Setting and respecting personal boundaries is an important topic for any small business owner who works with clients, even more so for those who work from home. And we often don’t take time to think through the implications of our boundaries until we are stressed out, close to burnout, or a combination of both.
It is a balancing act, similar to the process of creating a work-life balance. After all, to provide exceptional customer service and build long-term relationships, you have to let go of the “all business, all the time” mindset and inject a little personality into your business. On the other hand, it’s difficult to prevent that kind of friendly openness from blurring the professional line. So, what’s a small business owner to do?
Here are some ways to create a balance that helps you keep your business dealings in the professional realm, without having rigid policies that can turn clients off.
Set Your Own Personal Boundary Ground Rules
Your boundaries don’t have to be a strict 20-page policy document. It’s often enough to know how you want your business relationships to be structured and create habits that enforce that vision. Think through the areas where you feel you need to create more structure and be clear on how you want to communicate and interact with your clients. Then start to incorporate those behaviors into your business.
For example, if you don’t want to feel like you are on the hook to respond to messages over the weekend, or have clients expect instant response time, set a ground rule that you will not have any client interaction over the weekend, even if you are working. That means no calls, no emails, no texting. Over time, your clients will learn that you are only available Monday through Friday.
Always Be Consistent
Setting boundaries is all about creating habits, and the best way to create a positive habit is by doing something consistently. If you give in once or let something slide, you’re going to have to work twice as hard to respect your own ground rules next time.
Of course, there are always exceptions, even when you have very clear and defined boundaries. For a long-term client, you may decide to be a little more lenient with your availability and turnaround time when the situation warrants. When this happens, the key is to acknowledge to yourself and to your client that it is a one-time exception to avoid letting future expectations overrun you.
Communicate Your Ground Rules to Clients
Just as effective communication is vital in other areas of your business, it is also important when getting clients to respect your boundaries. You don’t have to justify why you make the decisions that you make in your business, but sometimes sharing a little background information can help facilitate the client’s understanding of your situation. It’s all about respect and treating your clients as you would want to be treated.
Let’s say, for example, that you take off every Thursday afternoon to go to your daughter's soccer games. You could just make a unilateral statement to all of your clients that you will be out of the office on Thursday afternoon, so they don’t expect a response to their messages. Or, you could share why you take off on Thursday afternoons to expand the personal element of your relationship with your clients. Either way, it’s important to make sure your clients know in advance that you will be unavailable during that time.
Be the Genuine "You"
We all have multiple dimensions that make up who we are, and we typically have different personas attached to different roles in our lives. But as much as you may want to keep these dimensions of your life completely independent, there will always be some run over. The solution to managing your personas may be deliberately merging them to create an open and genuine “you.”
Once you embrace the parts of you that come together to create the whole package, you may be surprised how easy it is to put forward the best you, create and enforce your personal boundaries, and be consistent and honest in all of your relationships.