How to Recognize Good Client Potential in Yourself and Others: A Two-Part Series (Part I)

Part I: Six Questions to Ask Yourself BEFORE Hiring A Consultant

Are you considering becoming a client yourself and hiring a Consultant or a Virtual Assistant (VA) to help you achieve your business objectives for the year?  No doubt you’ve heard stories from your colleagues about their experiences with “outsourced” project management and ongoing support services.   Stories told probably range from total disappointment and vows to never try again, to complete elation and rave reviews about substantial business growth.  Wherein lies the difference?  What factors contribute to successful business-to-business support/service relationships? Let’s discuss….

1)      Have you prepared your mind, your space, and your schedule? “Organized Chaos” is what many like to call the firework show of ideas, projects, tasks lists, business procedures/policies, and network contacts they keep in their heads or in their work spaces.  The truth is: You are the only one who sees the “organized” part.  Your first step in creating a successful relationship with a Consultant or your VA is taking a serious look at your current level of operation.  Even if your processes and techniques are not the epitome of order, be encouraged nevertheless.  The goal is NOT to address each issue you uncover as you identify them.  You just need to have a reasonable perspective on your own methodology and the time to focus on your business development goals with the same dedicated attention that you offer your clients.

2)      Do you know your numbers?  You should know how much money you made in the last 9-12 months, how much you spent (on what) in the same time period, and how much your operations cost on a monthly basis.  Again, you don’t need to be your own CPA before hiring one (or the like), but you should at least have a simple excel spreadsheet that presents fair estimates for some basic income/expense line items.  This article will help you get started (http://bit.ly/gAA46E).  Make sure to include automatic subscription payments and your charitable giving. 

3)      Do you know what you want? Unless you are looking for PSYCHIC support, your hired help will need some focused insight and general direction before getting started.  Start with a list of your big picture goals for the next year and “build down” from there. (I can help with this, just contact me.)  This practice will help you focus your ideas and clarify exactly when and where you will need assistance.  This top-down process will also give you an opportunity to separate projects better suited for a Consultant versus those a Virtual Assistant would handle. A Consultant should be able to offer specialized advice, skills, expertise, and other resources such as strategic development, marketing ideas, event planning, etc. Whereas a VA would best address projects that you will provide specific direction, pre-established procedures, and regular schedules for implementation such as web site updates, mass mailings, and other similar tasks.

4)      Do you know what you have?  Open your Control Panel and take a close look at the programs you have on your computer.  What software (i.e., Quickbooks) and hardware (i.e., external hard drive) do you have that supports your current business operations or will help you implement and support new ones?  It’s important to ensure compatibility between what you have and what your support person uses, so list these for your reference when considering the right hire. Upgrade suggestions and/or recommendations for something new may be part of the services you solicit from a Consultant, but knowing what you have (and what you like/dislike about it) in your current resource inventory is a good start. 

5)      Can you pay?  Your hired support should be paid on time, every time.  Unless you are seeking a business partner with significant decision-making responsibility at an agreed rate/schedule for profit sharing, your clients’ late payments should not be considered justification for late payments to your support staff.    Plan accordingly with your project/task delegation so that your business can professionally and independently sustain each agreement. Abiding by this rule may require you to delegate projects on less frequent basis in the beginning, but it’s the best practice, especially early in your relationship.  After a few timely payments, you may want to consider inviting your VA to extend his/her services to larger projects that may require different payment arrangements and rates.  The relationship between you and your contracted help is just as important to your reputation (if not more) as is the relationship between you and your clients. Remember to be fair and honest with offerings and negotiations on your project pricing and payment structure.

6)      Do you have the time?  Your decision to invest in hired assistance for your company means you must see your company’s efficiency as a priority in your time management and planning.  Look at your calendar.  It should already have time blocks for each of your clients and open projects. Where can you add or adjust blocks of time that you can commit to disciplined work on your company’s goals? A Consultant can help you with this process but it’s important that you disclose this as a part of the scope of work. Otherwise, progress will be limited and both parties will soon become frustrated with the likely result of missed meetings, unmet deadlines, and overall lack of focus.

Can you answer the above questions?  Congratulations!  You are ready to establish a productive relationship with a professional who can help you acheive your goals. PROCEED WITH CONFIDENCE.

Check back with HireAlexis next week for Part II: Four Warning Signs that Your Potential Client Isn’t Ready

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