Do you feel obligated to check your email at all hours of the day and night? Are you worried that you’ll miss an important update on social media if you put your phone down for too long? Are you working all the time?
If you answered yes to at least one of those questions, it’s time for a boundaries check. Are you controlling your business, or is it controlling you? If you’re ready to set some professional boundaries with your clients and for your business, here are six tips to get started.
1. Evaluate what’s not working
Self-reflection is a key step when setting boundaries; you must analyze what isn’t working for you and your business. What about your current process isn’t how you’d like it to be?
As you’re reflecting, think about:
- Your time with social media
- Your client onboarding process
- Your time spent doing the design work
- Your revision process
- Invoicing and following up to ensure payment
- The communication process between you and potential clients
- The communication process between you and current clients
- The communication process between you and past clients
- Bottlenecks: Is there a step in your workflow that seems to slow everything down and compound problems?
Spending time thinking about your current process will help you evaluate what isn’t working. That’s what you need to focus on first. While you might end up changing multiple things in your quest for boundaries, you’ll see the most impact by changing what isn’t working first.
2. Have a designated off time
When are you off the clock? It isn’t healthy to be available to clients 24/7. So, spend some time deciding what your office hours are going to be.
Then, draft an email to your clients informing them when you’ll be available. You can assure them that they can email you whenever a question pops up, but you won’t be answering it until you’re back in the office. In this email, also limit calls and texts to your available hours.
The great part about working for yourself is that you can work additional hours if you need to. You may end up working one weekend when you’re slammed. And that’s okay. It happens. You just don’t want your clients to expect you to be accessible to them all the time. Sending your email detailing your office hours means you’ve just taken a huge step in establishing boundaries by putting them in writing. Most clients will totally understand.
If you have one that doesn’t, it may take a little extra time to wean away from constant availability. You might have to spend a little extra time assuring this type of client that it will be okay. You haven’t forgotten about them, and you absolutely are still going to finish the project on-time. They will eventually get used to your new hours of availability.
3. Set emails to send during business hours
If you’re working during non-business hours, you can set your emails to send later, when you’re supposed to be available. This is especially useful for those needy clients you might be trying to wean. Some of your clients can get an email from you on the weekend and recognize that you’re putting in a little extra time instead of taking it as an invitation to contact you whenever they want.
You’ll learn your clients, and know who you need to use a scheduling tool for. Some email clients have this option built-in. For others, you’ll need to install a plug-in or browser extension. Here are three popular options:
4. Take some time for yourself
“All work and no play is a no-fail recipe for burnout. ” If you are always working, you won’t have any time for ensuring your own needs are met. Then difficult clients without boundaries will be even harder to handle with tact and grace. It’s a downward spiral that you must break.
Give yourself time to veg. Grab a cup of coffee and relax while you drink it. Head to the gym. Watch a couple of episodes of your favorite Netflix addiction. Schedule time to refresh yourself regularly.
Taking time to fill your own cup also improves your self-worth. You’ll realize that you are a valuable person, and do not need to be available for every whim of your clients. You have the right to establish boundaries!
5. Be aware of scope creep
Sometimes clients don’t overstep boundaries right away. Often, it’s a simple request here, or an urgent upgrade thrown in there. But these little requests add up, and before you know it, you’re doing more than your contract stipulated, without getting additional compensation.
Scope creep is real, so you must be on the lookout for it. Be sure you’ve clearly defined the details of the project for your client. And get your contract signed so both parties agree to the scope of the project. When requests come up that aren’t part of that original agreement, you can decide if it’s something you want to allow, or if you’ll need to charge additional for it. Unfortunately, the line between offering excellent customer service and being taken advantage of often blurs. You’ll have to pinpoint what your personal boundaries will be.
6. Talk to your clients
Most pushy clients simply don’t realize that they’re overstepping boundaries. This is especially true if you’ve let them in the past. If you’ve always responded to every request within minutes, they’re going to expect that to continue, until you put an end to it.
That’s why communication is essential. Talk to your clients about your expectations and need for personal time. Address concerns about scope creep before you’re frustrated. You aren’t going to lose most your clients because you establish boundaries. In fact, they’ll probably respect you more once you start respecting yourself.
Any client you do lose is one that wasn’t worth having in the first place. Remember that not every client is a good client, and establishing boundaries is one way to cull out the bad ones.
What strategies do you use to establish boundaries with your clients?