Work Boundaries; Wait What?:
Saying no to boundary breaker clients can feel impossible and the fear of losing them, I mean, how dare we even fathom the thought! Similar to a first date, onboarding a new client can feel like a way less sexy version of “courting”. You want to make the best first impression and so the temptation to slide outside of boundary lines seems only right when trying to impress your new found flame. This misalignment in early expectations can result in clients feeling underserved and you feeling overworked and underpaid. That’s a hard no gracious for me!
So here’s what I’ve learned:
If you give a client a cookie, don’t be surprised if they try to raid the whole cookie jar.
Build boundaries from the very first touch. That means, from the moment you book the connection call, the ball is in your court for setting the pace and parameters. When it comes to clear cut deliverables, a bonus legal tip from the one and only Engaged Legal Collective, “Always sign your contracts SECOND. You can make sure there were no “alterations” to the contract before it’s fully signed by both Parties”.
Let’s dive a little deeper.
Number One – Define Boundaries:
What does this look like for you? What are your personal policies?
For me, it’s workless weekends. I’ve become super protective of this personal parameter, as taking time to rest, re-calibrate and be present with my loved ones is a necessity for me and my holistic happiness. When clients used to test this boundary, I would feel as if they were encroaching on my personal space, which resulted, a lot of times in feelings of anxiety, anger, and disengagement. For the client, this action or request may have been done without much thought; however, I interrupted it as “they must not care” or “I don’t want them to think I don’t care!”
Sound similar? If so, it’s time to pump those boundary breaks. We all grow, change and shift. As we pivot in our businesses and in life, it’s inevitable that our personal policies are going to change too! It’s never too late to re-define these boundaries, nor is it too late to re-communicate them with current clients. I have found that becoming fiercely protective of these boundaries has, in turn, cultivated mutual respect for both the client and me; and that my friend, is priceless.
Number Two – Be Fucking Fearless:
Repeat after me, “I do not have to do anything”
You have complete permission to say “NO” or “I don’t want too”. It’s your business beautiful; you call the shots!
Don’t be afraid to fire clients that break boundaries. I say this with full caution, as I do believe that if you feel a client relationship can be course corrected, by all means, try! Sometimes, imposter syndrome speaks for our clients and an authentic communication check-in may be just what you need! Now pause and remember, CONTINUOUS boundary intrusion, is not acceptable. If vampire clients continue to suck the life out of you, it’s time to put the nail in the coffin and move on.
As a small service-based business myself, I know you might also be worried about losing this income! Truth, every dollar counts; but, I pinky promise you any client who is permitted to scope creep will always result in a profit loss. If you are in the midst of this mental thumb war, sit down and do the math. Do a time tracker intensive to clearly evaluate how much time these additional tasks are taking to complete.
How are you feeling internally about the current balance of things?
My best advice, know your value as well as your bandwidth. Compile evidence to support communication around service + project deliverables so you can confidently mic drop that shit (If need be!). Most importantly, be fucking fearless in protecting your personal policies and business boundaries. By doing so, you’ll build a sustainable balance for mind, body, and business.
Thank you, Next. (Do you sing it too??)
Number Three –
Clarify Relationships + Create Consistency:
If clients are testing boundaries or slowly shimmying into scope creep territory, boundaries probably weren’t set clearly from the start.
Build in bite-sized amounts to deplete feelings of uncertainty and overwhelm. Start by evaluating your client onboarding process. For example, do you include a “welcome packet” to new clients before they sign a contract with you? Within my process, I attach my welcome packet to my proposal. It gives the client an opportunity to learn how I work (i.e rush jobs, hours of business, payment). If you don’t already, you might also want to consider asking intentional boundary related questions on your on-boarding questionnaire. Things like “What is your communication style?” “When are you absolutely not available?” It’s important to also know what self-care or personal boundaries your clients have in place as well.
By creating a clear and consistent roadmap, you’ll also be able to evaluate early on if a client is a good fit or not. If not, refer a friend or toss them back into the open online sea.
If still wavering, take a lap back to number two.
Not sure where to start in building a balanced backend in your business? Swing on over to the Services to learn more about how we zen.