Photoxpress_14446926-w800-h600In late 2012 I realized I needed a better dance partner if I wanted to Lead the Dance with the Universe. As a result I’ve been working with a business coach (Charlie Gilkey of Productive Flourishing) since December 2012.

Because I have been at full capacity for quite some time it’s been a “three steps forward, two steps back” scenario with regards to my work-life balance. I will literally work myself into the ground for my clients (a combination of being a people pleaser/difficulty in saying “no” and a Capricorn).

In late May 2013 the opportunity to work with someone I admire a great deal literally “landed in my lap.” By early June I was back to extremely long days and feeling as though I was treading water.

Yesterday, reflecting back on the month of June, I was disappointed with myself because:

  • I cancelled all sessions with my personal trainer
  • My friend and I only did one morning walk
  • Grocery shopping hasn’t been done in six weeks
  • Seven business books I bought have been stacked on my breakfast bar for six weeks (or longer)
  • I cancelled/re-scheduled both of my June coaching sessions with Charlie
  • Sleep quality has been poor due to my mind being on constant alert with all that needs to be done and….
  • ……I am utterly exhausted and the circles under my eyes can’t even be disguised with makeup

I’m at the proverbial “fork in the road”. I can continue working insane hours OR I can assess the clients I am currently working with and determine who may be better served by someone else.

And so…I spent the last two hours doing a “homework” assignment for Charlie putting each of my 27 clients into the following categories and then writing out “why” they were in that category:

  • Hell Yes (a no-brainer, I want to keep working with them)
  • OK (neither here nor there)
  • No/Maybe, But….

Five typed pages of notes later here are the commonalities I discovered:

Hell Yes Clients Had The Following In Common:

  • Individuals I really, really like (as in I would go out for a drink with them and truly consider them a friend, not just a client)
  • With one exception, each of them pay me immediately upon receipt of my invoice (causing no cash-flow issues for me)
  • I love the work I’m doing for them
  • They rarely have “emergencies”
  • While often “rare” they all express gratitude for the work I do for them (either verbally or in email)

OK Clients Had The Following In Common:

  • The work is neither exciting/challenging nor drudgery 
  • I’m not emotionally attached to any of them (and in each case it’s because I rarely, or have never, spoken to them on the phone)
  • They remit payment within acceptable time frames

No/Maybe, But….Clients Had The Following In Common:

  • Surprisingly, I am attached to them (meaning I really, really like them AND consider them a friend) but…..
  • The work is no longer work I really want to do (it’s drudgery work and not the least bit challenging)
  • They are less tech savvy than my Hell Yes clients which often creates problems
  • Each are disorganized, which leads to work often hanging “open” for much longer than necessary (because I can’t get the answers I need to finish things up)
  • Their disorganization also often leads to “emergencies” due to poor planning
  • They are very slow at paying (some having sizable balances)
  • Each of them could become an OK or Hell Yes with a few tweaks (e.g. paying faster, being more organized/tech savvy)

You may have noticed the one glaring thing missing from the commonalities listed above. The amount they pay me is not a factor! Having clients you really, truly like makes it hard to “ax” them from your roster, even if you earn more from them than other clients.

Once I had the actual assignment done for Charlie I dug a bit deeper and found some other interesting things:

**NOTE: for those of you who may not be aware I’ve been in business since Dec. 2008 – over 4.5 years (which is important for the statistics below)

  • Pareto’s Principal popped up: Exactly 20% of my clients fell into the No/Maybe, But…category 
  • All of the NO clients are ones I’ve been working with for three or more years (leading me to believe I’ve kept them on out of a sense of duty due to the length of time we’ve worked together)
  • All of my 2012 and 2013 clients are all OK or Hell Yes (which means I’ve gotten a lot more selective about who gets beyond the Velvet Rope)
  • There is almost exactly two times the revenue between my top two clients for two consecutive years. Ironically #1 is at the lowest rate of $40/hr. and she’s a “Hell Yes”. Client #2 is a “No/Maybe, But….” (which also means I’ll free up a lot of hours if I do let her go). Both have been with me over four years.

I have long relationships with my clients:

NOTE: due to rounding these numbers add up to 102%

  • 15% have been with me for over four years
  • 19% have been with me for over three years
  • 30% have been with me for over two years
  • 19% have been with me for over one year (people I have taken on knowing I am at full capacity but I love them so much I couldn’t say no)
  • 19% have been with me for less than one year (also people I have taken on because I love them so much I couldn’t say no)

Another tidbit of interesting data: I have passed 44 leads /prospective clients on through my Tribe list since Sept. 2012. That’s 44 opportunities that came my way to which I said “NO”. (maybe I don’t have as much of a problem saying NO as I thought I did!)

And, just because people often ask me why I love Twitter so much – here is how all of my clients found me:

  • 38% are a direct result of a relationship I built on Twitter
  • 50% are a WOM referral through one of the 38% above that I met on Twitter
  • 12% are from one person who found me on Google and referred three of his clients to me for social media work

There is a lot of data here and I could get much more granular than I have.

My key takeaways from this exercise: 

  • While very aware of the Pareto Principle I wasn’t expecting it to rear its head in this exercise
  • Despite my emotional attachment/sense of duty to the 20%, if I want to do “Epic Shit” I need to help these clients find another Virtual Assistant whose genius zone is with the tasks the client has (since it’s drudgery work for me)
  • While the amount of money I earn from my clients is NOT a factor, how fast they pay me does indeed make a difference
  • I work best with people who plan and are organized/low-maintenance
  • There are growth opportunities with all of my “Hell Yes” clients…but I have to be “OK” with letting the 20% go (at this moment in time I am NOT “OK” with letting them go and I realize it’s 100% emotional).

Just why am I sharing all of this? For several reasons and it’s mainly for the Virtual Assistant who may be starting out. I want those who are newer to the industry to know:

  • Relationships matter….it’s never, ever too early to start building relationships
  • You can get business as a result of social media….but you have to be consistent and take time to build the relationships
  • Happy clients refer others to you….do everything with integrity
  • Not all clients are equal…learn when to say NO so you can work in your genius zone (your genius zone will evolve over time and that’s expected)