Archive for the ‘Policies & Procedures’ Category

Punishment Fees Are Not Good Business

Punishment Fees Are Not Good Business

Punishing clients with the threat of charging them more money to get them to stop doing something you don’t want is a terrible business practice and a rotten dynamic to create in your relationship.

Paying you should feel good. It should feel like a reward for getting something great that they gain from, that improves their life and business.

Instead, you are training them to view paying you as a negative experience, a punishment.

I get that sometimes we take on bad clients. Sometimes when we are new, we sometimes expect clients to just “know” how our business runs and how they are to interact with us. And yes, you do need to put certain terms in your contract (such as late fees and interest rates and in what situations they will be applied) in order to have legally enforceable contracts.

But here’s a better idea:  choose better clients. 😉

Don’t take on just any client, and never take on clients just for the money. That never ends well.

Get clear about who an ideal client is in your business and who is not. Write those things down.

List what red flags to watch out and listen for that tell you someone is likely to be a pain in the ass who doesn’t respect you or your business. And then don’t work with those people.

Pay attention to your gut when it tells you someone isn’t going to be a fit. Don’t ignore it and step over your standards.

Stop being desperate. Be more discerning about who you allow on your client roster.

Do more prequalifying.

Conduct more thorough consultations (get my guide that shows you EXACTLY how to do that).

Get clearer about what your standards, boundaries, policies and procedures are in your business. 

Then do a better job of communicating those things to clients by writing them down in a Client Guide, giving it to every new client, and then going over that information with them (in the case of retainer clients) in a New Client Orientation before you begin working together.

Fire any client who can’t get with the program and continues to ignore your policies and processes and/or disrespect you.

Bad clients are unprofitable. Working with bad clients is never worth the trouble. It’s also unethical to work with bad clients because you can’t do your best work for any client you don’t have good feelings for and are drained by.

They eat up far more space in your business than you realize with the negative energy and problems they create. The psychological toll that takes costs more than any money you might be able to recoup. 

Dear Danielle: Client Thinks He Shouldn’t Be Billed for Time on the Phone

Dear Danielle: Client Thinks He Shouldn’t Be Billed for Time on the Phone

Dear Danielle:

Do you bill your clients for time that you speak with them on the phone? I have a client who wants to have phone meetings twice a week. A phone meeting with him can run from 15 minutes to an hour. Yet, he feels that I should not bill for that time. Instead, I should only bill for the time that I am “actually doing work.” (His words…not mine.) —Anonymous by request

Warning, this may be a little ranty, lol

And just to be clear, it’s no way directed toward the person asking the question. I give them all the props in the world for having the courage to ask. That’s how we get help, by asking.

What gets my dander up is more about the ridiculous, ignorant information that continues to be spouted out by business morons that create this kind of thinking in clients and colleagues in the first place.

The idea that in this day and age people in our industry are still asking questions like this as if they need permission from anybody about what they’re allowed to do in their business tells me there’s still an insane amount of employee-mindset going on.

NEWSFLASH: Talking with clients IS part of the work.

When you talk with clients on the phone, that’s part of the service you’re providing to them. And you’re in business to be PAID for the service you provide.

You are expending business resources (your time) and that time comes at a cost to your business.

You are being a brainstorming partner and sounding board. You’re also presumably offering your own input, ideas, opinions, feedback and expertise in those conversations, which are aspects of the service and value your client is benefiting from.

So, um, yeah, you should be charging for that. And it’s not up to ANY client to dictate what you do or don’t charge for or how you charge. If he doesn’t want to pay for it, then he shouldn’t be given it. And if he doesn’t like that, he can go somewhere else.

Now, all that said, this question points out a few things that are going on in this person’s business that need to be addressed.

  1. This client sounds like he thinks you’re some kind of employee. That means YOU haven’t done a proper job of educating him before ever working together about the fact that you are an independent professional—ahem, a BUSINESS—providing a service and expertise, no different than if he were to hire an attorney or an accountant or a coach, etc. You have GOT to set your prospects and clients STRAIGHT about this right from the get-go (which means you have to get this straight first yourself). You are not an employee. Period. End of story. That’s not how business works. There is no such thing as a 1099 employee. When clients are operating under no delusions about this, they approach the relationship with a more appropriate professional demeanor and respect, and they expect to pay for services they are provided.
  2. You haven’t defined your policies and procedures and your boundaries and parameters thoroughly. This is really business planning 101, which makes me wonder if you’ve done any of that. If you haven’t, go back now and do that. It’s important if you want happy clients and a happy, profitable and long-lived business! How you bill; what you bill for; what is included in the service and what is not; how many phone calls a client is allowed each week; what time limit they get per call; whether or not phone calls are by appointment only and need to be scheduled or not; how regular communication is to be conducted (e.g., email only)… these are just some of the things you need to clarify in your business. And then put all that information in a Client Guide to be given to every new client at the start of the relationship. (By the way: Set-01 The Administrative Consultant Business Set-Up Success Kit in the ACA Success Store includes a New Client Welcome Kit guide and Client Guide template to help you get this sorted in your business.)
  3. The fact that this client is complaining about being charged for phone calls now tells me you did not properly inform him upfront, before working together, how things work in your business. Of course, when you haven’t set your policies and procedures in the first place, how can you inform them upfront, right? Which is why you have to get clear about them first (see #2). You want to eliminate any misunderstandings and surprises as much as possible because those all too frequently become relationship killers.

And while it’s not any client’s business to tell you how to run yours, this does point to several of the reasons I don’t advocate selling hours as a billing methodology:

  1. It puts your interests at odds with each other. You only make more money the more hours you charge, and clients don’t like what they view as being nickeled and dimed.
  2. If you work fast, you are penalized financially while clients are getting the value and benefit of that speed without paying for it.
  3. Everything becomes a transaction which becomes the focus instead of the results, goals and objectives that together you wish to achieve.

Learning how to price, package your support, and talk about fees with clients is an area of business education in and of itself—part art, part science. There is a way to make sure you are paid for the time and value of the service you provide to clients without using time as the measurement and without clients feeling like they are being nickeled and dimed.

I teach a methodology called Value-Based Pricing that unties your earning ability from the hands of the ticking clock, and brings you and the client’s interests back into alignment so you can begin working more truly together with the same goals, intentions and motivations.

The fantastic byproduct of this methodology is that clients never again complain about being charged for this or that because it’s all part of the package.

You can learn more about all that and get my Value-Based Pricing and Packaging self-study guide here >>. (Be sure and watch the video!)

If you have any questions about any of this, please post in the comments and I’m happy to keep the conversation going there.

Hope this helps! (And if you have your own question on a different topic for me, please feel free to submit it here.)

How Do I Deal with a Client Who Constantly Misses Appointments?

How Do I Deal with a Client Who Constantly Misses Appointments?

A good question came up on one of the LinkedIn groups I belong to about a topic that is a frequent source of vexation for people in our industry:

“I have a client that is continuously scheduling my time and then when it’s time to “meet” she is otherwise engaged with family, etc. I understand “things come up,” however this is becoming a pattern. She is not very versed in the world of business and I’m not into giving my time away. This has happened three times now. I plan to begin billing for this time moving forward and want to put a policy in place. Thank you in advance for any guidance or words of wisdom you can share with me!!”

This falls under the category of “we teach our clients how to treat us.”

If a client normally respects your time and keeps their appointments with you, it’s easy to be understanding when life gets in the way and they are unable to give you sufficient notice when they need to cancel or reschedule a meeting with you.

However, once you recognize a pattern, and it’s causing you wasted time, irritation and resentment, that’s when you need to nip things in the bud.

Here are a few ways to help prevent this problem in the first place, as well as what to do when it does occur:

  1. Work with ideal clients. It’s fine to add a policy for the sake of clear understanding and communication (and you would not legally be able to impose fees if that language isn’t in your contract), but there’s something else to consider here: why would you want to work with the kind of clients who would only respect your time under threat of penalty? And what if the added charges don’t deter or change the behavior? You’d still have a PIA (pain-in-the-ass) client causing problems and negative energy in your practice. Examine whether that client is really worth continuing to work with.
  2. Run your business like a business. That means having a professional web presence, proper email and signature lines, formal business policies, documents and procedures, etc. The more you present yourself as a business, the more clients will respect it (and you) as such.
  3. Always have clients sign a contract. A contract isn’t just for legal purposes. It’s also to help clients take you and your business seriously, to view your business as a business. People who see you as a professional are more likely to respect your time.
  4. Include a section in both your contract and your New Client Guide that talks about the importance to the relationship of respecting each other’s time, what your expectations are of them (and that you will extend the same to them) and what the policies are around canceling and missed appointments. For example, how much notice do you ask clients provide if they need to cancel an appointment (this is common courtesy and respect)? Do you charge for missed appointments, and if so, how much? How long will you wait for a late-arriving client before you will no longer meet with them for that day? By informing them upfront what your policy is on this, you are indicating the value and respect you place on your time (as well as that of your other clients and priorities). Personally, I wait no more than 10 or 15 minutes; after that, they will need to reschedule their appointment for the following week. So, this is the other thing that contracts are for: formalizing what your expectations are for each other and the relationship and informing clients how things work in your business.
  5. Don’t be so quick to always instantly respond to clients. I know this sounds counter-intuitive because you want clients to feel you are responsive, but there is such a thing as being a too-eager beaver. When that’s the impression clients have, they think you have nothing better to do than sit there waiting for them to tell you to “jump.” You undermine your own authority in that way. Establish a communication standard in your business of 24-48 hours turn-around time in your replies, whether you have other clients or not. This helps set proper business expectations and clients will respect your time more appropriately.
  6. Don’t let clients slide. As soon as you realize you’ve clearly got a client who has no regard for you or your time, you’ve got to have a conversation about what is going on. Be prepared to fire any client who continues to abuse your time after this conversation. Because by letting them continue to do so, you are teaching them that your word, your time and your value mean nothing and they are free to do as they please and you’re just going to keep taking it. If you don’t respect your boundaries, clients won’t either.
  7. Re-examine your business, your standards, and who you are choosing as clients. If you have clients who continuously abuse your time there are two things going on: a) you are not working with ideal clients (and starting an Ideal Client Profile list is going to help you tremendously), and b) there are areas in your business, how you are presenting it and how you are working with clients that is contributing to this problem. This presents you with a good opportunity to improve your business, who you accept onto your client roster, how you might better communicate your needs and expectations of clients, and how to identify and get better, more ideal clients. Because if you are working with clients too informally, too loosey-goosey, and not being selective about who gets a place on your roster, those are definitely underlying root causes.

25 Ways to Get More Ideal, Well-Paying Clients

25 Ways to Get Better, More Ideal Clients

One of the biggest complaints people voice in our industry (the administrative support business) are clients who are a pain in the ass, otherwise known as PIAs, or more gently, un-ideal clients.

Bad clients are also one of the biggest business killers.

One bad client (particularly in a new business) can suck up all your resources and destroy profit—and your morale—to the point of no return.

Despite your best efforts, it’s possible to end up with a rotten apple once in awhile.

Far more often, however, it is we who create the conditions that bring un-ideal clients into our lives in the first place.

You have far more control in this area than you may realize. So, here’s a list that will help you have more ideal, joy-to-work-with clients who help your business grow and thrive:

  1. Own your role. Bad clients don’t happen to you. You’re the one who took them on and continues to work with them. Acknowledge that so you can fix it and start doing things differently from this point forward.
  2. Trust your gut. If you have a bad feeling or see red flags, pay attention. Your instincts will never fail you.
  3. Treat and respect your business like a business. When you do, your prospects and clients will as well.
  4. Have self-respect. Don’t beg, bribe and prostrate yourself to get clients. The only clients who are attracted to desperate people are bad clients.
  5. Don’t be so instantly available. Have a process that prospects go through to become clients. It’s an indicator that you are a professional, successful business, and that is going to attract professional, successful prospects. Anyone who is in a rush and wants to sidestep your processes is never an ideal client, and a process helps screen those folks out. Better clients know and expect that there will a process and that it’s essential to getting the best help and making sure there’s a mutual fit.
  6. Never take on work or clients just for the money. This is where 90% of the problems start in the first place.
  7. Have standards. For example, choosing to work only with honest, ethical people is a standard. What others can you think of? Write them down and hang this list where you’ll see it every day.
  8. Set proper expectations. Remember, you’re not running a mass consumer, assembly-line business like McDonald’s. You’re running a professional service firm where there is a personal, ongoing relationship with each client. Sometimes clients can seem un-ideal because you haven’t properly managed their expectations. When you don’t thoroughly inform them about how things work in your business, they somehow think it’s their place to make up their own rules (wrong!). Similar to raising children, if we are too permissive, over-promise, or establish policies that we can’t humanly sustain on a consistent basis (such as 24-hour, on-demand, instant assistance), we can turn clients into spoiled brats who throw tantrums the second you don’t instantly jump at their request. Picture your business with a full roster of retained clients. What kind of turn-around and communication policies does that business need to take great care of all your clients, consistently and reliably, now and in the future, without burning you out in the process because you have no room to breathe or have a life? Set your policies accordingly.
  9. Set policies, procedures and protocols. These are relationship-preservers that bring order to your business, ensure it runs smoothly and gives you the space you need to take fantastic care of all your clients, evenly, consistently and reliably. Without this structure, clients can quickly turn into monsters we dread dealing with.
  10. Establish boundaries. Besides helping ensure your business runs smoothly so you can do great work for all your clients, your policies and protocols also establish boundaries. For example, having formal office hours between 9 am and 5 pm is a policy that also sets a boundary that tells clients you are running a professional business that opens and closes at certain hours, and they may not expect you to be working past those times. See? Boundary.
  11. Honor your standards, boundaries and protocols. Here again is where we’re often our own worst enemy. We go to the trouble of identifying our standards and boundaries, and then step over them or allow clients to. Stop that! These things are in place to ensure you have a happy business and happy clients. Ignore them at your peril.
  12. Know who your ideal client is. Start an Ideal Client Profile. This is a list of all the traits, characteristics and demographics of the kind of person you really enjoy working with, who you work best with, and who benefits most from working with you. Keep adding to and refining this list throughout the life of your business. This formalizing exercise helps you get more clear, conscious and intentional about who you want to attract and focus on in your business.
  13. Start an UN-ideal Client Profile. Likewise, as you grow in your business, you are going to get more and more clear about who is not the right fit for you, with whom you don’t enjoy working. List these traits and red flags so that you can better recognize those folks when they appear on your doorstep—and quickly and politely send them away. Anytime you are tempted to step over your standards, pull this list out to remind yourself why that’s never a good idea.
  14. Work with business people rather those who are employees themselves. Business people get it. Non business people are more often going to be difficult to work with because they aren’t coming from a business context and don’t understand the proper business etiquette and rules of engagement.
  15. Have a target market. A target market is simply an industry/field/profession that you cater your administrative support to. Having one will make everything in your business easier. It will also help you get better, more ideal clients.
  16. Have a proper business website. Your website isn’t merely an online brochure. When you have a proper website that informs, educates and markets you like a business, it’s a powerful influence in the clients you attract and how those clients approach you in a proper business context. It helps set expectations and prequalify clients so you get more ideal business people contacting you. The image it presents, the message it conveys, and the process it takes them through set a precedent that is going to attract either ideal or un-ideal clients to you. If you want better clients, have a better website.
  17. Stop marketing yourself like a substitute employee. Face it, if people are approaching you like a potential employer instead of a client, it’s because you aren’t educating them properly. If you don’t want clients who want to pay peanuts and treat you like their substitute, beck-and-call, under-the-table employee they don’t pay taxes on, then you have to stop marketing yourself like one. Model your marketing message more like that of other independent professionals (attorneys, accountants and consultants are good examples). Just like you, these are people who have a specific expertise and solve specific problems. In our case, you want to position yourself as an administrative expert who can get results and help them accomplish their goals, not some order-taking worker bee. Why? Because people don’t see worker bees as experts. They see them as pawns. And experts aren’t pawns, they’re partners. The marketplace doesn’t expect to pay much for a pawn, but they DO expect to pay well for an expert who has valuable skill, expertise, insight and support to share with them. So reframe your marketing message to position yourself as their administrative expert (not their gopher), and you’ll get better, more well-paying clients.
  18. Have a consultation process. And I don’t mean some penny-ante 15-minute chat. That is NOT going to help you or the client whatsoever. I’m talking about a full and proper consultation process that begins before a prospect ever contacts you. Not only does this process help you prequalify prospective clients for mutual fit, it also helps them take your business more seriously.
  19. Always use a (proper) contract. A contract is a relationship-preserver as well in that it helps everyone remember and honor their agreements to each other. A contract helps clients respect you as a business, and a respectful client is an ideal client.
  20. Have a Client Guide. Formalize your policies, procedures and prototols into a written Client Guide that you give to all new and current clients. Part of setting and managing expectations is making sure you are informing clients about how things work in your business. None of us are mindreaders and neither are your clients. If you want your relationship with clients to go smoothly and ideally, you have to inform them of what that means, how things work in your business and what is expected of them (remember, it’s a two-way street; it’s not all about their needs).
  21. Conduct a New Client Orientation with new retained clients before you begin working together to go over and clarify the information in your Client Guide and answer any questions they may have. Do this with existing clients as well whenever your business undergoes significant changes. This further supports your efforts in educating clients about the nature of the relationship, setting and managing expectations, how things work in your business and what the standards, policies, protocols and procedures are for working together.
  22. Issue formal announcements to all your clients whenever there is a change in your business. Whenever you make changes or improvements to your business and how you do things, don’t mention these things in passing. Make it formal. Send out a formal business communication to your clients on company letterhead as well as any ezine and blog you publish. Here again, you’re reinforcing the business aspect of your relationship and treating the business like a business which then influences how clients treat you and respect the relationship.
  23. Raise your rates. When you’re cheap and there is no barrier to entry for working with you, you get cheap, un-ideal clients. It’s an immutable law of business that when you raise your rates, you get better, more ideal clients. It’s a way to sort the wheat from the chaff in prequalifying clients.
  24. Face difficult conversations. It will only be worse for both of you the longer you wait. However, the quicker you are to face difficult conversations, the more often those relationships can be turned around for the better. You can learn many new positive things and possibly keep a client .
  25. Let go of un-ideal clients quickly. They’ll keep you buried in the muck and you’ll never grow or move forward if you continue to work with them. Un-ideal clients are highly unprofitable to work with and suck up three times the space in your practice compared to ideal clients. They cost your business far more than you realize; you can’t afford the psychological toll they take. You have to let go of the bad and un-ideal to make room for the better and more ideal.
  26. Bonus Tip: Stop calling yourself an assistant. Who you attract is all about your marketing. And what is the essence of marketing? Words: the words you choose and the way you use them. Marketing is about educating, setting expectations and getting the right clients to see and understand you and the relationship the way you need them to. The words you choose to call yourself have a direct influence in that. The fact is, people only understand the word assistant one way: employee. So when you call yourself an assistant, you’re telling them you are some sort of employee. When they think you’re an employee, they want to treat you like one. And when you call yourself an assistant, causing their perception to be that you are some sort of substitute employee, you predispose them to balk at your fees because they expect to pay you no more than an employee. If you want more ideal clients, it’s not enough to change how you work with clients  and insist that you’re a business owner. You have to stop calling yourself a term that contradicts that message. When you do, you’ll get better, more well-paying clients.

What’s Better: Charge Clients Upfront or Collect on the Backend?

What's Better: Charge Clients Upfront or Collect on the Backend?

This question was asked by a colleague recently:

“Hi! So I’m looking at signing my first services agreement with a client. There will be a big kick-off project and then a monthly retainer. Do I charge the client half up front for the kick off and then have them pay the rest once I deliver? For the monthly retainer, do I have them pay me at the end of the month once my work is done or the beginning before I start? I’m trying getting burned as much as possible. Thanks!”

Here’s my advice:

Upfront, upfront, upfront!

It’s important to remember that you’re in the administrative support business, not the credit and loan business.

As  a service provider, you’re not obligated to extend anyone credit.

Which is what it would boil down to by you doing all work upfront and billing later.

The problems with billing after the fact include:

  • You deprive yourself of cashflow, which is the lifeblood of every business.
  • Clients will take you and the work less seriously and abuse your time more frequently. It’s too easy to blow things off and rack up debt on that which they haven’t paid for yet. When they have made an actual financial investment (skin in the game, as they say), they are more compelled to focus their attention to it.
  • You’ll have more late/non-payers.
  • Having to chase after and deal with those late/non-payers adds to your administrative burdens, creates stress, zaps energy, reduces your morale and spirits, and deprives good clients of your full, positive attention.
  • It doesn’t do anyone any good (including clients) to go into debt to you. The more they owe, the harder it will be for them to get caught up while you’re the one who suffers and pays the price for that.
  • You’re in a far worse position if a client doesn’t pay after you’ve expended your time and business resources helping them than if you were to mitigate possible losses by getting at least some money upfront.

So here’s what I recommend…

RETAINERS

Retainers, by their very nature, are always upfront. That’s the whole point of them. They are typically due on or before the 1st of each month.

In my practice, instead of having retainers due on the 1st, they are due (and processed) on the 25th of the preceding month. For example, April’s retainers are due on March 25.

This is because I don’t want my billing and being paid (along with all that beginning of the month work and bills we have to contend with in our own businesses) competing with the 1st of the month work I do for clients.

I also process my payments automatically… and I never pay myself late. 😉

To do this, I have clients sign a Credit Card Authorization Agreement (AGR-30) at the start of the relationship. By signing this agreement, clients give their consent for you to keep their credit card information on file (because you can’t do that without a consent agreement in place), and for you to automatically process their regular monthly charges.

Once I process the payment every month, I put a courtesy PDF copy of their paid monthly invoice up in a shared Dropbox folder for their business records.

Retainers are the holy grail in this business because it’s where the bigger, more consistent money is. To learn how to make retainers profitable and build a business where you can earn a great living working fewer hours with fewer clients (and get off the nickel and dime project hamster wheel where you always have to chase down your next meal), I highly encourage you to get my Value-Based Pricing & Packaging Guide (GDE-39).

PROJECT WORK

A project is different from ongoing support in that it is self-contained and ends upon completion of the work.

Designing a website is an example of project work because it’s not ongoing. Once the site design is complete, that’s the end of the project.

With project work, clients should definitely be paying at least something upfront, and 100% is entirely acceptable business practice.

With projects, there are a number of ways they can be charged. Getting a minimum or deposit upfront works like earnest money and helps clients respect your time and take the work more seriously.

Requiring payment upfront also helps weed out those who are not serious prospects.

I hate to say it but it’s nonetheless true:  there are dine-and-dash clients that new people in business often fall prey to who engage them to do a bunch of work, and then disappear when the bill shows up. You want to avoid that.

The rule of thumb in my business is that if it’s $1,000 or less, I charge 100% upfront.

If it’s a larger project, we break it up into logical phases and they pay for each phase upfront. If you do it that way, you get paid for work you were engaged to perform and complete, and work only continues beyond that once the next phase’s payment is met.

While you’re at it, if you want to learn all my secret policies and procedures that allow me to run my business 3 days a week while earning a full-time income working with just a handful of clients, be sure to get my Power Productivity and Business Management Guide (GDE-41).

Is this information helpful or eye-opening to you? Let me know in the comments. 🙂

Stop with the Money-Back Guarantees

Stop with the Money-Back Guarantees

Stop with the “100% money-back guarantee” on your service. You’re not selling a ShamWow, for crying out loud! Your blood, sweat and tears do not come with a money-back offer.

Plus, there are theories of law at play here.

Ideally, you have great skills and do great work for clients. But whether someone likes the work or not is a completely different value from the fact that they engaged you to do the work.

By law, you are entitled to be paid for work you were engaged to do, as long as you made every good faith effort and held up your end of the bargain.

Whether they like the end result is something else entirely. And they aren’t entitled to 100% of their money back on that.

Plus, think about it. You’d have to hold those funds aside and deprive yourself of their use until the end of whatever period you’ve given.

That’s ridiculous!

Clients who don’t like your work have the same recourse we all do:  to express our dissatisfaction and give the provider an opportunity to do better and/or stop working with that provider any further and take our business elsewhere. Simple as that.

It’s up to all of us to do our homework and choose service providers wisely, with quality in mind, not cheapness.

We usually get what we pay for in this life, and when clients cheap out, they shouldn’t be surprised when that’s the kind of quality they get in return. They just aren’t going to get a Rolls Royce for the price of a Ford, no way no how.

You, on the other hand, as a conscientious service provider of integrity who cares about your clients and doing good work can offer to redo any work that a client isn’t satisfied with.

But beyond that, you need to stop prostrating yourself and begging and bribing people to work with you.

You’re offering a service and knowledge work, not selling products that can be returned to the shelves.

Dear Danielle: How Do You Stay in Shape in this Business?

In this week’s episode of What Would Danielle Say?, a new business owner writes:

Dear Danielle:

I have a crazy question for you. I’ve just started my business and am also a part-time college student. I find that I’m spending a lot of time sitting on my butt. How do you keep in shape while working this kind of business? —DRF

Not a crazy question at all! It’s a real challenge in our kind of work because we are sitting at the computer for long stretches of time.

I love this question because at its foundation, it’s also really a business question, and I’ll tell you why in a bit.

First, let me address the practical question on its surface.

As with anything, we’re going to find a way or make the time for those things we want most.

And I’m no fitness poster child. I’m working on losing a few pounds that I’ve put on over the years of my business myself. So I can only tell you what I did.

I was confronted one year with the fact that I was no longer in  my 20s or 30s, able to eat whatever I wanted and never gain an ounce. What?! When did that happen? lol

On top of that, as we enter our 40s (and I just turned 49 this year), unless you are one of those blessed women with miracle genes, it’s just not as easy anymore to stay in shape and keep the pounds off. It’s not impossible, but you DO have to work harder and be more conscious about your eating and lifestyle.

That’s when I had my awakening and began to get conscious about what I needed to do to be healthier and lose some weight.

I began learning about nutrition and healthier living and eating.

Luckily, I’ve never had any food addictions or bad eating habits like sweets and junk food. I’ve always eaten pretty healthy foods in a mostly raw, local, whole, organic diet. Where I learned to get clear was in portion sizes and knowing my numbers: the amount of calories I needed to both lose and maintain weight and keep within those daily numbers.

Somehow or another I got turned onto Jillian Michaels. To this day, I’ve never seen a video or watched her on TV. But I came across her book Winning by Losing and it really was the turning point for me. And the reason is because she provides the simple math you need to know in order to lose weight and have more control over your weight.

Since I’ve always been a proponent of local and organic, her message also really resonated with me because she’s a huge advocate of that as well.

I don’t deprive myself of all of life’s pleasures and I’m still able to indulge once in awhile BECAUSE I know my numbers.

So I highly recommend you get Jillian’s book if youi want to become more knowledgeable and in control of this area of your life.

She walks you through crunching your numbers, understanding calories and how to count them, and figuring out your metabolic type (whether you are a balanced, fast or slow oxidizer, which is important to know because it tells you what kind of protein/carb/fat ratios you should be eating in every meal and the kinds of foods that are best for your particular type).

I believe her website also has some free online tools to help you do these calculations as well.

The other thing I do in living healthy and staying in shape run/hike/walk at least 3 miles day and do an exercise routine (another thing Jillian Michaels can give you direction with), 5 days a week.

Now, here’s why this is such a great business question.

Because why do we start our businesses? For most of us, our reasons go far beyond merely helping others and making a living. There are other things that are important to us, often having to do with loftier ambitions, having a more fulfilling life, a higher quality life and lifestyle, being able to be more present in the lives of our children and loved ones. All kinds of reasons.

And one of my biggest philosophies is that your business should support your life, not suck the life out of it.

And so this brings us back to the foundations of our business, how we set it up to be able to live life the way we want, to engineer our work so that we have time for those pursuits, interests and pleasures that are important to us.

I would venture to say that for most people, they are going about their business as if it was a job. They work with that first client or two as if they were an employee, never realizing the future implications and unsustainability of that dynamic.

Eventually, they find that because of the way they are working with clients (as well as some of the work they are doing), they have no room to take on others, their income is drastically limited, they have hardly any time for life…. it just goes on and on.

This is why we have to be intentional about the set-up of our business. to be knowledgeable and have foresight in how our foundations (i.e., our standard, policies, procedures, etc.) affect our ability to live the way we want to live.

So, like me, for example, it’s important for me to be able to have time for my run and exercise every day. It’s important to me that I have space around the work and have a methodical and well-intentioned system for how I handle it so that I am not stressed out every day about deadlines. It’s important to me that I don’t have to leap out of bed every day because I’ve got a pile of work that if I don’t get done in an instant will overwhelm and bury me.

And so I’m intentional in the fact that I am not a substitue employee. I provide strategic support, not daily support. I don’t (and never have) offered day-to-day assistance such as telling clients “I’ll manage your INbox everyday!” or receptionist work or managing calendars. I don’t do same day tasks (and I have a whole system for managing requests and turn-around times).

I’d never have a life or have the kind of freedom and flexibility that I do, if I did any of that kind of work or worked with clients in any of those ways. I’d be chained to my desk all day.

Figure out how you WANT your life to look like every day AND figure out what you DON’T want it to be like. These become the building blocks for your policies and procedures, your standards and the intentional way you choose clients, how you work with them and what work you do (and don’t do) for them.

As you go about that process, you also begin to realize that you need clarity about what you are in business and what you are in business to be/do for clients. (I’m pretty certain for most people, that’s NOT to be a beck-and-call employee.)

I now work what amounts to a 3-day week in my business (yes, you read that right) AND I’m able to provide vastly better care and support to my clients in the process. It’s crazy counter-intuitive, and I love showing people how they have a business like that, too.

If you need help in restructuring your business and laying foundations that will help you create a business and life you want, that supports those things that are important you, I’ve packaged up all my systems and knowledge in this area in my guide, Power Productivity & Biz Management for Administrative Consultants.

Standards Are Determined by You, Not Anyone Else

Standards are determined by you, not anyone else.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Danielle: How Do You Respond to RFPs?

Dear Danielle:

I really enjoy reading your blog. My question for you is, how do you recommend responding to an RFP (Request for Proposal)? As a member of other forums in our industry where RFPs are posted I struggle with knowing exactly how to submit an effective proposal. I did a quick search on your site and didn’t see anything directly mentioning RFPs or responding to them. I could be wrong. I would really appreciate your input. Thank you. —Anita Armas

Hi Anita 🙂

You didn’t find much on my blog about this because I don’t recommend people pay attention to RFPs whatsoever.

RFPs are the worst way to build your business. Your highest quality potential clients always come from your own pipelines and networking efforts. The lowest quality “leads” come from “job boards” and RFPs. (Hint: As an independent professional, you aren’t applying for “jobs.”)

Clients need to be brought on through your processes and hoops, not the other way around. If you allow them to lead those things, all you’re doing is auditioning to be the lowest priced bidder. Those are never good clients.

Don’t waste your time on RFPs. That’s not how you will build a high-earning, professional administrative support practice.

Here is one of my posts from 2010 for more of my thoughts on the topic.

You can also find more in the RFP category of my blog.

How to Achieve Your Standards, Values and Desires in Your Business

It’s all well and good to be told that to be successful in your business, you should have incredibly high standards, you should refuse to compromise them for anyone, you shouldn’t move too fast, and you should do your best work.

Easier said than done, particularly in the administrative support business!

And what do we mean when we talk about standards? Standards are boundaries, desires and values you have for your life, your business and what you want for your clients.

It can help to look at standards in view of some of the issues we run up against in our businesses that we want to avoid or solve:

  • Clients thinking you’re their beck-and-call substitute employee;
  • Becoming overwhelmed or disorganized with the workload;
  • Being so bogged down and crowded in the work that you aren’t able to do your best work; reacting and scrambling instead of being proactive and having the space to apply critical thinking and creativity (creativity is KILLED by crowding and overwhelm);
  • Working beyond normal business hours into the nights and weekends has become the habit in order to keep up with work and deadlines;
  • Never having time to take proper care of yourself;
  • Having so much work or working so much for one client that you don’t have time or room for anyone or anything else;
  • Living to work; not having enough time for your own life.

Most of us want to do a great job for our clients AND we also want to have plenty of time to enjoy our lives, right? These are two of the most basic standards we all have for being in business.

So how do you avoid these kind of pitfalls I’ve mentioned so you can achieve those standards? How do you ensure you are able to meet those goals and live up to the values you have for yourself, your business and how you want to take care of clients?

With a system!

And what is a system? A system is a method, plan or series of steps involved with the goal of streamlining or reducing work, improving efficiency, instilling consistency and dependability, and creating the circumstances that allow you to do your best work, all the time.

So a system becomes a plan, a roadmap, a tool for being able to achieve certain results, uphold your standards and values, and accomplish your objectives for your life, your business and your clients.

Without a system for being able to uphold your standards and boundaries, for managing the workload and client expectations, for working in a way that allows you to earn well without sacrificing quality of work and service, you will always feel a downward pull and drag that works against you in your business.

This, in turn, directly impacts your earning ability and income potential.

  • You NEED to avoid being crowded in the work so that you can do your best work, all the time, for all your clients.
  • You NEED the right conditions and operating policies and procedures in place so that you can work with your right number of clients and earn well in the process (business success is no success if you are not profitable and earning well in terms of both money AND discretionary time).
  • You NEED to have time for your life or you will become unhappy and resentful of your clients and the work, and won’t be able to serve either well.

This is what my class on August 22 is all about… teaching you my simple, unique, insanely easy-to-implement systems, policies and methods for achieving these kind of results in YOUR business.

This Wednesday, August 15, is the VERY last day to register and I don’t want you to miss out. These systems will change your life.

Check it out here >>