I’ll be the first to say setting and holding healthy boundaries with my clients has been crucial for my well-being as an entrepreneur, and I think this holds true for any small business owner. Without boundaries, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and overworked, leading to burnout and—worst of all—resentment. That’s the last feeling I want to have toward my clients, and I’m willing to bet you feel similarly.
Here are some practical ways to set and hold healthy boundaries with clients. These are things that have worked in my business AND that have worked for my clients in their businesses too.
1. Define your boundaries
The first step seems obvious, but lots of business owners don’t actually know what their boundaries are. They only know when they’ve been crossed because they feel frustration and resentment build up inside of them, but by then, the damage is done.
Setting and defining boundaries will vary depending on your business and personal preferences. For example, you may decide that you don’t want to work on weekends or that you will only respond to work emails during certain hours. It’s important to be clear about these boundaries in your OWN mind so that you can communicate them effectively to clients, employees, and contractors.
Your list of boundaries will be a work in progress. Sometimes we don’t know exactly what we want until we experience what we DON’T want. Think back to some recent times when someone has acted in a way that caused frustration, resentment, anger, or disappointment.
What exactly went wrong? How would you like it to go differently next time? In order to make things go differently, what do you need to change about your behavior? What does the other person need to change about their behavior? Be specific.
2. Communicate your boundaries
Once you have defined your boundaries, it’s important to communicate them clearly to the clients, employees, and contractors who might be affected by them. This can be done in a variety of ways, such as through a company policy document or in an employee handbook. When working with clients, make sure to discuss your boundaries early on in the relationship, so that everyone is on the same page.
One thing I do in my consulting practice is help small business owners create employee handbooks that detail their boundaries and what they expect from the people they work with. For example, one of my clients is a hairstylist who’s planning to open her own salon and rent the chairs. We did a lot of work pinpointing the right price for her to charge and how often renters would need to pay. But when I asked what would happen if someone didn’t pay on time, she wasn’t sure. This is exactly the kind of decision you need to make ahead of time and put in writing. You don’t want to be facing a late-paying renter while you’re trying to make this up on the fly. Everyone should be on the same page and know what to expect.
3. Stick to your boundaries
Setting and communicating boundaries is one thing, but sticking to them is another. It’s critical that you hold yourself accountable and ensure that you are following through on the boundaries you have set. This can be uncomfortable. It can mean saying no to a client who wants you to work on a weekend or declining an employee’s request to work overtime or take time off.
Your boundaries are there to protect you and your business, so it’s important to prioritize them, but someone questioning or pushing back on your boundaries might bring out the people-pleaser in you. It might make you feel guilty for having needs. You might get a pit in your stomach and start to feel anxious. You’ll want to avoid the confrontation.
This is all normal, and yet it feels terrible.
Here’s a mindset shift I give my clients to get them over the hump...
When you feel guilty because you’re holding a boundary, you’re focused on the immediate situation in front of you. You’re thinking about how the other person isn’t getting what they want, and it’s all your fault. You’re being selfish. You’re putting yourself first at the expense of the other person.
Well, let me ask you this: Where do you think you got the idea that asserting your needs is selfish or wrong?
Answer: because other women stuffed their needs down and pretended they didn’t exist—over and over—and you saw it. They set an example for you; you’re simply following it. That’s what humans do. It’s part of the normal socialization process to copy other people’s behavior.
When you hold a boundary, you have the opportunity not only to break the cycle for yourself but to empower those around you to wake up to their deservingness.
Because a world where you don’t feel like you’re allowed to set boundaries is a world in which I don’t, either. But the opposite holds true as well. When I see you value yourself enough to thoughtfully create boundaries and stand by them, I begin to learn that I can, too.
Boundary setting isn’t selfish—it’s brave. It’s an act of love for the collective.
4. Be flexible
It sounds contradictory, but it’s also okay to be flexible when necessary. There may be times when you need to make exceptions, such as during a busy season or when a client has an urgent request.
We’re still humans, living among other humans. Sometimes things are messy or extraordinary circumstances present themselves, and we want to adapt. Your boundaries are YOURS. You have the power to bend and change them when YOU feel it’s necessary.
The key is to make these exceptions intentionally and not let them become the norm. This means checking in with your thoughts and feelings to make sure you’re making the decision from a place of empowerment and wisdom.
5. Don’t take it personally
Setting boundaries can be difficult, especially when it comes to saying no to people. Most likely, boundaries are not personal. They’re there to protect you and your business. Don’t let guilt or fear of disappointing others prevent you from setting and holding healthy boundaries.
The same goes for other people’s boundaries. When an employee, contractor, or colleague sets and enforces their boundary, remember that it’s not usually personal. We never know what someone else has gone through or what their decision-making process was when they chose a boundary. Your job is to process your feelings about their boundary in a healthy and productive way.
6. Seek support
Setting and holding healthy boundaries can be challenging, especially for small business owners who may feel like they need to do everything themselves. It’s important to seek support when you need it, whether that’s from a mentor, coach, therapist, or friend. These people can provide an outside perspective and help you stay accountable to your boundaries when you’re tempted to give in.
Setting and holding healthy boundaries with clients and employees is essential for small business owners. By defining your boundaries, communicating them clearly, sticking to them, being flexible, not taking things personally, and seeking support, you can create a work environment that is sustainable and fulfilling for both you and your team.
Let’s inspire each other! In the comments, let us know what your business boundaries are and how you stick to them even when it’s not easy.
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