As a coach, consultant, or high-level service provider, it’s in our DNA to be client-focused, which is great. But being client-focused does NOT mean going above and beyond what feels comfortable or workable for us in our services. That’s when we need to think about introducing boundaries into our business.
The easiest and best way to set boundaries in a business relationship is at the beginning. To do that effectively, you need a process to establish boundaries with every new client who chooses to work with you.
If you are worried that the term “boundaries” sounds a little harsh, think of it as setting the expectations for your client relationships with clear and fair guidelines.
When you set boundaries with your clients, you create the headspace to do your best work and deliver quality, not quantity. Your clients will know exactly what to expect from your services, and be clear on what you are expecting from them in return.
Let’s talk about some simple steps you can take to set boundaries to help keep your business and personal life in balance.
1. Decide to Create Boundaries in your Business
The first step is to decide that you want to have some boundaries in your business. Not just for your benefit but your clients as well.
2. Get Clear on the Boundaries
Get clear on the boundaries you want to create. To help you with this, think about the last ten clients that you have worked with. Ask yourself if there were any situations that you wish had developed differently. This will give you some excellent clues as to what your specific boundaries should be.
Are you giving away your time for free?
An issue that often comes up for my clients who offer coaching or consultancy services is going over the allocated time for client sessions. If you have agreed that your session will last for an hour, let’s stick to one hour. This is a question of respecting your client’s time as well as your own. They may have another appointment or commitment scheduled after yours and be just as keen to keep to the time allowed.
Are you providing additional unpaid services?
Do you put a limit on how much additional work you’re willing to do for your clients outside the initial scope? I am not talking about little extras, but rather those requests that increase your workload considerably. Sometimes, after you have started working together, your clients may think of other things they’d like you to do for them. And they may not ask if there’ll be an extra charge for those services.
Are you continuing to provide services if your client pays late or hasn’t paid at all?
Get clear on how you will respond to this situation in the future. And then communicate it beforehand by including it in your client agreement. That way, everyone is on the same page before you start working together.
3. Creating the Boundaries
Once you are clear on the boundaries you want to implement in your business, it’s time to figure out the details.
For example, you might decide that clients need to reschedule an appointment at least 24 hours in advance; otherwise they will lose that appointment.
Or, if you’re working on a rebranding project, you’ll only provide the relevant files after full payment has been received – no exceptions.
You get the idea. The goal of this step is to look at how the boundaries work in practice in your business, so they are clear for you and your clients.
4. Communicate the Boundaries
Once you have clearly defined your boundaries, it’s time to communicate them. This step might sound simple, but there are some nuances to it. First of all when you’re adding the details to your agreement or contract,don’t refer to them as “boundaries.” I suggest that you call them “a Guide for our Work Together” or “Client Guidelines” perhaps.
If you provide a more high-value/high touch experience, then discussing your boundaries (“guidelines”) in your first session or meeting together might be the best option, but do make sure to include them in your written agreement as well.
The way you communicate your boundaries is totally up to you, but it’s important that you always do it. Decide what fits best for you and your clients, and then stick to it.
5. Be Consistent With Your Boundaries
It makes no sense to have boundaries if you’re not consistent with them; that’s just a waste of your time and energy. The only time there should be an exception is if there’s an accident or emergency – a set of unforeseen circumstances that need a little flexibility.
In the beginning, it might be difficult for you to follow through on your boundaries. Do your best to stick to them! It will become easier with time, and it’s a way to show you’re leading your business with confidence.
So, let’s quickly recap those five tips to keep in mind when you’re setting boundaries with a new client:
#1 Decide to create those boundaries.
#2 Get clear on the boundaries you want to create.
#3 Create the boundaries – be really specific.
#4 Communicate your boundaries to your client.
#5 Be consistent with your boundaries.
Boundaries are the key to successful, sustainable client relationships.
Setting boundaries with your clients doesn’t mean that you are not client-centric. You can still be open to feedback from your clients and accommodate reasonable requests.
Boundaries not only protect your work-life balance, they also ensure you have healthy and successful relationships with your clients.
Your clients expect you to take the lead when you’re working together. They need clarity on what they can expect from you and what you expect in return to achieve the results they’re looking for.
I hope this helps you to think about how you might define the boundaries for your new clients.
Do you already set boundaries with your new clients? What have you found works best for you to define the terms of a new client relationship?