to end up being sued for “discrimination” when it would be a simple matter of conscience. I hope that as I continue to narrow my target market (I’m still in the startup phase) that problem would be eliminated. But I like to consider all the random “what ifs” just to make sure my bases are covered. I guess you can say I have the “prepare for the worst but expect the best” attitude.  I would love to know your thoughts on the issue.

So here are my thoughts on this:

Basically, it’s a non-issue and you’re borrowing needless worry. Don’t do that. 😉

Let me put your mind at ease. You are not obligated, legally or otherwise, to take on any client who is not a fit for you. As you stated very well yourself, it’s a matter of conscience and ethics.

You can’t do your best work or have a mutually happy-making relationship with any client who foundationally is not a great match for you. It’s for their benefit as much as yours that you decline clients who are not ideal.

You already understand this. I think you maybe just needed some confirmation and validation. Amirite? 🙂

So how this would normally play out is that you present lots of in-depth, educational content on your website so that your ideal clients are drawn to you, recognize themselves in your descriptions and see that you are just the right person who knows how to help them with their administrative needs, goals and challenges.

In this way, your website content also becomes part of your front-line pre-qualification system because it organically helps weed out those prospects who are not a fit at the same time it is attracting your ideal prospects, getting them interested and moving them to the next step.

Next, you have a consultation and part of your consultation process might entail that potential clients complete a form or preliminary questionnaire so you can gather information before you meet and further determine (again, as part of the whole pre-qualifying process) if this is a prospect who fits your ideal client profile.

If they do, that’s when you proceed to meet in a consultation where you ask your questions and talk, see if there’s good chemistry and get the info you need to find out whether this is someone you can help and want to work with or not.

If after going through all those steps, it turns out you don’t want to take that person on as a client, that you’re not a fit for whatever reason, you simply inform them that after considering all the information, you aren’t going to be the best person to meet their needs.

I also like what you also said about it being a matter of conscience. It’s diplomatic and it’s the truth so include that. It let’s them know you’re looking out for their best interests and that it’s nothing personal.

Be sure to provide them with the links to the ACA Directory and the Client Guide so that they can continue in their search. And if you happen to know of a specific colleague who might be a better fit, refer them to that person as well.

Perhaps you’ve discovered they were confused entirely about what you are and do and need another kind of professional entirely so be sure to give them that advice to  aid them in their search. (And if that is the case, it means you need to go back to your website and improve the message because it is clearly not doing it’s job of thoroughly and properly educating visitors about what you do, who you do it for and how you help them.)

Now, ideally, your prequalifying processes weed those folks out and determine whether someone is a good client candidate long before you expend your valuable time in consultation. That is the purpose and goal of having a system of intentional prequalification. This will be particularly important later in your business when you are more established and have less time to spare in what I call “practice” consultations. You will want to reserve your time and energy only for the most ideal of prospects so always be honing and improving upon your prequalifying systems.

This is another one of the places that having a very specific target market is going to make a dramatic difference in your success. When you know specifically the profession and the profile of the kind of client you want to work with, you can create much more extensive, compelling copy to attract them to you and move them through the process of becoming a client. And when you know who you ideal AND non ideal client is, it will be easier for you to recognize the red flags that start waving when you are dealing with a non ideal potential client so that you can head things off before you waste any time in consultation.

I have a couple of products that will help you tremendously in these areas.

I’ve explained the basic outline of consulting for retained clients, but there’s obviously much more to the entire process and a certain methodology to things that makes them effective. You need to know how to talk with prospects, how to set up your prequalifying systems, how to lead the conversation and what questions to ask that will best facilitate moving your ideal prospects to becoming monthly-paying retainer clients.

Breaking the Ice: Your Complete Step-by-Step System to Confidently Lead the Consultation Conversation and Convert Prospects to Retained Clients

Breaking the Ice: Your Complete, Step-by-Step System to Confidently Lead the Consultation Conversation and Convert Prospects to Retained Clients (GDE-03)

You also mention needing to establish policies and processes and I have a product for setting up a lean, mean, streamlined biz mo-chine that both enables you to take better care of clients AND gives you more time, freedom and flexibility for your own life. This guide gives you policies and processes and shares some standards to adopt for streamlining and simplifying your administration and operations:

Power Productivity & Biz Management for Administrative Consultants: The 14 Simple Systems that Will Breathe Freedom, Flexibility and LIFE Back into Your Business and Relationship with Clients

Power Productivity & Biz Management for Administrative Consultants: The 14 Simple Systems that Will Breathe Freedom, Flexibility and LIFE Back into Your Business and Relationship with Clients (GDE-41)

Three Questions I Would Love to Know About You

2013 is shaping up to be a fantastic year! Remember, you create your own destiny!

Here are three things I would love to know about you and that I thought would be fun to share with each other:

1. What was one (or more) of your most satisfying, happy-making, damn-proud-of-mahself accomplishments in 2012?

2. What goals, milestones or accomplishments are you excited about working toward/conquering/achieving in 2013?

3. What would you say is your one overarching superpower? We all have many, but I want to know the one big one that comes to the forefront.

 So here are my answers:

1. Created two new business learning products for Administrative Consultants that I’d been trying to get to and am super happy with. Made some huge strides in streamlining my own business and operations. Zapped several tolerations that had been on my to-do list to take care of for (get this) at least two years! Major relief felt there. And had some practice runs that are bringing me closer to my adventure goals.

2. This year, some activities/goals that I’m excited about working toward include getting back to my German lessons, reserving space to FINALLY take the classes I’ve been wanting to take to formally learn my Sony Vegas Movie Studio HD video software, and last stage preparations of my super secret upcoming adventure. I am also working on finishing a major, major update to one of my marketing products that is going to blow everyone’s mind. SUPER excited about that one. In relation to that, I’m going to be asking some valued colleagues for their advisory assistance in putting final touches together and really looking forward to the breakthroughs that will bring about.

3. I would say my superpower is a beyond-human organizational ability. Everything I do in my work and business revolves around organizing:  work, ideas, seeing the big picture and how everything fits together.

So, what’s yours?

Dear Danielle: What Should I Have Done Differently?

Dear Danielle:

I really appreciate this service. I am a newbie in the industry. I started my administrative support service targeting doctors in the August 2012 and got my first client in December. The doctor signed an agreement for me to find him a new medical billing service. I put my heart and soul into that project. The problem is, I’ve received no feedback or payment from the client. I promised the six medical billing services I contacted that I would get back to them this week on my client’s decision. Because I’ve received no feedback from the client, I don’t know what to say to the medical billing services. Should I be completely honest and upfront with them about what has happened? If not, how do you suggest I proceed? My fear is now that I’ve provided the doctor with the details of all medical billing services contact info, that he contacted the one of his choice directly. That’s fine, but it puts me in a difficult position because I don’t know how to proceed or what to tell the other services. Not to mention, I don’t know which (if any) he’s chosen. Please advise as to how you’d handle this situation. Thanks SO much! —Felisa Wash

Hi Felisa 🙂

This is a common mistep with new business owners such as yourself (I prefer to call them “freshman” rather than “newbies.”) It may be that you just have to chock this one up to lessons learned.

Let me preface things by reiterating that my business advice is geared toward ongoing (monthly) support work and relationships with clients rather than one-off/ad hoc projects like that.

Ad hoc projects of that nature are rarely worthwhile financially so I don’t get involved with them in the first place. What I’m focused on doing and helping others do is how to have a monthly retainer-based practice and work with clients in that kind of ongoing support relationship. It’s more financially worthwhile and where the bigger, more consistent cashflow is.

That said, some thoughts do pop up.

You state that you’re caught in a predicament of not knowing how to follow-up with the medical billing services you contact. What I’m wondering is if that was even your role to do so.

I would have to ask more questions about what you contracted to do for the doctor, what roles and outcomes were discussed, but it sounds like basically you were just supposed to research medical billing services and then provide that information to the doctor so he could weigh his options, make his own decision and proceed from there.

If that’s the case, there wasn’t ever any need for you to engage in what amounts to negotiating talks with those services and therefore no reason for you to follow-up with them. So, I think one lesson might be to not create obligations where there’s no need to do so.

Beyond that I think the important lesson here involves examining how you go about engaging in business and adjusting things moving forward.

No matter what work is involved, whether it’s an ad-hoc project or ongoing administrative support, there should always be 1) some level of consultation with clients (and if you are providing ongoing/monthly administrative support rather than piecemeal project work, that consultation is going to be more lengthy and involved), 2) signing of a contract and 3) money upfront.

If your doctor client paid no money and you’ve provided him with all the goods, he has no incentive to take you seriously and not waste your time. If it turns out that he has stiffed you, here’s how to avoid that in the future >>

This is where some foundational work would benefit you greatly in establishing and building your business.

You say doctors are your target market, which is great that you have that. I would tell you to narrow that down even further.

What kind of doctors? What specific specialty do they practice in?

Because a business specializing in one practice area can be operated and administrated completely differently from one in another practice area. Which means the support and solutions you offer them will be completely different.

If you’re going to really resonate with potential clients, you need to determine EXACTLY who your audience (i.e., target market) is so that you can focus your message, be more compelling and be able to research and learn how you can best support them and how to offer your solutions. That simply cannot be done in any general way.

As you go about that work, you begin to also easily see that it’s always going to be the solo and small practice/boutique physicians who will have the greatest need for administrative support such as ours and, thus, place more value in it, so focus your efforts there.

The other foundational part of determining and narrowing down your target market is also clarifying who your ideal client is.

While a target market is simply a very narrow/specific field/industry/profession you cater to, an ideal client profile is where you sit down and make a list of all the traits, characteristics and demographics of kind of person you’d like to work with and with whom you work best.

Do you prefer to work with men or women? What kind of personality and workstyle does your ideal client have? Do they need to earn a certain amount of income in order to work with you (so that you aren’t inheriting money issues that will cause difficulties in your business and relationship with them)?

These are just a few of the questions that might come to mind as you go about compiling this list. And it’s a list that you will add to and refine throughout the life of your business as you work with more people and get clearer and clearer about who is ideal for you.

So basically, an ideal client is the kind of person you work best with and seek to find within your target market.

Getting conscious about these things will help you weed out non-ideal clients and better help prequalify your ideal clients when they show up. You will also be able to better hone your message on your website to help in the prequalifying process so that it attracts more of the people you want to work with and weeds out those who don’t.

My guess is that you may still have lots of work to do in getting clear and conscious about your standards as well as policies and procedures and operations and workflows in your biz. This may be a bit overwhelming, but it’s what’s involved in growing a business and getting clients who pay and pay attention to you so I can’t tell you otherwise.

I also have a product that gives you a roadmap or system, if you will, of policies and procedures that will help get you on the right path.

Just remember, you don’t have to learn it all overnight. This is going to be a process and a journey. You’ll make misteps, but that’s okay because you will gain valuable experience, lessons and insights from them.

I think right now the best next step you can take is to read, which is simple and doesn’t cost anything but your time. Read through the entire ACA website and then my blog. That will help flesh out some of the ideas and concepts you will need to start tightening things up in your biz and figuring what you really want to be doing and who you really want to be working with.

Lastly, remember, you won’t get what you don’t ask for. 😉

If you aren’t focusing prospects on becoming retained clients, then you’re just going to keep getting non committal, nickel-and-dime project work and clients. If you want retained clients, that’s what your entire website message, marketing and efforts need to be focused on getting.

You can pick up projects through your networking and other avenues, but keep if you want a retainer-based practice, keep your website focused on that message and getting those kind of clients.

Hope that helps somewhat, and thanks for the question!

Happy Birthday to Me!

It’s my birthday! Happy birthday to me!

I’m 29 again (ha ha, NOT)!

I think I’ll have chocolate for breakfast and see what kind of trouble I can get into today.

Thanks for being a part of my life!

What Is the Real Danger?

Pinned this to my “Biz: Inspiration” board on Pinterest:

I love this sentiment!

Though I will say this…

A certain foundational level of routine in my business, operations and standards around the work I do and who I do it for is what gives me the freedom and flexibility TO have adventure in my life.

It’s not routine that’s the enemy. It’s being stuck in a rut doing work that doesn’t inspire you or give you joy.

Work to live doing what you love in the way you want to do it, and set up the infracture (i.e., policies, procedures, protocols, etc.) that facilitates time and space for life and prevents the business from running you instead of the other way around.

Delete This Word from Your Biz Vocabulary: Staff

Here’s another word to delete from your business and marketing vocabulary: staff.

From both a legal and practical standpoint, unless you are on their payroll as an employee or you are running a temp/staffing agency, you are not any client’s “staff.”

Using that word miseducates clients and sets the wrong understandings and expectations.

Sometimes the Journey Is a Lonely One

This video reflects the thoughts and sentiments I had after my late husband died and I strove to create a different life for myself and my daughter by starting my business.

It wasn’t smooth or easy.

I didn’t have people pulling for me (not really).

I had to constantly fight against those closest to me basically wishing or telling me to go back and get a “real job.”

My boyfriend tried to be supportive, but he really wasn’t. The second there was even the littlest setback or difficulty, he was all, “maybe it’s time to give this up.” He just didn’t understand it as he was a worker-bee without an entrepreneurial mind. It wasn’t until many years later that he finally told me how proud he was of me.

My dad was worse. For years and years, he didn’t really understand what I was doing, thought I was playing around on the computer. To this day, he still doesn’t really get it, nor does he make any effort to even try. He never asks questions about what I do or has any curiosity about it at all. Granted, it may just be his generation, but to him, unless you go to college and get some high-fallutin degree, you really aren’t anything in life.

It can all be constant criticism, discouragement and disappointment in you by those closest to us who really should be our best cheerleaders.

But I KNEW I had to do this, even if there wasn’t a single person who kept believing in me and encouraging me through the ENTIRE journey (not just the good times when things were going smoothly). I had to be that person for myself.

Life is too short and too precious to waste it doing anything you don’t love and being the architect of your own unhappiness.

However grand or humble your vocation and talent may be, if you love it, strive to make a life around it.

I am going to be emarking on a slightly different way of life around my business in the coming months. It’s really scary for me. I don’t know if it will work. I’m praying to God I can do it. And I’ll need help and encouragement from all those I know (including you).

But these are the adventures and endeavors, the pursuits that exercise us, test our mettle and make us grow, that make life worth living.

Standards Are Determined by You, Not Anyone Else

Standards are determined by you, not anyone else.

It’s pretty presumptuous and egocentric of someone else looking in to question why you’re working when they think you shouldn’t be.

As long as you are working on YOUR terms, by YOUR choice, it’s none of anyone else’s business when, where, how or why you are working.

Take the single mom. I can’t even imagine anymore (since my own daughter is grown now) the difficulties those with little ones still to raise have in growing and operating their business. Mad respect to her because she has responsibilities and timing that can’t be moved around at whim or done according to when someone else says she should or shouldn’t be working.

So, someone in that position might find, in the course of making it all work in her family, that she just does better working predominately at night or on the weekends. Hey, it’s not forever and no one ever said building a business would be easy or that you wouldn’t have to make some sacrifices along the way.

And that’s okay if that’s what she is doing by choice and what works for her.

Now, on the other hand, if you do find yourself feeling compelled to work beyond what you would choose to (long hours, nights, weekends, all your free time) due to extrinsic forces, and your business is running you instead of you running your business, that’s when an examination of your standards, boundaries, policies and operations will help you reclaim control of your life and become more at choice.

For example, you may be taking on the wrong clients and kinds of work.

You might be trying to be too much like an in-house assistant and working with clients like an employee instead of providing strategic—not daily—support as an independent consultant.

Perhaps your policies and procedures are not well-developed and you are letting clients determine those things instead of you.

Perhaps improving the communication about your standards, protocols, boundaries, the way things work and what procedures they should be following, etc., (such as with a client guide and/or new client orientation) and being more deliberate in communicating those things would help your client relationships and work go more smoothly.

Perhaps you are not charging enough which is forcing you to take on too much work in order to make ends meet, which in turn is taking away time for your life.

Perhaps you need to simplify and uncomplicate your administration and operations so that those things don’t overburden your time and attention.

Maybe you like working nights and weekends because it’s when you choose to on occasion, but sending communications at all hours is giving clients the wrong impression that they can impose on you beyond regular business hours. If that’s the case, making adjustments such as when you reply, scheduling your replies for certain hours, or even delaying replies a certain amount of time so as to manage their understandings and expectations will help keep clients from crowding you and overstepping boundaries.

It doesn’t matter when you work. Productivity and inspiration can’t be imposed or “managed.” They can only be facilitated.

What matters is that you are at choice and have the infrastructure and flexibility that allows you to follow your own energies and inspiration and harness them most effectively for you.

3 Simple Things You Can Do in a Day to Get Your 2013 Off to an Organized Start

Three easy things you can do in a day to get your 2013 off to an organized start:

1. Get your calendar (and/or that of your clients) in order. Add holidays, vacations and other planned or desired days off. Mark off your Admin Day, Meeting Day and/or any other regularly scheduled meetings for the whole year. Add any known events (e.g., conferences, trade shows, seminars, trainings, etc.) that you’d like or are planning to attend. Mark off anything else that you know off that you need to reserve or create time and space for and that you don’t want anything else conflicting or interfering with.

2. Clean out your emails and folders. Archive old messages and folders. Create new folders for 2013. (Tip: When in doubt about whether to delete something, think of it like this: If you haven’t dealt with it for nearly a year, you’re never going to look at it again so just purge. You’ll never miss it and you will feel LOADS lighter.)

3. Clean out and organize your paper file drawers and computer files. Create new folders for 2013. Get rid of as much paper as you can, only keeping what really needs to be printed and/or what is most convenient to be read in printed form.

Bonus Tip #4:  Add this to-do to your calendar in November or December so you’ll be sure to have this done again before 2014 comes around.