Archive for the ‘Colleagues’ Category

Dear Danielle: Should I Be Concerned that a Colleague Has the Same Biz Name?

Dear Danielle: Should I Be Concerned that a Colleague Has the Same Biz Name?

Dear Danielle:

I have a question regarding my business name. I started my business on August 17, but just found out that there is another business in our industry with a name similar to mine. I know that this probably won’t matter, but I am in one state and she is in another. My long term goal is to go international, but right now, I am concentrating on local clients. By the way, I have business cards, a business license, etc. Should I be concerned about this? If so, what do you suggest I do? Thank you in advance for your advice. –FT

You are right in assuming that it doesn’t necessarily matter that you are in two different states.

This is especially true in our industry where we don’t have any geographic boundaries from each other.

If the person with the pre-existing, established use of the name takes their business interests seriously and is intent on protecting their trade name rights, you could be in for some legal problems and expenses.

In fact, the laws governing trademarks, trade names, trade dress, etc., matters requires them to defend their rights or they forfeit them.

When you’re in business, there are lots of important areas you have  a responsibility to understand.

They may be boring, complicated and not so fun, but they are imperative nonetheless because they protect us and the marketplace, keep things fair, and give us some parameters to ensure we can all play nice and get along with each other.

So the first thing I advise you to do is go to USPTO.gov and study up on the trademark and copyright information listed there.

I’m going to post some info we share in our forums on this topic and why it’s in your best business interest to come up with your own unique business name.

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO FIND YOUR OWN UNIQUE NAME

In our industry, we have no geographical boundaries from each other. Therefore, having a unique business name is even more important.

When starting an administrative support business, beyond just the impoliteness of stepping on a colleague’s toes (someone who was there first), here is why it’s important for you to have a unique business name:

1. You don’t want to get sued. A colleague with established first use of an existing trade name has legal rights and can sue you for infringement, and possibly even damages. It costs a lot of money, time and energy to defend yourself. If you lose (which you can by either default or because the court finds in the complainant’s favor), it can cost even more. If they win a judgment against you, they may be able to go after your personal assets, garnish wages, get an injunction to freeze bank accounts and force you to disgorge any monies you earned while using their IP (intellectual property). This is not “mean”; it’s business, and every business has a right to defend its rights and its turf if it feels it’s been infringed upon. Likewise, every business has a duty and self-preserving interest to make sure it is not infringing. It’s just not a ball of wax you want to even potentially find yourself in.

2. It’s not a great way to be welcomed into the community. Ours is a relatively small, tight-knit community. People will know you are infringing on one of their comrades. How do you think they will look upon you? And imagine if it were you… how would you feel if someone new came into the industry and started using your business name, the one you’ve been using for X years and around which all your identity and marketing has been based? It would not feel good. Trust, good will and polite society can not exist where we allow this kind of thing to occur. It’s just not cool, much less professional or ethical.

3. You don’t want to be confused with another business in the same industry. It’s going to be really important to differentiate yourself from everyone else, and that includes having a unique business name and identity. It doesn’t do you any good to be using someone else’s established business name if traffic and name recognition is going to be diverted to someone else who was there first.

4. You don’t want to have to redo everything (e.g., website, marketing materials, etc.). If you are caught infringing, you can be compelled to relinquish domains, destroy or hand over other intellectual property, and it’s going to be a lot of work and more money to start all over again.

STEPS TO ENSURING YOU DO NOT INFRINGE

So, what do you do? A bit of homework is in order. To make sure you come up with a unique name and do not infringe on the established trademarks and trade name rights of any of your colleagues, there are things you can and should do:

1. Search industry directories. Make sure no one else is using the same or similar name already.

2. Search the uspto.gov database. Check to see that no one else is already using the same or similar trade name. Bear in mind that while federally registered trade names have even further protections and recourses, a name does not have to be registered there to be protected. Changing a letter or word is not going to help you if the name can be considered to be substantially the same and/or would still create confusion.

3. Conduct a search for the name (or the predominant unique identifier) in several different search engines. Use Google, MSN, Yahoo, Chrome and any others you might think of. Better to be thorough now than sorry later. Example: If you want to use Dizzy Admin, you should search for  “Dizzy Admin,” “Dizzy Administrative,” “Dizzy Administration,” “Dizzy Administrative Consulting,” “Dizzy Administrative Consultant,”“Dizzy Business Support,” ““Dizzy Virtual Assistant,” “Dizzy Virtual Assistants,” “Dizzy Virtual Assistance,” etc. If someone else in our industry, regardless of where they are located, is using “Dizzy” (which is the relevant novel/ substantive part of the name), forget about using it.

WHAT TO DO NEXT

Once you find a name that is unique and that in no way can be confused with anyone else’s existing, established trade identity in our industry, you’re home free.

If you think you were the first to use the name, contact the colleague and see if you see if you can work things out.

If you know you were not the first, contact the colleague with the same or similar name, and see how they feel about it.

And then consult an attorney about whether it would be a wise course of action to pursue the name anyway, what the possible ramifications are, and what it might cost to defend or protect yourself. ;)

If You Want Ideal Clients, Be an Ideal Administrator

I always say to clients and business owners:  If you want an ideal administrator, be an ideal client.

You should absolutely get the kind of quality support you deserve, but great Administrative Consultants are not going to deal with prima donnas who don’t value their AC’s contributions, don’t want to pay for the value of skilled, competent expertise, or are in any other way a negative drain on their time and energy.

The same goes in reverse… If you want ideal clients, you had better be an ideal Administrative Consultant.

What makes for an ideal Administrative Consultant? Here’s my list:

  1. An ideal AC has the skills she says she has.
  2. An ideal AC does what she says she will.
  3. An ideal AC is respectful of her clients’ time.
  4. An ideal AC follows directions and pays attention to details.
  5. An ideal AC asks questions and obtains clarification when needed.
  6. An ideal AC is an active listener.
  7. An ideal AC has great communication and follow-up skills and doesn’t leave clients guessing.
  8. An ideal AC runs her business like a business.
  9. An ideal AC takes pride in her work and service delivery and doesn’t do things sloppily.
  10. An ideal AC is consistent, committed and follows through.
  11. An ideal AC has excellent organizational skills.
  12. An ideal AC is able to maintain focus.
  13. An ideal AC is proactive and takes initiative.
  14. An ideal AC is a critical thinker.
  15. In the same way that she expects to be valued, an ideal AC doesn’t devalue others or expect them to work for free or below their worth.

Do you have any others to add?

Dear Danielle: Do You Subcontract Your Work to Others?

A prospective client recently contacted me and asked a good question. Here’s how I responded:

Dear Danielle:

If we work together, will you be outsourcing any of my work? Do you subcontract to other Administrative Consultants? —LA

Just as clients shouldn’t be doing everything themselves in their business, neither should Administrative Consultants. We are business owners/solopreneurs just as our clients are.

However, I know why you are asking.

There is a trend lately where a certain segment of people (often those with no experience or expertise themselves) starting businesses in our industry where all they are doing is farming the work out to third parties.

That is not administrative support. It’s an attempt to exploit an industry and mine it for whatever money they can get any way they can.

That is most definitely NOT what we as Administrative Consultants are in business to do.

There’s no personal one-on-one dynamic involved in working like that, which is precisely what defines ongoing administrative support: that deeply collaborative, personal relationship.

There are all kinds of pitfalls when working with a company that treats the work transactionally like that. I hear about them all the time from clients and from colleagues who are being farmed out or taking on subcontracted work.

The chief complaints I hear are that clients don’t like having their work sent out to people they don’t know. (If they wanted to hire someone else, they would have done that in the first place).

They frequently complain of problems with consistency in service and poor work quality in these arrangements as well.

And for the colleagues working for these companies, they simply don’t make much money and often have to deal with issues of late or non-payment.

It sounds like you have encountered your own negative experiences with that type of arrangement as well.

My business model is not one where I do the marketing and then spread out and rely on non-employees to do the work.

I am the craftsman in my business. When clients hire me, it’s my brain and my skills and my expertise they get.

That said, I do have my own small panel of long-time support administrators who help me in my business.

I have this help not only so that I can create the same kind of smooth-running business and life of freedom that clients are seeking to create themselves, but also, ultimately, because it allows me to provide my clients with vastly superior support and attention.

It does my neither me nor my clients any good whatsoever if I’m frazzled, overworked and spread too thin from trying to do everything all by myself.

But here’s the difference:

My relationship with clients is never outsourced.

When clients hire me, it’s me they work with directly.

Mainly, my panel of support help me with things related to the running of my business.

There are also some instances when I might delegate certain tasks or non-critical, non-confidential, non-sensitive parts of my work. However, my responsibility and control over the proper completion, quality and accuracy of the work is never abdicated or outsourced.

I don’t farm out or subcontract anything to any stable of third parties I may or may not know well (which is what happens in those subcontracting farms, often to other countries that are rife with identify thieves and credit card hackers).

I only work with my small, consistent, long-time support administrators who are colleagues I’ve known and worked with for many years.

In answer to your question, No (emphatically), I never subcontract your work. Your business, information and trust is too important to me to ever betray that.

What I do have is my own Administrative Consultant whom I monthly retainer for a body of support in the same way you retain me. Huge difference.

If there’s something additionally a client needs that is outside the scope of administrative support (e.g., they need a bookkeeper or a web designer, etc.), I can refer them or help them find the proper professional whom they can hire directly.

If a one-on-one partnering solution is what you are seeking, there is no place for a middleman in the equation.

Who Are You?

You would not believe the amount of email I get from colleagues and others (or maybe you would).

As I was cleaning out my inbox, I realized that the colleagues whose email accounts clearly identified who they are, were the folks who generally got my attention first.

Alternatively, it’s often the folks who haven’t configured their email identification clearly or personally whose messages get deleted or end up in the spam/junk mail folders most frequently.

Are you setting up your email accounts in a way that clearly identifies who you are?

I would also make the case that identifying yourself as a person first and business second is the way to go in this day and age of social networking and personal connection.

I still remember with chagrin the uproar my own email address caused on a listserv one time.

I was new to the list and there were only one or two people I already knew.

Folks on the list were very suspicious of new members and there was a bit of an uproar over my email address.

At first I had no idea what on earth they were talking about. I’d had my email address for years and years. It wasn’t something I ever thought about and not something that anyone had ever had a problem with before.

But then it was pointed out to me what all the furor was about — I was using my business name instead of my personal name. So when my emails showed up, it said “The Relief” instead of “Danielle Keister.”

The list was used to people using their personal name in their email account rather than a business name. They didn’t like it when someone used a business name rather then their personal name. To them it felt impersonal and like they were being instantly marketed to by sheer virtue of the name on the account.

So maybe you have set your email address long ago, too, and not given it a second thought since then. Perhaps now is a good time to do a little email housekeeping.

Remember, people do business with people. They connect with people, not anonymous, impersonal entities.

If you want to be more personable in your online networking, set your email address up so it shows your personal name (first and last) rather than your business name.

I willing to bet you’ll make way more friends that way. :)

Dear Danielle: Should I Hire an Employee, Work with a Colleague or Bring in a Partner?

Dear Danielle:

I wanted to know your advice on growing. I am just on the verge of maybe needing help. Do I hire a colleague with her own company, hire an employee, or bring in a partner? I just don’t know. I feel like hiring is taking me out of the industry that I hold so near and dear to my heart. Also, do you have advice on how to select a person to bring into your business. I have had some offers from people, but they’re not familiar with the industry. Not sure if this is a good or bad thing. Could be good to teach someone from ground zero, but also time-consuming. –LE

Here’s what I find myself reminding colleagues of frequently:

Just because you’re solo doesn’t mean you need or should be working alone.

Being a solopreneur doesn’t mean you need to do everything yourself.

It simply means that the stock you’re trading is in your own intellectual capital and your unique personal skill, talent, know-how and experience.

Those aren’t things you can delegate, but you can certainly surround yourself with the right professional support so that you can focus doing what you do with your clients and let those who support you do the rest.

Those supporting you might include:

  • A bookkeeper so that you aren’t expending your time on that work (and also ensuring that it’s done correctly);
  • An accountant to make sure you stay in compliance with any financial or taxing agencies and to give you the best financial management advice; and/or
  • A business attorney to draft and/or review your contracts (both those in your own business as well as those others may want you to sign), run your legal questions by, and get advice on situations that hold potential liability for you and any other business matters that arise.

I also recommend that colleagues get their own Administrative Consultant, staff or a combination of both.

When you work with someone who you develop a relationship with over time, the possibilities are endless with regard to the support they can provide.

As they get to know you and how things work in your business, they’re able to support you in a way and to a degree that you just can’t get by outsourcing individual tasks here and there to people you don’t work with consistently.

On top of that, there’s greater ease and efficiency when you have someone you work closely and continuously like that.

You may even identify non-critical parts of the work you do with clients that don’t require your particular brand of expertise that you can have them do for you.

Of course, the relationship is always between you and your client and I never recommend outsourcing that.

When clients hire you, it’s for your brain, your critical thinking, your creativity and your expertise. Never abdicate that. It’s part of your value and part of the thing that makes your business distinctive.

But that doesn’t mean that parts of the work can’t be delegated within your own house to an employee or your own Administrative Consultant whom you have hired because they have impeccable skills and in whom you have absolute confidence. In fact, I will tell you that you will always be stuck within a certain income level if you don’t ever get your own help.

As already mentioned, another way to get support is to hire an employee or two.

You really don’t need much help in order for that support to make a hugely significant difference in your business. And there are all kinds of ways to get that kind of help.

You can hired paid interns from local colleges. You can participant in state work-study programs (where the state will repay you a percentage of whatever wages are paid to the student employee).

Of course with employees, there is more administration and taxes and reporting requirements involved, but if you have a professional bookkeeper, you should have them take care of processing paychecks and so forth.

I personally like a combination of both. I like to have someone in-house who can take care of filing and other things that just require a physical presence. Once a week or two for a few hours, just light clerical stuff. Someone like that you might not even end up paying more than $600 in a year in which case you wouldn’t be required to formally process that person as an employee.

But for the bigger, more important meat-and-potatoes work, if you will, I definitely recommend hiring the best, most highly skilled person you can afford.

Training just takes too much time and energy. And it doesn’t happen overnight.

Think about your own background. It took years to establish the kind of skill and expertise you now possess. How much time and energy will you have to invest before that unskilled, untrained person becomes a real, viable asset to your business rather than a drain? Just something to think about.

Which is why hiring a colleague (who is themselves a business owner) is the better option in my book.

As far as bringing on a partner, I can only offer my opinion which is emphatically: NOOOOOOO! Don’t do it!

Seriously, I have never seen a business partnership end well.

There are far too many agreements and understandings and potentialities to take into consideration.

And it seems it’s always the one thing you didn’t think about ahead of time that ends up causing a rift.

There can really only ever be one captain of a ship. Two will inevitably bump heads, want to steer in different directions or be the boss.

And regardless of legalities, the person who started the business always feels (at least emotionally) that they “own” more of the business and that feeling of “more ownership” often causes resentment with the other partner.

Decision-making, conflicting workstyles, having to compromise, differing visions or opinions… all of these things become more tedious and cumbersome. They complicate and slow down the business.

On top of that, the business now has to earn for two owners instead of just the one: you.

I don’t think you need a partner. I think you just need the right professional advisors, and business support and strategies.

Being Solo Doesn’t Mean Doing It Alone

I read an article today in one of the newsletters I keep up with that talked about the myth of being a successful solopreneur by bootstrapping.

This is a topic I’ve been meaning to write about myself so it came at the right time and got me in gear.

Administrative Consulting is inherently a solo-based business model due to the close, collaborative relationship the concept is based on.

But running a solo business does NOT mean doing everything yourself. By no means at all!

Just as we advise our clients and remind the marketplace that they simply can’t (and shouldn’t) do it all themselves and trying to do so will keep them from becoming successful, the same is true for Administrative Consultants.

I’m always advising colleagues: Get support, sooner rather than later.

Now, I’m not talking about farming out colleagues to clients. That’s not administrative support whatsoever. That’s virtual staffing (and lots of times, the ways in which many people are doing it is flat-out illegal).

What I’m talking about is hiring the employees and/or providers to help you run your business behind the scenes.

Don’t do your own bookkeeping–hire a bookkeeper.

Have an accountant take care of your taxes.

Maintain a relationship with a business attorney to answer legal questions when they arise.

Hire employees and/or your own Administrative Consultant to take care of the administrative work necessary to run your business and take on portions of your own client work that don’t require your personal expertise.

Leave certain jobs to the right professionals (for example, having a professional web designer create a business site that will attract clients, place well in the search engines and act as an actual marketing tool for your business).

Having all the key players to help you run your business will leave you to focus on clients, help you grow to the next level, and give you more free time and mental space to brainstorm and just enjoy life.

Hey, I don’t know about you, but I didn’t go into business with the intention that all I’d ever have time for was work and being chained to my computer.

Trust me, you’ll never make it to a six figure business without others helping you and supporting your business.

Colleague Q & A: Working with Clients

A colleague and I were chatting online recently. It was a great conversation and I realized afterward the information would be so helpful to others as well.

With that in mind, here’s a transcript of our mini Q & A session:

Danielle: So you had a great call with a client this week?

KT: This morning. I’ve really found my rhythm with all of my clients. It feels great.

Danielle: What was it about the call that made it especially energizing?

KT: I discovered that I need to know my clients in order to do a good job with them. We got to know each other a little better on a personal and professional level. I feel more confident in myself as a service provider and as a business owner. I think that is coming across to the clients.

Danielle: So what was not happening before that you weren’t getting to know your clients?

KT: I think I was busy getting to know me, the business owner. I am great with people. I just had no idea how much of my successful interaction with them was dependent on visual cues. Initially, virtual relationships were a bit disconcerting for me. Truth be told, they still are in some ways. However, I do think I’ve found my sea legs and I’m becoming more comfortable.

Danielle: Excellent! And how often were you meeting with clients? How often are you meeting now?

KT: Before, it was very irregular. With one client, we have a scheduled monthly update meeting, but we call each other in between if necessary. Another client is bi-weekly. The third client is as needed.

Danielle: May I suggest something that I think will help?

KT: Absolutely.

Danielle: Cool… I suggest weekly telephone meeting with clients, especially, and most importantly, with new clients, at least for the first 3 to 6 months (if not the first year). Make it part of the process and part of your standards. Because it absolutely will work like nothing else in: a) establishing and maintaining that personal connection that is vital to the partnership, and b) creating a platform in order to better serve clients and thereby growing and increasing your role and understanding in the work.

KT: I have found it immensely helpful to have that regular personal contact, so making it a regular part of the week sounds good to me. I really like the opportunity to find out how the client’s priorities may have shifted, and what new information may impact projects we’re working on.

Danielle: Absolutely! Eventually, when you’ve worked with a client for a number of years, you may both find that the connection is so solid you don’t need that level of frequency, that your communication and relationship with each other is so sympatico that your email exchanges pretty much take care of everything. At that point, you may find that twice or once monthly meetings is all that’s needed. But do continue to meet on a regular basis of some kind. It helps “water” the relationship and keep it thriving.

KT. I think this is a fabulous idea!

Danielle: The important factor, I’ve also found, is making it systematic. Don’t let it be willy nilly. Make it a planned and regularly scheduled event in the relationship. Not only will it make it that much easier to manage all your weekly telephone meetings with clients, but it will also be less disruptive to actual work. Set it and forget it is the idea (not forget it, of course, but just get it scheduled for the same time/same day every week so it becomes a routine for everyone).

KT: Ideally, I would like to do them on Monday morning. I can’t think of a more productive way to start the week.

Danielle: Whatever day makes sense for you. I don’t know how you feel about this, but one thing that’s helped my business run smoothly is that I don’t let clients decide what day these calls are held. I tell them right in the consultation process that we’ll have a weekly one-hour meeting and I do those on Tuesdays and I give them a couple times to choose from that will be their regular “slot” from that point on. They don’t get options so they have to be able to work with that or we can’t work together.

KT: How do you get around a client saying that they aren’t available at the time you want to schedule the call?

Danielle: What I tell them is that if they aren’t available for a particular week’s call, I would expect them to give me advance (not last minute) notice so that I can schedule other things and that we’ll just resume the following week. I don’t do reschedules for that same week. I have a very systematic, scheduled system and I serve clients exceptionally well because of it. I don’t worry too much about the time unless it feels like there’s a real abuse or disrespect going on. Then we’ll have a talk and if it ever comes down to it, the time will come out of their hours. Of course, when that is the case, it’s usually time to recognize whether a client is a fit or not. But that’s worst case scenario stuff. Personally, I haven’t had much problem with that in many, many years and you usually don’t when you make sure you’re working with ideal clients who value you in the first place.

KT: Is there any advantage regarding who places the call, you or the client?

Danielle: Whatever your personal preference is. I think there can be power plays with that whole thing, which isn’t of any interest to me personally. I tend to see that stuff as game-playing and that’s definitely not relational. I call clients because I feel it’s an opportunity to demonstrate customer service. But either way, you might both decide that it will be the client who calls you. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way as long as it’s not decided out of game-playing or power-tripping.

KT: Are your clients fairly long-term?

Danielle: All of my clients since about 2002 have been long-term (i.e., monthly retainer).

KT: When a client wants to work with you, what criteria do you use to determine whether you want to work with the client?

Danielle: That’s a good question… of course, there are my hard criteria — the qualifiers and list of prerequisites that help ensure I’m not wasting your time with anyone who is absolutely not going to be a fit. They have to be in my target market (I work with solo attorneys in business, intellectual property and entertainment law). They have to be at a certain income level. I avoid those in start-up phase; they’re generally too disorganized and tend to have no money or reliable cashflow at that stage. Then, once I do meet with someone in consultation and I determine that their goals are things I can help them with, I look at the person themselves and ask questions to get some insight into their their relationship/communication/work styles are. That’s when it comes down to intuition and chemistry. If you have a reasonable sense that you’d enjoy working with someone, go for it. You do what you can to make as educated a decision as possible when choosing clients (because it’s definitely not profitable to work with poor-fitting clients and after all that work you’ve invested onboarding them, you want it to be worth your while), but if it doesn’t work out, no big deal. Either of you can walk away at any time (with some courteous amount of notice, of course).

KT: Regarding certain income, how do you verify that the client isn’t just telling you what you want to hear?

Danielle: Well, you don’t ever know absolutely for sure. Trust goes both ways. You just have to go with your gut. If they appear to be truthful (looking the part) and you feel they are being truthful, and you feel a good chemistry and authenticity, go for it. And again, if it doesn’t work out, walk away. Exercise your option to terminate the contract with whatever notice is stipulated. Simple as that.

KT: How did you handle it when your gut was telling you to walk away, but your wallet was telling you that you desperately need the income? (I ended up walking away, but not nearly soon enough.)

Danielle: There’s no miracle solution for that. Reality is reality. I think the best you can do when you feel you can’t immediately walk away (because you need the money), but recognize that the situation isn’t good for you or your business, is that you work as hard as you can to replace that client ASAP so that you can let them go. I’ll say this, however: that being invested in the money or outcomes is exactly what enslaves you to poor-fitting clients. It’s a tricky business, but if you can somehow mentally train yourself not to care about the money or what happens, however you want to explain how that works in the world (laws of attraction, power of intention, whatever), it really does work out for the best. In fact, I would tell you just out of my own experience, things always work out far better when you can do that. You make better decisions and more ideal things come in to replace the unideal much more quickly.

KT: Danielle, you are such a sweetheart to share your wisdom with me. I really do appreciate it! I’m gonna try and log some billable time in this afternoon, but even though it wasn’t billable, this has been the most productive part of my day.

Danielle: My pleasure; it was fun talking with you. You ask really smart questions and I love that about you.

Thank You to Our Members!

What a fantastic experience our first teleseminar was!

Everything went smoothly and there was such great energy on the call.

I want to thank all the wonderful colleagues who attended. You really made my day!

Such smart people with smart questions. You were a fabulous audience!

And congrats, Tracy Carson, on winning the drawing for the free Activity & Time Analysis Tool. Let me know how you end up using it in your practice.

Thanks again for attending, and if you ever have any questions about the administrative support business and marketing, feel free to submit those here.

See you next time!

Why Trade Name Infringement Is Not a Good Way to Introduce Yourself in the Industry

A new member registered for our forum the other day. Unfortunately, we had a dilemma because this person was operating under the same business name as one of our members.

So, I’m taking this opportunity to remind folks about trade name infringement and our principles and standards around that as a professional association.

Because of the online nature of our businesses, we have no geographical boundaries from each other, which makes having a unique business name more important than ever.

I don’t know how other professional associations handle it, but at the ACA, we believe it’s important to uphold the principles of operating ethically and honestly and treating each other well, which includes not infringing upon your colleagues. We do that by not condoning or enabling the practice of trade name infringement.

Besides just being the wrong thing to do, here’s why it’s not in your own best interests to tread on a colleagues toes in this manner and why it’s important for you to come up with your own unique business name:

  1. You don’t want to get sued. Someone with legal rights and established use of an existing trade name can sue you for infringement. It costs a lot of money and energy to defend yourself. If you lose (which you can by either default or because the Court finds in the plaintiff’s favor), it will cost even more. It’s a can of worms you don’t want to open. You should always expect that anyone who takes their business seriously is going to also protect their business interests just as seriously.
  2. It’s not a great way to be welcomed into the community. Relatively speaking, ours is a very small, tight-knit community. People will know you are infringing on one of their comrades. Think about it. If it were you, how would you feel if someone new came into the industry and started using your business name, the one you’ve been using for X years, the one you spent blood, sweat and tears (not to mention money!) building, and around which all your identity and marketing has been based? You are going to create ill will and negative energy for yourself by stepping on an established colleague’s toes.
  3. You don’t want to be confused with another business in the same industry. It’s going to be really important to differentiate yourself from others and that includes having a unique business name and identity. It doesn’t do you any good to be using someone else’s established business name if traffic and name recognition is going to be diverted to the person who was using it first. It creates confusion in the marketplace and there are laws in place to protect right holders from this.
  4. You don’t want to have to redo everything (e.g., web site, marketing materials, etc.). If you are caught infringing, your website can be shut down, you can be forced to relinquish domains you’ve unlawfully squatted on, and it’s going to be a lot of work and more money to start all over again.

So, what do you do? A bit of homework is in order.

To make sure you come up with a unique name and do not infringe on the established trade name rights of any of your colleagues, there are steps you can and should take:

  1. Search industry directories. Make sure no one else is using the name already or anything close to it.
  2. Conduct a search for the name (or the predominant unique identifying part of it) in several different search engines. I suggest Google, MSN, Yahoo and any others you might think of. Better to be thorough now than sorry later.
  3. Search the uspto.gov database. Check to see if anyone else in the industry is already using the trade name you’re considering or any form of it. Changing a letter or word is not going to help you if the name can be considered to be substantially the same and would still create confusion. What does all this that mean? It means it doesn’t matter if you are using “(Same Name) Business Solutions” and they are using “(Same Name) Administrative Support.” You are in the same industry and it’s the novel, identifying part of the name that matters.

One thing that people don’t commonly understand about trademark/trade name law is that owners are required to protect their rights or they could end up losing them. That means, the way the laws are written, they don’t have the luxury of ignoring an infringement and letting you off the hook. They HAVE to go after you if they want to protect their rights in the name. So you are just asking for costly legal trouble if you infringe, and especially if you do it willfully knowing full well that someone else was already using the name.

Also, your domain or domain name availability has no relevance. If you infringe on someone’s name rights (and I’m not talking about generic search engine terms), you can be compelled to relinquish the domain.

Once you find a name that is unique and that in no way can be confused with anyone else’s existing, established identity in the industry, you’re home free.

If you think you were the first to use the name, contact the other Virtual Assistant and see if you can work things out. The good will and positive energy you create by engaging in honorable, ethical business practices will serve you well.

Business Begging Doesn’t Become You

Business Begging Doesn't Become You

I received an email today from a colleague looking for work (I feel like get a million of these every week):

“I have been in the business since 2005 and had established relationships with a number of clients in the different states. However the last few months has seen loss of clients due to their financial constraints. I’m reaching out to you for any overflow work you may have. I do not wish to steal clients; I’m simply asking if there are projects or areas of projects you need assistance with to consider my services. You would get to review whatever I do before forwarding it to your client and so you would maintain representation of your work quality and standard. Also, if a new client contacts you and you are not able to take on their project please pass on my information.”

She included her resume, and has apparently sent this message to a huge list of colleagues whose emails it appears she’s gone to great effort to harvest off the Internet.

My members and I were discussing the message, trying to decide if it was legitimate or not.

If it is legitimate, I am sorry for her predicament. However, even so, she is going about things the wrong way.

To create a successful, profitable, sustainable business, she needs to do what the members of my association do every day: Become students of business and learn how to be smarter, savvier, more knowledgeable business owners.

What does that mean?

It means learning how to:

  • Get over employee mindset (business owners don’t submit resumes and I could care less about your resume; I want to see your competence demonstrated in your communications and how you run your business);
  • Start thinking (and marketing) like a successful business owner and master of your own ship (you position yourself as a loser no one else wants if you have to beg your colleagues for scraps);
  • Charge properly and stop giving away your time, expertise and the value of your work;
  • Define a target market for greater clarity, focus and results in your marketing messages and efforts;
  • Create systematic, methodical and intentional standards, processes and policies in your business;
  • Focus on core offerings, ideal clients AND ideal work (it doesn’t pay to take on anything and everything); and
  • Gain deeper understanding of the real service you offer as an administrative support partner.

Plus, most of us are simply not going to entrust our work to strangers. We are more likely to refer or subcontract to those we have come to know, like and trust through networking and have built relationships with.

While I certainly feel sympathy for her, as a business owner, I’m not attracted to anyone who resorts to business begging or wears their desperation on their sleeve.

It’s a signal to me that there’s a high level of business sensibility missing and makes me also question their competence.

I simply would not entrust my important client work, much less my own business work, to someone who doesn’t inspire anything but the highest confidence.

Who knows; she might land a few small gigs from her email blast. But that isn’t going to tide her over for the long-haul or contribute anything to the fundamental changes that need to take place in her business so that she doesn’t find herself in this predicament again.

I wish her well, and hope that she will have the wisdom to invest the same kind of time and energy she did in harvesting our email addresses toward overhauling her business and educating herself on the points I’ve outlined here.

Her business survival will depend upon it.