How to put in client boundaries

So you've got a handful of clients who don't seem to understand where the boundary is. What can you do to change that? Read on.

A lack of client boundaries leads to stress, burn out, resentment, and little to no work-life balance. You teach people how to treat you, including clients. This is why putting in client boundaries is so important to your business success and the health and welfare of yourself and any staff.

So how do you put in client boundaries around your work, business, staff, and clients? What are the main success factors needed in your business processes and what do you need, personally, to make them a reality?

Set expectations early

We all like to know where we stand. A client is no different. Knowing what they will receive, when, and what input they can have can give them a sense of control and ownership early on in the purchasing process (yes, even when they are buying one product online).

While the following list shouldn’t be conclusive, it certainly has the most common things you will want to cover off with your client as you start to put in boundaries.

  • Deliverables – what you need from each other to get the work done
  • Deadlines – when things are needed by (include some wiggle room)
  • Channels of communication – what methods you will use to communicate
  • Response times – when you will both agree to respond by (hours, days)
  • Scope – what is the general overview of the work
  • Additional charges for out-of-scope work – how much will be charged (generally by the hour) for extra work
  • Number and timeframe for revisions

Be consistent in maintaining boundaries/expectations

put in client boundaries quote Brene Brown

Once we know the rules and what is agreed upon, we like people to stick with in them. No one likes moving goal posts as it creates uncertainty and can damage trust. So what are some of the ways that you can maintain boundaries?

  • Stick with agreed communication channels
  • Stick with agreed response times
  • Charge for out of scope work
  • Charge for additional revisions

I know it can be challenging at times, especially if we are people-pleasers. If this is you, then I suggest outsourcing some of this work. If you can’t do that then consider why you have the boundaries, what you gain from them and what you gain from breaking them. Alternatively, look at the story you tell yourself around why you need to keep people happy at your own expense, I can help you with this.

Change with agreement but within your own boundaries

Sometimes we need to change things that are wrong or not working. There’s nothing wrong with that. There are better ways to deal with it. There are some key things to remember when renegotiating:

  • Done by mutual agreement
  • Done within agreed values, limits, and terms
  • Done respectfully

Letting clients down gently

So you’ve been asked to do something you don’t want or enjoy doing. Perhaps you’ve realised that the client is no longer a good fit for your or your business. Perhaps you took the client on, ignoring the red flags that were raised, doubts you had, or gut feel that it was wrong. How do you tell that client, while maintaining your boundaries and not destroying a relationship?

  • Be honest
  • Give a short reason (what I call “Just the fact, Ma’am”)
  • Don’t be apologetic
  • Be polite
  • Offer an alternative, if possible

Please understand that you have permission to say no to:

  • work that isn’t your favourite thing to do
  • clients who won’t respect your boundaries
  • clients or work that “feels wrong”
  • yourself for working late
  • yourself for having work emails on your phone

Put in client boundaries quoteRespect your own time

A big part of putting in place client boundaries is having respect for yourself. It’s something that I have taken a long time to learn and unfortunately learnt mostly through burnout and near misses. Sadly, hustle culture has a lot to answer for; so does social media and posting “perfect” photos and idealising what we believe we should do and have (mostly we believe is a result of hustle culture).

Some of the key things I see missing when we forget to respect our own time and don’t put in client boundaries is:

  • a lack of respect for our own work hours and personal hours
  • not making time for downtime (sleep, play, fun, being, hobbies, friends, family)
  • not keeping explanations simple because we don’t respect our time (or value)

Know and respect your value

Last and by no means least, it’s respecting you and your value. As business owners, our business is so much of who we are, every little extra we give to our business and our clients is a bit we don’t have for ourselves/family/friends. Too often I hear of my business friends feeling burnt out and exhausted. I also know some incredibly productive business owners who aren’t. So I wonder what the difference is? It’s a clear knowledge and respect for their own skills, knowledge, and boundaries and relying on their staff/support network to help them. Knowing their limits and honouring their value sees them being incredibly productive and incredibly happy. So what is their secret? How can your emulate this in your own business?

  • Keep explanations simple
  • Get an accountability buddy
  • Try to automate or outsource places where you know you struggle
  • Expect to be challenged, by the client and by yourself for maintaining the boundary
  • Be clear on what lights you up and do that
  • Understand that there are more people around you, other than clients, that are counting on you
  • Make time for things that you enjoy and recharge you

So I’m still a work in progress, I still get it wrong, I still get lured into doing things I don’t always want to do. But that’s life. I hope you’ve found some ways to help put in and maintain client boundaries in your business. Don’t forget to download the list and if you need help with being a people-pleaser please get in contact because I can help with that.

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