Setting Boundaries in Business
I’m not sure about you, but I tend to be a people pleaser. For the first couple of years in business, I had a very hard time saying no. I wanted my clients to love me and I would bend over backward to make sure they were happy.
This ranged from working until 3 in the morning to get a revision request done asap, giving extras that weren’t included in the contract, pushing out deadlines when clients didn’t give feedback in time, giving out my personal phone number and, quite literally, dropping everything to tend to clients’ needs the second they asked for it. This included stepping away from family meals when an email would come through and pulling the plug on date nights because an “emergency” suddenly popped up with a client that had to be taken care of immediately. At one point, I was driving on an 8-hour journey to visit my parents for the weekend when I received a text message from a client. I promptly stopped the car at a gas station, grabbed my laptop, turned on my hotspot and tended to the request.
During those times, I was more comfortable with this crazy work schedule and lack of boundaries than I was by saying no. I was terrified of creating conflict. But over time, my sanity, my health and my relationships were affected.
Something had to give.
I’m sad to say it took me almost three years in business to get clear on my boundaries. I was so skeptical to put boundaries in place because I was worried my clients would feel neglected. However, once I put them in place, my business and my life changed for the better.
Instead of clients being unhappy and feeling neglected, the opposite happened. I was happier, which meant my work quality went up. Clients suddenly knew what to expect and how my processes worked, which meant there was much less confusion. I stopped saying yes to any client who came my way, got rid of problem clients, and started only working with those whose values I shared and clients who respected me and my time.
Saying “no” doesn’t mean you give your clients less of a positive client experience. It simply means that both parties know exactly what to expect. And at the end of the day, no one likes a guessing game.
“A lack of boundaries invites a lack of respect.” – Anonymous
Not setting solid boundaries is a disservice to you and your clients.
You can’t do your best work if your clients are running you ragged.
At the end of the day you the one letting your clients call the shots, dictate the rules, set your schedule and drive you crazy. You are the professional and you are the one they hired to make their life easier. It’s not your client’s responsibility to know where the boundaries are if you haven’t communicated them (or established them yet). They cannot learn where these boundaries are until you set them, communicate them and then follow through with them.
Ultimately, you’re making your life more difficult and training your client to take advantage of you if you’re not setting boundaries. And not setting solid boundaries is actually a disservice both to you as well as your clients.
So how do you fix this? Set boundaries.
I know, I know, it can be easier said than done. But you probably set up your business to gain freedom, be your own boss and do work that you loved. If you’re trying to build the business of your dreams and you don’t have clear-cut boundaries in place, it’s impossible for others to know what to do or expect.
When you’re first starting out in business, it can be extremely difficult to put your foot down. It can be easier to let clients wants and needs dictate the direction of the business relationship. This can lead to mismatched expectations and a fear of standing your ground for fear of losing a client. But this is not a sustainable business practice and will likely lead to burnout, stress and exasperation.
I’m going to take a guess and say you didn’t start your business to be confronted with burnout, deal with extra unnecessary stress and be so frustrated with your clients that you want to scream. The solution: set boundaries. Your clients are going to respect you more when your boundaries are set and your expectations are clear, you are going to maintain more sanity and have better relationships and you will be happier overall, which is a win-win for everyone.
Why setting boundaries is important.
Always saying yes, for whatever reason (fear of missing out, fear of being mean, fear of being disliked, etc) can negatively impact multiple things in the long run. These can vary from your health, your sanity, your relationships and even the health of your business.
Saying “no” doesn’t make you a bad person.
A lack of boundaries can lead to burnout, strained personal relationships, feeling like your business is running you (versus you running your business) and working on projects that you don’t enjoy or with clients that don’t light you up.
How to tell if you need to set more boundaries
- You feel like your business is running you instead of you running your business.
- You are getting burnt out and never have any time for yourself.
- Your personal relationships are being strained because you’re spending so much extra time tending to “urgent” client requests.
- You say yes to requests (or clients) that you don’t really want because it’s easier than saying no.
- Your clients are constantly contacting you outside of work hours or push for work that is the scope of the project.
- You work nights and weekends even when your actual hours of operation are only during normal business hours.
- You don’t have one clear system for clients to get in touch with and maintain contact with you, so you’re unorganised and feel frazzled.
- You’re constantly working on rush requests or additional revisions without charging more in order to appease your clients.
When you have strong business boundaries, you
- Run your business instead of your business running you.
- Are aligned with your vision and don’t feel guilty saying no to things that don’t fit with it.
- Are comfortable declining projects (or clients) that don’t light you up.
- Have stronger relationships with those closest to you.
- Are in charge of your schedule, your business and your life.
- Are more organised and much less frazzled.
- Take time for self-care, which keeps you happier, healthier and more productive.
- Make decisions that are in line with the best interests of your business.
- Do more things that you truly love and less of things you don’t.
As scary as it can be to stick to your guns with clients, if you lose out on a client because of whatever boundary you have set in place, they probably weren’t your ideal client or the right fit for you anyway.
Your time, your sanity and your expertise are valuable. Guard them like the resources they are. You’re a business owner, not an employee. Don’t be afraid to act as such. I promise it’s worth it.