Why Boundaries Are So Important
How do you feel about your business right this very moment? Do you enjoy it? Are you fulfilling your passion? Or is it dreary and tough to get out of bed every morning?
In a perfect world, you would jump out of bed happy and energized, ready to tackle the day and your clients with ease. Your family would go off to school or work happy, your clients would love everything you had to say and you would see the passive income checks come in every day from your book sales.
Do you desire this perfect world? Complete perfection is not attainable. But that’s not to say you can’t aim for a strong balance between your work life and your personal life. When your life is balanced well, your energy increases and stressful situations don’t stop you in your tracks.
Setting boundaries within your business is the key to maintaining your energy’s balance. When you take on too much work or have clients who don’t meld with your business philosophy, you become stressed, which dampens your energy, thus dampening your outlook on life.
Working non-stop and filling your calendar to the max will also lead to burnout. Even the most dedicated business owners take breaks between clients throughout the day or taking an entire day off. They also understand the importance of having set work hours and leaving work in the office before spending time with their families. Clients are certainly important but if you don’t set boundaries with them, you’ll be on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If your clients are taking away your free time, you will become resentful toward them.
Decide What You Really Want
Close your eyes for a moment and think of your perfect world. If money was no object, where would you live? What kind of business would you have? What do your weekends look like? Do you travel for work? What activities does your family enjoy? What type of clothes do you wear in this perfect world? Are you living in a house? Do you have pets? What kind of car do you drive?
Your answers should be things that make you happy, really happy. Maybe you take some European vacations in this perfect world, dream of being on the New York Times Bestseller list, or driving an expensive sports car. Or maybe you’re dreaming of sunsets on the beach while the kids splash in the waves. There are no right or wrong answers here. Daydreaming is a way to help you see what’s truly important to you.
Now that you know what’s important, it’s time to take action so you can turn these daydreams into reality. With the pressures of day to day life, it’s easy to lose sight of those dreams. Creating a vision board can help you stay focused.
A vision board is a visual representation of everything that is important to you. Feel free to combine business photos with personal photos or keep each one separated by creating different boards. The choice is yours. By putting your hopes and dreams onto a board like this, you’re able remember what it is you’re working towards. How depressing to think you’re working just to pay the bills. Get in the habit of working towards something special, so you enjoy it even more.
To create a vision board, find pictures from magazines or online to cut and paste on to a poster board. Look for pictures of items on your daydream list or that speak to you. You may surprise yourself by choosing photos of things or places that never crossed your mind before. Paste the photos in an appealing design. You don’t need to be a graphic artist for this project, nor does it have to look perfect.
When you’re done, find a prominent place to hang your vision board where you will see it daily. If you prefer to create a digital vision board, set it as your desktop background. Work won’t seem so dreadful if you know you’re working toward a fun goal.
Be Honest About What You Don’t Want
Equally important to knowing what you want out of life is knowing what you DON’T want. Creating balance is all about being honest with yourself and taking on clients, projects or tasks that will bring you joy.
Think about your business in general and take a specific inventory of what you offer and what tasks you do on a monthly basis. Do you work one on one with clients? Do you have a published book? Who is your ideal client? Do you write your own social media posts? What other tasks do you complete every month?
Analyze which of these tasks bring you joy and which ones drain you of your energy. After you have these two lists, it’s time to create a plan to bring them into balance with each other. For instance, does your monthly bookkeeping take an entire day to reconcile? Consider outsourcing this task to a bookkeeper. Is social media driving you crazy? Hire a social media manager or virtual assistant. There is always a solution to every problem.
Once you know what you want and don’t want, your plan of action will become clear.
Set Boundaries With Yourself First
One of the best and easiest ways to set boundaries in your business is to start with setting business hours. This is not just for your clients to follow, but applies to you, too!
For example, if you set your hours as 9am-5pm Monday through Friday and you’re busy enough that you only have time for a lunch break, shut down your computer at 5:01pm and start to decompress. No answering emails after dinner. No working on your book until midnight. Enjoy your dinner; enjoy your family or friends; enjoy a hobby. Turn off your work brain before you suffer from burnout.
Did you get an awesome brainstorm idea while preparing dinner? Keep a notebook handy or type notes into your phone. You can review those notes tomorrow during business hours.
Not able to keep standard business hours due to family obligations? No worries. Use the time block philosophy where you schedule certain tasks during certain hours of the day. For instance, if you’re working early in the morning while the kids are still sleeping, use that time for writing your book or catching up on emails. Save your quiet time while the kids are at school for client calls.
Time blocking can also work to schedule one task for specific days. Plan out a month of social media posts on the first of each month. If you have a slow day with only one client call, devote the rest of that day to planning your signature class or next webinar.
If weekends are sacred family time, tell your family that you’re unplugging each weekend and have them hold you accountable. Your business will still exist without you being plugged in constantly.
Once you set up your work boundaries, it’s time to tell your clients. No, you can’t text me at 11pm and expect an answer. No, I will not answer emails or help you strategize your next step over the weekend. Your boundaries, whatever they may be, will only work if you tell people what they are and you force them to adhere to them.
It’s not enough to say you don’t want to work 60 hours per week. You have to hold yourself accountable to that rule as well. Set reasonable boundaries on your own time and stick to it.
Create Policies & Stick to Them
Now that you have your own boundaries set in terms of office hours and how to spend your work time, creating written policies in a company handbook will make it official and easy to reference. Does that sound silly, given that you’re only one person? It shouldn’t. All business owners, no matter if they work by themselves or have a crew of 50 people, should have their company policies in a handbook, even if it’s a short file stored on your desktop. As your business grows and as you hire team members, handing them a company handbook with your policies spelled out will ultimately save you time in training them.
Here are some things you need to think about putting in your policy handbook:
When can clients contact you and when can they expect a response? If you’re taking your weekends off, tell them only Monday through Friday during your business hours. Allow yourself at least 24 business hours to return calls. If your afternoons are booked with other clients, then tell them to call before noon. Or hire an assistant who can take messages.
How can clients contact you? Email only? Personal cell phone? Office phone? Facebook Messenger? Skype? Choose the option(s) that work best for you. Be aware that if you give out your personal cell phone, clients may try to take advantage of after-hours calls/texts. This is where you’ll need to show restraint and send the calls straight to voice mail. Do not respond to the text until your business hours start again.
Billing questions also need to be addressed in your policy handbook. How do you bill your clients? By invoice? Recurring credit card charge? How quickly do you expect payment? Is there a grace period or do they need to be paid in full before their next session occurs? Even if the small details seem obvious to you, spell them out so clients can’t feign ignorance later on.
Once you get all these policies on paper, let your clients know about them. You don’t owe anyone any explanations as to why the policies are being enacted. Big companies change their policies all the time as the need arises.
Now to make your life easier, find tools to automate and implement these policies so you don’t have to think about it every day. Boomerang for Gmail allows you to schedule when emails go out. Google Voice offers “do not disturb” hours for your office phone.You also have your choice from dozens of bookkeeping and invoicing software programs to ease your billing frustrations.
Where Are Your Time Wasters?
Distractions are a part of life no matter where you work but if your goal is to work fewer hours while maintaining your full time income, then it’s time to identify your distractions and time wasters.
First and foremost, do you have an office and does it have a door? An office door can act as a barrier to distractions. It subconsciously tells your brain that it’s time to be productive. No office or door? Try moving your work station. Instead of reclining on the sofa with your laptop, move to the dining table and sit upright in the chair. Experiment with working at the coffee shop on days you don’t have client calls.
Enforce your business hours with your family and friends. No more phone calls from your best friend when you’re supposed to be working. Tell mom you have limited time for lunch. No hair appointments during work hours. You set business hours for your clients to follow and you should follow them, too.
Turn off your computer notifications and shut down computer windows you don’t need for work. If you’re focused on writing your book, you don’t need to know what your Facebook followers are doing every two seconds. Likewise, shut down email and Skype. Enforce those boundaries you set with your clients and check email messages only at certain times during the day.
Your smartphone is likely a distraction so try keeping it out of arm’s reach to avoid checking notifications all the time. Better yet, turn the ringer off while you work for your scheduled block of time. If you’re worried about missing an emergency call from the kids’ school, keep the ringer on but set it across the room or in a hallway and use the caller id before answering.
Are household chores your nemesis? They are a necessary evil, but should not take up your work hours unless you have them time blocked in your day. However, save the big, time-consuming chores for the evenings or weekends. Chores during business hours should be easy and quick, like emptying the dishwasher, wiping down the counters or doing a load of laundry.
Decluttering your workspace will also work wonders for your psyche and productivity. Clutter is a visual distraction and can sap your energy immediately upon entering a room. If your office space is a throw-all room, take time on a weekend to find a place for everything and enforce this boundary with your family and with yourself. Don’t just drop a bunch of papers on the desk: file them immediately, toss in the garbage or shred them if they contain personal information.
The key here is to set yourself up for success with a dedicated work space and an atmosphere that makes you happy and calm. Maybe that’s playing your favorite music in the background, burning a scented candle or meditating for 15 minutes before starting your work. Experiment to find your optimal work atmosphere.
Consider Your Rates
It’s nice to say you’re going to work less, but if that means earning less money it may not be realistic. Are your prices in need of an update? Now is the time to review your rates.
When choosing how much to charge for your services, don’t just pick an arbitrary number out of thin air; in most cases, that number won’t be high enough and you’ll devalue your services. Multiple variables should be considered before setting a rate.
In its simplest form, consider how much money you need to make in a month or year to cover your living expenses and then divide that number by the number of hours you want to work in that month or a year. That’s your new hourly rate. But let’s consider a few more variables, such as all your business expenses, including estimated taxes. Add these numbers to your living expenses; now divide by the number of hours you want to work. Most likely, this new number is much higher than the first.
Even if you have a home office with little overhead, you still have business expenses. Hopefully you have a complete list already but if not, make a list now to include: electricity, computer, printer, ink, paper, any software you purchase, any private groups or forums where you pay a membership, autoresponder, shopping cart for products, estimated taxes, hired help (online team members, real life assistant or babysitters), advertising, marketing materials and anything else specific to your business. As you can see, there are multiple variables involved in your rate and if you don’t include your business expenses, you’re cutting into your profits deeply.
Now do some market research to determine if your market will pay or can afford to pay your rates. Find out what your competitors charge. You don’t have to copy those rates nor do you need to be the lowest charging service provider but you need to be competitive, or in the same range, as your competitors. Drastically higher rates will cause people to question why you’re so expensive and you may have to consider changing markets to one which has more disposable income. Charging the lowest rates may seem like a viable way to fill up your calendar but in reality, this is undervaluing your knowledge and may cast a bad light on your name because of the saying, “You get what you pay for.”
When it comes to creating other products to sell, setting a price will be slightly different. Yes, you want to consider your time spent on creating the project but remember, you’re aiming to sell more volume of products so that production cost can be spread out among the ideal number of products you want to sell.
For instance, if it takes you 10 hours to prepare topics for an online class, take that 10 hour rate and divide it by the number of people you’re allowing into the class. Then add your hourly rate, based on how many classes you’ll actually be present for and you have your new price for this particular class.
Implement a “No Discount” Policy
Always be wary of lowering your prices to fill your calendar or because one of your prospects can’t afford your new rates. Tempting as it may be, lowering prices doesn’t necessarily mean more people will sign up and you will likely come to regret the decision and become resentful toward that client, all for something you had complete control over.
Another reason to avoid lowering your rates is because people will come to expect it. They will patiently wait until the next week or month when you lower your prices instead of paying your full price. Or if they lose patience, they may find another business owner who is cheaper, but those aren’t the clients you want in the first place. Offering a payment plan is another option to help out prospects; just be sure they are up to date in their payments prior to redeeming your services.
Now is the time to set your No Discount policy in place. Write it out to make it more official and add it to the company handbook. Write out how you handle payments. If you want to offer payment plans, write out who is eligible and how the payments will be handled. Add how long they have to pay and include a clause about forfeiting services if payments are not made.
You also need to have a clause about no refunds for digital materials or classes. Unfortunately, it’s quite common for unscrupulous people to sign up for a payment plan, receive a digital product and then ask for a refund. If you give a refund, they essentially have gotten the product for free since digital products can’t be returned. You have less control over whether their credit card will issue a chargeback, but if you have a clear No Discount/Return Policy in writing and you made the customer aware of the policy, they have a tough battle proving otherwise.
Of course, this is your business and if you want to offer an annual sale or special holiday sale, that is up to you. If you have multiple products, consider holding a spontaneous fire sale for some quick profits. Some entrepreneurs even hold retirement sales for products they’ve had for a while but don’t want to update. Or for products that don’t fit their niche any more or just want to retire them to their vaults. The key is to not undervalue your time and your services. You are a valuable asset to your clients; don’t discount your value.
Learn to Say No
“No” is a word our toddlers learn at a very early age and continue to use as they grow during the teen years but somewhere along the way, we turn into adults and all of a sudden we’re people pleasers who lose track of our personal boundaries and can’t say no for fear of disappointing someone or being reprimanded. In a corporate world, it’s harder to say no because your paycheck depends on you performing certain tasks. But when you have your own business, you’ll discover that not every client is a good fit and not every project is one you’ll love. Give yourself permission to say NO to those clients and projects that don’t light you up.
Developing a good instinct for knowing who will be a good client and who won’t takes some time and experience. Smart clients will want to interview you to hear about your experience and to get a feel for your business style. During this time, you should also ask questions to understand what they need, what their personality is like and if these are tasks or goals you can actually help them accomplish.
Be careful about accepting clients because you need to get started or you need the money or you just lost another client. There are many reasons to accept new clients, but learn to listen to your gut instinct for guidance. If you get off the phone and are excited at the prospect of working with this person, that’s a good sign that you should take them on. But if you get off the phone feeling gloomy or wondering if this is the right fit, follow that instinct and say no to them. As the old saying goes, “When one door closes, another one opens.” The same is true with clients. When you lose a client or when someone doesn’t hire you, more room is open for someone else to come along who is a better fit.
The same is true for taking on new projects outside of your usual services, such as speaking engagements, writing a book, or a joint venture partnership. These are common areas of revenue for many business owners but just because others are doing it doesn’t mean you have to. When approached with an offer, think about the end result you hope to achieve if you accept the project and how much time you can afford to spend on the preparation. Also remember that stepping outside of your comfort zone is a good thing and that may cause a little hesitation or make you feel anxious, but those are different feelings than your gut telling you to walk away. Trying something new and stepping out of that comfort zone should also feel invigorating or exciting and may lead to new opportunities, expanded reach and possibly more clients.
“No” is a powerful world in our personal lives as well. How many times have we volunteered for something only to dread it? Even with family members we have a tendency to not want to disappoint so we agree to do things, rearrange our schedules and then complain when it’s not as exciting or fun as we expected. You are allowed to say no and you don’t have to give an explanation.
If you protect and enforce the boundaries you’ve established in your business and personal life, people will learn to respect them as well.
Have you ever had a client, family or friend cross the line and not respect your established boundaries? What did you do about it? Please leave your comments below.
Hi and welcome to Virtually Done. I’m Leslie and it’s a pleasure to meet you! If you are an online entrepreneur or small business owner struggling to find enough time in your day to concentrate on the tasks you are passionate about, I can help you!
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