Setting Boundaries with Clients
Setting boundaries with your clients is so important. It will help you become a happier and a more productive person. I think we all have this client where you get the text message or the email, or the Facebook messenger message and you kind of go, "Oh, it's that client!" And it's probably because of the way the client reached out.
Maybe your client calls at an inappropriate time or they have unrealistic expectations of how long it should take you to communicate back to them. Or they expect you to reply on the weekends or nights. Typically where I find that we have the greatest strife with clients is when they have unrealistic boundaries with you.
Basically when your client has encroached on the boundaries that you wish to have, this happens because you haven't set up boundaries at all. You just assume that there are rules for communication. However, I found that expectations are different depending on the generation you're working with or if you're working with men versus women.
In order for us to maintain healthy boundaries, we have to put boundaries in place to begin with. These boundaries will help people understand that these are your rules. Remember, that the happiest and most productive person is the one who sets boundaries.
But What Exactly Are Boundaries?
According to the article "Boundaries" put out by GoodTherapy, boundaries serve an important function in allowing you to take responsibility for yourself. Boundaries also help you take responsibility for your actions. They also help you avoid being put in a position where you feel like you have to take inappropriate or unfair responsibility for the emotions and needs of others.
Why You Should Be Setting Boundaries With Clients
According to the article "How to Set Healthy Boundaries," healthy boundaries do the following:
- Make sure you are stable mentally and emotionally
- Are a crucial component of self-care. If you don't have proper boundaries that can lead to "resentment, anger, and burnout... in your work or in your personal relationships."
- Help you find more fulfillment and less stress in your professional life, which will leave room for you to have a better personal life.
The article also points out that the consequences of not setting healthy boundaries often include “stress, financial burdens, wasted time, and relationship issues, which can cause mental distress.”
According to the article "Boundaries," well-developed boundaries can lead to healthier relationships and help you avoid feeling manipulated, violated, or otherwise mistreated by other people.
Boundaries also help protect you from others intruding on your time or from you feeling overwhelmed by the needs and requests from others.
If you don't set proper boundaries you will eventually come to feel that your life has become chaotic and disorganized.
Sometimes you will feel that you have difficulty dealing with your own issues because you have come to feel responsible for helping others before helping yourself.
Seven Ways to Set Boundaries with Clients
So as a new business owner, how do you know what this should look like? Based on the article "10 Ways To Set Healthy Boundaries at Work" there are ten ways to set healthy boundaries. I'm going to share seven of these steps for setting healthy boundaries with your clients that have worked the best for me.
- Conduct an audit
- Set up your limits
- Communicate your limits clearly
- Take time to respond
- Practice saying "no"
- Create structure
- Prepare for pushback
Conduct an Audit
The first step is to conduct an audit. What I want you to do is think about the situations where people cause you stress or anxiety. And I want you to track these for a little while. What you're trying to do is find out is what things are a trigger for you. The things that annoy you, that piss you off. Those things in which your clients invade your boundaries.
Find out what are the things you like, and what you don’t like. For instance, I don't want anybody to call me after nine o'clock at night. I honestly don't want anybody to call me at all.
Once you've conducted your audit, now it's time to set your limits.
Setting Your Limits Is Key To Setting Boundaries With Your Clients
The important limits are going to be:
- How do you want to be communicated with
- When do you want to be communicated with
- What is the reasonable expectation for how long it is going to take you to get back to someone.
We run an online business and we run ads 24 hours a day, seven days a week. People just expect that there's going to be a person to answer their questions all the time. But that's not how it works, because we value time off as a company.
For example we were planning a live launch. The last time we did one, we ran it so that people could buy over the weekend. And the problem with that is that there's lots of emails, communication, and people have many questions. I don't want our team to have to work on the weekend.
So we moved the sale. We moved this live launch to a Monday and that's really not what people typically do. Most people do them on the weekends because they're more people paying attention on the weekends or fewer people working on the weekends. But for me, I believe that our team deserves to have their weekends with their family. And eventually, you know, we'll grow to the point that we'll have coverage on the weekends and we'll hire people specifically for that. But right now the people who work with us, they have families. I want them to be there for their families on the weekends. So that's one of my limits.
Here's the thing, though. When you set limits, you need to be prepared for the fact that there are people who aren't going to work with you because you have those limits. But, that’s just one of the costs of doing business. It is a cost of keeping your sanity. If you'd like to keep your sanity, you need to set limits.
Communicating Your Limits Clearly Will Help When Setting Boundaries With Clients
So once you have those limits, you need to communicate them clearly. You will put all of this together in a “How I Work” document. Basically you’re going to put your rules and tell your clients how they should contact you. Your existing clients will still have the all the ways to communicate with you. However, any new clients going forward, will only get these communication methods. It's going to take time to get everybody on board. But eventually your legacy clients will be communicating with you the way you want.
I still have some clients that, even though we have things in place, and I say “Don't text me,” they still text me. So, what I do when they text me is I email them back. And for some of them, it drives them crazy, and they want to know why I don’t just text them back. I have to tell them that texting is how I communicate with my family and friends only.
To avoid unrealistic expectations, you need to set limits. See, there is an unrealistic expectation about how quickly you’ll get back to them if they text you. Once you’ve clarified the reason behind why you’ve set up those limits, many clients will get it. But you need to have those conversations. And you need to communicate it really quickly when one of your boundaries gets violated. Address that right away.
Let me share a little bit more on how to use your "How I Work" document.
How to use your "How I Work" Document
Your “How I Work” document is a document that will change. It will evolve. And every time you make changes to the document, you will send a copy to your existing clients and let them know you’ve made some changes to it. Now don’t make changes every week. Sit down once a quarter and update the document if you need to, after you’ve evaluated how everything is working.
When you do send out the updated copy of your “How I Work” document, make sure you tell your clients that you’ve made some change, and you want to make sure they have this handy. This is one way of making sure your limits and boundaries and the way you work is getting enforced.
When do you send out your "How I Work" Document?
So when do you send out this “How I Work” document? You can send it with your proposal or with your contract. Send out with your proposal, if you have anything in there that you think is going to be a deal breaker for people. For example, if you're just starting your business and your business requires a lot of communication with your clients, but you're only available in the evenings because you have a job or other obligations, that might be a deal breaker for somebody. If you don't believe that there's anything in there that's a deal breaker, then you can send it with your contract.
Take Time To Respond
So number four is to take time to respond. If you're the type of person that responds right away with “Yes, I will do this.” Stop. Take time to respond.
What I've started doing is I respond to my business email once a day. I have an assistant who goes through my email and if there's anything that's really, really hot or really important she'll handle that for me. She'll ask me questions if needed, but even client questions get responded to once a day. There is nothing that is going to happen that is going to burn down or be on fire.
My clients know they can pick up the phone and they can call me if there's something that needs an immediate response. For instance, if they are in the bank and the banker is asking them something and they don’t know the answer to it, they can pick up the phone and call me on my cell phone (which I’ve provided to them in my email signature).
I also use something called Voxer for more immediate, emergency situations. So, even though a client might have a question and they can call me, a lot of the times my phone is on do not disturb. However, if my client gives me a heads up that they will be going to the bank and might have question for me, I can be prepared and ready to take their call.
This is something that you can put into your "How I Work" document. You can specify that “If you're going to do bank and you're going to need information or you're going to be talking to somebody about your business and you think you're going to have a question, let me know ahead of time that you have that meeting. And I will do my best to make sure that my phone is on and I'm available in case you need something.” I think that that's a really good way to handle these types of situations.
Practicing Saying No Will Help You in Setting Boundaries With Your Client
Try the art of pausing before saying yes to a project. Practice saying, no! There's lots of ways that you can practice saying no.
One of the best ways to practice saying no is when you are at the mall. There are vendors there like to spray something at you or give you a sample or put lotion in your hand. Say no. Don’t just wave them off and ignore them. Just practice saying “No, thank you. I'm good.” And just keep walking.
Another way to practice saying no is when you go out to eat and you’re offered dessert. Say “No, thank you. I’m good.” There are lots of little ways that you can say no on a regular basis, but most of the time you most likely just ignore.
I have one strategy that I really like and I got this from a podcast. It was Michael Hyatt, or it might've been one of Michael Hyatt books. He says, “You want to do the yes, no, yes approach.” So if somebody asks you for something that you don't want to do or is trying to encroach, you want to do a yes, no, yes approach.
For example: I get approached a lot by people that want to have a coffee chat with me, people who want to hop on a zoom with me or pick my brain because they are starting a new business. Most will tell me that they just need 10 minutes of my time.
How to Use the Yes, No, Yes Approach
There's a couple different ways that you can deal with that to use the yes, no, yes approach. If they tell you they are starting a new venture, you can say: "Hey, that's great," or "Hey, congratulations on your new business." That's your first yes. Then you will go on to do the no part of this approach. "Unfortunately, I don't have the extra time in my schedule to meet with you regarding this." That's your no. And then your next yes could be a free opt in, a podcast episode, a blog post or a book that you really like.
So basically the conversation would look like this: "Hey, congratulations on your new venture. Unfortunately, I don't have time to do a coffee chat with you right now. However, I have this podcast episode that talks about just that." And include the link to the podcast episode or to whatever you are sharing with them.
I really like the yes, no, yes approach because it works really well. When you do it that way people will respect you, and they also get acknowledgement from you.
Create Structure Around Yourself
You want to make sure that you create structure around yourself. This means that you have ways for existing clients to book meetings with you. You have structure in your calendar when you're meeting with people and agenda for what you're going to talk about.
Typically a client should book a meeting with you when you need opportunities for both of you to brainstorm and create processes and things you can't do outside of a meeting. Meetings should not be about information dissemination. That information could be sent through a video or email.
So when I'm looking at how I'm communicating with clients, with team members, or just in general, I always ask myself if there is a better way to communicate this information then what we're doing?
Also create structure in your own life. The more structured you are, the more you plan out your days and weeks. When you know when you are going to do something, you'll find that it's much easier to say no. Because once you have your structure in place, there really is no time in your schedule for those little things that distract you.
Prepare for Pushback When You Set Boundaries with Your Clients
The one thing that you need to do is prepare for pushback. They're going to be people that are going to be annoyed. I've noticed it especially with existing clients. They are going to be annoyed when you put those boundaries in place. When that happens, that's a sign that you're doing the right thing, especially if they're constantly pushing back.
Boundaries are healthy. Boundaries are necessary. Especially if you're in a period in your life, and with everything going on with COVID, where you feel like everything is spinning out of control and people are just coming at you, boundaries are incredibly important.
I really hope that you will try out putting some boundaries in place in your own business and in your own life. Don't be afraid to ask people to respect your boundaries. Boundaries are just a critical part of life.
Books that I recommend that will help you set boundaries with you clients
- Peter Bregma, author of 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done suggests choosing some easy, low-risk situations in which to practice saying no.
- David Allen, a productivity expert and author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, suggests sorting through your to-do list and addressing how you should handle each task.
- Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud. This is a really good book that helped me when I first began putting the structure in place, not only for business, but also in my personal life.
I would love to hear how you've set up your boundaries, what problems you've encountered and how you overcome them. Share it the comments below!