As a solopreneur, boundary setting in your work life has some unique requirements that most people don’t have to deal with. It’s not that it’s necessarily harder, it’s just a bit different than it is for people with traditional jobs.
For most working people, boundary setting is most crucial with bosses and co-workers. For solopreneurs, it’s almost always clients. And since clients pay the bills, it can be challenging to have these sometimes difficult conversations with them.
Fortunately, I have a few tricks that can help make it easier.
But first, let's dig a little into the why and how of boundary setting.
Why Set Boundaries With Clients?
The main reason that it’s important to set boundaries in your work is that it’s a crucial aspect of maintaining a healthy and productive work experience for all involved. Boundaries help to establish clear expectations and prevent misunderstandings and conflicts from arising.
Imagine a client that calls your cell phone during dinner regularly because they have a concern or question that could easily have been emailed or discussed during the workday. This will likely put stress on your family and annoy you. If this behavior continues, you will start ignoring the clients' calls and that will, in turn, annoy them. Now, both of you are annoyed with each other.
Or imagine a client who asks you to do things that are not part of your job. I knew a financial planner who was asked by a wealthy client to help her move to Florida from New England. This was a way-over-the-top request and resulted in stress for everyone involved.
Setting boundaries can prevent these kinds of stressors from festering in client relationships.
How to Set Boundaries
First, you need to decide what boundaries you want to enforce. You don’t want to “wing it” with every client. Write down the things that you expect like:
- Hours you will communicate
- How long it will take you to respond to phone calls and emails
- What kinds of work you do for clients in general
Include these items in your contracts. Additionally, don’t neglect to include what you are specifically doing for this client in this engagement. This is often called a statement of work.
Communicate your boundaries clearly and directly to your clients even though it’s in your contract. By walking new clients through your boundaries, it will be easier for them to respect them.
9 Secrets to Addressing Boundary Issues
There are a number of ways you can make it easier when addressing boundary issues with clients, whether in advance of a problem or in response to one.
- Do what you say you will do - If you are reliable, it’s much less likely that the client will become difficult. This means delivering on time, communicating when you say you will, and letting them know in advance if something isn’t going to go the way you promised.
- Don't overbook yourself - When you have more work than you can handle, communication with clients tends to suffer. Clients then get frustrated and are more likely to not respect boundaries. Respecting them helps them respect you.
- Respect yourself – You need to remember that you are the boss of your business as well as a human being and you deserve to have your boundaries respected. Believing this deeply will make it much easier to have a respectful discussion with a client.
- Manage your “state” – Before you engage with a client to discuss boundaries, put yourself in a good frame of mind. Move your body and think positive thoughts. Make yourself smile and get yourself in a positive frame of mind.
- Keep it friendly and professional - If the client is angry, stay calm. Try to avoid contradicting them. Instead, ask them “Help me understand why you feel that way?” or “What were you hoping would happen?”
- Communicate clearly – This is where having a list of the boundaries you need to be respected can come in handy. You’re not making it up on the fly or reacting to the specific infraction. It’s a policy and it’s the same for everyone. This will make it easier to discuss.
- Explain what’s in it for them – You aren’t the only beneficiary of boundary setting. If a customer doesn’t respect your boundaries, you will eventually start avoiding them. This will not help them. Explain that by respecting your boundaries, you will bring your best self to work each day. They should want that.
- Use "I" statements, not “You” statements - When addressing a crossed boundary with a client, it's important to use "I" statements instead of saying "you" statements. Instead of “When you call me at dinner time, it interrupts my meal,” say “Being interrupted at dinner time takes away the time I’ve set aside for my family.
- Use contracts to formally set boundaries – By putting what you will do (and perhaps a bit of what you won’t do) into a contract, you have moral authority to enforce your boundaries. After all, they agreed to the terms of the contract.
- Don’t be afraid to fire difficult clients – Some clients just aren’t a good fit. It can be scary, but some people just can’t respect others, and firing those clients can sometimes be the only way to maintain boundaries. Just remember to be polite when you do this.
Maintaining boundaries with your clients isn’t selfish. It doesn’t mean you’re not a professional or that you don't care about your work. It does mean that you’ve made a decision to work in your business for the long haul by making sure that your business is meeting the needs of your life.
There are a lot of things you can be doing to make your life easier as an entrepreneur. Have you checked out The Solopreneur Success Cycle yet? It can help!
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