Your business relationships are really important, after all, you want to provide a really good service so that your clients feel like you truly care about them. But you may be surprised to learn that setting firm business boundaries is one of the best things you can do to nurture successful relationships.
It can be tempting to jump through hoops and bend over backwards in order to keep your customers happy, particularly when you’re first starting out. However, in order to maintain healthy business relationships it’s vital that you make decisions about what your boundaries are and make sure they are effectively communicated to your clients.
Why you need to set boundaries
Consistent boundaries are essential for building a trusting partnership for the following reasons:
- They are good for your mental well-being – as strange as it might sound, by protecting your space and time, you are also being protective of your mental well-being. Having set boundaries can be really useful to ensure you aren’t overworking or letting work seep into your personal time at home, think of them as being essential for your self-care.
- They help you build trusting, long-term business relationships – respect is the name of the game here and boundaries ensure that you are respecting and honouring yourself, your time and your business, which in turn encourages respect from others. When your clients know your core values and ethics, including those centered around your well-being, they inevitably feel inspired and respectful. This works both ways – take the time to really get to know your clients’ values and boundaries too.
- They are safe and empowering – this is your business and you get to choose how and when you work. You do not work for your client, you provide a service for them – never lose sight of the fact that you are in control. A lack of boundaries can cause you to feel like you’ve been disrespected or taken advantage of.
- You can manage expectations – rather than a customer assuming you’ll get a task done ASAP when you know full well you have a packed schedule, you’ll be able to manage their expectations by being honest about your workload; there’s no fuzziness about deadlines, working hours or timescales.
- They can help you avoid awkwardness, frustration and a whole lot more icky stuff! Without boundaries in your business you are prone to miscommunication, misunderstandings and unrealistic expectations, along with a whole host of negative things to deal with…and you definitely don’t want that!
So now you know why you need boundaries, what do you actually need to do?! Here are 6 tips to help you…
1. Decide on your working hours
Will you be available for your clients whenever they need you? Decide what days and hours you are working and then choose what days you want to be there for your clients.
Modern technology allows us to be at our clients’ beck and call around the clock but bear in mind that if you reply to an email outside of working hours, even just one time, your clients may well always expect the same response, even if it is at 8.30pm on a Friday evening! Whilst it’s reasonable to try and accommodate your client’s needs or time zones if they are outside of your country of residence, that doesn’t mean you need to be getting up and 2am or working until 11pm every day. It might mean that 2 days a week your hours are slightly different to accommodate different time zones.
Choose your opening hours and make them clear on your website and on any new contracts you send to clients.
2. Decide how you want to be contacted
Is it ok for your client to send you WhatsApp messages or slide into your DM’s on Insta? If you feel that’s OK then great, but if that’s a bit too close for comfort then you need to let them know that isn’t your preferred method of communicating.
Decide how you want to communicate with customers. You might want to direct everything to email, or you might decide that messaging your Facebook business page is a really simple and quick way to connect with your clients. Texting or chatting apps can feel a bit too personal and invasive and you might prefer to keep business and personal completely separate.
This is about what works best for you and your business, so choose a communication method on a platform that you enjoy using and know you’ll be checking regularly so that messages don’t get missed or lost.
3: Be clear on what you offer
Will you try and do requested tasks/services for your client even though that’s not really your main ‘thing’? Although you might want to be there for anything your clients need, you should define exactly what services you can and can’t offer.
It can be tempting to be ‘all things’ because of the fear of losing out on work, or being seen as unqualified if you refuse, but consider whether you are going to be able to provide the service to your usual standards or whether it might be more appropriate to pass the work to a biz buddy who specializes in that area. If however you feel confident you can meet the request, estimate how long it will take and how much you’ll charge.
4. Up your convo-ammo for boundary breakers
No matter what you do, there are going to be some people don’t understand or respect boundaries, and there’s a good chance some of your clients will fall into this group – eeek! It can feel really awkward but by being prepared and having some convo-ammo at the ready, you’ll feel more able to deal with such boundary breakers. Identify these people early on and be clear and honest with them about what is possible.
Here are some convo-ammo ideas…
- Divert conversations away from too-personal topics. Be vague and try and change the topic smoothly:
“Anyway let’s get back to talking about that project because I know how excited you are to get started”
“Thank you for being interested in ……………, however I prefer to keep work and personal stuff separate”
- If you have a chatterbox on your hands, make it clear exactly how long you can spend with them:
“I have about 20 minutes today and then I have to go to another appointment. We can talk for that amount of time or re-schedule so I can give you more of my time later on next week?”
“I’m so sorry to cut you off but I have a meeting that starts in a few minutes and I get flustered if I’m late for things”
- Propose something positive where possible:
“That’s outside of my usual remit but I can put the feelers out and see who else might be able to help”
“Unfortunately I can’t meet that request but what I could offer is …………………?
5. Don’t be afraid to say “No”
We instinctively don’t like to say “no.” We all want to be helpful (hello fellow people pleasers) and don’t want to offend someone by rejecting their request, or worse are scared that if we don’t say yes to everything that our clients are suddenly going to up sticks and ditch us. That’s not the case and sometimes it’s necessary to firmly decline.
It’s time to be brave and start saying no to things that you really don’t want to or can’t do. Saying no can sometimes feel easier if there’s a sweetener at the end!
Here are some ideas…
- “No, I can’t do that but I know someone who can help“
- “No, I’m busy that week but I have availability on ……………….“
- “No, that’s not going to work for me but this (other idea) might“
- “No, that won’t work because I’m too busy/have other things on/have made other arrangements/don’t feel up to it right now”. Or…drumroll please…
- “No”. Yep, just no.
“No” is a complete sentence.”Annie Lamott
6. Be flexible (within reason)
There may be some cases where you need to adjust or bend the boundaries you’ve set, such as meeting an urgent project deadline or a client problem that needs to be solved ASAP. It can help to be prepared for such eventualities by providing details to your clients about how they can contact you when something urgent comes up, and indeed what would be classed as urgent – their urgent might not be your urgent!
Another example of this would be during a new product or service launch period where you may want to check your emails on a weekend or be available on social media in the evenings. The good thing is you get to decide the hows, whos, whats, whens and wheres! Always ensure these are communicated to your audience to avoid any misunderstandings.
In summary, remember it’s not an issue of being ‘nice’ or not. Boundaries are the foundations of healthy relationships, so you’re defining the terms of your relationship with your clients to build trust and mutual respect.
Want to learn more about how you can manage the people and situations around you? Head over to my course and discover how you can manage your time, reduce business overwhelm and become positively productive.
What business boundaries have you set lately? Share what works for you in the comments.