I recently asked colleagues how they, their families, and their businesses were faring during these difficult, unprecedented times.
I offered that there may also be some increased opportunity in all this. In response, a few folks were concerned about how to market without seeming opportunistic.
It’s always interesting to me when people worry about “taking advantage of the situation.”
It hints at the apology women are always making for being in business, and the apology society in general makes for wanting to be paid for the helpful and valuable services they provide to those who need them.
But let me ask you this: If you are in this to help people, how is that taking advantage of them?
Are you lying? Are you cheating? Are you stealing?
I’m assuming your answer is no to all these.
Then why on earth are you apologizing for being in business and wanting to provide good, honest work that HELPS people?
This hints at the deep-seated money issues we have and the work we must continue to do around our money issues and professional self-esteem.
Because here is what I can tell you for sure:
People who have always been running online businesses are the least impacted right now during this pandemic. For many/most, it is business as usual. They are still working with clients, creating output, and providing value. And those folks STILL want and need administrative support no matter what. Your support is the backbone of their business, the infrastructure that holds it together and keeps things humming along, running smoothly, and moving forward for them!
There is an untold number of businesses RIGHT NOW who are looking to radically adapt to more online ways of working with clients and creating even more opportunities to help more people that don’t require face-to-face work and interaction (other than video conferencing perhaps). THEY NEED YOUR HELP AND INSIGHT NOW MORE THAN EVER!
It is not taking advantage by being ready and available to help those folks who are seeking support in these ways!
They are lost. They don’t necessarily know what they need or how to find or perhaps even articulate the kind of help they need. They may be overwhelmed with the situation right now and going in circles about where to even start.
This is an opportunity to be of service to them, a guiding light.
That is why it is always your job to know not only what they want, but what they need; to make yourself visible for them; to explain and illustrate some of the many ways you can help them; and to let them know you are out here, ready and poised to HELP them get through this and create an even better business than they had before.
You are not a taker by being in business. You are a giver!
Remember that and it will change your perspective and how you present what you have to offer.
Love to you all! This is not a bed of roses, but we WILL get through this and it is an opportunity for growth for all of us.
Recently, a colleague shared an excellent article about saying no to unnecessary meetings and respecting our own time more overall. (You can read the full article here.)
I definitely share the author’s sentiments and have written versions of the same message myself many times over the years. (This, for example.)
It’s so important to remember that as service providers, we are running businesses. We are not gophers for clients to do with as they please.
In fact, we have a duty to protect and preserve our important business resources (e.g., our time and energy) and use them most efficiently and effectively so that we can continue to help clients and do our best work for them. A business won’t survive otherwise.
As such, it is up to us to set our own policies and expectations in clients around how and when meetings work as well as what the communication protocols shall be.
Those aren’t things that are up to clients to dictate, and they should not be expecting that as a matter of course.
It reminded me of the time I ran across someone who was very young (no work, business, or life experience to speak of) and brand new in our industry whose first client had her attending all “team” meetings by phone every single morning.
At the time, she defended it and could not be convinced otherwise that it was not her role as a business owner to have clients require her to attend their regular, daily internal meetings.
Eventually she wised up and learned (the hard way) that business owners are not employees, and it most certainly is not any client’s place to “require” you to do anything. 😉
I was also reminded of one of my early clients whose belief that “the customer is always right” was killing her. She came to dread working with her clients because of this unhealthy belief system, and it was creating an existential crisis in her life.
How could she make her living if she was beginning to hate dealing with her clients? She loved her work, just not everything they were “requiring” her to do, particularly when it came to endless meetings.
She was a solopreneur making over $1 million a year. That’s not the kind of money that’s easy to walk away from, but at the same time, her clients were running her ragged and she was miserable. Something had to give.
So I thought I would share the story of how I helped her shed this mindset and the steps we took to turn things around in her business so she could enjoy working with her clients again and not quit her business.
It’s a good example of how we, as Administrative Consultants, are so often in a position to guide and advise clients as a natural extension of our administrative support, expertise, and experience.
Perhaps it will inspire some ideas in your own Administrative Consulting practice on how you can further help clients.
This client was a high-end gala designer who conceptualized, produced, and executed the theme and experience of major fundraising events (think multi-million dollar budgets for $5,000+ a plate balls).
One of the pitfalls of her business was that she was constantly being sucked into endless group meetings with the local boards/committees of these events, sometimes two or more times a week.
And she absolutely hated it.
These meetings were such an unnecessary time-suck and complete waste of productive time.
They ate up far more in travel time and preparation than the meetings themselves, which would sometimes last over two hours.
And more often than she’d prefer, they turned out to be merely bickering sessions between board/committee members who couldn’t agree on anything. What did they need her there for?
Worst of all, attending all these meetings utterly stifled her creative energy—the very thing she was paid big bucks for!
This client was amazing at what she did. It’s a unique form of art in and of itself.
But while she knew what she was doing when it came to her talent, she had no previous business experience or training so dealing with clients, setting boundaries, and managing expectations was all new territory for her.
Since she had no frame of reference, she just assumed, like a lot of new business owners do, that the “customer is always right” and whatever they want or ask is how she should be doing things.
One day as she was getting ready and lamenting to me over the phone about having to go to yet another one of these dreaded “dog-and-pony shows” as she referred to them, I asked her, “So why do you keep going? Do you realize you can say “no” to these meetings? YOU are the artist, not their employee. If they want to work with you, they need to conform to how YOUR service works, not the other way around.”
This was an epiphany to her!
She was this amazing, sought-after designer, and it had never once occurred to her that she could refuse to indulge in these endless, ridiculous wastes of her time; that it was, in fact, imperative for her to do so from that moment forward or she wouldn’t be any good to anyone, least of all herself.
How could she do her best work for these clients if she allowed them to deplete her?
And if she didn’t put her foot down and start respecting her own time and energy, they certainly weren’t going to either.
Having done this in my own business and having helped a couple other clients by that time in this area as well, I outlined some of the things that could be done that would make a dramatic, positive difference in her business and how she worked with clients.
She resolved right then and there that she simply could not go on as she had been and asked me to help her.
First, since this was project-based work above, beyond, and different from (i.e., not included in) the monthly retainer she paid for my administrative support, I determined an upfront monthly flat fee for my consulting services. I estimated that we would need 3-4 months to fully implement everything.
Through a series of weekly phone calls, we explored and documented the specific issues she wasn’t happy with in her business. During these calls I provided suggestions and helped her see how we could rectify the issues she was experiencing by clearly identifying her standards (e.g., what values were important to her around money, work, clients; what she wanted for her business, for herself, and for her clients) and then implementing policies and procedures and creating tools that worked in support of those standards.
Our work together involved:
Making a list of the problem issues that were making her miserable and inhibited her creative flow.
Creating a picture on paper of what she wanted her business to look like, how she ideally wanted things work.
Formalizing her standards and values around these things on paper.
Helping her visualize and map out her client and creative processes and the practical steps involved, and charting this out on paper.
Fleshing out and formalizing new and improved policies and procedures and incorporating them into her client contract.
Creating a “client bible” (a/k/a Client Guide) that shared with clients her values around the whole client experience and preserving her time and creative energy with smart policies and procedures so she could do her best work for them. This guide worked as a tool that further educated and informed clients and set and managed their expectations about how she worked with clients, her communication protocols, the different stages of her design process, the specific kind and number of meetings that would be involved in her process, as well as what was expected from the clients themselves. For example, with regard to the dreaded meetings, the new protocol that I suggested and she agreed would be perfect was that beyond the initial consultation or two, she did not work or meet directly with boards or committees once she was engaged. She required clients to appoint one to three people that she would be working directly with from that point forward, with one of those people being her primary contact and liaison. This required boards and committees to work out their ideas and disagreements among themselves first on their own dime. This saved her a lot of angst and was a much more efficient and effective process for all involved.
Besides needing to stop the cycle of endless meetings she had allowed her clients to expect, we also identified that how and when they were expecting to communicate with her the rest of the time (i.e., ringing her any time of day and night!) was another one of her problem areas.
Here again, she had the misguided and detrimental belief that she had to be constantly accessible to clients on demand. She thought it would make them “like” and appreciate her more.
But being too available, she realized, was backfiring and actually had the opposite effect of causing them to have no respect or regard for her, which definitely was not her intention.
We set that right by establishing formal communication standards, policies, and protocols that clearly informed clients about her client hours and what forms of communication were acceptable and when.
This was something she hadn’t done before whatsoever!
Going through this process helped her see even more clearly how she was not respecting her own time and value and, therefore, clients weren’t either.
She realized where she was being too informal when it came to certain polite boundaries, and too lax in charging for other things, as well as simply not charging more profitably overall.
It helped her see where she could be charging higher fees and more intentional in how she worked with clients and doing things in a way that worked with HER creative process.
Toward the end of this realigning/re-centering process, we identified areas where my monthly administrative support could be further utilized to help ease even more of her burdens.
For example, with the newly identified and mapped out client-onboarding process we put together, we could clearly see steps that I could take on for her that would free up more of her time and attention such as the contract-signing and payment process, dissemination of the client guide, answering initial client emails and questions, and setting up and administering client files and accounts.
(This increased workload, of course, warranted an increase in my monthly administrative support fee.)
By engaging in the effort to change what wasn’t working for her, she took a stand for:
her own self-care,
doing work that was up to her professional and artistic standards, and
what she needed from clients in order to accomplish those objectives.
She learned that by setting clear boundaries and parameters, she wasn’t saying no to clients (something she was extremely averse to doing previously), she was actually saying yes to providing them with the best experience and outcomes possible.
When clients had a better understanding of the boundaries and protocols expected, they became much easier and happier to work with, and were much happier with her and what she created for them.
The consequence of our work together was literally life-changing for her:
She realized that “being nice” and forever agreeable to meeting after meeting was not benefiting her or her clients.
She hadn’t realized before that clients only had meeting after meeting because they didn’t know any better either. Her taking charge of her own business and processes gave them the leadership and guidance they needed (and unknowingly craved) from her as the professional in the relationship. The happy, unexpected byproduct was that they saved themselves all that wasted time and energy as well.
By better respecting her own time, it helped her also gain more respect for the value of what she created for clients.
She ended up having more time to take on more ideal projects and do even better work for the clients she served.
She increased her fees and kept better account of work and value for which she should be charging.
Because she wasn’t stuck in endless meetings any longer, she had more time to go on the soul-enriching trips around the world that fed her creativity which, in turn, benefited her clients.
And, perhaps most importantly, her joy and happiness returned which further fueled her creativity and excitement for the work.
I hope this helps you see how you, as the person who provides your clients with administrative support and expertise, are in such a perfect position to also be of help to them in improving and growing their businesses.
I have worked with and observed far too often consultants who simply don’t have the administrative skill and expertise to execute their ideas for clients (much less had anyone like you who could help them do that, hint hint).
As someone who is intimately involved in and familiar with your clients’ businesses, you can be so much more effective in not only sharing advice and ideas for improvements, but also implementing those changes and incorporating them into the administration of the business overall.
It’s why we are Administrative + Consultants. 😉
I have a LOT more to teach you on this.
When you learn how to do all these things in your own business, you can also do them for your clients.
One blog post isn’t going to do it, though; it’s just not an adequate medium for that kind of learning.
My best advice is always to get my entire system because each piece is an integral part of the overall picture. You can’t fully learn one area with the absence of the others.
If you are only able to start with one piece, however, my Pricing & Packaging Guide will show you how to understand and map out different work and revenue streams in your business and how to present and provide that kind of additional support to your clients (and how to make more money yourself doing it!).
Any questions, shoot me an email. I’m always happy to help where I can. 🙂
Just because you can do everything doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
People who are new in business don’t tend to understand this at first. They are too eager and excited to get those first paying clients.
But once you have more than one client, you begin to get an inkling of this truth: you don’t want to bog yourself down doing too much stuff and trying to do every. single. thing. for clients.
You’re going to come up against a wall of overwhelm real quick if you don’t get clear and focused about what you do (and what you don’t) in your business.
Keeping your focus on who you cater your support to and what you do for them is key.
I see a lot of people in our industry really enamored with the idea of doing anything and everything.
It’s an idea they are hit over the head with when they first enter the industry at large, almost as if there is something virtuous about it.
NOTE: It’s not virtuous; it’s misguided. In fact, I am here to tell you it is keeping you from providing a superior level of administrative support and service that clients will pay well for. Doing every little thing is keeping you small and under-earning.
Most of the people who come to me for help in our industry are those who fell for the BS of doing anything and everything only to realize later just how much it is keeping them from being able to develop their business, from making more money, from having time for a life, and from having a business and clients that actually make them happy.
Sometimes there’s a bit of “savior complex” rooted in this notion, which also isn’t good for you or your business (or ultimately your clients).
Sometimes it’s a lack of professional self-esteem (which is, again, common in people who are new in business). They don’t yet have a sense of confidence in their value and think they need to “prove” their worth by offering to do anything and everything.
Most of the time, though, the folks trying to do anything and everything are those who have not chosen a target market (which is simply a field/industry/profession you cater your administrative support to).
That’s how the cycle starts.
When you don’t know who you are talking to, it’s difficult to find a direction and form a clear idea of specifically what you do and how you help.
That’s because having no clear idea of who you are talking to forces you to think in a manner that is too broad, vague, and generic.
And so they end up offering anything and everything they can think of that might be of value to someone, somewhere (anyone? pretty please?).
What ends up happening, though, is you become a garbage disposal that clients toss any old thing at, making up their own rules and expectations in your business in the process.
This is what Seth Godin calls being a “meandering generality instead of a meaningful specific.”
When you get specific about who you work with (i.e., target market), you’ll be able to more quickly, clearly, and specifically identify exactly what you do and don’t do that helps clients.
(HINT: And that’s NOT everything and the kitchen sink.)
Here’s an example of avoiding the constant busy-ness of certain work that keeps you from really developing your business into a more powerful revenue and freedom-generating machine.
I’ve long advocated that colleagues never manage any client’s email in-box:
You are not their personal, on-call employee/assistant. (What, do they need you to wipe their ass for them when they go to the bathroom, too? Look, there are just some things that grown-ups need to do themselves. You didn’t go into business to be someone’s lackey, did you? You can get a job for that. Just say no to work like that. It’s not the kind of thing you need to be doing in business.)
You have enough of your own emails to manage to take on anyone else’s; and
In-box management is drudge work that will keep you in the reeds on a daily basis, never able to get beyond the busy-ness to work on higher-value, big-picture stuff, both in your business and theirs.
This is a good example of “you don’t have to do everything to be of value” because even though in-box management isn’t something you do, the time you free up for clients by doing the other things you DO do allows them to better manage their own in-boxes.
What you can do instead is share your tips, advice, and guidance with clients on how to better manage their own in-boxes.
You could do that by writing an ezine article and/or blog post, creating an info product for purchase, putting together an instructional video or DIY email training, or perhaps do a paid online class a couple times a year.
(And by the way, inviting people to sign up to your mailing list to get any one or all of these will help you grow your list and continue to keep in touch and nurture those relationships.)
Dealing with it like that, you are providing additional value without bogging yourself down in that kind of work.
You don’t have to do everything to be of value. Let that sink in.
(If you need help finally choosing a target market, get my free tool that helps walk you through the process.)
I think the idea that very commonly travels around our circles that we should be “one-stop” shops is dangerous.
Dangerous in that it sets you up for failure and mediocrity.
Dangerous because it’s rooted in employee mindset.
Dangerous because it stems from an underlying lack of healthy professional self-esteem that who you are and what you do is ENOUGH.
And dangerous because it teaches clients and others to devalue the expertise you ARE in business to provide.
It is ENOUGH to be in one business, not a million different businesses at once (i.e., administrative support… not administrative support AND web design AND graphic design AND bookkeeping AND marketing AND social media AND writing/copywriting, and any and every other hat you can find to put on).
That BS is something employers pulled on their admin staff because they could get away with it (i.e., dumping every kind of work and role onto them beyond their job description without any promotion in title or pay).
You don’t need to carry that wrong and negative influence over into your business. And you shouldn’t.
Because you are not a human garbage dump.
Because business and employment are not the same thing.
And because running your business and working with clients as if you were still an employee keeps your business from really flourishing.
It is ENOUGH to keep your eye on your one focus and discipline.
In that way, you beat mediocrity and can be the very best you can be at the particular thing you are in business to do.
Trying to diversify and be all the things to every body keeps you unfocused and dilutes the time and energy needed to do any one thing particularly well.
People who specialize in mediocrity don’t make the big bucks, are tired and scattered all the time, and never gain traction in their businesses.
You DON’T have to solve ALL problems for clients. You only have to solve the problem your business is set up to solve.
You all are smart enough to understand that “competitive advantage” has nothing to do with your colleagues, right?
“Competitive advantage” is about emphasizing those unique traits, attributes, experiences, perspectives and strengths that help your ideal clients connect with you.
It’s what helps bring your educational marketing message to life and stand out from the sea of rote, repetitive scripts that everyone else parrots.
It’s about illuminating your uniqueness, giving your right clients a reason to choose you, making it easier for them to recognize your special, extra sparkle and discern that you’re the right fit for them.
It’s not a competition with your colleagues.
It’s a communication that happens between you and your potential clients.
Have you thought about or identified your unique and extra attributes that clients enjoy when they work with you? Is this something you struggle with? Let me know your thoughts or questions in the comments. Maybe we can help. 🙂
Without a proper consultation process in place, you’re going to lose more clients than you get.
A proper consultation process is one of the ways you demonstrate your competence and professionalism to clients.
When everyone else is lamely giving 15-30 minute consults, a thorough consultation system turns you into a standout and gives you competitive advantage over everyone else.
Plus, if you want more monthly retained clients (where you get paid a higher fee for your ongoing monthly support), you simply must have a much longer, deeper conversation; 15-30 minutes just doesn’t cut it.
A good consultation system helps you set the proper tone for the business relationship moving forward so that clients take you and your business seriously and understand that they’re dealing with a business, not an employee.
It’s also going to instill greater trust and confidence in them by virtue of seeing that you conduct things in a proper business manner. It shows them that you know exactly how to expertly glean from them the info you need to determine how to best help them and where to start. This reassures them that they are dealing with a competent business professional who is going to handle the relationship and work you do for them just as professionally.
A thorough consultation helps you better identify how you can help each potential client and helps you get more of your ideal clients.
So, if you don’t have a consultation system in place, if you’re not sure of yourself when it comes to conducting consultations, if you’ve been lacking confidence and want to walk potential clients more assertively through that initial conversation, be sure to check out my client consultation guide:
This is my own proprietary system I’ve developed and honed over 20 years in this business.
In this guide, I’ve packaged my entire step-by-step process for you in an encouraging, easy to follow plan that tells you exactly how to structure the entire process — before, during and after.
My success rate with this system has been out of every 10 clients who go through my consultation process, I have my pick of 8-9 of them wanting to work with me.
And colleagues who have followed my process often tell me how impressed their prospective clients were and how it made all the difference in those clients choosing to work with them.
Knowing how to do something is half the battle. This guide will help increase your confidence ten-fold and take all those nervous jitters that come with not really knowing how to proceed with this all-important conversation.
It’s not necessary to be a phoney-baloney in your marketing to get clients.
If you’re a solo, don’t pretend you’re a bigger company.
When it comes down to it, that’s just plain dishonest, a lie.
Is that really how you want to start your valued new client relationships?
And what kind of clients will you end up with based on false pretenses?
What happens to trust once they find out they’ve been snookered, manipulated?
Trust, credibility and rapport are established through honesty and by demonstrating your competence, professionalism and capabilities through your writing, the presentation of your website and other marketing collateral, and the polish and effectiveness of your policies, processes and protocols.
I get that people want to help clients see how skilled, competent and credible they are, and that some think the only way to do that is to portray themselves as bigger as if they have more people involved in their business than there actually are.
But dishonesty is never the answer.
Engaging in false presenses belies your own low professional self-esteem and the belief that you are not enough, that the way you operate your business as a solo is not enough.
It’s also presuming that prospective clients have any problem with it.
Imagine the better fitting clients you would get, client it would be more joyful to work with, simply by sharing honestly the size of your business and how you operate, and being the real you.
I have two categories on my blog here with posts that will help you learn how to instill trust and demonstrate your competence without being dishonest or unethical:
You don’t have a portfolio when you’re in the admin support business because admin support is a service, not a tangible, visible product (like design is).
Rather, your “portfolio” is the experience clients get dealing with you.
It’s your service, your communication, your responsiveness, your policies, processes and procedures, your systems, your standards, how your website looks and works, what your testimonials say, your case studies…
These are all demonstrations—samplings and examples—of your expertise, competence, professionalism and the service experience clients will get should they decide to work with you.
And if they are positive, if they are smooth, if they are well-executed, those are the things that instill confidence and trust in your potential clients.