Establishing and enforcing healthy professional boundaries with your clients is critical for all business owners, especially if you own your own business and work from home, where the lines between work and home life are easily blurred.
Unless you set and enforce healthy boundaries, rather than you controlling your business, your business will control you, which can quickly lead to overwhelm and burnout. At the same time, creating healthy boundaries allows you to take charge of your day, your business, and your life.
If you are ready to establish healthy boundaries with your clients, here are some strategies to help you get the process started.
Clearly define your boundaries:
When it comes to setting boundaries with clients, you first need to decide how you want your relationship structured, and how that relationship relates to the delivery of your core product or service. Once you've established those parameters, you'll want to prepare clear legal agreements that outline and clarify the expectations of both parties in writing.
Although the boundaries you set will be determined by your specific business and your personal preferences for how you want to interact with clients, some common things all business owners need to consider include the following:
- When you are available to clients
- How clients can contact you
- What your response time will be
- Exactly what is—and what is not—included in your deliverables
- What your payment terms are
- How, when, and where disputes will be handled
Above all, set the hours during which you will respond to emails, calls, and messages, and stick to that schedule religiously. You can establish these boundaries by including them in your agreements. As we'll detail more below, clear communication is the key, and when you communicate your boundaries to clients upfront, you'll find that most people are more than happy to respect them.
Incorporate your boundaries in your legal agreements:
To ensure your clients are aware of your boundaries—and the consequences for breaching them—incorporate your boundaries in the terms of your legal agreements. Then, make your client agreement part of your sales process. Finally, make sure every client or customer signs an agreement, even if they are a close friend or family member.
For example, in your client-service agreement or product-purchase agreement, you should specifically detail the scope of your work, what's expected of the client, and what happens if the agreement is not followed or the scope of work changes. You should similarly outline your payment terms in these documents: how much you get paid, how and when you expect to be paid, along with how late payments and non-payment will be handled.
At The Robinson Advocacy Group, we can support you to create legally binding agreements that clearly define your boundaries and outline exactly how they will be enforced in every one of your business relationships.
Communicate your boundaries upfront:
It's important that you discuss these expectations with your clients, answer any questions they have, and get them to sign off before you start work. With a written policy in place, you won't have to waste time and energy figuring out how to handle things if a client fails to show up for an appointment or pays their invoice late—you'll simply follow your established protocol.
Along these same lines, keep in mind that giving away your services, having overly long consultations with prospects, and giving out free or discounted services all work to discount your value. This can not only leave you feeling unappreciated, but it also sets up unhealthy expectations in your future dealings with clients.
Be consistent with enforcement:
Overly demanding clients often don't realize they're overstepping boundaries—and this is particularly true if you've let them cross your boundaries already without saying anything. If you answer a client phone call during your off-hours or perform extra work that's beyond the scope of your agreement without getting paid for it or without at least clarifying your boundaries, you've set a precedent that your time doesn't really matter, and such behavior is likely to continue.
Setting boundaries is all about creating habits, and the most effective way to create a habit is by doing something consistently. If you don't consistently enforce your boundaries, you are setting yourself up to have your boundaries crossed again and again. If this is happening, it's not your clients' issue to solve, it's yours. Fortunately, clear enforcement of boundaries and consistent upholding of your agreements will typically solve this problem—at least with those clients that are worth keeping.
Get comfortable saying “no” and ending relationships with problem clients:
When establishing boundaries, don't think just about what you can do, but what you really want to do with your work. This is your business after all, so align your boundaries with your priorities and passion, so you have the freedom to do more of what you love and less of what you don't.
This means getting comfortable saying “no” to clients and projects that are not in line with the vision you've set for your business. This may even require you to end relationships with clients who refuse to honor your boundaries. While you may feel anxious about turning down work or cutting ties with problem clients, you'll be better off in the long run.
In the end, you aren't going to lose any clients worth having by setting boundaries. In fact, most clients will respect you more for clearly defining the terms of the business relationship—it shows you are a professional who takes the job seriously. Ultimately, not every client is a good fit for your business, and establishing healthy boundaries is one way to weed out the bad ones before they cause serious problems.
Enlist Our Support
If you need support establishing healthy professional boundaries, reach out to us. Whether it's helping you define your boundaries, putting your boundaries in legally binding agreements, or taking the appropriate actions to enforce your boundaries with your clients, we are here for you.