Having clear boundaries is a very important aspect when running your own business. In this article, I will give you my top 5 boundaries you need to set for your small business.
This may sound like a basic requirement, but tons of people running businesses don’t have defined hours. Your clients need to know exactly when they can and cannot contact you. Make it crystal clear that you only work during certain hours. This information should be included with your onboarding process, website, contracts, and social media accounts.
Respond to emails during office hours and try to limit emails after hours. If you continue to respond and check your emails after hours you will be breaking your own boundaries. We let people know that they can expect an email response from us within 48 hours. If we get to it sooner, that makes the client happy, but they go in knowing what to expect.
Another very important thing you need to perfect is communication. During our onboarding process, we state all the ways we will commute with you during the project. We use a project management system called Freedcamp to help stay organized throughout the project. Instead of relying solely on emails, which often get lost, you can contain all communication within a project that gets backed up and archived. This not only makes it easier for you but it will make it a smoother process for your clients.
Make sure you have clear documentation on how you handle payments. You have to make it crystal clear on how you expect to get paid for your services. Don’t adjust your payment plans for any clients, if you aren’t consistent with your payment schedules you will make mistakes over time and lose money.
We recommend you require at least a 50% upfront deposit to get started. This will establish a perfect amount of trust on both ends. You don’t ever want to get started on work unless you know the client is serious and can afford your services. This process will eliminate anybody who isn’t quite ready to pull the trigger on hiring you for work.
Just like the payments, it’s important to have a clear roadmap of your scheduled timeline for your projects. In most cases your schedule timeline will be consistent for all your projects, of course, there’s going to be special projects that will require less or more attention. It’s important to have your timelines documented in your contract and all communications before you start work.
Remember that as the professional business owner, you control the project timelines. In most situations, the client won’t try to control the timelines because they don’t know all the moving parts behind the scenes. If you have a client who is trying to control the timeline, make sure you listen to all their reasons and requests before you agree to adjust your timelines. There have been times where a client has unreasonable deadlines that I didn’t feel comfortable working with and I passed on the project. It’s okay to turn down work if there’s an unrealistic timeline that the client is trying to achieve.
What to do when someone tests your boundaries
I can’t stress this enough, make sure you are consistent! The minute you start to bend your processes and services for certain clients your time management will slip. You have to make sure you stick with your process for all your clients. If you make special use-cases for certain clients you will open up a huge can of worms!
Saying NO ties in with being consistent. When I was working my corporate job, I had a boss that would never say NO to anyone. He would take on any work because he was only motivated by money and staying busy. I learned so much from working with someone who was afraid of saying NO. You can probably guess what happened, we used to work tons of overtime and there no was clear processes and time management didn’t exist. If you don’t say NO to certain client requests you will begin to lose control of the project and time management quickly.
Professional Vs. Employee
I was at a WordCamp last year and a speaker said something during her talk that stuck with me, she said: “when a client hires you, they are hiring a professional, not an employee”. You have to make it very clear up front that they are hiring a professional and not an employee.
We sometimes get people who want to hire us as their “on call” employee. This is fine if your business falls into this category, but in our case, we have to make it very clear that when you hire us you are hiring a professional and we can’t be “on call” as an employee.
Setting boundaries for your business is a never-ending learning experience. Make sure you are changing your boundaries while you scale your business. You will learn what works for your business over time but it’s very important to never overlook the importance of setting boundaries for your business.