One of the biggest things I have always struggled with as a small business owner is boundaries. Turning off. Sticking to my working hours. And learning how to say no.
These days we are attached to our devices and are pretty much online unless we are asleep. This constant connectedness is a way to allow us to work from wherever we want, it gives us flexibility, makes us more contactable and gives us so called freedom to work when and where we want.
It also brings zero downtime, which is crucial for our sanity not only as business owners but as individuals.
Set your boundaries
In my business I used to be available pretty much 24/7. I would check my emails just before going to sleep, which would often make me jump out of bed to respond to something that was ‘urgent’ at midnight. It wasn’t sustainable and I ended up resenting clients, which is just stupid because they probably never expected me to respond at 12am.
I’ve got text messages from clients asking me to look at something right away at 9pm on a Friday night, I’ve had a phone call from a client at 8pm on a Saturday when hosting a dinner party and a barrage of voicemail messages when I went out of range camping on a long weekend. It wasn’t their fault, my constant availability confused clients and made it acceptable for them to contact me when they liked.
My work hours are now clearly stated on my website and on my email footer, I don’t return calls or emails outside of these emails to avoid confusion.
Stick to it
Even though I had previously set business hours, said I was on holidays etc, by being available all the other times I was sending mixed messages to my clients.
I’ve noticed that a response is setting a benchmark – giving permission and saying it’s OK to contact me when I am having my down time. If someone is being persistent – I will respond with a polite “I can take a look at this as soon as I am back in the office on x”. Most people are reasonable and understand (they probably experience similar situations in their own business).
I’ve had to impose some rules on myself to keep to my boundaries, one big thing that I need to remind myself is “Just because I am on the internet doesn’t mean I am working”.
I am now pretty good and switch off on weekends. I don’t reply to emails after hours and I don’t answer the work phone once I switch off for the day. If I say I am on holidays, I am totally switching off. That’s it.
Release the guilt
Whilst I switch off from my business after hours I do still monitor my social channels. It’s generally when I am out and in between errands that I am checking in. When I do update, post or like (often it’s scheduled), it is often when I get emails or messages from clients saying “I see you’re online – can you respond to my email that I sent two seconds ago”.
At first I used to jump to client requests like this, I felt guilty that I was checking in on social media and not checking my emails. I would put off plans, head directly home from what I was doing on my weekend just to respond to the email.
Acknowledging that my business is business and I am allowed to have a life helped with releasing this guilt.
Clarity with your boundaries will encourage a mutual respect. Don’t muddy the waters. Don’t feel guilty.
Do you struggle with client boundaries? I would love to know what kind of problems you’ve had and what strategies you use to overcome your problems.