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Setting Business Boundaries

After Setting your business’ boundaries, you need to stick to the.

Maya Angelou says that we teach people how to treat us. 
In my last article, I wrote about the need for establishing healthy boundaries for your business. When established, they help to keep your business sound and help your customers know how best to relate to you.

Recently I had an enlightening conversation with a woman business owner.  She loved her work and she enjoyed most of her clients.  However, she was feeling that some of her major clients were taking advantage of her leaving her feeling frustrated and severely depleted.  She was not respected as a business woman. 

Some of her “best” clients were habitually late or canceled at the last minute. Some wanted her to be available for spontaneous meetings despite her busy schedule.  A few were asking her for favors unrelated to the work she was performing and expecting her to acquiesce to their needs.    Some were even calling her at home late into the night.  Rather than being able to decide when she would “give” extras to her clients, some of her clients were taking advantage of her generous nature.  These clients were wearing her down. 

Because she was a woman of integrity, she worked hard to insure that her work for these clients was still exemplary. Yet, her overall enthusiasm for these “transactions” was very, very low. 

When I asked her about establishing some healthy boundaries and no longer allowing the clients to “get away” with their current behaviors she admitted that this idea scared her.  She feared that if she pointed out their unreasonable expectations she would lose their business.  Her biggest fear was she would be seen as difficult to work with and frankly, not be viewed as a kind and caring person. 

She was doing what many small business people do; she was allowing her personal need to be liked and her fear of losing income and her reputation create an unhealthy business experience.  Simply put, she was leaking energy…valuable energy that she needed to help grow her business and live her life.

First, let me say that having healthy boundaries AND communicating those boundaries to your potential clients will help you grow your business.  In fact, it has been my experience that your pool of clients increases the more you are clear about what you will and won’t do.  You may lose a few clients in the beginning, but ultimately you attract new and better clients.   

But how do you do this?  First you have to know what your boundaries are. (My last article gave suggestions on how to determine what is important to you.)  Once you know what you will and won’t do, then you have to clearly communicate them. 

I’ve found that the best way to share them is in a written statement followed by a verbal explanation.    This is usually covered in a contract however there may be boundaries that need to be established more universally and prior to a formal contractual agreement.  These can be posted on the wall or in a brochure that is distributed to potential clients.  In all communication, clarity is of the utmost importance. 

For example, when I am hired to speak or coach, I have a written contract that spells out my policies on payment, cancellation, etc.  In addition I also have a conversation where I share how I want us to work together and what I expect of my clients in addition to what I will be doing for them.  

But what about those clients that ignore your boundaries and cross them anyway?  This is when you have to hold firm.  For example, if you value punctuality, charge your clients for your time even if they are late to meetings.  If your clients call you outside of your established hours, charge extra for your time or simply screen your calls.  If you require a deposit to begin work, by all means do not begin working until you get payment in your hand.  These small acts let your clients know that you are a professional, thereby in most cases improving your reputation, not diminishing it. 

By not telling people our limits because we fear the repercussions, we are in fact communicating that almost anything goes. Instead, when we take  Maya Angelou seriously we accept responsibility to teach others how to treat us. 

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