How confident are you saying no to business opportunities that aren’t quite aligned with your current priorities? How comfortable are you addressing client requests that go above and beyond the scope of your work?
While saying yes (or, in other words, not saying no) to an individual request might not hurt your business, in the long run, always saying yes -- whether out of FOMO or fear or being disliked -- runs a large chance of negatively impacting the health of your business in the long run.
When you work for yourself, you’re responsible for what gets done and what doesn’t. This includes what you say “yes” to and what you say “no” to. What you choose to do always comes at the expense of something else. (See: opportunity cost.)
That’s why setting boundaries is so important to managing a successful business. When you know what’s most important, set boundaries accordingly, and take the necessary actions to enforce those boundaries, you set your business up for success.
Signs that you don’t have strong enough business boundaries
Do any of the following scenarios sound familiar?
- You feel pulled in a million different directions and overwhelmed with everything on your list
- Your clients constantly ping you outside of work hours or request work above and beyond your capacity
- You spend so much time fielding client requests that you don’t have time to work on your big projects
- You say yes to requests and invitations because it feels easier to do them than to say no
- You feel increasingly resentful of others for their demands on your time
- You feel run ragged, tired, and exhausted and never have any time for yourself
If you answered yes to any of these statements, it’s safe to say you could benefit from establishing stronger boundaries in your business.
Why business boundaries are important
Boundaries aren’t something that only affect your personal relationships. They come into play in all relationships, including those with your clients.
The better you are at setting guidelines and communicating them, the more you will find yourself running the business you want to run. Another benefit is that by directly and openly communicating these guidelines your clients, you establish a deeper sense of trust and connection.
When you have strong business boundaries, you…
- Feel empowered and in charge of your day, your business, and your life
- Create the freedom to do more of what you love and less of what you don’t
- Strengthen your relationships because you clearly establish the guidelines
- Know your priorities and you don’t feel guilty about saying no to anything that isn’t in alignment with them
- Confidently make decisions in the best interest of your business (and yourself!)
- Avoid entrepreneurial burnout by proactively finding time for yourself
In short, business boundaries help you stay aligned with your vision for your business and ensure you spend your time on your most important priorities.
How to set more effective boundaries with clients
Setting boundaries with clients can cause a lot of angst, especially if you’re not clear where your boundaries lie.
As a business owner, it’s up to you to protect your time and energy. And you need that time and energy to do your best work and to serve others using your zone of genius.
Here are five tactics to establish better boundaries with your clients:
- First, think about what you want. In order to communicate your guidelines to others, you first need to know what they are. Take the time to decide on your working hours, when and how (and how often) clients can contact you, what is included in your work with clients and what falls outside of the scope. Don’t think about what you can do, but what you really want to do in your work. This is your business and you get to decide how you spend your time.
- Set up consequences if client agreements are breached. It happens: A client doesn’t show up for a call, doesn’t pay the invoice, or requests work above and beyond what you do. Establish ahead of time how you will handle each of these scenarios. Write it down. Now you have a policy in place, so you don’t have to stress every time something like this happens. You’ll simply follow your established protocol.
- Communicate your guidelines to clients, and make sure they sign off on them. Yes, you need a contract. Yes, it needs to detail what’s included in your work, what’s expected from your client, and what happens if the contract is not followed or if the scope of work changes. Make sure you get a signed copy back from your client and offer to go over any questions before starting your work together.
- Commit to clear, open, direct conversations with clients and ask them to do the same. It’s amazing how much stress can be caused by a simple misunderstanding or miscommunication. Agree with your client that you’ll both address any issues or concerns up front. When you start the client relationship by honoring your own boundaries, showing up on time, and doing what you agreed to do, you model for your client what is expected.
- Say no to anyone or anything that doesn’t fall into your current priorities. On a weekly and daily basis, get clear on your top three priorities and turn down any requests that are not in alignment with those priorities. Get comfortable saying no and “Not at this time.” One way to soften the blow and keep the relationship alive is to give people a reference -- either a tool or another person -- who may be able to help them.
Ultimately, it’s your business and you get to decide how you run it. When you decide what’s important, clearly communicate your business boundaries to clients, and hold yourself in integrity with those boundaries, you set up the conditions for success -- for you and for your clients.
What is one step you can take today to set or enforce your business boundaries?