A 12-Step Recovery Program For the Fully-Booked Online Service Provider

Jean’s coaching business is small but successful. She works with 5-7 clients every day, then spends time catching up on social media, emailing, blogging, invoicing and other business matters.

Her to-do list is never-ending, but she has what everyone in the online teaching industry desires -- the state of being “fully booked.”

There was a time when “fully booked” was a phrase every online business owner coveted. Whether you’re a coach, an online teacher or a service provider, at some point Michael Port’s book was on your desk, and you wanted to “book yourself solid” for months on end.

And then, because (if you’re like me) you followed Michael’s every word, you indeed experienced what the “fully booked” means: several clients a day, follow up calls, invoices, social media and email marketing (no time to train anyone to outsource those), new clients, new projects (maybe), blogging or vlogging -- all in that disrupted order, running the cycle without breaks.

Let’s pause. When we look up the term “fully booked” the first illustration comes from the hotel and restaurant industry to mean “no rooms or tables available at a particular time or date.”

One thing that our “fully-booked” heros forget to tell us is that we’re human beings, not restaurants and hotels and we cannot book all available hours we have in the day and give them to clients.

I find it ironic that the technology that “frees us” from the daily drudgery of business matters doesn’t help with the “fully booked” dream with to-do lists that don’t end.

I believe there’s a better way to work, make a living, and best serve the people with whom you work -- without “fully-booking” your human capacity.

In order for this to happen though we need to start with some fundamental, mindset-shifting exercises.

In this post, I offer my 12-step recovery program for the fully-booked online coach, teacher, and other service-based business owner who finds themselves in the trap of no more time available.

Step 1: Acknowledge that you’re a business owner first.

“Oh, I’m not a business owner. I’m just a teacher.” If this is you, don’t run a business -- go work for a school. But if you want to work for yourself, call yourself what you are.

The difference between a hired employee and a business owner?

A business owner focuses on the system, realizing that providing the service is only a part of the entire puzzle whereas a “just an XYZ” tries to ignore the entire system, thinking that the service alone is going to be enough to make the business sustainable.

Step 2: Identify your main strength and develop it into your superpower.

We’ve all thought at some point that we can do everything. We’ve exhausted ourselves working on projects we didn’t like and we’ve wasted our creative energy without making an impact.

Niching down isn’t some basic, feel-good advice designed to make us miserable. It’s our thriving code.

In Opted Out of the *Real Job* we write, “...focusing on a real problem puts you in a position where you can solve the problem -- and that’s how you opt out of the illusion of helping people and move into the reality of helping people. Which one do you prefer?”

We begin impacting clients only when we use our superpower, not our average skillset.

Step 3: Identify your dream client and connect with her only.

When I started working online in 2009 I used to think that I was skilled enough to work with anyone. I believed that if a client didn’t like me, I could change that. I believed “the client was always right.”

That mindset brought nothing but turmoil and disappointment. We’re not a “Walmart-type” business. Hence we can only work with specific clients to ensure transformative results.

Step 4: Focus your content to help your dream client solve a specific problem.

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

It’s easier to add to what we already have than to focus on what works, dig deeper into it, and eliminate all the confusing noise. Eliminating the noise and focusing in on what matter takes courage and security in our brand, but it allows us to offer services that make a greater impact.

Step 5: Use automated software for client work.

Some of us resist setting up automated booking buddies because we want to provide the “special human touch.” So we dig ourselves into a hole of being overwhelmed with email and client onboarding process.

I use Acuity Scheduling and highly recommend it as a one-stop solution that allows clients to book, pay, fill out a questionnaire, and get automatic reminders. The opportunities for automation are endless, really.

Step 6: Delegate before you’re ready.

We’re afraid to delegate. It’s our baby, and people can mess things up. We think it’s not a big deal. We never have enough money to delegate.

But when you do have *enough* money you won’t be able to afford to train someone and wait until she learns your process. Waiting will cost too much. So rethink your budget now. Delegate draining tasks.

Step 7: Recruit your fans.

The best people to work for you are your fans. You can find some hired workers on crowded marketplaces, but it’s likely not the best long-term strategy. The people who comment on your posts, engage in discussions, or respond to your emails -- start there when looking for someone to work for you.

“When people realize that they are not a cog in a machine, an easily replaceable commodity, they take the challenge and grow. They produce more than you pay them to, because you are paying them with something worth more than money.” - Seth Godin

Step 8: Identify the 1:1 people and everyone else.

As coaches/online service providers, we think everyone needs the 1:1 format of what we offer, but it’s not true. Some may not be in a position to hire us, but finding a way to engage with and transform them in a one-to-many format is something your business can benefit from.

Step 9: Create one product/program to help your audience members achieve their goals independently.

In the spirit of the one-to-many formula, create one product to offer to people who aren’t ready to invest into working with you. Can you offer a book? A series of videos? A short online course? A program?

I love Breanne Dyck’s post on how to (finally) create a product. (It made me realize writing a book isn’t as scary as you may think, especially if you have a blog.)

Step 10: Set up boundaries to your “fully-booked” schedule.

Even though there’s no assigned rule that helps us figure out when we reach our “fully-booked” mark, I believe each one of us knows when we stop giving our best to our clients.

When you turn from a human coach into a coaching machine, or a human (insert-expertise-here) into a (insert-expertise-here) machine, you know you’ve reached your limit. Set up your boundaries that will keep you from getting there.

Remember what Greg McKeown reminded us of in Essentialism: Set your priorities, or someone else will.

Step 11: Build your referral network.

Join professional forums (editor’s note: like One Woman Shop!) to build the network you need to create partnerships and refer work to your partners. New brands will thank you for the referral, and you will minimize your overload.

Step 12: Take breaks to foster your creativity on a regular basis.

Somewhere along the way we got busy and stopped being creative. We told ourselves “we’re not the creative type,” and it became our comforting story. And yet it’s creativity that helps us find the most unique solutions to solve our clients’ problems.

So find the time to be creative. If you’re too busy to do that, it’s hard to create anything customized because customized takes creativity.

My advice to you: Become available

We don’t have to be busy all the time to feel like “we’re working hard.” We don’t have to fill someone else’s work quota to validate ourselves. We don’t need to be fully-booked on someone else’s terms to prove that our work is valuable.

I propose that we strive to become available. It’s an oxymoron for someone who has chosen to opt out of the standard, 9-5 job and its demands, but it doesn’t take us long to realize that the same standards we ran away from still rule our days.

To paraphrase Brené Brown, let’s not wear our busyness as a badge of honor. Try being available for a change. It’s the key to recovering from the fully-booked syndrome that’s stifling the sanity of coaches and other online service providers, everywhere.

How to Create an Impressive (& Functional) Client Intake Process

The client intake process can be a bore for users and a pain for the service-based business owner to create because there are a lot of moving parts -- gathering pertinent client information, handling the legal documentation, collecting payment, and scheduling the actual client calls.

Yet the upfront time spent creating your client intake workflow can set you apart from everyone else, while also being beautifully branded and making the process easy for your clients. Your clients will thank you, and you will love having all client information in one document.

Set the tone from the beginning

Before building your client intake form, make a list of all of the information you need to gather from potential clients. Depending on your type of business, you might need:

  • client’s name and contact information
  • event date, time, and location
  • client’s website URL
  • who referred them to you
  • client’s expectations, struggles, or goals

Be sure to also consider anything that you will need from the client to begin your work with them. For example, you might want to create a contract for your client to sign, you might need to collect payment, and you might have pre-work for your client to do prior to your first meeting.

As soon as a client decides to hire you, be sure your initial email includes all vital information including:

  • link to intake form
  • a one-page FAQ or “what to know” info sheet
  • a link to schedule their initial call/consult

You want to alleviate a long email exchange and get right down to business, but you also want to make it clear to your potential client as to how you run your business.

Can one intake form do all this? Absolutely.

Building a comprehensive client intake form

The goal for your intake form is to gather all pertinent information from your client in one form. But keep in mind that this is the first professional interaction your client will have with your brand, so you want to leave a good impression.

For an all-inclusive and easy-to-use intake process, I recommend Typeform Pro. You may be familiar with Typeform as a way to survey to your readers or create pretty questionnaires, but there is so much more to Typeform.

You can easily create fields to gather basic information like your client’s name, contact information, and URL, but there are other fields within Typeform that will allow you to do more to really flesh out your client intake process. Here are a few examples:

Legal information: Use the “Legal” field to add your contract to the intake form. You can make it “required,” which means your client will have to agree to the contract prior to proceeding with the remainder of the form.

Be sure to include a note that lets them know that by agreeing to the contract in this form, they are essentially signing the contract. You can also include a copy in the “Files” section of Typeform, which we’ll get to in a moment.

Payment: Connect your Typeform account with your Stripe account and easily collect payment on your intake form.

Typeform also has a feature allowing you to set different prices based on your client’s selection of your products or services, calculating the total amount due at the end. Clients will be able to securely enter their credit card information directly in the Typeform and Stripe handles the payment.

File upload: Easily provide your clients with a PDF of your legal information, as well as any pre-work or other important documentation right there in the intake form.

This is also a great opportunity for you to include a copy of your FAQ sheet. As solopreneurs working with clients, we tend to get asked the same questions repeatedly. Encouraging our clients to read the FAQs ahead of time will help alleviate some of these questions, freeing up more of your time to devote to the actual client work.

Thank you page: Typeform’s thank you page allows you to give clients further instructions or notice of what to expect next. You might want to let them know to expect an email that confirms your receipt of their intake form, or provide them with a link to a specific website that allows them to schedule their initial meeting with you.

Respondent notifications: After building and designing your intake form in Typeform, you will need to configure the respondent notifications. Essentially, this is the email each client will receive after completing their intake form. Typeform allows you to add specific responses to this email, which I use to create an email receipt of their payment. It looks something like this:

Hello 1 - [Your name:]

Thank you for your submission! I'll be in touch with you very shortly with the next steps based on the service package you have selected. If you have any questions or concerns in the meantime, don't hesitate to hit "reply" on this email. I'm happy to help, and appreciate your business!

For receipt purposes:

You signed up for the following service(s): [name of service package…]
For your records, you paid [price]

Thank you & have a nice day!

Typeform fills in the name, service package, and price based on the responses in the intake form.

You may also want to include links to your FAQ sheet and scheduling tool in this email as well, just in case your client skipped over the thank you page in your Typeform.

Building a helpful FAQ document

As I mentioned earlier, an FAQ sheet is a great resource for your clients and helps you alleviate the back-and-forth email exchange that tends to happen. It’s also a great way for you to set expectations and guidelines for your client interaction. In addition to the questions you frequently get asked, consider including:

  • Your work hours: Let clients know upfront that you will only be available via email/phone during specific office hours. If they contact you outside of these office hours, let them know the average time it takes for you to get back to them.
  • Your email policy: Be very clear about how many emails are included in their service package with you. Advise them to send one comprehensive email each week, rather than a series of short emails throughout the week.
  • How meetings take place: If you meet with clients via Skype, Google Hangouts, or over the phone, let them know this upfront and provide a bit of direction in case they aren’t familiar with the platform you use.
  • Reminder of pre-work: If you provided any pre-work, remind your client that this needs to be done prior to your first meeting.

If the work you are doing for this client is dependent upon the client completing certain tasks, be sure to mention that, as well. For example, if you are designing a website and need images from the client of their products, be sure to let them know that you can only complete your work on time if they follow through with specific tasks based on the timeline of your project.

Streamlining your scheduling

If your client work involves working 1:1 with the client in a meeting, whether that’s online, over the phone, or in person, you will need to provide a way for your client to schedule their time with you.

Calendly is a simple scheduling tool that syncs with your Google, Office 365, or Outlook calendar. Create one type of event for each of your service plans and allow clients to book based on your availability. They can select which date and time works best for them, and the event is added to your calendar. You will be notified of this event when the client schedules with you.

Acuity Scheduling is another powerful scheduling tool that operates in a similar way as Calendly, allowing you to sync your calendar and create multiple types of events. Acuity, however, also allows you to accept payment from clients. This might come in handy if you accept a deposit via Typeform, and need to collect payments each time your client books another event with you.

Acuity also integrates with email service providers like ConvertKit and MailChimp, dropping your clients into your email list automatically, and allows you to schedule group events like webinars or workshops. If you use Quickbooks or Freshbooks for business accounting, payments received through Acuity can be automatically added to your ledger.

What a streamlined client intake process gives you

Eliminate the back and forth, so you have less headaches. Streamline the intake process, so your client knows exactly what to expect. Despite it taking more time to set up, it’s a win-win that you won’t believe you lived without before, service-based biz owner.

Now that your client intake process is streamlined, you have more time to actually work with clients, helping your business continue to grow.

We are affiliates for a few of the services mentioned above. As always, we only promote products and services we truly believe can benefit your business.