I recently had someone share with me that a couple of years ago she had finally landed her dream client: a major fortune 100 company.
It was a big deal for her small business. Not just the renown of getting to design work for a client she’d been dreaming of working with, but the contract was also worth more money than she’d ever dealt with before. She was so excited about landing this client that she was determined to do whatever was needed to keep them happy.
If they called at 11 o'clock at night needing “X-Y-Z” by the next morning, she would get out of bed and make it happen.
One time, she was heading out the door to her best friend’s birthday party when they called. So she cancelled attending the party to stay in and work.
As far as she was concerned, she was laying the foundation for a long relationship that would be extremely financially beneficial.
Unfortunately, her failure to set boundaries with her clients ultimately meant that she was so worn out that she could no longer perform at the level the client expected, and they fired her. But not before she destroyed all of her relationships and was nearly filing for divorce.
We have got to learn to set boundaries in business.
I understand. Every customer matters so much to small business owners that we bend over backwards for them. We leap through hoops to make sure they're taken care of.
I know one person who determined the customer was always right, no matter what they said or did. His boundary issue? That perspective ended up driving away all of his employees. No one wanted to work for him because they knew he never had their back with the customer (And sometimes, “customers be crazy”). That lack of ability to set boundaries destroyed his business as well.
We have to set boundaries everywhere! With employees, clients, vendors, spouses, friends, family, children, even organizations who thrive on volunteer work.
If you don’t set boundaries, you’ll end up pulled in so many different directions that you can't truly be there when you're needed and perform at the level that you know you need to perform at.
You will sabotage your business.
So here are my five tips for setting boundaries and then keeping those boundaries with you and your customers.
1: Determine Boundaries in Advance
You need to know what drives you over the edge. What takes you into the mode of “I can't perform at the level I need to anymore!”
What is it that destroys your ability to make the magic that makes your business work?
Get it in writing. Now.
Case Study: The Grow Retreat & Me
For the past few years, I’ve overextended myself in the weeks leading up to the Grow Retreat. A new client would pop up and I’d add “one more task” or find myself taking on one more project for a current client. Fitting in one extra meeting because there appeared to be space on my calendar. What we found was that I would be so exhausted by the time the Retreat arrived, I struggled to perform as a host and as a speaker!
So, we instituted a new rule: No new tasks, appointments, nada gets added to Steph’s calendar from January 1st through the week after the retreat.
2: Share Them and Get Accountability
Once you have those boundaries figured out and put them in writing, share them with someone who will hold you accountable.
This is key because when you just have them in writing, it's so easy to blow them off. It's easy to say “I swear I can just fit this in real quick.” When you have someone that you've decided to hold yourself accountable to, it’s harder to blow off your boundaries.
For me, it's my team.
They can actually see my calendar. They can see if I'm adding stuff to my calendar and they can call me out on it, (although, they generally don't have to because just knowing they can is enough to keep me on track).
3: Get Clear on Worst Case Scenario if You Break the Rules.
What happens if you decide to breach your boundaries?
There will be times every so often when you will need to breach the boundary. Times you will know where the boundary is, and determine that you’re going to take care of an unexpected item regardless. On occasion…
You will say, “here's the boundary, but this was an unexpected something and I'm going to take care of it.”
Taking care of that client who calls you every Friday needing something by Monday is not unexpected. You know they’ll call you Friday, so it’s not unexpected.
There will be times you breach your boundaries, but think about what is at risk.
If I decide to go against the boundaries that I've set to protect me (including my head space, my mental space, and my physical space), I could end up unable to perform at the level of quality that people need me to. It creates a ripple effect.
The result is that we can’t charge what we're able to charge now because we provide a subpar product.
Then I have to work harder for less money.
Then I'd have to let go of my team members.
Then we'd be right back where I was three years ago: exhausted, worn out, and just couldn't wrap my head around adding anything else in.
The result? I literally sabotaged the future of my business by letting go of my boundaries in the past.
So figure out what's at stake and what will happen if you sabotage the future of your business. What could happen because you made the choice to waive your boundary and let someone move through it?
4: Set Clear Expectations from the Get-Go
As you're building the new relationships, you have to have set clear expectations from the get go.
Let them know how you want to be communicated with and how far in advance you need them to get with you. If they have a project that needs to be done, give them information. Let them know what your normal turnaround is, and that every so often you might be able to work with them.
And don't break the expectations. If your work hours ar