Think back to when you first got your entrepreneurial feet wet and started your business. You were probably bursting with energy, passion, and the determination to succeed. You approached running your business with a take-no-prisoners attitude, soaring over each hurdle and overcoming every obstacle in your path. You made yourself readily available to your growing number of clients, possibly 24/7. After all, you wanted your business to be profitable so you could stay in business and continue to reap the rewards of an entrepreneurial lifestyle, right?
Over time, however, you figured out that your all-business-all-the-time approach to your work wasn’t the best approach to your life. After working late every day, working weekends, taking calls before your alarm goes off or after you fall asleep, not taking lunches or breaks, and not exercising or eating right, you realized the way you operate isn’t sustainable. You acknowledged you were headed for burnout. Did you do anything about it? Did you establish limitations on the amount of time and energy you spend working? Or are you still overworked, stressed out, and overwhelmed? Do you still have little time for the people and things you enjoy and feel you’re on the brink of burnout? If so, it’s time to create and implement effective business boundaries or at the very least, fine-tune the ones you already put into practice to make them successful.
While many people argue that a work-life balance is entirely unachievable, you can create your own desired balance because the ideal balance doesn’t look the same for everyone. In directing your aim toward that goal of your version of ‘balance,’ you’ll have a greater chance of landing nearby instead of leaning too far one way which results in going out of business or failed relationships - neither of which you want.
As a seasoned business owner, you want to continue growing your business, increase your profits, and attain success but you can’t just shut the door on your family, friends, hobbies, and passions to be holed up in your office all the time. You must aim for balance as your success both personally and professionally relies greatly on your ability to create and enforce boundaries. That is especially true for business owners because their line between work and personal life is ultra-fine.
So, if you haven’t already established business boundaries, why not? Do you believe you’re powerless to make boundaries? Have a strong desire to be liked? Don’t want to burn bridges? Want to be nice? Think you have little to no choice? Creating and enforcing boundaries is easier than you might think and it actually increases others’ respect and thoughts about you over the long-term, not just in the moment, because they’ll know what they can always expect from you and will appreciate your consistency among other things.
"The only people who get upset about you setting boundaries are the ones who were benefiting from you having none." - Unknown
The benefits of enforcing effective boundaries are many:
Top 5 Business Boundaries
As a business owner, you are blessed with not having a set schedule but the downside to that is nine-to-fivers can tend to think you’re available all the time. If you do not set specific boundaries with the people in your life, they can overtake your time. If you set the precedent that you can watch your friend’s kid during a workday even once, she’ll likely ask you to do it again. If you take non-urgent, non-work calls during your workday, you’ll keep receiving them at inconvenient times. Alternatively, if you don’t enforce a strict off-the-clock schedule, clients will think you’re available all the time and attempt to contact you late into the evening and on weekends.
Setting time boundaries with other people is a necessity, but so is setting boundaries with yourself. In fact, you’re often the biggest culprit of ignoring your time boundaries! How much you’re working versus not working and failing to take breaks or vacations risks burnout. Practicing guilt-free self-care is of the utmost importance. You need to indulge in self-care for yourself and your health to ensure your happiness and sustainability.
Create time blocks for specified periods of work and stick to them. Honor those time commitments to yourself to get focused work done. Take necessary breaks in between to relax and refuel so you can refocus. Create time blocks for other areas of your life, too, such as working out and reading, so when you are at work you can be more productive and not distracted.
Going beyond your business, you could make Sundays just for quality family time and Friday nights for catching up with your spouse. Honor your time commitments to your family and friends to keep those relationships healthy and get closer to achieving that elusive work-life balance. Make the choice to work to live, not live to work. You won’t regret it. The better you stay committed to the time boundaries you establish, the more purposeful you’ll be able to be with your time.
What You Do
It’s not just okay to say no. You HAVE to say no. Saying yes to everything will only distract you from what’s important. Warren Buffett said, “The difference between successful people and unsuccessful people, is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” Learn to filter every opportunity through your definition of success so you can invest your time in your highest value activities instead of activities you feel obligated to do and attend but which hold little to no value for you. Here are some ideas for what you can and should say no to:
Say No To Meetings:
News flash: You don’t have to attend every meeting you’re invited to nor should you. Saying yes allows others to have free reign over your schedule. Don’t you want to be in control of how you spend your day? Start saying no more often and you’ll have more time for your priority activities. Set predefined criteria of what makes a meeting valuable so you know when to say yes or no. Use such qualifiers as:
Also say no to conferences, trips, outings, dinners, and other activities that smell like work but don’t directly align with the goals you have for your business. Such opportunities can really just be distractions in disguise.
Say No To Tasks:
Whether it’s filing, processing emails, purchasing supplies, bookkeeping, returning phone calls, cleaning, or creating content, there is always something to be done when you run a business. Stop trying to do it all! It’s impossible to get it all done – at least all by yourself. Delegating is a great way of implementing boundaries. Even if you’re more than capable of handling certain tasks, quite often you should delegate them anyway because time is a finite resource and your time is best spent leveling up your business and doing the tasks that ONLY YOU can do.
You can delegate specialized tasks such as bookkeeping, graphic design, blog/video editing, and marketing, and unskilled tasks such as filing, copying, ordering supplies, booking flight arrangements, and running errands. Delegating certain tasks and honoring those “tasks off” you’re committed to frees up time to spend on your high-value activities. You might be surprised how good it will feel to contract out some of your less enjoyable tasks as well. Laundry anyone?
Say No To People: As an business owner, you get to choose who you work with. You don’t have to keep an assistant whose attitude bugs you or client whose laziness offends you. Needy? Late payments? Late to work? Say no to working with people who are holding you back from enjoying your work and growing your business. You have that freedom! Also say no to co-workers, friends, and family. It will not kill you to miss one happy hour or the new Liam Neeson flick. Saying no to others is like saying a resounding yes to your own priorities.
Unless you’re a creative type who not only thrives in a messy environment but is also most efficient when surrounded by clutter, your workspace needs to be organized, free of clutter, and used solely for work. Otherwise, you’ll have a difficult time staying focused and preventing visual distractions from disrupting your concentration. Don’t keep your leisurely reading material on your work desk. You’ll be tempted to pick it up. Don’t keep Facebook open on your second monitor. You’ll be tempted to see what your friends have been up to. In fact, turn off all the chimes, dings, rings, and other technology notifications that pull focus. When you’re at work, you need to get your important work done. Create the physical boundaries that will aid you in doing so. Define your workspace and keep it free from everything else.
Whenever you’re in your physical “office,” whether that’s at your home, an executive suite, or at a gigantic building with your name on it, you need to make everyone, from your family and roommates to your colleagues and coworkers, know that while you’re at work you intend to work and wish not to be interrupted. Conversely, let them know when they can expect you to be available.
It’s worth having that conversation and it will improve your relationships because you won’t be blurring the lines between work and personal life. It also increases the respect of your family members. If lines are blurred – kids are playing in your office, you’re working at the kitchen table during dinner, or you’re working in bed, it’s nearly impossible to be present and connected with your work or with those around you. Enforcing physical space boundaries will enable you to create an environment that supports your productivity.
So, you want to grow your business, right? And you want to be super successful, right? Your ambition is admirable but it’s not okay to think that every dollar you earn from your business has to be put back into your business. If you’re no longer operating a startup and are making decent revenue, you must give yourself a salary you can comfortably live on. You know that few people make it big right away. You know you must grind hard and sacrifice a ton to achieve your dreams. If you keep running yourself into the ground with little to show for it, you’ll eventually quit. A rice, beans, and Cup-O-Noodles diet is simply not sustainable. Grant yourself a reasonable salary according to your books and give yourself periodic raises as your profits increase. The reward of a raise, no matter how small, will help provide the momentum you need to stay on your obstacle-ridden path to financial success.
Also, even though you could gain a great deal of valuable information and inspiration, it’s unrealistic to attend every conference, hire every coach, and buy every book pertaining to your industry. Create Learning, Development, and Coaching budgets and make purchases only within the confines of that budget’s boundaries.
Client Terms & Conditions
When you take on a new client, do you say, “Oh, we’ll figure out what you can expect from me, what I expect from you, what the product/service is that you’re buying, and how much it’s going to cost you later”? Of course not! Prior to working with anyone, all parties need to agree to terms and conditions in writing. That can most easily be done by creating a well-written contract or service agreement (I provide ABC, you commit to XYZ, and pay me $XXXX) and having both parties sign off on it. Contracts also cover your butt should a legal dispute arise. Signatures are the old friend you want to keep in your back pocket.
In creating your terms and conditions, you are establishing boundaries with your clients such as your days off, how and when you can be contacted, how quickly you respond to emails and voicemails, what they can expect to gain from your services, what they will not receive, how and when you get paid, and the consequences of showing up late or doing a no call, no show. Clients will be less likely to contact you outside of normal business hours and otherwise disrespect you and your time if you answer all the questions they might have in your contract.
Pro-Tips From Experience
Summarize Your Contract: People often fail to read through documents before signing off on them, so make sure to have a conversation with new clients summarizing important details within the contract before such situations come up. Then, when a rule is broken and you must enforce a consequence, you only have to remind them of the rule instead of present new information. If you don’t verbally communicate your ground rules up front, they likely will not be clearly understood, leading to your lines being crossed. You could even create a video that walks clients through your standard contracts to clearly communicate what they are agreeing to.
And by golly, stick to your contract and the expectations established within. If you allow a late payment or no call, no show even once with no consequence, they will expect you to allow it again and again. Remember that you’re striving to maintain a business relationship with your clients and not a lifelong friendship that would demand wiggle room. Your clients will have more respect for you if you adhere to the terms and conditions YOU set in your contract.
Set Up Auto-Responders: Auto-responders can be very helpful in keeping your boundaries. If you are generally delayed in responding to emails, set up a pleasant auto-responder such as Thanks for your email. I’m working with a client right now. I will get back to you within XX hours/days. Then, clients, co-workers, contractors, vendors, and employees won’t feel the need to email you two more times thinking they’re being ignored or their original email went to your spam folder.
Record Voicemail Greetings: When properly scripted, voicemails can go a long way toward not wasting your time and establishing boundaries. Consider something like, “I appreciate your call. If it has to do with ABC, please reach out to… If it has to do with XYZ, please shoot me an email with the word “urgent” in the subject line at… and I will get back to you within XX hours/days.”
Over 4 million people have bought the book Boundaries: When To Say Yes How To Say No To Take Control Of Your Life as of this article’s publication. People clearly need help when it comes to boundaries. That’s because while setting boundaries is somewhat easy, enforcing them consistently can be much more difficult. Boundaries are not meant to be fluid in nature. If they are, they’re likely to be abused and beget negative consequences. But they aren’t meant to be shackles holding you back from making spontaneous decisions that could benefit your business either. When used effectively, boundaries should be freeing in the sense they that free up your mind, your time, your energy, and your finances to invest in the areas of your life that matter most. Enforcing your carefully constructed boundaries will ultimately help you take control of your life, thus also minimizing your stress and preserving your health and sanity. Why not give it a try?