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. 🙂
Not sure where I first came across this quote, but it’s a sentiment that always bear repeating.
To an extent, value is relative. Which is why it’s important to work with the right, well-chosen clients, clients who need what you have to offer and will therefore appreciate (i.e., value) it more highly.
That said, at a fundamental level, if you don’t value what you have to offer (and price it accordingly), no one else will either.
Does this resonate with you? I’d love to hear why.
Happy New Year! I hope all your dreams will be actualized in 2019! My question relates to raising rates with current clients and if there a formula to follow. In the past I have used the script you provided in your blog post Raising Your Rates, and I must say it has worked like a charm. I love all the advice you provide on the blog in this category, especially about not letting fear get the best of you when you offer high quality service. Over the last couple of years, I have restructured my administrative consulting business. I offer a core service in two niche markets. During this time, I have retained five clients and have had great success. With each new client,I have incrementally raised my rates. This gets me to my question: The first client I retained almost two years ago is THRILLED with my service. Not only did I meet the contractual obligations, but went above and beyond. I really hit the ball out of the park with this client. They are often singing the praises about my administrative consulting firm. Since their two-year anniversary is approaching, I was planning on raising their rates. Is there standard protocol to follow (like tipping a server at a restaurant)? I thought I would raise my rates (REMOVED)%. This is a number I picked because when I see a vendor, utility, or dental plan increase by this amount, I think, “that’s fair,” but any higher, I feel like I am being taken advantage of. Next, I looked up the cost of living increase on Google. It is 3% each year for 2017 and 2018. That makes me wonder, would I be undercutting myself with a (REMOVED)% raise and should I increase to (REMOVED) %? Vacillating to the other end of the spectrum, I am obsessed with client satisfaction. I don’t want to raise the rate so high they feel taken advantage of. We have a dynamic relationship. Would seeing the numbers help? The client’s current retainer is $(REMOVED)/month. As I solicit new clients, they will pay $(REMOVED)/month for this service. However, I am not ready to lose this client. I truly value your guidance in this situation. Thanks again for all you do for our community! —Name Withheld for Privacy
Thank you, and happy new year to you as well! And thanks for the great question which I’ve been chomping at the bit to answer for you.
First, congratulations on your well-earned growth and success. That is absolutely wonderful to hear!
I also want to let you know that I am keeping your name anonymous and removed certain info from your question for reasons I will explain below.
The short, quick answer is that there is no formula for raising your fees. I know people love to be given formulas, but it’s not that simple.
It’s also highly illegal for members of a profession/industry to discuss rates or setting standards or minimums or formulas when it comes to pricing as these things violate antitrust laws. Those kind of conversations constitute what is termed “collusion.”
The state and federal agencies that oversee these laws take violations very seriously so we never want to run afoul of them.
It doesn’t matter how big or small a business is, whether they are sole proprietors or big corporations, or how much money they make, we are all subject to these laws.
As they will tell you: ignorance is not a defense. This means you can be prosecuted for violations whether you were aware or not.
How has your work helped them advance, grow and improve in their business? What goals has it helped them achieve or get closer to? How much more time and freedom do they have since working with you?
When it’s time to raise your rates, be thinking along these lines and taking note of them, not just how much your workload may have increased, although that is certainly relevant as well.
People know that when they get more, they pay more. The benefit of connecting what they have gained by working with you, however, is that it helps keep them in a positive mindset toward fee increases, particularly when they are increased for more abstract reasons (such as cost of living) and not necessarily increased workload.
How you determine your fee increases and how much to increase them by is entirely up to you. There is no right or wrong way to do it.
I’m concerned that you have one-price-for-all.
If you are providing administrative support, you are providing a variety of tasks, functions, and roles for each client, each of whom is unique and whose support areas, needs, levels, and objectives are all going to be different from the next client.
When you are providing a value-based service, there shouldn’t be anything cookie-cutter about your pricing. Each client’s needs and support plan should be evaluated and determined on an individual basis. This is something I show people how to do in my Value-Based Pricing Guide.
It doesn’t tell you what to charge or give you a formula. It will show you what factors to take into account, how to identify/categorize support plan areas and set parameters and boundaries, and give you as systematic an approach as you can get for determining your pricing around your support plans that is fair and profitable for both you and your clients.
Capture their “before” picture at the start of every new client relationship.
When you consult with potential clients and onboard new ones, be sure to include a step where you obtain as complete a picture as you can of their current challenges, difficulties, pain points, and obstacles, as well as their desired objectives and outcomes BEFORE you start working together.
(If anyone reading this doesn’t have a consultation process in place, you NEED one now! Get my Consultation Guide for an easy, step-by-step plan that shows you exactly what to do before, during and after.)
Not only does this help you create case studies/stories for your website, it’s also incredibly useful insight to have when it’s time to raise your fees.
By better identifying what each client actually values and what they’re trying to accomplish through your work together, you can use that information to set benchmarks and emphasize those accomplishments.
They also inspire clients by helping them remember what life was like before they had your support and how far they have come and what a smart decision they made in choosing you.
This is something else that is useful when presenting fee increases as it can help you connect the dots from your work directly to what the client’s values, goals and objectives are.
I recommend getting client feedback at least every year for established clients, and more frequently (e.g., every three to six months) for new clients.
One caution, though: Don’t raise fees at the same time of year that you survey clients for their feedback and suggestions. Do these two things at different times of the year.
Similarly, if you have my Value-Based Pricing Guide, you know that I also recommend reviewing every client’s support plan at regular intervals.
For new clients, you are going to do this more frequently because there is a lot of ramping up and getting to know the work and each other and fine-tuning of things in that first year of working together.
For them, I suggest reviewing their support plan internally every two to three months initially in that first year.
You want to make sure you are honoring the parameters you both agreed to and identifying any scope creep that you have not have taken in account and then adjusting accordingly at the next fee increase.
With established clients, you may decide that an annual support plan review is sufficient for your purposes.
Keep clients informed upfront all along the way with plenty of notice.
Let new clients know that there may be a period of adjustment in the first months/year of working together and that you will be reviewing their support plan every so many weeks or months.
If there are areas that have been or need to be added on or increased (or been eliminated or significantly decreased, for that matter), let them know that the fee they pay may be affected.
And let established clients know that their support plans are reviewed regularly as well (e.g., annually or every six months).
The key is to inform all clients upfront that their support plans are reviewed at specific intervals and that there will be periodic fee increases as you deem necessary or appropriate
You want them to understand that what they pay is relative to the support areas and parameters you have agreed to, and as those change and evolve or increase, you will be examining them and adjusting pricing accordingly.
At a very basic level, all I can say is this: You know your clients. You know what you do for them. You know when you feel like you are doing more than what you are charging for. You know how they are benefiting from your work. And you know when it’s time for raise fees for the profitability of your business and in keeping with the value you are providing.
When you start to feel those nigglings, that is always the correct time to review and adjust.
Always be reviewing and evaluating internally, and then on whatever regular schedule that you determine, implement your fee increases.
Let’s say you like to go through your annual feedback process with clients around May or June when business generally tends to slow down somewhat for everyone and they have more time to reflect.
You could then time your annual fee increases for January.
Whenever you time these events, I suggest you always give clients 30-60 days’ notice of any support plan adjustments/fee increases.
This gets them used to the idea, gives them time to ask any questions they have, and ensures no one is surprised or caught off guard. That’s the only thing that would really create ill will.
By giving courteous notice, it’s only going to help you adjust things in the best way possible for both you and each of your clients.
The bottom-line: Never surprise clients with things coming out of left field.
Everyone appreciates a heads-up so they can plan and budget accordingly, and your fee increases will be far more well-received.
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.)
And I say that as someone who is about to embark on some roadtripping where I will be a semi digital nomad, and also as someone who lived in Europe while continuing to run my business.
That shit was hard!
That is, since ours is an online business, it was relatively easy technologically, but difficult from a mental, logistical, and practical standpoint.
I work MUCH better running things from my home office in the U.S. where my regular set-up and all my stuff is located and I have a regular routine and things-in-place.
I wouldn’t trade the experience of living and working in Europe for the world, but I also wouldn’t advise anyone that it’s a good idea to try to escape your life under the misguided thinking that it’s going to solve whatever you are running from.
Let me tell you, it is not all it’s cracked up to be (no matter what kind of rainbows and puppy dog tail pictures the internet marketers try to paint).
Yes, there are lots of unique experiences you can have (maybe… depending on how intrepid you are).
But it can be very difficult trying to do ACTUAL WORK FOR REAL, ACTUAL CLIENTS on the road.
A lot of the work I see many of these so-called digital nomads doing is fluff (mixed with a lot of BS).
The article has what I consider to be a very realistic, no-nonsense list of what is needed for those who might be considering the “digital nomad” life (I even detest the term; so stupid).
I’m going to venture to say that most of us fare better in our lives and businesses when we have a home-base.
I will even say that for most people, you will have more chance of success in your business if you aren’t trying to start and grow it while being essentially home-less and without the structure and stability of a steady home-base.
And you don’t have to be a “digital nomad” to travel and have life experiences.
What might be better is to build a financially solvent and successful business with smart policies, procedures, and systems in place so that you CAN pick up and travel when the urge strikes you.
Ask any traveling business or salesperson. Living out of a suitcase and hotel room (no matter how adorable that AirBnB may be) gets real old and real inconvenient fairly quickly.
Instead, think about having the best of both worlds by setting up your business smartly and profitably so that you can live and travel when and where you fancy while always having a home and community to come back to.
Have you ever thought about living and working on the road? What would be the pros and cons for you?
Last month a colleague asked for an interview with me, and I thought I would share my answers with you here as well.
Name of Your Business:
I am the founder of the Administrative Consultants Association (ACA), a professional organization for those running administrative support businesses. I also run my own administrative support business supporting solo attorneys who practice in the areas of business, intellectual property and entertainment law.
Years in Business:
I’ve been in business since 1997 when I officially took out my business license; longer if you want to include the years I did this work on the side informally. I originally started the organization now known as the Administrative Consultants Association (ACA) in 2005.
Q1. Tell me about starting your business. Why did you start it?
My husband died without warning in 1995, leaving me a young widow with a daughter to raise on my own. An unexpected loss like that really makes you question life and what you want out of it, how you want to live, what you want for yourself and your children, etc.: Are you living life on your own terms? How happy are you in the 9-to-5 grind? Is my child really getting the best of me if I’m tired and working all the time just to make ends meet? What kind of life am I providing for her? Is this really all there is?
I had previous forays into a few side businesses that I never really took anywhere. It was after the loss of my husband that I decided to get serious about taking the skills I had and turning them into a real business I could make a viable income from to create a better quality of life for myself and my daughter. I didn’t want to be a 9-to-5’er the rest of my life.
Q2. What is your role/job? What sort of responsibilities do you have?
I would say “job” is the wrong terminology to be using here since we are business owners, not employees. Some people may think that is pedantic, but consciously understanding the difference between employment and business ownership and having a business (not employee) mindset begins with using correct terminology.
In all my years of mentoring, what I’ve found is that those who never truly get over employee mindset and continue to work with their clients as if they were still employees don’t survive long in this business.
This is why I continue to clarify the distinction and make sure everyone I come across “gets” it. I want people to succeed in this business, which really starts with developing that all-important business sensibility.
As a solo business owner, I wear three hats: 1) I’m the CEO responsible for the development and direction of my business and making important decisions about the business; 2) I’m the manager responsible for managing all the moving parts and taking care of administration of the business; and 3) I’m the service provider — the craftsperson whose skills are the stock and trade of my business services.
Q3. What is your typical day like?
Very generally speaking, on a typical day, I wake up according to my own internal clock (I haven’t used an alarm clock in years).
Once I get up, I do a little yoga and stretching, eat, and then get cleaned up and dressed for the day. I fully admit to working in my bathrobe every once in awhile if I don’t have any plans to go anywhere that day, lol. But most of the time, leggings or long skirt with a comfy but stylish tee is how I roll.
I don’t like to rush into the day and prefer to check emails and get things sorted in my in-box as the first thing I do.
There is a lot of talk in many online places that discourage this, but I prefer the opposite and find this email clearing and organizing step much more conducive to my productivity for the rest of the day.
I then tend to dive into client work around 10 or 11 am (I always joke with people that my brain doesn’t get juiced up fully until around 11 am).
Depending on what’s on my plate for that day, I may work until between 4 and 6 pm. But it really varies, depending on the day’s workload, what priorities are in the queue, and what else I’ve got going on.
If the work in my queue gets done early, I don’t jump into the next day’s pile. I go enjoy life!
It does take discipline, though, not to fill your free time with work, work, work.
I think for most of us, our first instinct is to get as much done as quickly as we can. But that is really counterproductive and keeps you on a hamster wheel. It’s not good for you and ultimately it ends up not being good for clients.
You have to be diligent about respecting your own boundaries (which in turn trains clients to respect them as well) and give yourself lots of breathing room so you don’t burn out in this business.
At some point around noon or 1 pm I’ll knock off for lunch, maybe go somewhere to eat.
I also try to get a good walk/hike on most days (try being the operative word here lately). Depending on the weather, sometimes that’s first thing in the morning, sometimes it’s around midday, sometimes it’s later in the evening.
It really all depends, and this is the beautiful thing that I’ve created in my business: the freedom and flexibility to be able to listen to my own natural rhythms, structure my business around my life, and do what I want, when I want, while still taking great care of my clients. (I never sacrifice their needs; it’s all a matter of setting proper expectations and boundaries.)
Mondays are my Admin Days where I take care of the admin in my own business or working on my business.
Tuesdays are my meeting days that I reserve for telephone meetings and appointments with clients and others.
Wednesday through Friday is when I do client work.
For the past few years, my life has been extra stressed caring for a sick, elderly dad. In full disclosure, I’ve really let my own self-care down. I’m beyond grateful I’ve built a business that allows me to do this for my dad, but it’s not easy and still comes with a cost that has taken a toll on me. Making my own self-care a priority again is something I wrestle with on a daily basis and am currently working to improve.
Q4. What is the best thing about owning your own business?
As touched on above, the freedom and flexibility to live a less rushed/forced life; the ability to live according to my own natural rhythms and internal clock; and the ability to structure my business and its policies, procedures, and protocols so that I have plenty of time for life (or whatever is most important at any point in time; for me, right now, that is my dad).
I never ever want a business where I am living to work instead of working to live.
One of the things I’m always saying to my clients and colleagues is that your business should support your life, not suck the life from you. It took a lot of fits and starts, trial and error, and course correction, but I’m very proud of the business and income I’ve created today.
I also love that my daughter was able to see that self-sufficiency and determination modeled and be a part of my business journey.
Q5. What is the hardest thing about owning your own business?
Well, I’ll be frank with you: business ain’t for sissies, that’s fo sho!
I was extremely fortunate to have had some opportunities come up that gave me the financial means to take care of myself and my daughter while I started my business.
And later I was also fortunate to have a significant other to lean on during the rough spots, of which there were many, make no mistake.
It takes an extreme amount of perseverance, determination, self-motivation — and time —to get a business to a point where it’s actually solvent and sustainable and eventually profitable.
And, of course, everyone’s mileage and set of circumstances will vary. You just take advantage of everything you’ve got going for you, figure out the rest, and if you can get past all that, the rewards are amazing!
Q6. What advice do you have for someone wanting to start a business? What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started?
One of the reasons I started the ACA was to provide others with the knowledge and easier path in starting their own administrative support business that I didn’t have way back when. I did it all without knowing there were others doing what I was attempting to do.
One thing that was pivotal in my success was realizing that a secretarial service is not administrative support.
Secretarial services are project-based businesses where the person does something here and there for drive-by clients.
It’s an inherently volume-driven business, one that requires you to always be on the hunt for your next clients and projects, even while you try to complete the work in front of you.
It’s a plodding, exhausting way to try to make a living and extremely difficult to get profitable.
Once I realized that, instead of project work, I could provide administrative support being an ongoing right-hand to a handful of regular clients on a monthly basis instead of a constantly revolving door of one-time or sporadic clients and rinky-dink projects, that’s when I cracked the revenue code.
But it took me a few years to get to that realization and figure out how to structure things properly.
I show them how they can build a business based on retainer clients (which is where the bread-and-butter is) while still taking advantage of project work that comes along that is of interest to them (which is gravy).
Another bit of advice I have for folks is not to take shortcuts with the business startup process. Every step helps build your business mindset and sensibility.
People get impatient with the process and want to jump ahead of themselves and it’s really to their detriment and that of their clients.
I’ve seen more businesses shutter their doors because the owner didn’t put the proper foundations in place before taking on clients.
Don’t rush things. There is a little bit of back and forth involved as you figure things out, but beyond that, there is a basic step by step process involved in any business start-up. Don’t skip those parts:
Do the business plan.
Learn how your local, state and federal taxing and licensing works and what your responsibilities/obligations are.
Don’t take on clients before you’ve got at least a basic website up and mapped out a rudimentary set of policies, procedures and protocols. Your website is an incredibly important tool in properly educating clients about the nature of the relationship and bridging understanding so that you attract your right, most ideal clients. You will find that having something there to start with is going to be incredibly helpful in building, growing, and honing your business from there.
These are all exercises that help you create the strong foundations you need to be able to get — and keep — clients. The problems with clients and not getting the right ones happen when those things are absent.
If you were interviewing me, what other questions would you have for me? Let me know in the comments!
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.