If you only take one message away from this blog, let it be this - BOUNDARIES ARE A FORM OF SELF-CARE.
I've worked with so many clients who will avoid setting boundaries because they're worried they will upset, anger or even offend their clients or potential clients. And they - the business owner - end up feeling crap, burnt out and lacking in self-esteem... all of which are consequences of not having set that precious boundary from the beginning.
The real talk is this... a lack of boundaries invites a lack of respect. The only people who will have issues with you setting boundaries are those who were benefiting from you having none. They are NOT your people.
And whilst you're bending over backwards and jumping through all the hoops, what about you? How are you feeling? How is this behaviour affecting the integrity of your business?
Benefits of setting boundaries for your business
Setting boundaries for your business is life-changing and life-giving, here's why:
Enjoy a healthier work / life balance
Protect your business identity and values
Allows for better communication with your clients, suppliers and colleagues
Being transparent helps to build trust
Helps to prevent negative feelings (resentment, frustration, dependence, submission, overwhelm, stress, tension, anxiety, discomfort)
Gives you a great sense of 'self' - showing yourself respect and building your self-esteem
Ensures your business stays focussed on what you've defined as success
4 Steps To Creating Business Boundaries That Work For You
Your boundaries put you in control, they are the non-negotiables that you've identified as being important to you and allow you to live the life you want. You might come up against some resistance but I'm here to tell you THAT IT DOES NOT MATTER. It's not your responsibility or your job to sacrifice your needs to satisfy someone else's.
If you’re having trouble setting those boundaries, here’s a 4 step process that identifies the areas that can help you to understand what’s really important as well as some common areas where businesses have benefited from setting boundaries.
This will of course be led by you and your belief systems and your business' ethos and there is no 'one-size-fits-all'. So stay true to yourself.
Step One - Business Values & Business Purpose
First things first, strip your business right back to its core. Forget the 'hows' and 'whats' and focus on the 'why'.
WHY did you create the business that you've created?
WHY did you decide to run it the way you do?
WHY did you go into self-employment / freelancing / business ownership ?
WHY did you see the need for this type of business?
Ignore the benefits of financial gain (i.e. making that money) and focus on the 'fluffy' stuff. Blergh, it kills me to call it 'fluffy' because I think these elements are SO concrete - the emotional foundations you built your business on. It's the very reason you get out of bed, what gets you revved up and starry-eyed. And it's the reason your clients choose to buy from/work with you. Nothing 'fluffy' about that but you know what I mean.
Oh and never forget that people buy from people.
People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves your belief - Simon Sinek
Step Two - The Non-Negotiables
Now that you're reacquainted with your business purpose, it will be easier to identify your non-negotiables. Non-negotiables are not open for discussion or modification from external parties.
The key to identifying these is to really listen and tune into your feelings and emotions. Negative emotions can be red-flag signals that a boundary may need to be set. Don’t ignore the signs - explore exactly what has made you feel that way.
To start you thinking, here are some common boundaries that a business owner might set...
Your working days and hours
The structure of your day
The amount of 'free' advice you're willing to give away
The type of clients you work with - do their values align with yours?
The work you take on - is the project the sort of thing that's meaningful to you?
How accessible do you want to be?
What's your preferred method of communication - email, phone, text etc.
Your capacity of work - do you realistically have the time to do this properly?
Step Three - The Success Markers in your Business
What does success look like for you, on a personal level? Really think about that.
Sod the noise coming social media, where you think you're seeing other women achieving more than you. First of all, you really have no idea what those other women are trying to achieve for themselves, what their journeys have been up until this point - there really are so many variables.
Second of all, social media (particularly Instagram) can seem largely about appearances, if this is the only platform she uses to attract clients, of course she wants to appear successful. It's not about making you feel bad, so much as its about making her look good.
Also ignore the noise that comes from those annoying self-proclaimed 'experts' who feed you rubbish about what success should look like. 1 millions followers doesn't suddenly make you successful... or happy.
It's so easy to lose sight of what you set out to achieve and sometimes we end up just accepting somebody else's vision of success, instead of our own. But success feels different for everyone.
You can't copy and paste someone else's dreams and desires and you can't outsource it for someone else to decide. It needs to come from within. If you don't, you're never going to feel satisfied.
Step Four - Nail Communication For Positive Client Relationships
Clear communication is key to building trust and transparency with your clients and managing expectations.
So, how can you communicate your boundaries to your clients?
Lay out your boundaries ahead of time
Set it out in your initial contract and verbally during your onboarding process. Make them aware of your timeframes for things like when to expect a response on emails.
Be clear on what you expect from your clients
If the project is running on a deadline but your client hasn't met their end of the bargain - e.g. providing you with copy or images by the time stated - be clear on what happens if they are late. Your time is valuable and often scheduled in advance, so if they haven't met the deadline, you don't want to set a precedence that you can drop everything and work outside of your hours to make up for the lost time.
Don't be afraid to say no
Feel confident in your ability to say 'no' if you don't have the capacity to take on a client you can't powerfully serve or their values don't align with your own.
This also goes for when a current client asks you to do something outside the scope of work that was originally agreed.
How to stick to the boundaries you've set
Your boundaries put YOU in control but they'll only work if you actually stick to them. You've drawn the line, now you need to man it!
The more you practice, the more confident you'll feel enforcing them. It's also about setting a precedent and 'training' your clients to respect them too. We all know what it's like when a client drops in with an unsolicited 'can you just...' email.
I find it helps to have to some polite but firm phrases readily prepared so I don't feel caught off-guard when I need to use them.
Some examples of what boundaries could sound like
“I don't respond to work emails at the weekend or after 5 pm during the week”
"Tuesdays and Thursdays are when I schedule my client calls, but please feel free to email me on the other days"
"As a general rule, I don't give clients my mobile number. Here is my work number and my email."
5 things you DON'T have to do
...be afraid to be direct and assertive (especially if someone is pushing their luck!)
...fear the consequences of saying 'NO' (you'll feel worse saying 'YES' when you don't want to)
...feel the need to justify your boundaries (no-one has the right to try and change them)
...accept or tolerate behaviours that make you feel uncomfortable
...feel guilty for putting yourself first (you are not selfish)
Respect is a two-way street
Your boundaries are NOT a judgement on another person’s boundaries. What’s good for you, may not be good for another person. And, just as you would want people to respect your boundaries, it’s important that you too have a mutual respect for the boundaries of others
Further reading - personal boundaries
I know that running your own business often creeps over into your personal life too, despite our best efforts to keep them separate. And whilst my blogs have more of a business focus, I did also write a blog on personal boundaries that you might find helpful too. I wrote this during the pandemic when I think we were all being tested!