As an entrepreneur, your time and energy are your most valuable asset. It can be challenging not to let yourself get swept up in what your clients need that you forget what you need to do for yourself. On top of that, you might also have a team to manage.
Setting healthy boundaries and clear expectations for your team members is another considerable way to protect yourself from overwhelm and burnout. When each person understands when you are available to them and what you expect in return, everybody wins.
To keep burnout at bay, your mental health in check and your business running smoothly, setting clear boundaries for your clients, team members, and yourself is critical. Here are a few tips and tricks I live by that help me maintain healthy boundaries for myself and my clients.
Defining your values
Your boundaries are unique to you. Just because another similar business owner stops working at 5 pm sharp every single day doesn’t mean that you have to do that, too. Before you can set effective and empowering boundaries for yourself and, in turn, your clients, you need to determine what matters to you and why. Consider what type of work lights you up and what type of work drains you.
Start by asking yourself these questions:
- Do you love meeting in person (if applicable) with your clients?
- Do you prefer regular phone calls to video calls?
- Are you more energized in the morning, afternoon, or evening?
- What does self-care look like for you?
- Do you want to work at all on weekends?
- Does your inbox stress you out?
- How do you prefer to communicate? (i.e., voice message, video call, phone call, email, messenger)
- What do you need to deliver your best work?
Reflecting on these questions can help you determine what matters to you and establish boundaries based on those considerations, not what you think you should be doing.
Set boundaries early
Before you start working with a client, there are best practices that you can implement to avoid future boundary creeping. The best thing you can do for your clients is communicate your boundaries early and often. For you, this may mean letting new clients know what response time they can expect from you by setting “office hours.” This way they know when you’ll be reachable. Alternatively, let them know what methods of communication they can use to reach you (i.e., are you giving them your cell number,keeping contact strictly to email or using a CRM for small business like HoneyBook?).
Put systems in place
Real talk: you’re busy! You may not have the capacity to remember a dozen extra things to tell new clients or keep track of who knows your boundaries. Putting together clear on and off-boarding protocols for your clients can be extremely helpful in setting boundaries early on. Start with your onboarding process. Set the record straight, lay out expectations, and open up a dialogue to address any areas of concern.
Consider putting together a client welcome checklist or guide that includes the following:
- Office hours
- Project timelines
- Ways to get in touch
- Late fees
- How they can book calls with you (include a link to your HoneyBook scheduler)
- An onboarding questionnaire to gather all the information that you’ll need to get their project started
Pro Tip: Create a similar system internally for offboarding. Have a checklist for your team that includes every touchpoint you want to remember when your contract comes to a close.
Here are a few things to include:
- Write and send a handwritten thank-you note (and potentially include a small gift).
- Send the client an email with all the information they need to access their deliverables in the future, helpful resources, etc.
- Suggest a few options for how you could continue working together.
- Set a reminder to follow up a few weeks later with a testimonial request.
- Set a reminder to follow up (x) months later to check in.
Passing the torch
So many entrepreneurs struggle to unplug because client work can make it a challenge to truly log off. Whether it’s for travel, spending time with family, or just a few work-free days to rest, unplugging can feel scary, but it doesn’t have to.
One way to allow yourself space and time away from your business is to plan ahead and over-communicate with your clients. Once you set some OOO (out of office) dates, add them to your calendar and share them with your clients. That way, it’s front and center for them, and they know it’s coming. The next time you connect with your client, let them know when you’ll be offline, and what the plan is for keeping their projects moving forward as planned.
Perhaps that means doubling up on calls one month or batching creating extra content ahead of time. If you have a team, you may want to assign one of your employees the task of holding down the fort while you’re away. However you choose to share this information with your client, make sure you’re also following up over email with all the details to ensure everything is spelled out accurately in writing.
Revisit your boundaries
Your boundaries can (and likely should) change. You may notice areas where more boundaries are needed, or maybe a boundary you thought was fundamental isn’t that relevant any more. A couple of times a year, go through the boundaries you’ve set with your clients. Reflect on them and see if there are ways that you can streamline processes to make both you and your client’s lives easier. As your business grows, you’ll learn what works best for you.
For example: let’s say you are a copywriter, and you notice you are getting a lot of last-minute edit requests from a client. It is a good indicator that it could be time to implement some boundaries here or revisit what’s already in place. Can you put parameters on how much lead time you need for edits or include a feedback window in your contract? These small changes can make a world of difference for your efficiency, stress, and the quality of your work in the end.
Setting boundaries with clients can be challenging. It’s not easy to have those conversations, but when we stay firm on the boundaries that matter to us from the start, we are less likely to deal with a more significant boundary issue down the road. Raise that flag, have the complicated conversation, and nip it in the bud early on! You and your clients will be grateful in the end.
Boundaries are an act of self-care
Don’t forget that boundaries are not just for your clients, they’re also for you. Whether you say, “I don’t work on weekends,” so that you can focus your time on your family or friends or friends or saying, “You can reach me via Slack,” so you can decide when to check it versus having your phone flooded with texts—you are taking care of yourself by setting those boundaries.
By setting clear boundaries for yourself and your clients you’re building a business that honors your lifestyle, work preferences, expectation, and capacity.