I don’t know a single business owner who hasn’t experienced boundary issues with their clients. You know what I’m talking about, right? You have boundary issues if you’ve experienced any of the following:
Clients texting you non-stop
Clients emailing you over the weekend expecting work to be done ASAP
Clients expecting response times that you aren’t able to or don’t want to provide
Clients asking for more revisions than you’ve agreed to
Clients not paying their invoices on time
Clients arguing over your invoices
Constant and consistent frustration in your relationships with your clients
The feeling of always being on edge with your clients
The feeling that you have 0 balance in your business and life
Any of this sound familiar?
If the answer is yes, the first thing I want you to know is that you’re not alone! I experienced this in my businesses back when I was doing VA + OBM work, I support my clients with these issues often and honestly, it’s also a bit of a rite of passage as an entrepreneur. Once you experience them you know it’s time to fix them, and that’s a good thing!
So here’s something really important to remember: boundary issues are nothing more than opportunities.
Opportunities to fine-tune your client onboarding process, to get clarity around how you WANT to serve you clients (and how you DON’T want to serve your clients) and to practice the transformational art of saying “no”.
And if you’re a recovering perfectionist or people pleaser like I am…that last one can be a real doozie.
But here’s the dang truth, you can operate a business that works for your life, instead of the other way around. If you don’t want to be working at 8 PM and 2 AM and Saturday at noon…you.don’t.have.to. THAT is the beauty of running your own business, my sweet friend.
But no one is going to respect your wishes and desires and boundaries if you don’t first clearly identify them, communicate them and continue to reinforce them.
So let’s do exactly that today. Let’s identify your boundaries, learn exactly how to communicate them to your clients on the front end of your relationship and then practice reinforcing them when your boundaries are tested and pushed (because they will be). Let’s dive right into 3 steps to happier clients + better boundaries.
Step 1: Identify Your Boundaries
I’ve noticed a really funny thing that new entrepreneurs do almost across the board. They start businesses because they want a better work-life balance, want to make their own rules and finally live life on their terms so that they can spend more time with their families, enjoy life and make their health a priority.
But when it comes to relationships with clients, they forget all of these REALLY IMPORTANT desires and end up using their old corporate handbook without even realizing it.
They give their clients their cell phone number and answer their texts constantly, work hours they don’t want to be working, stay up until the wee hours of the night to handle client “emergencies”, and are often arguing over getting their invoices paid.
First things first, you don’t have to adhere to the old corporate rules to run a successful, profitable, balanced online business. #truth
Once you’ve let that little gem sink in, it’s time to identify your boundaries.
When do you want to be working? When do you NOT want to be working? How do you want your clients to communicate with you? When are your invoices due? What will you do if a client DOESN’T pay their invoice on time?
Identifying your boundaries on the front end of your business will help you to easily navigate any potential client issues that pop up…and they will. It’s not because you’re doing anything wrong, it’s just because business is done between humans with ideas and desires and sometimes, they don’t align.
It’s so much easier to work through those issues if you first know what YOU desire in your business from a boundary standpoint. Once you know that, you can confidently move forward in client conversations and make sure you’re feeling respected in your boundaries.
Step 2: Communicate Your Boundaries
Quick question for you: do your clients know what your business boundaries are?
Do they know your office hours, how you prefer to communicate (email, Slack, Asana) and how you’re tracking your hours?
If you can’t confidently answer yes, let’s fix that right now.
After supporting my clients through lots of boundary issues they were having with their clients I decided they needed a way to be better communicating with their clients at the beginning of their relationship.
So we came up with this idea of adding a quick, simple 1-page document to be shared with the client when they first came on board. Essentially, it’s a document that clearly identifies and communicates the boundaries of the relationship and helps to alleviate issues that would likely come up later if the boundaries haven’t been clearly set.
The document is beautifully designed, usually in Canva, and includes things like office hours, when invoices will be sent and when they’re due, how hours tracking and reporting works, and lots more.
Sure, your clients are signing contracts with you that detail much of this, but they likely don’t remember what they signed.
Using a “Welcome Onboard” document helps you to get ahead of any boundary issues, and helps your client to start working with you in the way you desire.
Step 3: Reinforce Your Boundaries
Your clients are going to test your boundaries.
It’s not because they’re bad people who don’t respect you, it’s because you either haven’t clearly set your boundaries with them OR because they’re humans and they forget.
If you desire to run a balanced business that doesn’t have you working until 2:00 AM every night, you need to reinforce your boundaries.
And listen girl…boundaries are how you grow a business without burnout.
So if you’re into growth, I’m gonna need you to get on board with boundaries STAT. Cool?
Now, how exactly do you do this whole boundary reinforcing thing?
Per usual, I’ve got your back with the examples below!
Jen is a new Virtual Assistant and she’s experiencing boundary issues with a client. Here are the issues and exactly how I’d support Jen in working through them.
Boundary Issue #1: client texting her with work to be done
After Jen has clearly identified her preferred method of communication to be email, I’d suggest Jen email her client to let her know that they need to move all communication there. Jen will tell her client that she really values her relationship with Client X and her ability to receive and produce the highest quality of work possible and since she gets so many personal text messages during the day from family and friends she is worried she may mistakenly miss a text from Client X. In order to make sure that Client X receives the highest level of service and work, Jen needs to make sure that all communication moves to email.
Now here’s what we DIDN’T do. We didn’t get angry, we didn’t tell the client that they were out of line for texting Jen, and we didn’t ASK if this was OK. We told Client X WHY we needed to move all communication to email and left it as a directive. No blame, no fault, just clearly stating to the client what needs to be done in order for her work to be completed.
Boundary Issue #2: client asking for responses outside of Jen’s office hours
After Jen has clearly identified her office hours, I’d suggest Jen email her client to let her know that she has updated her office hours to be in better alignment with her current workload and personal needs. She would then send Client X her new office hours and let her know that during those times, she’ll be checking email 1-2 times daily and completing work. She will also tell the client that outside of those office hours, she will not being checking email or completing work.
Again, notice here that we aren’t ASKING or BLAMING. We’re clarifying our needs and then telling our client how they can best work within our boundaries.
Boundary Issue #3: client asking for turnaround times that aren’t doable for Jen
After Jen has clearly identified that her turnaround time for MOST projects is a maximum of 48 hours unless otherwise indicated (which she has decided helps her to better balance her workload and life) I’d suggest Jen email her client to let her know that she has updated her project turnaround times to be in better alignment with her current workload and personal needs. She would then send the client the new turnaround times and let her know that when a project or task is requested, Jen will respond to the email (since that is where we’ve established that all communication comes through) and let the client know when she anticipates she’ll be able to have that done. IF Jen is experiencing a high demand in her business (like when multiple clients are launching OR if she has a sick child at home and isn’t able to dedicate as much time to her business that week) she will let the client know that and still give them an estimated completion date.
The entrepreneurs you work for likely started their businesses so that they would have a better work-life balance, too. If that’s a need and desire for them, they also need to respect that it’s yours as well and will need to plan ahead in their business in order to accommodate your desire of balance that doesn’t include IMMEDIATE project turn-around times. Again, we aren’t asking if this is ok…we’re telling them this is the boundary.
So there you have it – 3 steps to happier clients + better boundaries. If you have any questions on this topic or any of the steps, head on over to Instagram and send me a DM. I LOVE talking about boundaries!
YOUR FREE GUIDE TO MAKING CLIENT BOUNDARIES EASIER
My “Welcome Onboard” client boundary setting document makes boundaries way easier to establish + communicate with your clients so that you are setting yourself up for a successful and balanced relationship from the start.
Inside my newest free fillable PDF, I’ll walk you through my step-by-step guide to creating your own client boundary setting document.This PDF makes it easy for you to think through HOW you want to be showing up for yourself and your clients and gives you a super simple way to communicate that to your clients.
Inside the document, I’ll:
Prompt you through all the boundary setting questions you need to answer to set yourself up for a successful and balanced relationship with your clients
Give you access to a FREE Canva boundary setting document template where you can fill in your boundaries and easily send this to your clients as you onboard them.