Creating Healthy Client Boundaries

You love your clients, right? At least most of the time. They make it possible for you to do what you do – work you love that allows you to pay bills and live a pretty decent life. But every once in a while things seem to get out of hand. There are late night phone calls, missed meetings, late payments, endless revisions or a potential client that has been sitting on the fence for weeks or even months. Then suddenly the client love factor drops. You start to resent the people that you were once so eager to help. Your enthusiasm for your work wanes and eventually this can negatively impact your bottom line. This isn’t so much about needing new clients, as needing to set some boundaries.

When you’re in the start-up and growth stages of your business, boundaries with clients can be a scary thing. You need the work and the money, and this can lead to a fear of pushing clients away. But healthy boundaries make for a healthy business, and when it’s done right your clients will love you for it. They get better service and you make more money. It’s a win / win for everyone. Here are a few keys to creating healthy client boundaries.

  1. It’s all about you. Whenever there is a problem in your business, and especially with a client, it means that there is something you have missed. It may mean clearly defining project parameters, billing and payment procedures, or other intricacies of how you work together. Always begin by asking yourself, “What system or structure do I need to put in place so this won’t happen again.”
  2. We love rules. Many small business owners worry that setting rules will drive people away – just the opposite. Business rules are your “operating procedures”; they give you a system and guideline to follow and let potential clients know exactly how you are going to work together. We all feel reassured and more comfortable doing business with someone when we know exactly what to expect. It shows that you are responsible, professional and respect your time as well as mine. Having firm procedures in place can often be the single factor that will give people the confidence to trust their project and their money to you.
  3. State it up front. None of us like unpleasant surprises or to be suddenly informed of a “policy” that we weren’t aware of when dealing with any business. In a firm but friendly manner, let new and prospective clients know that based on your experience and expertise you have worked out a system for working together smoothly and efficiently; something that is going to help them get the best results and service from you. State your fees, delivery times, cancellation or refund policy, hours of operation and whatever other next steps and guidelines that are appropriate to your business. It helps to have this on your website, or ready to send as a PDF – people will appreciate your attention to detail.
  4. Stop yourself. You know who you are, and you know what I mean. If you work best a night when the rest of the house is quiet, not a problem, but no more 2 am emails! Likewise for late night phone calls or – no, don’t do it, text message. Unless you are running a business where being available 24/7 is essential, this sends the wrong message. Work late at night if you have to, but save business communications for business hours.

Boundaries are not just about clients respecting you, it also shows to what degree you respect them, your business and yourself. It shows your degree of professionalism, and how much you care about delivering stellar service and outstanding results. And who knows, you may just fall back in love with your business again!