Setting boundaries with your clients (and yourself)

by Tina on March 30, 2009

I’ve literally had this conversation with 3 different people this past week… it went something like this:
(Friday afternoon) My client just sent me a whole bunch of work that needs to be done for Monday, i’m going to be working all weekend!
My response:
Why didn’t you say no?
Now here is what I really love about this scenario, and it rings true for *most* of the online based professionals that I work with (VAs, OBMs, and otherwise). We WANT to support our clients in the best way possible. We want to see them succeed, and when there is work to be done we are willing to bend over backwards to make sure it happens. In fact, with all three of these conversations after I asked why they didn’t say no the response was:
But the work needs to be done, I don’t want to leave my client high and dry here… that wouldn’t be fair.
A very heartfelt and responsible sentiment yes? You can see that they truly have the client’s best interest at heart. But what this scenario also says to me is that this person has not set any boundaries with their clients. Or if they have set boundaries they aren’t willing to enforce them. And over time this can become a serious issue - to the point where it can actually ruin what is otherwise a good working relationship. Taking a look at boundaries for a moment - boundaries are setting the guideline for how we want to be treated. What is acceptable, what is not acceptable, etc. As it applies to our businesses and the work we do with our clients, boundaries become very important when it comes to turnaround times, getting notice on tasks/projects and your working hours. You want to be very clear with your clients up front as to how much advance notice you need for a task/project, how long it will take (which can of course vary depending on the task/project) and when you actually are available for work. If you don’t set these boundaries with your clients AND enforce them as needed… you run this risk of basically working yourself to the bone and not having any dedicated time for yourself. And this is when people become burnt-out, resentful and in some cases so tired of their business that they are thinking of shutting it down. I’ve seen it happen many a time, and quite honestly it makes me sad. I like to use a Dr. Phil-ism when I think of setting boundaries with our clients (I’m not a big Dr. Phil fan these days, but this certainly fits.)
You teach people how to treat you.
Consider that from the angle of how it applies to your business. If your client pops up on a Friday afternoon with work to be done by Monday, do you drop everything and do it? Perhaps even dropping precious family-time and commitments? Are you working every night trying to scramble to get all the ‘last minute’ things done that keep popping up? If you always jump and go whenever your clients pop up with stuff, then they are always going to expect that of you. And really, it’s not their fault… if you’ve always done it that way then why wouldn’t you just keep doing it? Which of course becomes a vicious cycle… last minute projects taking up all your evenings and weekends, ugh! And so I challenge you - take a good close look at your boundaries.Perhaps you already have these as part of your client agreements, or perhaps you haven’t discussed this yet with clients (in which case now is a good time to do so.) Talk with your clients about timelines and advance notice, and set some working hours for yourself and ‘STICK TO THEM’. I got into the habit of working weekends again last year, started when i was writing my book and the habit just carried forward through the year. So when we rang in 2009 I decided that I would no longer work weekends… and let me tell you it was super-hard the first few weeks! I could feel the pull of the computer and had that little conversation in my mind going “come on Tina, you could quickly do X and then you don’t have to do it Monday, etc”. I was a weekend working junkie going through withdrawal, hehe.However now that i’m used to it I LOVE LOVE LOVE having my weekends back… and have no desire to work at all. A funny side-bonus here is that by not working on the weekends I’ve had to become extra productive and effective during the week. I’m getting more stuff done in less time. There are some Friday nights when I’m working pretty late to get everything done, but so long as I sign off by Friday at midnight i’m still in integrity with my boundaries. Once you set those boundaries then ‘just say no’! And yes, this could be seriously hard at times. And you may have to lovingly remind your clients a few times of your boundaries… but I invite you to be firm here. Firm but fair. If a client is used to you already jumping to attention immediately based on your prior responses you may need some time to ease them into these new requirements. Let them know of your new boundaries, and the next time there is a last minute project just say “Dear client, I will take care of X for you here today as I know it is really important… but next time I will have to say no as per what we talked about last week, so please ensure you give me X notice for this the next go around.” Or something along those lines, you get the picture. Now don’t get me wrong, there will always be super busy times that may require a bit more of you and your time. But you want those to be the exceptions and not the norm. I think that as VAs, OBMs and such we sometimes forget that we are in business for ourselves. We are not employees, we are business owners too… and we get to decide when we want to work and how much. So set your boundaries and stick to ‘em! ShareThis

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Grace March 7, 2012 at 1:32 am

You are right, you need to set boundaries with your clients as early as now in order to make your business grow. I came across this video that tells about how you should set your boundaries when it comes to dealing with your business. http://marieforleo.com/2012/03/how-to-set-boundaries/

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