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  • Writer's pictureKayla Droog Consulting

Does your business have good boundaries?

Do you have good boundaries in your business?

I know I talk a lot about the boundaries that we have for ourselves around when we work, how much we work, taking time off, and things like that.

But today I specifically want to talk about the boundaries you have between yourself and your clients, because these are crucial boundaries in your business.

Balancing boundaries and customer service

You probably don't need me to tell you the importance of having good boundaries in your business.

They can help you prevent burnout, and make sure that you have enough energy and motivation to give what you need to give to all of your clients and not just one or a few of them.

Having good boundaries in your business also makes sure that you are being compensated fairly and you are not over giving for what you are getting back.

Yes, we want to make our clients happy, but we also want to be fairly paid for our work. Don't feel like you have to over deliver.

I know that it can be really challenging to find that balance between good boundaries and good customer service. This is something that I have struggled with in the past.

When I first started my business, I was so worried about keeping people happy. I was worried about losing clients and not having enough clients. So I would bend over backwards to do things for the clients that I had.

I would work on the weekend, answer communication in the evenings, and generally get tasks done as fast as humanly possible.

I'm not saying any of those things are bad, but it wasn’t sustainable. It meant that I was working pretty much 24/7 and I had no true off time. I was kind of on call all the time without actually being paid to be on call all the time.

I ended up setting unrealistic expectations, because my client load grew and I was not able to give that same amount of attention and responsiveness to the clients that I had had originally.

Now, I'm not saying that my service or my responsiveness became bad. Actually, what ended up happening was that I was finally fulfilling the terms that I had laid out in my contract in the first place that I had been ignoring all along with my bad boundaries. I had provisions put in place for how often I would get back to people, and what my office hours were, and the days of the week that I worked, and I just wasn't following it.

Of course my clients came to expect more from me, because I was over delivering from what I had put in my contracts.

It's nobody's fault. Yes, they pushed my boundaries. Yes, I let them. And I did have to have some uncomfortable conversations with clients about the changes in my policies moving forward. Most of my clients were completely understanding and okay with that.

And some of them weren't and chose to move on. That's how business works. That's life.

You have to be willing to have those conversations if you really want your business to move forward and become what you want it to be and not consume your life.

Setting up good boundaries

If you want to make sure that you have good, solid boundaries in your business, I'm going to walk you through some things that you can do.

Firstly, start off with good boundaries from the very beginning of your relationship with your clients.

This means laying out things in your contracts, in your welcome emails, in the meetings that you have when vetting or onboarding clients – whatever you can do to make sure that the expectations and the parameters are clear up front.

Some of the things that you may want to make sure you are being very clear and transparent about are:

  • Your office hours (this doesn’t mean you’re available right away, but it establishes when you’re not in the office so clients won’t expect an answer from you during that time)

  • The days of the week that you typically work

  • Your payment policies and schedule (Do they pay upfront? Are they billed monthly? Etc.)

  • Your refund policies

  • Your response time to emails or messages  

Is it reasonable for your business for you to respond within a few hours or can clients expect more like a 24 hour or 48 hour response time? It's not necessarily about the amount of time that’s important, it's about being clear up front about what kind of response time they can expect from you so that there's no surprises for them.

Having a 24 hour or 48 hour response time is not terrible, as long as they know about it.

One of the things that you may not have thought about that you might want to are your policies around your calls with clients. Do you want to have some sort of policy around what happens if they cancel a call and how rescheduling works? If this is someone who meets with you regularly, if they miss a call, can they reschedule or do they just have to wait until the next one comes up because you're too busy?

Do you want to have a policy around joining a call? For example, if you meet on Zoom, how long are you willing to wait for them to show up? 10 minutes? 15 minutes? Is the call automatically cancelled if they don’t show up? Make sure that you are teaching people how to respect your time.

Depending on your type of business, you may also want to have policies around changes to the scope of work. If they hire you to do one thing or a few things, and then they keep wanting to add other things on, what's your policy around that? If they are adding things on, you may want to make some changes to your agreement (more on this below).

Enforcing your boundaries

If you are setting all of your boundaries up front, here's the most important thing to remember: those boundaries mean shit if you don't enforce them.

If you let people walk all over those boundaries, they mean nothing.

Make sure that you are the one sticking to them and everyone else will as well.

If they don't, then maybe they are not the best fit for you or you're not the best fit for them.

Just something to keep in mind.

Scope creep

As I mentioned, depending on your type of business, you may come across clients who want to change the scope of their services. There's nothing wrong with that, but you also don't have to do it if you don't want to.

Really be aware of scope creep. This is when clients try to sneak other things into your list of tasks or services and gradually expand the amount of work that you're doing for them beyond what you originally agreed to.

Now, this is not usually something that is malicious. They are not necessarily trying to take advantage of you. But if they've been working with you for a while and they know you and they trust you, now they want you to do more things for them.

You have to think about if you want to expand your services for this person and what that means for you.

First of all, you can always, always, always say no. In some cases, this may result in the client wanting to walk away, but if you already have a good relationship with them and it's just there's a certain task or a certain area that you don't do or you don't want to get into, that's perfectly reasonable.

You may also decide that you are willing to take on this extra work, but you want to change your pricing. Maybe if they are on a monthly retainer, you want to increase that rate. You want to make sure that you are being fairly compensated for the additional work.

If you are being paid hourly, make sure that they know that you are happy to do this additional work, but it's going to cost them more because it's going to take more time. Or if you have a hard limit of a certain number of hours per month, make sure that they understand what is reasonable to accomplish in that number of hours. Maybe this new thing is going to take time away from something else and you're not going to be able to get it all done in that time.

Make sure that you are having those conversations with them up front before you agree to take on these new tasks, and definitely before you start doing them.

Don’t be afraid to refer out

Another thing to keep in mind is: don't be afraid to refer people out to other professionals if there's something that you don't like doing or that you know that you're not good at or you just don't have the capacity right now.

You may not have a big network of people in all different areas that you can refer out to. But don't be afraid to let a client know that you are not able to take on additional work at this time or this is something that's not your area of expertise.

If you're being honest and up front with your clients, even if you're saying no to something, it's going to make them respect you and feel a better connection with you, instead of you taking on this task that you are maybe not great at and then not doing the best job of it.

That is going to have a more negative effect on your relationship than if you are up front about the fact that you can't do it or you don't want to. (Obviously you can say it nicer than that, but be up front with them about how you feel and what you’re able to do well).

It’s never too late

One final thing that I'd like you to keep in mind is that even if you are in a situation where you have a client or multiple clients where you don't have good boundaries, it's never too late.

You have to be willing to have that conversation with them, and it might get uncomfortable, but you are perfectly within your rights to say, "Look, I know that things have been like this up until now, but moving forward, my policy for all of my clients is going to be this."

Then they can decide for themselves if that's going to work for them or not. If you have a good relationship with them, chances are then they are going to be fine with those changes or you can negotiate that with them.

But if they are really not receptive to those changes in policy for your business, they're probably not a good fit for you anyway.

Yes, I know there is the potential for good boundaries in your business to create some uncomfortable conversations, especially if this is an area where some growth needs to happen for you.

I think in my first year or two of business, I made changes to my contracts and my policies with almost every new client, because every time something happened, I recognized an area in my business where I didn't have a boundary or I didn't have a good boundary.

It took a lot of trial and error for me to get to the place where I am now, where my boundaries are pretty good.

Developing effective boundaries might take some time. It might push you out of your comfort zone. But I hope that this discussion has helped you recognize some areas where you might need boundaries or you might need better ones, or you might need to actually stick to the ones that you have.

If you have any questions, please leave them down in the comments or feel free to reach out.



Kayla Droog Consulting supports heart-centered small business owners with the back-end systems setup and updates they don't have time to do, so they can focus on serving their clients and growing their businesses!

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