Archive for January, 2014

Dear Danielle: Help! My Client Is Not Referring Me to Others

Dear Danielle: Help! My Client Isn't Referring Me to Others

Dear Danielle:

How can I get my clients to refer when they are too selfish to share? —Anonymous

This was a question someone asked me on my Facebook page. They didn’t give me any more details than this and I never did hear back from them. However, I thought it was an interesting topic for discussion and wanted to share my thoughts with you here.

At first blush, it sounds like a very one-sided relationship if you have clients who don’t refer you.

But it’s a little too glib to chalk it all up to that.

There’s usually more to things than that and you could be losing out on an opportunity to improve your business by not examining the issue further.

I wanted to find out more so my first question was, “What is it that tells you this is, in fact, what is happening?”

I also asked, “Have you considered having a conversation with this/these client(s)?”

Unless you’ve actually spoken with a client, you can’t presume to know their true feelings, intentions or what’s really going on (if anything). Having a heart-to-heart can clear the air to move forward in a more positive, mutually beneficial direction.

It could be that they just didn’t think about it and it wasn’t anything negative about you (or them) at all.

(Remember, we have to ASK for what we want. We can’t expect people to be mindreaders.)

Now, personally, I don’t like to hound clients for referrals. I prefer they give those of their own accord.

And in a healthy, two-way relationship, they will.

That said, a lot of the referrals I’ve gotten over the years just weren’t who I was looking for anyway so they did me no good.

(Side Note: If you’re new in business, you might not understand this at all. When you’re new, you often think any referral is a good referral. You’re working hard to get established and just want to get any clients and work you can. But once you’ve gotten to a higher level in your business, you become more discerning and choosy about the clients and work that’s of value and interest to you. Fit is always important at any stage, but your definition of fit and what you are interested in, what you find worthwhile, will change and evolve over the course of your business.)

My best leads have always comes from my own networking.

If clients want to make a referral, I ask that they simply direct people to my website (instead of my phone number or email) so that it can do that critical first job of educating prospects and weeding out/prequalifying those I’m not interested in.

By getting them to the website, I save myself a lot of wasted time in conversation with people who may not be a fit.

Plus, directing folks to my website first, those who are interested in what they’re reading and what I have to offer, I’ve just created an opportunity to get them onto my mailing list so I’m only keeping in touch with those who’ve already indicated that first qualifying level of interest.

Those who follow up from there, thus, are vastly better qualified leads and more likely to become clients.

This actually brings up another point…

You have to actually INFORM clients that you welcome referrals and instruct them how to refer others to you and what kind of prospects/clients you are looking for.

This is why it’s also extremely helpful to have a target market and to be very clear about what you do and who you’re looking to work with.

When people know exactly what you are and who you do it for (e.g., NOT a gopher/jack of all trades, but an Administrative Support Specialist), it’s much easier for them to refer others to you and they will remember and be more likely to do so more often.

I would also ask, have you at least gotten a testimonial from your clients?

Instituting a regular and consistent program of feedback from clients in your business is super helpful for your marketing and constant business improvement.

I have a tool in the ACA Success Store that helps you do this and collects information from clients so that testimonials basically write themselves. You can take a look at that here: Client Feedback Form.

I refer to it as a form, but it’s really a plan and system for implementing a program of regular feedback in your business and capturing testimonials and before-and-after case studies.

So, is this something happening in your business as well?

Have you fallen prey to “secret weapon” syndrome and you find some clients don’t want to let anyone know about you because they don’t want to share you with others?

Or might their silence and lack of referrals be an indication of other underlying problems? Are they unhappy or resentful about something?

How is this affecting your relationship with them, and how does it fit in with your standards for your business and around who makes an ideal client?

How Do You Price Your Service?

How Do You Price Your Service?

This was a question posed on a listserv I recently joined. It’s naturally one of the first questions you have when you want to start working for yourself.

If you are new(er) in this business, looking to start a business in our industry, or maybe even not new, but wanting to improve your business, I hope my post will help you.

One thing people commonly default to when they’re new is they want other people to tell them what to charge.

They will frequently ask, “What should I charge/what do you charge?” or “What is the going rate that I should be charging?”

So the first thing you need to understand is that kind of conversation is highly illegal.

It’s against U.S. Antitrust laws (e.g., pricefixing) for people in an industry to collude (which occurs simply by having the conversation) when it comes to setting standard rates. That’s because our entire system of commerce in the U.S. is based on fair and healthy competition.

This is why you won’t see actual rates bantied about and will get periodic messages from the forums and listservs you belong to reminding members they are not permitted to engage in that kind of discussion.

And this is to your great benefit, even if you don’t understand why at first, because it allows you to create value, connect with your right clients and be able to command healthy, professional fees you can actually thrive and profit from.

Bottom-line: It’s up to every business owner to set her own rates and others are not allowed to tell you (or even hint at) what you should charge. This is just a fact of business life.

However, I know you feel kind of lost on this at first, not knowing where to even begin to figure this out so here are some insights to help you:

Setting your fee involves a combination of things to look at:

  1. How much does the business need to earn to pay for overhead and expenses and be self-sustaining?
  2. What do you want/need to earn personally over and above that?
  3. Does the fee you charge allow you to be profitable? That is, not just sustainable, but bring in an excess with which you can save and have extra left over after business expenses and your salary? Because hand-to-mouth earning is just surviving, not thriving and being profitable. Profit is what allows you to create savings, take vacations, buy a home, a car, pay for education, invest in business growth and improvement, etc.
  4. Does the fee honor your worth? Is it in keeping with the value and expertise you bring to the table and everything clients gain and benefit from as a result of working with you?
  5. Does your pricing position you properly? I’ll bet you hadn’t even realized that your pricing is actually a part of an effective marketing strategy. If your fee is too low this sends a negative signal to prospects and clients that your quality and skill may be subpar and draws the wrong/unideal clients to you. Charging the same as everyone else can be just as detrimental as it says there’s nothing special or different about you. A great fee is one that not everyone can afford (which helps weed out the cheapskates, deadbeats and other unideal clients) and is just high enough that it sends the message that you are better and more skilled, expert and worthwhile than the average bear. Discerning clients aren’t looking for cheap; they’re looking for skill and competence and high quality and your fee is a clue that tells them whether you’re that kind of provider. 😉

Be sure you also download the free ACA Income & Pricing Calculator which will help you get clear and concious about your income needs and desires and find your pricing baseline.

If I may also get your thought juices going on this topic as well, hourly billing (i.e., selling hours) is actually keeping a lot of people from earning well.

It turns everything into a transaction, puts your interests and those of the client at odds with each other and takes the focus away from the relationship and the value.

Instead, I am a proponent of Value-Based Pricing, which is a methodology I adapted for those of us who are in the business of administrative support.

If this has you curious, I have a quick video that explains the problems with selling hours and how it may be hurting your business and the clients you serve: How Billing by the Hour Is KILLING Your Business

Pricing is one of the most important aspects of business and marketing, and something I write about frequently. In fact, I have a whole Pricing category on my blog devoted to it that will be of high interest to you and keep you informed and educated on the topic.

Hope that helps!

It’s My Birthday (and There’s Something for You, too)

It's My Birthday (and There's Something for You, too)

It’s my birthday today, the big 5-0. Happy birthday to me, lol!

And you know what would absolutely make my day? Letting me know how I’ve helped you in your business, how my products have helped you, and what you’re most excited about in your business from the help and guidance you’ve received from me and the ACA Success Store products.

Better yet, if you would tell others. I can’t reach others without your help and your recommendation is the best gift you could give me! I’ve got some big plans this year (plans that include traveling the country and meeting my ACA peeps all over the U.S.) and that means I have to get serious about promoting the ACA Success Store.

AND, I want to give YOU something in return. I’ve been trying to think of what I could do for you who are so supportive of me and my products, the help I give to people in growing and bettering their business and acumen, and the work I do in our industry.

What I came up with was INSTANT commissions on your referrals/recommendations! So instead of having to wait a whole month for payment of your affiliate commissions, they will be processed immediately within 24 hours.

Now, obviously, I only want you to give your endorsements and recommendations if they truly come from the heart and your own personal experience with the ACA products you’ve purchased.

Even if you haven’t purchased anything yet, you’ve surely gained valuable information and knowledge from the expertise and experience I share here on the blog, or on Facebook, or the free products you’ve downloaded. You are getting something valuable and worthwhile from my insight, otherwise, you would have left my mailing list and community a long time ago, right? And that’s value and quality that you can absolutely recommend in integrity to others.

So, if you share your praise, reviews, recommendations, testimonials (whatever you want to call it) with your friends and colleagues in the industry (on your blog, ezine, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, email, mailing list, wherever makes sense and will reach lots of people) and give them your affiliate link to the ACA Success Store, I will send you your 25% commissions on every sale that comes of it “instantly” within 24 hours.

I mean, if someone wanted to hand you a hundred dollar bill, would you turn it down? You can always use cash in your business, right? So I thought this would be an excellent way to give back to you for the all the love, support, referrals and recommendations you make.

I do need to mention, this is an experiment and right now, the instant commissions are for this week only. That’s because they have to be processed manually by a live human. We’ll have to see how it goes. If it goes well, I might just keep doing it beyond this week!

Oh, and if you’re not currently signed up for the ACA Affiliate Program, be sure and do that so you can get an affiliate link to share. Here’s the sign-up page: ACA Affiliate Program

My biggest, heartiest hugs and love to you! Thank you for letting me share in your business journey, for being part of my community and for being one of my online friends and colleagues! And thanks for making my big 5-0 day (and every day) great!

Dear Danielle: We Loathe the Virtual Assistant Term. Is There Something Else We Can Call Ourselves?

Dear Danielle: We Loathe the Virtual Assistant Term. Is There Something Else We Can Call Ourselves?

Hey Danielle! Happy New Year!!

I was talking to a few friends in the Admin Support industry here in Australia today and the topic of what we call ourselves came up. Now all three of us LOATHE the virtual assistant title (so we’re on a good start here!) however in Australia, consultants (of any kind) are not viewed very favorably. Have you come across this in the US? Do you have any thoughts on a more accetable term that us Aussie admin chicks can use? Thanks heaps! —Cathy White

Ooo, I love this question. Good to hear that you all detest it as well, lol. So funny. But yeah, it’s such a counterproductive term for those who are trying to build real businesses with well-paying clients who take them seriously.

(And to be clear, I detest the term, not the people. I think the world of the people in our industry!)

When you say consultants are not viewed very favorably, it sounds like the same sentiment the general population over here has about them. Sort of along the lines of how people in general feel about attorneys.

Attorney and consultant jokes abound and “everyone” hates them… until they need one, that is.

So here’s my thing… first, I’m not trying to figure out a million different terms. We settled on Administrative Consultant a long time ago. (You did notice the name of our organization, right?)

As a new industry, it’s helpful for us inside that industry to have one unifying term so that we can easily find our peers to create community.

However, when it comes to clients, you market with a message, not a term. You want your message to be all about the client, what you do for him, and how you help improve his business and life.

What you call yourself comes after all that, simply for the purpose of giving people something to call you and categorize your business with—a mental coathook, if you will—which is very important. Psychologically, people just need that in order for there to be understanding.

At the same time, you want your term to be one that isn’t fraught with all the wrong connotations, that doesn’t create negative, problematic perceptions, expectations, and understandings (like the VA term does) or it will defeat your purposes and make working together more difficult.

As I always say, when you run a business, you aren’t anyone’s assistant. Assistant is a term of employment, and when people think you are an assistant, they want to pay and treat you like one. Their perception—due to that term—is that you are a subordinate order taker, not a peer, expert and trusted advisor.

The other important thing is that you aren’t marketing to the general population so it doesn’t matter what their general opinion is of certain words/vocations.

You are marketing to business people who have a need for the solution you’re in business to provide.

With a proper marketing message educating them about what you do and how you help them, they will understand the benefit and value of working with you in the same way that the clients of attorneys and consultants understand why they need them.

If everyone truly had very little opinion or need of attorneys and consultants, they wouldn’t exist. And, like I say, general opinion is simply irrelevant in our context.

I see conversations here and there where it’s clear some folks in our industry don’t understand our use of the term “consultant.” They think all consultants do is advise.

We use the term “consultant” in a hybrid sense of the word, not the traditional definition.

So what I explain to peers and prospects is that while I am first and foremost an administrative implementer providing support, as an administrative expert I’m also in a position to give clients guidance and advice on their administrative systems, set-ups, tools and organization. That’s the advisor part of it.

Hence:  Administrative + Consultant. See?

One other thought to add… you also want to make sure you aren’t focusing solely on the “consultant” aspect. Because we aren’t consultants in that sense.

The reason I mention this is because I notice some folks naming their business/domain something like “Such and Such Consulting” or “Jane Doe Consulting.”

They are completely missing the administrative part which is THE most important information to relate, not the consultant part.

Those folks are the ones who are going to confuse their audience and make people think they are something they aren’t.

So you don’t want to use just “consulting.” You need to include “administrative” in there to provide the proper context and understanding. Otherwise, people will be confused and get the wrong idea.