If you’re really serious about building a thriving business, you’re going to have to learn the habit of setting boundaries, and, more importantly, keeping them. It’s one of the most important skills you can develop if you want to create a flourishing and sane, small business.
When I was first dating my husband, I had two basset hounds. Although they were pretty good dogs, they had the run of the house, and, I have to admit, they pretty much did as they pleased. One day, a friend brought me yet another hound dog she’d found running in the street without any ID. I agreed to take him in just long enough to find his owner or a new home. Rather quickly, Otis burrowed his way deeply into my heart and, unable to locate his owner, I chose to keep him. My now-husband was appalled at the idea of me taking in another dog. He issued a dangerous ultimatum to a newish marriage, “It’s either me or the dog!”
Hmmm. I didn’t think that was a smart ultimatum to issue, as he might not like the result. But I understood his frustration. I told him he was absolutely right about not wanting to live with a pack of wild dogs. If we were going to have three dogs, we were going to have to implement some new “dog rules”. Thankfully, he agreed and a crisis was averted.
It’s still hard sometimes, especially on those occasions when I want them to get on the couch with me. I already know that once one comes up, the other two come up, and then out the window go all the rules. What we all discovered after just a very short time of sticking with the new dog rules was that the dogs were happier and so were we.
Boundary setting works much in the same way with our clients. If everyone knows what to expect up front, you can eliminate headaches, chaos, and frustration later. Remember: you’re in a relationship with your clients. Just like in any relationship, clear communication clears the way. Continued clear communication continues to keep the way clear.
Just as different breeds of dogs display various personalities, so do people. A high-strung Terrier may need tougher boundaries than a mellow Collie. It’s that way with people, too. Some are higher energy, more demanding, less respectful or needier than others. It’s up to us to decide who we want to work with and then, to teach them how to treat us.
We do this by determining our procedures, pricing, and client expectations in advance – to avoid problems and aggravation later. We know how to communicate in a non-reactive, matter-of-fact manner. And if we don’t know, we learn.
When I hire someone, I want them to be the expert and have clarity on the details of our work together. Sure, we can negotiate the finer details, but they need to demonstrate a starting point, a system, a way of working.
Why? Because it puts me at ease if I know what to expect, how much it will cost and how long it will take. When this doesn’t happen, I feel stressed. I feel that I have to do their job for them and feel responsible for determining what their work is worth. Suddenly, there’s a distance that I wasn’t expecting. And once that occurs, I’m less likely to jump into a situation where there’s a lack of clarity.
On the other hand, when someone has a process mapped out, it gives me confidence that they’ve been doing their job for a while and are good at it. I feel relaxed knowing that I’m in the hands of a professional.
Having an awareness of how I feel about being the client makes it easier for me to be the on the other end of the deal, to set my boundaries, and to stick to them.
Boundaries with Money
Many of us have a hard time setting our prices. Back when I was first starting my practice as a clinical psychologist, it was hard for me to fathom that someone was going to pay a hundred dollars to talk to me for an hour. I actually had to practice saying the words, “My fee is a hundred dollars an hour”.
It’s important for us to set a fee structure and stick to it. Yes, you can make exceptions, but make them rarely. If you find that you have trouble closing deals, practice with a trusted friend or colleague, to the point where you can state your fees like it’s no big deal.
When I was starting out with New Tricks, I created three website packages: The Young Pup, The Working Dog, and The Best in Breed. I had two main reasons for doing this: First, I wanted my web visitors to have a clear idea of what I offered and the range of my prices. Having my services and price points spelled out prevented my visitors from having to call, only to be embarrassed if my services or prices were out of their range.
Second, and most importantly, I did it for me. I was the one that needed these boundaries to prevent me from getting into sticky situations with my clients.
When I sat down to map out my packages, I thought back to my days of real estate building and design. If a client came to me and said, “I want to renovate my kitchen but I only have a budget of $15,000,” and I wanted to do the job, I might say, “Well sure. We can make your kitchen attractive and functional on that budget,” even though $15,000 isn’t much of a budget.
Once we got started on the renovation, they might say, “Wow! Wouldn’t a Viking Stove look great here?”
At that point, having already agreed up front about the terms of their budget, it would be pretty easy for me to say, “It sure would, but too bad it isn’t in your budget right now.”
Back then, if I had a web design client on a tight budget that had chosen the low-budget, Working Dog Package, and halfway through the project, said, “Wow, wouldn’t a featured-post slider be great on the site?” And I would agree, knowing that a featured-post slider would be just the perfect thing, and, that I had the capability to create it.
But because over time, I’ve learned to stop myself from my first impulse to please them, I now say, “Yep, that featured-post slider would be perfect. But it isn’t in your budget right now. To add it will be another six hours work. Can you swing that now or should we wait until Phase Two?”
I’ve had to learn the hard way about setting limits for myself. And, just so you know, I had to practice it; it didn’t come naturally. In the past, I would have gone ahead and built them their featured-post slider when it wasn’t in our scope of work because I was excited about how it would look or work for them. But what often happened was that the free, featured-post slider ended up taking 3 hours to get done and then 5 more hours for all the tweaks the client wanted on their free slider.
By the end, I was either aggravated or pissed about trying to please them. Or, they would be disappointed because it didn’t turn out exactly how they wanted it. It was a losing proposition for everyone because from the get-go, it was out of integrity. Now, with the help of boundaries set up front, I have endless happy clients and I am an endlessly happy designer.
Boundaries with Time
Although people say that time is money, you might never know it from how sloppily some of us treat this precious commodity. I’ve learned how to manage my time in several ways that have proven fruitful.
First, I’ve carved out an hour in the mornings to go walking. I walk from 8-9 AM and then take an 45 minutes to get a shower, dress. That leaves me 15 minutes to check my e-mail and calendar before starting work at 10:00. Getting outside and exercising is especially important to me since I sit all day either in front of a computer or in meetings with clients.
I need this time to get moving and be out in nature. To make sure it happens, I set up a walking partners. Not only do we get exercise, but we have juicy conversations about work, marketing, and life, all of which provides great fodder for writing.
My second, time boundary was to set Monday as the one day each week where I would give focused attention to my own business, rather than working on our clients’ businesses. If we don’t do this, there’s just never enough time left over for New Tricks. Devoting this time each week to New Tricks has increased our sanity and revenue.
The last time-management boundary I needed to put in place came about as I became more well- known – both online and off. I started getting lots of requests to meet with people so they could “pick my brain” about something. Some offered to take me to lunch. But, I rarely go out to lunch during the week, even with friends.
Some people want to make an appointment to talk about their projects when they’re considering having us design their websites. Now, if I were to take the time to meet with all of these people, I would a) have no time left for anything, and b) have no brain left. It would be picked clean.
To deal with this issue, I created the Talk It Out Session. That’s my one-hour, paid ($150) consultation. Requiring people to pay for my expertise demonstrates that I’m a professional whose time is valuable. As a result, I attract only the people who are super serious about their projects.
Time may not always be money, but time is time. And each day has a limited amount of it. As professionals, we must learn to honor our time by managing it properly. And to honor our money by respecting ourselves as valued professionals. We do this by setting boundaries. Once everyone is aware of what the boundaries are, we can all feel free to move ahead with what we do best.