Archive for the ‘Retainers’ Category

Dear Danielle: How Do I Process a Client’s Payment Myself?

Dear Danielle:

Some time ago you shared that using the credit card authorization form, you go into PayPal and “pay yourself.” Do you log into the client’s account? Forgive me if I seem clueless. –TK

Nothing to forgive. It’s a good question. :)

Okay, so the credit card authorization form is an agreement between you and the client where the client provides you with their credit card details and allows you to keep them on file so that when their fee to you is due, you can simply run the credit card yourself instead of waiting for them to do it. This is an excellent way to take another detail off of your client’s plate while ensuring you are paid on time every month. My client’s love it and I never pay myself late, lol. ;)

It’s best for clients who are on retainer or otherwise owe you a set amount on a regular basis. It doesn’t matter what credit card processing service you use.

With regard to PayPal specifically, as you ask, there are a couple ways you can process the payment.

The first is that, yes, you can log into the client’s PayPal account if they wish to provide you with that information. However, it’s not necessary and for many reasons I really don’t recommend this. There needs to be a great deal of trust there already for a client to provide you with their PayPal account info and a) that level is usually only established with clients who have been with you for years, and b) you don’t want to get blamed for any problems with their account just because you are the only other person who happens to have access to it. Know what I mean?

I advise the second option, which is that you simply process the payment as a guest. As a guest, you don’t need to log into a client’s PayPal account to process their payment. As long as you have their credit card details and the proper legal authorization form on file, you can process any payment without the client even needing an account. And even if they have an account, you don’t need to log into it.

What I recommend is that you set up a “payment” page on your website. Here’s an example of my payment page from my old website:

Get the HTML code from your PayPal account (found under the Merchant Services tab) and insert a PayPal generic “Pay Now” payment button on that page. Then, whenever you need to process a payment on behalf of a client, you just go to that page of your site, click on the option where it says “Pay with your debit or credit card as a PayPal guest” (see image below) and then enter the amount due and their credit card information. Easy peasy!

Let me know if that helps :)

Should I Go Back to Work?

Dear Danielle:

I was wondering if in starting your business you also worked a job or ever decided to go back to work while building your business? My first fully paid retainer is coming to an end. The client is realizing she doesn’t have enough to delegate to continue retaining me. With unemployment running out, I am pushing myself to make this work. –LY

Yes, when I very first started my business, it wasn’t even really a business. It was more of a sideline I did while I worked a “real” day job. I was always striving toward working for myself, even if it wasn’t a fully formed, conscious thought at first. So many people (family, friends, coworkers) were giving me little projects that eventually I wondered if I could actually turn it into something real and earn a living from it.

I spent many years taking on piecemeal work like this prior to actually taking out a business license and officially forming my business. And I continued to work my day job all the while. Several years later during a company-wide round of layoffs, I was able to engineer my own layoff. I receive a very nice severance package and used that to fund my full-time business operations from that point forward.

It was somewhere during this time that I realized project work just wouldn’t ever afford me a living. This was also when I started realizing the difference between merely being a secretarial service doing odd, piecemeal project work and being a business that provided actual administrative support. Once I got clear and conscious about this distinction was when I really started making money. I still did and do project work that comes along that interests me, but my main bread and butter is and always has been the administrative support work I do for clients who pay a very nice monthly fee for that support.

Now, during my early years in business, I accidentally fell into a target market of the local retail shops, clubs and restaurants. These are businesses that are notoriously difficult to succeed in. They always had money issues and I was always having to deal with people who didn’t have the slightest clue about business. They drove me crazy, lol!

This wasn’t a market I intentionally chose. I just fell into it due to having a few clients in those areas and then having my word-of-mouth marketing take off. But I didn’t care for these clients  and all their “issues.” This was when I started getting conscious about who I actually wanted to work with and what fields dealt with work I found more interesting. I realized I didn’t want to work with start-ups (because they had too many financial feast-and-famine problems) and I wanted to work with a more sophisticated clientele in a more professional field.

It was at this time that I let go of all my current clients at that time in order to completely reinvent my business to cater to attorneys.  I took on a part-time job to help replace part of the income I lost in letting all my old clients go. But it was crazy-making. I found it really difficult, even at just a few hours, three days a week, to juggle the marketing, networking, business-rebuilding and everything else while working a job.

And it only took a couple months to realize that I was completely ruined for ever working as an employee again. I just could not stand the having to be somewhere at a certain time and report to anyone, lol.

So long story short, that’s my experience in case any of that is helpful.

In your case, I don’t want to sugarcoat things… Since you are down to the wire, you may need to go back to work for a time. And that’s okay. Because being in a position of need and desperate financial straits is never good for any business. You want to get your feet more firmly in the ground. And I can see that it could be a really beneficial time for you to take some of the financial pressue off, give yourself some breathing room and go back to the basics in setting up the foundation of your business and having time to study up a bit more marketing and developing those all-important consulting skills.

And the reason I mention re-setting up your foundations and working on developing your consulting skills is because those are the things that would have better helped guide and inform the relationship with this client right from the beginning. Getting clear about a target market and ideal client helps you in making sure you are working with a sector that has money (rule #1: it must have money to spend and a need for what you do; you can’t force a horse to drink water and you can’t afford to work with anyone who can’t afford you).

Likewise, in developing your consulting skills, you will become better at leading and coaxing the consultation conversation along so that you are identifying what areas of support clients need help in and better identifying what the level of work may be. Of course, this client could be just using that as an excuse, but either way, an improved skillset in consulting would help you identify these issues right from the beginning. I would encourage you to put consulting skills at the top of your list as you rebuild your business.

Hope that helps!

Do You Hate Tracking and Reporting Hours to Clients?

If you hate tracking your time and reporting it to clients like some kind of employee, you aren’t alone. I’ve been watching the results of the survey on this question and you are in good company. People overwhelmingly hate this aspect of hourly billing.

Tracking and reporting your time is a huge administrative burden in your business. Plus, it focuses clients on how long things take you instead of how the work you do helps them achieve their goals. It’s no wonder they then get nitpicky about hours–that’s what you’ve led them to believe you’ve sold them and they want to make darn sure they’re getting what they paid for.

On top of that, did you realize when you bill by the hour, you actually make LESS money the better and faster you are? Do you get that? You are penalized financially for actually providing better service. That’s ass-backwards, wouldn’t you say? Shouldn’t you be REWARDED for the skill and speed you deliver?

Because that’s what is meant when we use the word “value.” Value is about how you help clients move forward better, faster and more skillfully. Value is NOT about how much you can give away for nothing.

Billing by the hour STOPS you from earning better and moving forward in your business. It keeps you working with clients in ways that limit your earning potential and don’t leave you any room to do anything else in your business. The problem is that most people don’t know how to charge any other way. They don’t know how to structure their fees and frame their support if time is not the unit of measurement. And so they stay stuck, working tons of hours with clients, yet still struggling to earn the money they need and having no time for a life outside of their business.

I want you to know, there is a better way. And what I have to share isn’t just about a billing methodology. So much of this directly ties in with your marketing, how you are framing things and how your business is currently structured. What I have to teach you will make your business easier to run and you’ll be able to sign up and work with clients more effortlessly while making way more money.

How to Price and Package Your Support Based on Value and Expertise--NOT Selling Hours!To learn more about positioning your business with proper pricing and how to avoid the hourly billing trap, get my guide How to Price and Package Your Support Based on Value and Expertise–NOT Selling Hours!

Another Way to Supercharge Your Administrative Support

I was talking with one of the attendees of my Pricing & Packaging class last month who mentioned that she wasn’t sure what to do with a couple clients she wasn’t feeling very energized by.

I asked her what the problem was. She related that she much preferred big picture work, and while she enjoyed these two clients as people, they were low-commitment as far as hours go — only 5 hours per month. She said the work always ended up being transactional, sporadic and disjointed, and she never felt like she was really and truly helping them get anywhere other than taking care of busy work and miscellaneous projects instead of actual admin support.

I’ve spoken with hundreds of people in our industry who experience similar issues and feelings.

Those of us in the administrative support business enjoy big picture work because it allows us to understand the client and the business much better.

It IS what we’re in business to do, after all.

In turn, this allows us to apply critical thinking, grow in our knowledge of the business and the work, and thus carry out the work in ways that make much better sense and fit better in the overall scheme of the client’s operations, goals and objectives.

This is so much more gratifying, energizing and stimulating.

But with such a low commitment of hours, it’s incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to gain any kind of big picture sense of the business. It’s verrrry slow-going at best.

So there are a couple choices you can make.

  1. You can decide that in order to provide the kind of work that allows you to really and truly help clients AND which also keeps you energized, motivated and interested, your ideal clients must make a higher minimum commitment. And then simply decline to work with anyone who can’t make that commitment; and/or
  2. Take charge of the process by consulting with the client, finding out what one of their most immediate goals or objectives is and then focusing your support exclusively on that particular area.

For example, let’s say the client really wants to get an ezine going. Well, implementing an ezine requires some initial project-related design and set-up. Once you’ve got that going, it requires ongoing management.

So what you could do is charge a flat/project fee for the design and initial set-up and then focus the retainer hours on establishing the publishing schedule, setting deadlines, formatting, editing and proofing articles, uploading issues, managing the delivery platform, scheduling issues for broadcast, not to mention taking care of all the details of managing subscriber lists and utilizing tracking and reporting features.

As you can see, when you sit down and map all the activities that go into implementing and then managing/maintaining a support area, it’s a lot. By focusing that small 5 hour retainer on just that one support area, you can accomplish some meaningful, tangible results for them.

This is exciting to clients!

Commitment requires a measure of trust. And trust isn’t handed over on a silver platter. It’s something that is earned and, like relationships, grows in stages over time.

So, once they see you get one area of support whipped in shape and under control, that’s when you talk to them about taking on another support area and increasing the financial commitment, which they are now more likely to agree to.

You can help clients grow in their trust and esteem of you by taking charge of the support process in this way and focusing the work on an area where you can achieve a more demonstrable result, and then keep growing the support plan with the client from there.

Most clients simply don’t know how to move forward and are unsure of what to let go of.

This is why it’s always you’re job as the business owner and administrative expert to take charge of this process, conduct a thorough consultation, make your support plan recommendations to them, and take that burden off their shoulders.

It’s still ongoing support as it’s not project work or specializing in doing one thing (this is why it’s called a support area). It’s just that it’s a much more focused and intentional way to really help clients move forward in accomplishing the things that are important to them while also growing the commitment.

Do You Understand the Difference?

Sometimes I’ll read things from other people in our industry, and I have to wonder whether they understand the difference between a project and providing support.

In case you’re confused, I thought I’d talk about it here…

A project is something that is basically one-off, one-time work. It has a start and a finish.

Web design is a good example of project work. It’s a one-time gig where you are hired specifically to do that one thing and that one thing isn’t ongoing because there is an end date, which is the completion of the site design.

Support, on the other hand, is something that is ongoing.

In the case of administrative support, it’s a body — a package — of any number of administrative tasks, roles and functions in a business that are recurring and continuous throughout the life of that business.

For example, you don’t just return one customer’s call and that’s it, you never have to call another customer in your life, right? Of course not.

So customer service is just one aspect, one area in a business in which you will have to engage in any number and kind of tasks and actions throughout the life of the business. There is no beginning and ending like with project work. It is ongoing.

When you understand the differences clearly, you can begin to better distinguish categories of work and services in your business so that you can create more revenue streams and make more money.

That means you can group all kinds of administrative support into retainer packages and then charge separately for specific projects and other work unrelated to administrative support.

Where Do You Get Stuck in Your Consultations

Wouldn’t it be great if all we had to do was network, have business owners immediately want to work with us, and instantly sign on for our retained support without any questions?

The reality is getting to actually work with retained clients takes a bit more effort.

You have to get at least some small idea about the new client’s business.

You have to gain some insight into their needs, goals and challenges so you can figure out whether and how you can help them.

You have to be able to articulate your value in a way that makes sense to them so that they aren’t asking you, “Why should I pay you $X when I can pay bozo over there $5/hr.

Am I right?

So I’m curious about where colleagues are having trouble spots in their consultation process.

Do you have any particular stumbling blocks when it comes to conducting consultations?

Are there any areas of the consultation process you’d like to be better at?

Or maybe you feel like you do well in your consultations, but the clients aren’t signing on or calling back. Is that the case for you?

Whatever the issue is in your consultations, I really, really want to hear from you. Post in the comments or send me an email and let me know where you’re getting stuck and what you’d like to improve.

Dear Danielle: How Can I Handle Last Minute Work Requests at the End of the Month?

Dear Danielle:

My main issue around retainers is that toward the end of some months, I’m less than half way through some of my retainers (meaning, clients still have about half their hours unused). Then I get worried that the last week of the month is going to be a flurry of activity trying to get all the hours in. My clients know where they stand with my hours, and they also know that unused hours don’t roll over. However, I let this issue bother me and take up space in my head. How can I handle last minute requests on the very last days of the months from clients who haven’t utilized their retainers? –DB

This retainer issue is really all about standards, policies and procedures (and establishing sustainable business practices and workflows), and setting and managing client expectations around those things.

Here’s what I do in my practice…

  1. First, I set a standard in my business around how I work. I did not go into business to run around at non-stop hectic pace like a chicken with its head cut off. Okay, that was maybe a bit graphic, but you get my drift, lol. That kind of work pace also doesn’t serve clients well because that’s the kind of environment where you miss details and make dumb mistakes. And an overworked, stressed-out you is no good to anyone. So, my standard around the work I do for clients is that “I will create an work environment that gives me plenty of breathing room and allows me to do my best work for clients, consistently, reliably and at a humanly-sustainable, even-measured pace so that ALL my clients and their interests are given fair and equal importance.”
  2. Next, I translate that standard into the policies, procedures and protocols that enable me to work to that standard. For example, one policy is that I do not do same-day work requests. That’s because it creates the wrong kind expectation in clients that the minute they send you something, you’re going to drop everything you’re already doing to get it done. You can’t run and manage a business that way! And trying to do so will keep you from earning well. Likewise, when all your clients expect you to jump at the drop of a hat, you will very quickly end up disappointing them because there will be a day (sooner than you realize) when you won’t be able to deliver on that kind of promise because everyone wants their thing done NOW. This is what we call an unrealistic expectation. If you expect to work with more than one client, that’s simply not a standard or expectation that you will be able to maintain. So my procedure for that policy is that work requests must be given with a 3-day lead time. That means, clients need to plan ahead and give me at least that much time to get things done. Period.
  3. At the start of our business relationship, I given all clients my Client Guide which is simply a document that communicates all this information in positive, client-centric language so they see that they are dealing with a smart, professional, well-run business (which inspires their confidence in you) and that ultimately your policies, procedures and protocols are what allow you to take exceptional care of them. For clients, it’s a guide that tells them everything they need to know about how to get the most from your relationship: how things work in your business, how you will work together, what info they need to know and procedures to follow, how work requests are to be submitted, how those requests are managed and handled, and what to expect. For you, it’s a way to educate clients upfront and thereby set and manage their expectations the way you need them to be.
  4. I also hold a new client orientation with new clients to go over this guide, explain anything that needs elaboration, and answer further questions. These upfront steps go a long way toward a smoother and happier relationship moving forward and make working together much easier.

With regard to your specific situation, here’s how that would work if you also had a policy like mine where all work requests need to be submitted with 3-days advance notice.

  1. You add language to your retainer contract that specifies that with regard to end-of-month requests, they must be submitted at least three days prior to the last day of the month (our retainer contract comes with this language). The idea is to make sure clients understand that they can’t submit something on the last day, for instance, and expect that it is going to be covered under that month’s retainer, much less get done that same day. You need to have three days heads-up so as to fit things into already scheduled work and not be forced into last-minute, rush requests. If they don’t provide the proper notice, then it goes onto next month’s work and counted against those hours.
  2. Create a Client Guide (get my Client Guide template from the ACA Success Store) for all this information, and then distribute it to all your clients (new and current) from this point forward.
  3. You could stop selling hours entirely and instead use the value-based pricing methodology for administrative support that I teach. This way, you aren’t selling hours-based retainers so no one is scrambling at the end of the month to get all their hours worth. Instead, it focuses both you and the client on accomplishing goals and objectives (not using up hours), which is infinitely more productive and results-oriented.
  4. Of course, if you are still using hours-based retainers with clients, it the client’s responsibility to use them and plan accordingly. Just because they wait until the last second to drop the ball on you doesn’t mean you have to jump. The trick, however, is to communicate this standard/policy/protocol with them upfront, have it in your contract and Client Guide, and go over it with new clients in your orientation with them (as well as educate current clients).

You have to be able to manage the work that comes in and have time and breathing room to do it well, on your terms, at a humanly sustain pace.

When we’re rushed, we become sloppy and make mistakes, which is bad for your business reputation. It cheats your other clients out of your un-harried time and attention. It can also very quickly lead to resentment, which isn’t good for any relationship. It creates poor operating conditions which in turn negatively impact the quality of your work and service all the way around.

You’re not an indentured servant. You have a right — an obligation even — as a business owner and human being to care about doing good work and about how the work affects your morale, business image and operations.

Make sure you are instituting the protocols and procedures that allow you to create those conditions that lead to great service – for all your clients – and which take care of you as well.

If there is a pattern of clients not utilizing hours and/or waiting until the last second every month to scramble, that is something that could benefit from some deeper examination.

  • Are these ideal clients? Are you taking on any ol’ client just for the money? Consider that un-ideal clients also prevent you from getting better clients. If this is a pattern in your business, it could be that there is room for improvement in prequalifying clients, being pickier about the clients you choose, clearly identifying exactly who you like working with, who you work with best, and the kind of person who benefits most from working with you, and/or better educating clients about your policies and procedures, how those things work and (just as important) why they’re in place.
  • What are you doing to help clients utilize your support? Sure, it’s their responsibility to use their hours, but if you’re passively waiting to be told what to do, you’re not truly being an administrative partner. This is where my Client Consultation guide can help you. It’s incumbent upon you to be proactive, take charge of the process and figure out how to help client make use of your service as well as identify what areas of support you’ll help them with. One way to do that is by taking what you gleaned from your consultation conversation and regular meetings and coming up with a plan of support for them. This provides both of you with clearer direction and helps clients more easily give things over to you.

Beyond that, it’s up to clients, which leads to another side of the coin to consider:

If you end up with a client who has a pattern of not being able to follow your protocols, who consistently is not utilizing the service they have paid for, you may need to evaluate the fit of the relationship.

Someone not in business or solo practice might think, So what? It’s business, it’s money. But they don’t realize how awful it is to work with someone who simply isn’t using the service.

I don’t know of a single colleague who enjoys taking money from someone who isn’t utilizing their support. It’s completely de-energizing and unsatisfying.

We want to make money, yes, but we truly want to be of help and service at the same time. We want our gifts and talents to be needed, valued and used.

So if you find yourself with a client who isn’t using your support, and you feel you’ve done everything you can to help them give stuff over to you and they still can’t get with the program, it might be time to consider letting them go because it’s not doing either of you any good.


Are last-minute work requests at the end of the month something you’ve experienced with your own retainer clients? Does any of this help give you some direction on how to remedy that? Be sure to check out the comments as there is some excellent continued dialogue on this topic (and leave your own comments and questions, too).

Regularity is Necessary to the Relationship

One of the great things about working with an Administrative Consultant is that her interest is in supporting your business as a whole, the idea being that in understanding how your business runs, what your goals and objectives are, she can work with your business’s bigger picture in mind.

Why is that more helpful to you?

Because ongoing work and projects can be completed so they fit better and make more sense in the larger context of your business. In turn, it make your workflows more seamless, your systems more streamlined and efficient, and allows you to improve your service and communication with your own clients and customers.

When big picture support is what you’re looking for in an Administrative Consultant, regularity becomes a very necessary ingredient in building upon the relationship and creating continuity.

It’s the difference between “intermittent/transactional” support and “ongoing/systemic” support.

Here are some of the conditions needed to set the stage:

1. Work with an Administrative Consultant on retainer rather than task by task. When you make a commitment to work together in a continuous — not sporadic — basis, it allows your Administrative Consultant to gain perspective and understanding needed to focus on your overall goals and objectives instead of the merely the task at hand.

2. Think “big picture” rather than “transaction.” When you just hand off a task here and there transactionally, your Administrative Consultant can only get done what’s immediately before her. When you work together in an ongoing way, she begins to understand why certain tasks are done, where they fit into the overall scheme of things, how they affect other systems and processes, and how they might be done better or differently to fit in with what you’re ultimately trying to accomplish.

3. Meet regularly. An Administrative Consultant is going to have her own systems and process for working with clients that facilitate relationship-building. One of the way they do this is by meeting with clients over the phone on a regular basis. Be open to scheduling this into your weekly routine as it’s a critical component in getting to know each other and working together smoothly.

RESOURCE: Learn more about how Administrative Consultants support your business as a whole: Clients Guide to Administrative Consultants

© Copyright by Danielle Keister for the Administrative Consultants Association. You are granted permission to republish this article only if used without alteration in its entirety with this copyright notice, title, article content, resource, and links left intact.

Dear Danielle: How Much Can I Expect to Earn in this Business?

Dear Danielle:

I’m still in the market research phase of starting my administrative support practice. Recently, a colleague and I were discussing yearly salary and work hours with her practice, and I was wondering if your experience has been similar to what she’s explained, before you got into training and from what you know of others in this business. Here’s what she said:

“I consider myself well established now. Despite this, I work between 15-25 billable hours a week and another 20-40 non-billable hours each week (on marketing, accounting, non-billable matter, etc.).”

My research suggests that someone who’s been in business for five years could anticipate gross earnings of approximately $30,000 per year. However, very specialized people make far more (in the range of $40,000 to $55,000).” –RD

If after 5 years someone is still only making $30,000 a year, there is a something seriously wrong in their business. They haven’t done proper business planning, are not charging appropriately and most like are charging hourly rates (selling hours/time) instead of setting fees based on value and results.

If you base your income on how many hours you have to sell, you will always limit your earning potential. I teach people how to use value-based pricing methodologies instead. Once you increase your business knowledge around pricing and how to price, package and present your fees and support plans, your earning ability goes up dramatically. In fact, you can earn more working with fewer clients that way.

Before we talk about what you can expect to make, I want to first make sure we are on the same page about what this business is about. This is important because your understanding of this will directly impact the profitability of your practice.

You mention the word “specialize.” What this usually indicates is a fundamental lack of understanding about what administrative support is.

Administrative support is already a specialty in and of itself. An Administrative Consultant is someone who specializes in providing ongoing, right-hand, across-the-board style administrative support. That’s an important distinction to understand for a few reasons.

For one thing, it’s a completely different business model from, say, a secretarial service, which is in the business of providing individual, transactional, project-based secretarial services.

They’re the Kinko’s, so to speak, of the administrative world. And the reason it’s important to understand the difference in these business models is because the businesses earn money in very different ways, they operate very differently, they have very different labor and administration needs, expenses and operating costs, and they market very differently and attract a completely different kind of clientele.

However, the very most important reason to understand the distinction is that these two business models deliver completely different solutions.

Administrative support is a relationship, one where you’re providing a long-term, more impactful and integral solution that supports the client’s business as a whole and where the focus is the ongoing dynamic and evolving work relationship.

A secretarial service is more like a one-night stand, where what is provided is a quick transaction where the focus and sole purpose is the completion of a single project or task at hand.

As you can see, then, administration is a specialized function already. It’s also work that is inherently ongoing. So going back to what it means to specialize, we already have a specialty: ongoing administrative support for clients we work with in continuous, collaborative relationship.

If someone specializes in some other function, then they are something else completely. For example:

  • If someone specializes in marketing, they are a marketing professional.
  • If they specialize in web design/development, they are a web designer/developer.
  • If they specialize in bookkeeping or accounting, they are a bookkeeper or accountant.

Your colleague is confusing specialization with categories of business. What you specialize in IS the business. If you specialize in administrative support, you’re an Administrative Consultant.

People in our industry also commonly confuse specializing with the tasks involved.

When we talk about specialization, what that really refers to is not the work or tasks, but rather a target market.

Those who specialize in a target market (which is simply a field/industry/profession you cater your administrative support to) have a much easier, quicker time getting started and gaining clients. That’s because it provides them with greater focus and direction.

Now, that’s not to say that you can’t offer additional related services and support. The point I’m making is just because you offer something else doesn’t make it all administrative support. Web design is web design. Bookkeeping is bookkeeping. Marketing is marketing, and so on. These are each their own separate and distinct professions and categories of business.

There are lots of folks who offer creative and technical services in addition to their administrative support. But that doesn’t make those additional services or divisions or specialties in their practice the same things as administrative support.

They are still distinct from one another.

This is all very important because your understanding of these distinctions will directly impact how you structure and charge your fees to earn well.

Is this becoming clearer to you?

If so, you can begin to see that your ability to charge well doesn’t have to do with specializing in any one task.

As an Administrative Consultant, you already have a specialty (that of ongoing administrative support).

What earning well in this industry has to do with is your view and understanding of your value and the solution you are in business to provide, how you frame and portray yourself as a professional,  how you effectively articulate your value to your desired clientele in the context of their needs, goals and challenges, and the pricing strategies you employ to focus them on the value and benefits rather than hours.

Earning well also doesn’t have to do with how long you’ve been in business or how many billable hours you have at their disposal.

(And if after five years someone is still only earning $30,000 a year, there is something seriously wrong and need to get the help of someone like me).

Those who intimately and more deeply understand the solution they provide and its value to their target market have much more confidence.

This understanding, in turn, allows them to have more effective, resonate, compelling conversations with clients and command professional fees.

Those fees can earn them well into six figures, but you only get there by doing things smartly and strategically. It will require some shifts in thinking about the pricing you offer clients. People who are still stuck selling hours in their retainers don’t commonly earn into six figures.

I really recommend you get my marketing guide. It will walk you through a systematic, step-by-step process of understanding more deeply and clearly the solution and value you provide to clients, choosing a target market, profiling your ideal client, and then putting it all together to come up with your own unique value proposition.

You can also get off the hourly rate merry-go-round (which drastically limits your earning potential) by learning how to implement value-based pricing and how to focus clients on value and results rather than selling hours.

Help! Client Not Paying

A colleague reached out to vent on a listserv I belong to. She shared how a client she works with on a project to project basis had gotten several payments behind to her. He’d stall, put her off, and whenever a due date that he promised to pay rolled around… you guessed it–he didn’t pay. AND to add insult to injury, he was starting to get snippy with her and tell her to get off his back. The nerve of some people, huh?!

Here’s my advice to her:

Dear Peeved:

So sorry for your predicament.  Unfortunately, it’s an all too common one for folks in our industry who work on a project basis. I don’t know how this one will turn out for you, but there are definitely steps you can take (and things you can rethink) that will help improve your odds for ensuring payment in the future.

1.  Always, always, always, always work with a contract. Did I mention “always?” You perhaps are very aware of this already, and may have even had this client sign a contract before working together. As you know, a contract doesn’t guarantee that you will get paid or that people will always be honorable and have the integrity to abide by their agreements. But contracts are legally binding and enforceable agreements. Should it get to that point, they will definitely help you prevail should it become necessary to take things to a Court.

Now a lot of times, that’s more work, more money and more energy than the debt is worth. That doesn’t mean you forgo using a contract. A contract does a lot more than just formalize your agreements. A contract helps clients take you and your business more seriously. It shows that you are a professional and helps ensure that everyone is on the same page and knows what is expected from each other lest anyone conveniently “forget.”

Likewise, it also helps ensure that you are working with more serious clients. The ones who don’t want you to operate professionally, maybe because they have intentions to stiff you in the first place, will be shooed away. So never cut corners on this, no matter how big or small the project.

2.  If you work on a project basis, get some kind of payment upfront. Would a grocery store let you take home groceries and decide whether or not to pay later? Of course not, and neither should you allow your clients to do that. You are not a client’s bank. It’s not your obligation to extend them credit (especially not with new clients you have never worked with before). And the time, energy and expertise you expend on a client’s project are very tangible, valuable–and finite–resources in your business. If not 100%, get at least 50% payment upfront. It’s perfectly acceptable, established professional business practice to do so. Not only does it help clients take your business seriously, it also shows that they take their project seriously. If it’s not worth it to them to have some skin in the game, then it definitely should not be worth it to you to work with them. In the event that they don’t pay the balance, at least you’ve got half your losses covered.

3. Don’t let clients go into debt. You don’t do anyone any favors by allowing them to continually accrue outstanding debt to you. You also have a responsibility to mitigate your damages. That’s why you see work-stoppage clauses in contracts that tell clients:  No Pay-No Work. Immediately cease any further work until the client gets all outstanding payments to you in full.

4. Work with clients who can afford you. Clients who aren’t in profitable businesses or industries are going to more often be problem payers. It’s just a fact. No amount of wishful thinking is going to change that. Wish them well, but you have yourself to think about first. You can’t help more people (or stay in business long) if you are constantly trying to rescue folks who need to rescue themselves. You aren’t going to “save” them by taking on their responsibility or their lot in life. All you’re doing is enabling them while harming yourself. Save your energy for the clients who can easily pay. It’s really the healthiest, kindest thing you can do for yourself and the world.

5. Work with honorable people. The minute you see any inkling that a person is less than honest or ethical, run away. Fast. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ll be the one person in the world they would never do wrong. That is a fantasy. There will be a day they do it to you. It’s just a matter of time.

6. Perhaps rethink the whole project basis. Project work is grueling. You have to constantly chase down new projects, new customers, to survive. While you’re working on one project, your mind is thinking ahead to the next 10 you have to get to pay the rent. It puts you on a neverending hamster wheel of marketing and networking. And the administration you put into answering RFPs, conducting consultations, negotiating terms and contracts, invoicing… often it costs more and expends more time and energy than a project even earns!

Administrative Consultants who work with clients on an ongoing, continuous basis and charge upfront monthly retainers make more money and have much simpler businesses to run. They have better cashflow, less overhead and administration, and have to do way less marketing and networking once they’re established. There’s much more ease and continuity in the work and the client relationship, which, in turn, brings more ease and continuity into your business.

And there’s nothing that says you can’t also opt to take on intereresting or lucrative side projects that come along if you choose to, “choose” being the operative word. Retained Administrative Consultants have more choice in their business because they aren’t constantly scrambling for income and cashflow the way project workers must. Therefore, they get to pick and choose what they want to expend their energies on in terms of other opportunities that arise. They get to decide if a project is worth their time (i.e, is the money it will bring in worth the effort?). They don’t have to be distracted or have their energies divided or waylaid by nickel and dime work if they don’t choose to. Doesn’t that sound like a much nicer kind of circumstance and way to operate your business?