Last week, Sabrina Espinal wrote a post that provided tips for staying professional with clients. Setting and respecting personal boundaries is such a relevant and timeless topic for any small business owner who works with clients. And we often don’t take time to think through the implications of our boundaries (or lackthereof) until it’s too late.
It’s almost a Catch-22, though. To provide exceptional service and build long-term relationships, you have to let go of the “all business, all the time” mindset and inject a little personality into your business. On the other hand, it’s difficult to prevent that kind of friendly, openness from blurring the professional line. So, what’s a small business owner to do?
Here are some of my own guidelines that help me keep my business dealings in the professional realm, without having rigid policies that can turn people off (all while staying true to who I am).
Set Your Own Ground Rules
Your boundaries don’t have to be strict or rigid, or written down in a 20-page policy document. It’s often enough to know how you want your business relationships to be structured, and create habits that enforce that vision. Think through the areas where you feel you need to create more structure, and be clear on how you want to communicate and interact with your clients. Then start to incorporate those behaviors into your business.
For example, if you don’t want to feel like you’re on the hook to respond to messages over the weekend, or have clients expect instant response time, set a ground rule that you will not have any client interaction over the weekend, even if you are working. That means no calls, no emails, no instant messaging. Over time, your clients will learn that you are only available Monday through Friday. Oh, and make sure you are choosing the right clients for your business in the first place.
Always Be Consistent
Setting boundaries is all about creating habits, and the best way to create a positive habit is by doing something consistently. If you give in once, or let something slide, you’re going to have to work twice as hard to respect your own ground rules next time.
Of course, there are always exceptions, even when you have very clear and defined boundaries. For a long-term client, for example, you may decide to be a little more lenient with your availability and turnaround time when a situation warrants. When this happens, the key is to acknowledge (and make your client aware, if necessary), that it is a one-time exception to avoid letting future expectations overrun you.
Talk about Your Ground Rules with Clients (When Necessary)
Just as effective communication is vital in other areas of your business, it is also important when getting clients to respect your boundaries. You don’t have to justify why you make the decisions that you make in your business, but sometimes sharing a little background information can help facilitate the client’s understanding of your situation. It’s all about respect and treating your clients as you would want to be treated.
Let’s say, for example, that you take off every Thursday afternoon to spend time with your kids. You could just make a unilateral statement to all of your clients that you will be out of the office on Thursday afternoon, so don’t expect a response. Or, you could share why you take off on Thursday afternoons to expand the personal element of your relationship and be honest with your clients. Either way, it’s important to make sure your clients know in advance that you will be unavailable during that time.
Know Who You Are
We all have multiple dimensions that make up who we are, and we typically have different personas attached to different roles in our lives. But as much as you may want to keep these dimensions of your life completely independent, there will always be some runover. The solution to managing your personas may be deliberately merging them to create an open and genuine “you.”
Once you embrace the parts of you that come together to create the whole package, you may be surprised how easy it is to put forward the best you, create and enforce your personal boundaries, and be consistent and honest in all relationships — business and personal.
Image credit: kslyesmith