As entrepreneurs, we all have to deal with clients, customers, and other business owners. In order to ensure your success, a healthy work/life balance, and your sanity, it is really important that you have clear boundaries in place for interacting with other people in a professional capacity, and dealing with their requests.
It’s absolutely vital that you establish clear boundaries and enforce them.
Where exactly are the lines in your business?
What are you happy to do?
What makes you uncomfortable?
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The Rookie Mistake All Entrepreneurs Make…
Like most entrepreneurs, when I started out in business, I really didn’t have any boundaries. I took on any and all work, no matter what it was. My focus was on bringing in some money. I wasn’t that particular about where that money came from, and a lot of the stuff that I ended up doing was really quite soul-destroying work. As a result, I put up with a lot of crap from customers in terms of what they expected from me, what they were willing to pay me, and whether they were willing to pay me at all.
In the early days, I was constantly inundated with emails. I had texts coming in late at night, people calling and texting me when they knew full well that I was on holiday. You name it, I had to deal with it. And that’s just the realities of being an entrepreneur to some extent; everybody has to deal with this sort of thing at some point. For most entrepreneurs, it’s a difficult issue, especially initially. You don’t know that it’s okay to set clear business boundaries at the start, it feels like a luxury you can’t afford. And so you end up completely swamped, just like I was…
Every time I logged onto Facebook I had to deal with a tsunami of messages. Work spilt over into my personal life, with requests from people I knew from my online business networks flooding my personal profile. Work swamped what my friends were doing, and Facebook stopped being something I did for fun, to catch up with people, and became just another aspect of work.
That is really draining.
The Business Boundary Epiphany…
At some point I had a bit of an epiphany.
The real problem wasn’t my clients, but me. I never actually told people when their expectations were unreasonable or attempted to stop unwanted behaviour.
Instead, I quietly brooded over their rudeness and increasingly unrealistic expectations. That feeling gradually grew worse, until finally, it drove me a bit mad. Overwhelm set in. I struggled to cope with the mounting pressures were being imposed upon me.
It’s Not You, It’s Me…
My clients weren’t treating me badly because they were bad people, they were simply exploring the limits of what they could ask of me. When they encountered no resistance, they pushed further. I never articulated my displeasure when they made unreasonable demands, refused their requests, or ignored their calls and texts. My response to their behaviour was telling them it was all okay.
That their expectations were reasonable and would be met.
In the end, all I needed was some clear boundaries.
I was really resistant to this. It felt rude of me to draw lines and refuse anything. There was also this immense fear that the second I tried to impose any kind of order, I would lose all my clients and my business would fail.
As it turned out, the opposite was true. Setting clear boundaries and learning to handle shit like a boss, and rule my tribe like an Empress, has seriously up-leveled my business. It’s left me with more clients, a constantly growing tribe, higher profits, more free time, and far less stress.
And the best part? All I had to do was impose three simple boundaries…
My New Business Boundaries…
In the last year I’ve really tightened up on my boundaries, what I am willing to let people get away with, and where I draw the lines and say, “Hang about, no, that’s not on.”
This includes some really practical lines, like…
- Having payment terms in place that everybody has to sign before I start working for them.
- Having a clear limit on the amount of email support that certain clients get.
- Rewrite limits – very clear guidelines on what is an acceptable amount to expect me to rewrite, and what will incur an extra charge.
- No Skype. I do not do Skype, which surprises a lot of people because I’m quite happy doing videos. It’s got nothing to do with me being seen on camera. I have a personal issue with Skype; I do not like it. Skype makes me very uncomfortable.
- Everybody I work with signs either terms of conditions or a contract, depending on the nature of the work that I’m doing for them.
- If a client doesn’t pay, I don’t work. Gone are the days I would happily keep working for people, even when they hadn’t paid me. This was usually on the promise that payment was coming, at some point. I have a lot of clients on monthly retainers who pay me a set amount monthly. If they don’t make their payments, even if there’s a perfectly understandable reason, and I’m totally fine holding off for a month or whatever is needed, I don’t do any other work in the interim. Work stops until they’re back on track with the payments.
The last was the one thing that felt like an unreasonable expectation on my part. I really had a bad money block surrounding the expectation that people pay me on time. It seemed acceptable to me, almost inevitable, that people wouldn’t make payments when they promised, and that they would still expect me to keep working, even if payment was absent. I’m really not sure where this comes from, as I detest being late making payments myself, and get terrible guilt when I am. I’d never expect a service to continue while I was behind on my payments.
Yet when it came to clients, I really struggled to hold them to the same standards.
I’ve since accepted that it’s reasonable to expect people to pay on time, and if they don’t pay on time, whatever work you’re doing for them has to pause until they have paid.
For the most part when it comes to imposing business boundaries, people are very understanding and accepting. They don’t generally bat an eyelid.
You let them know what the terms of working with you, and they simply accept that those are the terms under which you can work together. Most people will accept it, and most of those who don’t won’t kick up a fuss. As long as you’re clear with them at the outset they’ll simply say, “Oh, that’s not how I like to work. I’m looking for somebody that does it a little differently.” And that’s the end of it. They move on, you move on, and nobody comes to any harm over it.
Every business has expectations in terms of what the client can do and what the business can do, dos and don’ts.
All businesses have (or should have) boundaries.
People get really worried when it comes to enforcing boundaries because they’re convinced they’re going to lose all their clients, and won’t be able to attract more business. But from my personal experience (and from talking to other entrepreneurs and business owners), most people will be perfectly fine whatever boundaries you set.
The few who aren’t, you are better off without, and it’s not going to kill you to replace them with people who are happy to work with you on your terms.
The Benefits Of Setting Business Boundaries…
Getting rid of clients who are difficult to work with, even if you really, really love them, it’s an upsetting process. But at the end of it, you will find that your life is a lot less stressful for not having to deal with them anymore, and not having to contend with their unrealistic expectations.
In addition, I found that my profits shot up as a result of enforcing my business boundaries and getting rid of difficult clients, for two reasons:
- I made sure that everyone was on my current pay scale. I put my prices up when I re-branded as The Write Copy Girl in 2016, but my existing clients remained at the prices that they signed up for. The only people who were paying my new prices were new clients. That all changed at the start of 2017 when I put everybody up to the new pricing scheme.
- It created more time in my schedule and made me a lot more efficient. The best benefit of enforcing boundaries is how much better I’ve got at managing my time since I’ve put boundaries in place in my business. Curtailing unrealistic expectations and demands has allowed me to focus on doing what I do best – writing. I work fewer hours, and the hours I do spend working are far more productive, and far more in line with my zone of genius.
When People Raid Your Borders…
Just because I have boundaries in place doesn’t mean nobody ever pushes them. There are still times I get the odd raiding party crossing the border, smacking me upside the head with a coup stick, and running off doing a victory dance. People naturally push the boundaries, partly because it’s human nature to need to see how far you can go, and partly because a lot of the time, people don’t actually realise they are overstepping their bounds.
You may have told people a boundary is in place but until they actually step over it, they might not realise a particular action or request is crossing the line. A polite reminder is usually all it takes to get them back over that boundary and ensure that they don’t step over it again. Once they realise it’s not acceptable for them to do a certain thing, they don’t do it again.
Despite my wonderful new boundaries I still get people asking things that are, for me, over the line…
“Can you write my thesis for me?”
“I can’t actually afford to pay you, but working for me for free will be great for your business. It will really raise your profile, and you’ll gain loads of new clients.”
And (my personal favourite, and the inspiration for the title of this particular post)…
“I need you to test drive our new butt plug. I think the first-hand experience is going to really add authenticity to the piece.”
The Three Essential Business Boundaries…
I’ve chosen those three particular examples for a reason – each one exemplifies one of the main things that you will have to deal with when it comes to running your business like a boss (or as I prefer to think of it, when it comes to ruling your tribe like an empress). If you get crystal clear on these three boundaries, it will make it very easy for you to decide when a request or expectation is out of bounds, and enforce that decision.
#1 The Code…
In my first example, I mentioned that I occasionally get people asking me to write their own work for them. I do a lot of work as a ghostwriter, wherein I allow people to put their own name on my words, and pass them off as their own.
I’m perfectly happy with that arrangement, I have no issue with it. There are many reasons people need a ghostwriter, and I’m more than happy to let clients take the credit for my work. Discretion and confidentiality are part of the service.
But there are certain situations when I am not okay with that.
The best example is when it comes to academic work and a student approaches me asking, “Can you write my thesis for me?” or “Can you write an essay on this for me?”
And it is blindingly obvious they want to hand my work in at University as their own work.
That conflicts quite severely with my moral code. The concept of knowingly writing someone else’s work for them, and allowing them to hand it in so that they can gain their degree, off the back of work that is not their own, does not sit with me well morally.
I have a real ethical issue with that; it’s a line I just don’t cross.
What Is A Code?
Whether you are Dexter Morgan, Jack Sparrow, or Barney Stinson, you need a code.
A code is essentially just a set of guiding principles. Your niche may have specific ethics related to it, such as, the legal profession and medical professions have ethical guidelines. Depending on what your niche is certain things, from an ethical perspective, are legally required. But also, there are always going to be certain practises that you personally have an issue with.
Things that you can legally do as part of your business, but that you personally get the ick doing. You don’t like doing it.
This is the first boundary that you have to put in place: you need a code.
Explain it, and enforce it.
The second boundary you really need to get in place relates to respect.
Your time and expertise are valuable.
You are running a business, you are not running a charity (although you may have charitable elements to your business). You need to get paid for your time and work.
Now, you might decide to have certain things available for free – you might do pro bono work, such as, or it might simply be that you offer opt-in freebies, free worksheets, downloads, videos, and all your content is free.
There will be elements of your business that you are making freely available. But they are elements that you have decided ahead of time that you are going to create, and make available for free, as part of your overall business strategy, and you’re happy with that.
All of my content is available for free. I have a regular blog and a vlog with lots of free content on it. I have opt-in freebies available. In addition, I also give all new clients the option of having a completely free blog post to try out my service. That service is worth £55 and you get it totally free as a way of trying before you buy, because I believe that with the particular service I offer, it can be very difficult to make that leap of faith, and trust a writer to write for you.
You don’t know what their writing’s going to be like, you don’t know how well you’re going to work together, you’re not sure it’s going to be worth the money. There are various questions that potential clients have, which really can’t be answered by me reassuring them. It’s a lot easier (for them, and for me) if I show them what I can do and let them decide for themselves if it’s worth the investment.
So I quite happily work for free, in the sense that I will write one piece for free, to let people see how I work. But there are always going to be people who push that boundary…
They’ll come to me right off the bat and say, “I can’t afford to pay you to write my blog for me, but if you work for me there are loads of great benefits for you and your business. It’ll raise your profile, you’ll gain loads of new clients, you’ll get loads of new business. My business is really going places, if you get on board now, and help me develop it, I’ll be able to pay you in the future, once everything’s taken off. If you help me get there then that’ll be great for you.”
You’d be surprised how frequently people make that argument. They genuinely believe it’s in my best interest to work for them for free, or at a reduced price.
And they create a great patter; it sounds good when people pitch it to you, and it’s amazing how good an opportunity people can make working for them for free sound. They’ll throw statistics at you, numbers, promises of future payment, promises of all of their clients turning into your clients, and many other things.
And they’re empty promises. They have no way of guaranteeing what they’re saying will ever come to pass.
So you really need to be very clear on what you will willingly do for free, and what requires payment.
It can be as simple as people asking for advice on your specialist subject. You might happily give them a bit of advice. Maybe because you think they’re a potential client and you want to let them know how helpful you can be. Or perhaps because they’re a friend and they need help. But there always comes a point when you have to say, “I don’t actually have time to answer that, but if you go and check out this blog post, or this video, or this free ebook that I’ve created, it’ll answer all your questions.”
You need to be able to point people to content containing the information they want or say to them, “That’s actually part of this service I offer/part of a product I offer. You can check that out here.”
People will do one of two things when you say that to them: they will happily run off and check out the thing you’ve told them about, or they’ll get annoyed with you for expecting them to go and find the information themselves, or pay for the relevant product or service, rather than you giving it to them for free.
That is a very good barometer for telling whether someone is a good person to work with or not. If they’re willing to read/watch the content you point them to, or buy the product or service you’ve told them about, hen they usually turn out to be a good client.
If they kick up a fuss at that point, and expect you to take extra time to explain to them individually, in-depth, for free, even though they can easily read it elsewhere without taking up more of your time, that’s usually a good indication they’re not going to respect your boundaries. They’re not going to respect your time, or your value, and that (generally) they’re just never going to be a good client.
If you want more great information on why you really shouldn’t barter for your time, you just definitely check out Denise Duffield-Thomas’s post on ‘Why You Should Stop Bartering‘. It’s a brilliant explanation.
#3 Your Comfort Zone…
It can be a good thing to step out of your comfort zone occasionally. It pushes you, it encourages you to grow and learn new things, but when you do it really should be your decision.
You should be deciding to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. It shouldn’t be a client, potential client, or a member of your tribe, who has put you in a position where you are outside your comfort zone, not by choice, but because they have put you there.
There are always going to be certain things that you’re not comfortable with doing. Whether it’s doing a service in a particular way, offering particular products, or just communicating with people in a particular way. I mentioned before I don’t do Skype, that is well outside of my comfort zone. I’m not comfortable with it, so that is one of my boundaries.
But there will also be times when clients will ask you to do things that are perfectly reasonable. They’re not unreasonable requests, but for you, personally, they’re not something you’re comfortable doing.
I have one client who runs a sex toy site. They sell a range of different sex toys and I write their blog posts for them. That particular client always asks me for ridiculously fun posts… the differences between realistic and technical dildos, the wonder of breasts and how best to display and/or stimulate them, and most recent an awful lot about butt plugs. I’ve always been totally fine writing for them, I’ve never had an issue with it, up to a point, and they hit that point last week. But when they did, it wasn’t an issue, okay? I pointed out the line in the sand and said, “I’m quite happy writing for you up to a point, and this is that point.” And they said, “Oh, that’s fine, nothing to worry about.” And the suggestion was that I actually try it myself just to add that authentic note to the piece because they thought that a first person perspective would make the piece really authentic, and really good.
The differences between realistic and technical dildos… the wonder of breasts and how best to display and/or stimulate them, and most recent an awful lot about butt plugs. I’ve always been totally fine writing for them, I’ve never had an issue with it, up to a point, and they hit that point last week. But when they did, it wasn’t an issue, okay? I pointed out the line in the sand and said, “I’m quite happy writing for you up to a point, and this is that point.” And they said, “Oh, that’s fine, nothing to worry about.” And the suggestion was that I actually try it myself just to add that authentic note to the piece because they thought that a first person perspective would make the piece really authentic, and really good.
The wonder of breasts and how best to display and/or stimulate them… and most recent an awful lot about butt plugs. I’ve always been totally fine writing for them, I’ve never had an issue with it, up to a point, and they hit that point last week. But when they did, it wasn’t an issue, okay? I pointed out the line in the sand and said, “I’m quite happy writing for you up to a point, and this is that point.” And they said, “Oh, that’s fine, nothing to worry about.” And the suggestion was that I actually try it myself just to add that authentic note to the piece because they thought that a first person perspective would make the piece really authentic, and really good.
And most recently, an awful lot about butt plugs…
I love writing for this client, I’ve never had an issue with it…up to a point. And they hit that point last week.
But when they ran into my boundary, it wasn’t an issue, because I knew exactly where the line was, even if they didn’t. They asked me to do something, I thought about it, realised I was uncomfortable with it, and immediately drew a line.
I pointed to that line said, “I’m quite happy writing for you up to a point, and this is that point.”
They responded by saying, “Oh, that’s fine, nothing to worry about!”
The suggestion was that I actually try their new butt plug myself, just to add that authentic note to the piece.
Now, I have to admit, I have no problem with sex toys; I’ve got a drawer full of them, But there is a world of difference between being comfortable with something in your private life and being comfortable with it in your professional life. It would be a totally different scenario if I was writing a piece in my name, about my own personal experiences, and talking about things relating to sex in that context. I haven’t done it very often, but I have on occasion, if the occasion merits it and there’s really a good reason. I’m not averse to it. It doesn’t bother me. But there is a huge difference between being comfortable discussing your own sexual experiences as yourself and giving your sexual experiences to somebody else to pass off as their own.
For me that was just a bit awkward. I didn’t really like it.
But because I know that one of my boundaries is not agreeing to anything that puts me outside my confort zone, it’s very easy for me to decide what I will agree to. It’s easy for me to tell people when something is going too far, and I’m not willing to do a particular aspect of their request. Sometimes it’s a small element of a job, sometimes it’s the whole job and you have to turn down the client. In either case, there will always times when people ask you to do something which, for some people, might be perfectly acceptable. I’m sure there are writers out there who would quite happily do that and it wouldn’t bother them. But for me, it wasn’t comfortable, and I simply said so.
That boundary meant it really wasn’t a big deal. I actually found the whole thing hilariously funny, as did the client – we had a good giggle.
You just need to make people aware of where the lines are, and when they’ve stepped over them, so they can rein themselves back in, and know not to cross that particular line again.That’s all it takes.
That’s all it takes.
Ruling Your Tribe Like An Empress…
The reason I refer to using these boundaries as ruling like an empress is because there are three fundamental things an empress simply does not do.
An empress does not, or rather should not, break the law, which is where your code comes in.
An empress always commands respect.
And an empress never demeans herself.
So these are the three core things that you have to keep in mind when it comes to boundaries in your business. Have a code, and stick to it; be respectful of your clients and expect them to respect you in return; and never do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.
What are your business boundaries? Comment below and let me know – are you successful at enforcing them?