Setting and creating firm boundaries in business, in any context, can be a difficult process. At its core is the ability to say “no”, and whilst it can be so very satisfying to do this bluntly there’s also a very real fear of incurring a huge cost attached to using this small word!
In business, we have the added pressure of feeling our personal value being attached to our productivity levels, not to mention the financial implications. However, creating firm boundaries with our work lives is as vital as in our personal ones. Mindlessly saying yes to every potential new client – or to every demand of an existing one – is damaging for both you as a person and your business at large.
Taking on a scarcity mindset (“I had better do this, or else”) can have far-reaching effects; compromising your personal integrity, company core values, demoralizing staff who are suddenly expected to extend their own hours without question, and sacrificing quality for quantity are just some examples.
So how do we go about creating firm boundaries in business?
Boundaries vs Expectations in Business
In the first instance, it’s important to note the difference between a boundary and an expectation. Boundaries are non-negotiable behaviours that act as a means of protecting your time and energy. There are no hard and fast rules for this, but you will know when you’ve instilled strong boundaries as you’ll feel empowered and in control of the work that you do. You’ll be able to confidently make decisions, rather than second-guessing what is right for you or the business. By contrast, a good way to know if your boundaries have been violated is if you start to feel angry, resentful or exhausted by working with a particular client. Listen to your body, it never lies!
Examples of boundaries:
*My minimum fee is $xxx
*I don’t travel more than an hour from my business location for a meeting
*Maintenance contracts require a minimum of 6 months investment
*Business hours are 9-5, Monday to Friday and no communication will be available outside of these hours
Expectations are a grey area; they’re often unspoken assumptions around the ways in which people prefer others to be, without them having expressed their needs. For example, you may have a client who technically knows your business hours are 9-5, but who will call incessantly after hours or at weekends because they had previously worked with people who “didn’t mind” the intrusion. Letting someone know what you need (in this example, respect for work-life balance) is not rude and you should not be made to feel guilty about enforcing something that you’ve already communicated clearly.
Intention is Everything
Get clear on what it is your clients are trying to achieve, and see how those goals marry up with (or conflict) with the way your business operates. For example, if they want to be able to offer 24/7 customer service, but your staff availability is limited to a regular 9-5 weekday operation, then you would either need to compromise or come back with a hard no. It may be that either their request is based off an unnecessary need or incorrect assumption, or you might find that what they’re suggesting makes sense and can be integrated relatively easily. Discussing the intentions behind actions will make next steps clearer.
Be Specific When Creating Firm Boundaries
It’s vital to create firm boundaries at the start of your working relationship; having these in writing is vital as a reference point to refer to if those boundaries are later violated. For example, state what days and hours you are available for work, preferred methods of communication (email, phone, text, etc) and what the policy is for emergencies. It would also be worth including clauses in contracts for the penalties of failing to comply. E.g. weekend/evening work is charged at double the regular hourly rate. Always make sure that these policy documents are signed by the client so that you have a piece of bulletproof evidence that your terms were agreed to at the outset. Similarly, if anything is a dealbreaker – such as not paying an invoice with x days of the issue – this should also be clearly stated.
Be Consistent with Boundaries
There are no point setting rules that you don’t abide by! As soon as your end starts to slide there’s a disconnect between your word and your deed, and others will feel able to follow suit. Deliver the product or service you agreed to do, stick to the timing plans you layout, adhere to the agreed budget.
Learn More About Saying ‘No’ To Clients Without Burning Bridges
I’m going to be over at the Boss Project Summit this month talking all about why saying no to clients who aren’t a good fit actually helps your business to grow and thrive.
It’s a completely FREE professional development conference that you can watch in your pyjamas!
There’ll be 25+ speakers sharing their expertise on running and growing a business as well. Creating boundaries in your business has never been easier, simpler, or more effective.