Boundaries can seem so hard, like a line in the sand between you and your enemies. So when it comes to talking about boundaries in business, a little shudder goes down our spine because our clients are not our enemies. We love our clients!!!
But boundaries don’t always have to feel like a fortress against a bloodthirsty assailant. No, in fact, boundaries, when established in healthy intentions, can result in a healthier client/business relationship. Here are some very real boundaries that can have very real benefits to you, those you serve, and those you love.
Set Work Hours.
I know, I know. This one truly is easier said than done. Saying we close our invisible doors at 6 pm seems archaic in the time of information and connection overload. However, unless you plan to forsake all personal relationships on the altar of business growth, you will want to put some limit in place.
That doesn’t mean you have to shut down at 5 pm; in fact, maybe that means you definitely don’t. Being available later in the day may be why your clients wanted to work with you to begin with or why your customers adore you so much. However, try this. Perhaps set an automatic email or message response for any time after 6pm letting them know you’ll be with them soon. Then have a time, say at 8pm after dinner, when you check all the messages you have received since you “closed” for the day and reply if necessary.
You may find that giving your clients an hour or two of non-response isn’t even noticed. And if you read or listen to the message and believe it’s something that can wait until you “re-open” in the morning, then let it wait.
Your real, face-to-face relationships actually want to see your face and hear your voice. Let them. Remember that they are a priority too, and show them you love with your undivided attention.
Define your workspace.
This is one I know, all too well, can be a real game changer. When your work creeps into all areas of your home, it will start to creep into all areas of your life. The physical presence of a pile of work papers or bills or to-do lists on your kitchen counter or worse, by your bed, can really affect your well-being.
Organize the physical aspects of your work and confine them to a single space. Utilize folders that go into drawers that can actually close removing things that don’t need to be seen right away from your immediate view.
On a similar note, don’t use personal email for work items. That way you choose to sign out of work emails without being bombarded with them in your personal inbox. In fact, do this with all of your social media pages. Clearly defining social networks as work/personal will help you set a boundary between your work and your real life (not to mention it’s much more professional).
And set your workspace in a place with a door, preferably. That way, when you “close” for the day, you can actually close the door. Out of sight doesn’t necessarily mean out of mind but it can mean out of worry.
Practice saying “No.” Ok, let’s say it together now.
“No.” I don’t think I could hear you. Try it again.
That’s better. Now keep saying until it sounds natural and not like it has a question mark on the end of it.
Saying “no” isn’t confined to social or personal situations. Although, turning down the invite to another ugly Christmas sweater party may do you some good. All time is valuable, not just work time. Don’t waste your free time doing something you really don’t want to do.
However, saying “no” can also be extremely helpful, if not vital, to the life of your business. We love our clients and we love to make them happy. Bending over backward for them is what we do. Everyday. And we are proud of it. But, I think we all know that sometimes we need to tell a client “no.” It’s not because we don’t love them or because we don’t want to do our best to make them happy. But, it’s because the request they have made is creeping too far outside of the scope of the work we have agreed upon. Or, it’s simply something we don’t do.
Saying “no” can sometimes feel like a failure or an insult. But when it costs us precious time that is outside the agreed upon scope of work, and it happens on a regular basis, we truly start to work with one hand tied behind our back.
Saying “no” can not only protect your schedule but it can also protect your credibility in the field. Remember that when you say “yes” to something that wasn’t in the scope of work you are saying “no” to someone else who may actually be paying for it. A “yes” in one place is always a “no” somewhere else.
Pick your “no’s” and “yes’s” wisely.
Remove the Toxins.
We aren’t talking diet or healthy lifestyle here, although we’d recommend that too, but we are talking about removing toxic relationships. Whether in business or in life, a toxic relationship is…well…toxic. It isn’t good for you.
We should look at all relationships as either helpful or harmful. There is no neutral ground – a relationship will either build you up or tear you down. The good news is that, as a small business owner and/or solopreneur, we often get to choose the people we surround ourselves and which relationships we most want to cultivate. Choose wisely and don’t be afraid to trim the fat.
Finally, when a relationship is toxic but unavoidable for the time being, simply keep it in perspective. Remember that people only have as much power as you give them and look for ways to pick up the slack in this toxic relationship by enhancing a positive one.
Not sure how to invest in a positive relationship? Easy. Take them out for coffee, send them a note (preferably handwritten) telling them how much they mean to you, or praise them in front of others.
Boundaries don’t just keep other people out, they keep you in. And sometimes, without proper boundaries, we solopreneurs and small business owners will find ourselves doing things that, while necessary, are a real waste of our time.
Emails need to be sent, phone calls need to be returned, bathrooms need to be cleaned. These things are all true. But that doesn’t mean that you need to do it! You are the brains of the operation, yes? If that is true, then consider what you can do delegate to someone else.
Really, hiring someone to clean your office or home space can free up a few hours a week for you to do what you really SHOULD be doing – growing your business and fulfilling your vision. Sure, sure…we all know you can do it all. That doesn’t mean that you should. Decide what things are most important and need to be directly handled by you and then decide what to delegate. When deciding what to delegate, keep in mind #4 and choose wisely.
You will be successful in whatever you are doing, we know that. You are dedicated, smart, and savvy. However, setting boundaries will help you achieve long-term success without all the stress. And while we’re drawing lines in the sand, let’s do some of that on the beach….like around a sandcastle with a drink in one hand.
If you're having trouble setting these boundaries, I understand -- it can be tough. I've created a worksheet for you, as part of my resource library!
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