Do you feel pressured to answer your clients’ messages at all hours of the night? Do you have zero to no free time or time to spend with your loved ones because you’re arranging your schedule around your clients’ schedules?
If so, this episode of Priority Pursuit is for you!
Today, we’re breaking down how to set boundaries in your business and how to communicate these boundaries to your clients in a way that is firm but still serves your customers well and doesn’t leave them feeling disappointed. If you put this one single tactic we discuss today into practice, you’ll likely never have to tell your clients “no” to a request again!
If you listened to episode 001 and created your priority list, go ahead and open that up, because you’re going to need it. Looking at your priorities will help you easily determine what your boundaries should be.
Just to give you an idea, some of my boundaries include:
If you’ve never done this before, write down what you want your boundaries to be. Maybe you want to cap how much work you take. Perhaps you want to set business hours. Maybe you want to schedule time off in advance. Your boundaries can look however you want them to look.
The beautiful thing about running a business is that you can make your business whatever you want it to be.
However, I can tell you from experience that if you don’t set boundaries, your business will run you. Without boundaries, you will miss out on time with family and friends, prevent yourself from ever being able to be spontaneous, and burn yourself out.
On top of that, without boundaries, you cannot serve your clients well. If you take on too much work, you will miss deadlines, you won’t have time to go above and beyond, and you will ultimately fail to serve your clients well or in a way that will make them want to come back to you or refer you.
Basically, not to be a downer, but when you fail to set boundaries, you will damage your relationships and your personal life, and your business won’t thrive and may not even survive.
Now, if you’re listening to (or reading) this episode and are thinking, “I don’t have that much business coming in right now. I don’t need to set boundaries. I need to take all the work I can get,” I want to encourage you to think otherwise. Now—before your business is consuming you—is the ideal time to set boundaries, because you can preemptively set yourself up for success.
So, regardless of where you are in your business, write your boundaries down and get specific by including numbers and timeframes.
Now, you aren’t surprised when your dentist can’t clean your teeth at 9:00 pm on a Friday night or when you can’t swing through the Chick-fil-a drive thru on a Sunday afternoon. This is because your dentist and Chick-fil-a have clearly communicated their boundaries, and because they’ve made their boundaries—or hours in this case—known, you aren’t surprised, and you adjust your schedule accordingly.
You see, the key to getting your clients to respect your boundaries is simply to clearly communicate what your clients can expect from you.
When you proactively set your clients’ expectations, you’re setting your clients up for success by helping them feel informed about their options and preventing them from being disappointed.
At this point, you now know what your boundaries are and you know you need to communicate them, but how do you communicate them?
The answer is NOT to hide this information in your contract. There is a very good chance your clients’ will miss this information, or they will feel blindsided when they read their contract and expectations haven’t already been set. Either way, this can become awkward.
The best way to communicate your boundaries with your clients is to make mention of your boundaries both aloud and in writing throughout their entire buyer’s journey.
For example, because I only shoot engagement sessions on Mondays-Thursdays, I communicate this to my clients both before and after they book me as their wedding photographer. So this boundary is completely clear:
This is kind of a side note, but when something that’s helped me immensely with scheduling is sending my clients a list of my available sessions instead of asking my client’s what days tend to work best for them. Sure, I’ll ask if they have a season or month in mind for photos, but rather than letting them throw dates at me and then having to tell them I’m not available which can be disappointing for them, I’ve found it’s a much better service to my clients and my family to simply let my clients know the time slots I have available. 99% of the time, at least one of the options listed works well for them.
Basically, by sharing my schedule with my clients, I’m setting them up for success and preventing an awkward situation where I have to tell a client no.
So, to ensure your clients will respect your boundaries, all you have to do is clearly set expectations. And, stating these expectations in multiple places can help.
I walked you through how I get my clients to respect my boundary of only shooting engagement sessions during the week, but you can use these same tactics for any other boundary you’d like to set within your business.
For example, maybe your clients feel like they can contact you at all hours via text or DMs. If that’s the case, perhaps you need to make telling your clients that all communication needs to be through email or by phone and that you’ll get back to them within the next business day part of your workflow.
Whatever your boundaries are, communicate them well, and your clients will be supportive.
Now, this might go without saying, but how you communicate your boundaries matters.
As small business owners and service providers, it’s our job to serve our clients well and stating our boundaries in a way that serves our clients well and makes them feel cared for is so important.
For example, I don’t shoot engagement sessions on weekends. However, I don’t tell my clients that this is because if I schedule their engagement session for a Saturday, I could potentially miss out on a wedding that would allow me to make more money, and if I don’t book a wedding that day, I’d rather stay home with my husband than work.
In all honesty, this is truthful, but it isn’t presented in a loving, kind, or well-serving manner.
Instead, I say things like, “Because I reserve weekends for weddings (Like yours!), I shoot engagement sessions Monday-Thursday evenings two hours before the sun sets or at sunrise. These are the best times for photos because this is when the light is the softest and prettiest. And, great light is key to great photos!”
This statement clearly but nicely states my boundary, educates clients, and helps them feel confident that they’re going to love their sunset, weeknight engagement session.
Another boundary I set is only shooting 20 weddings per year. When I hit that cap, I start turning work away and referring inquiries to other photographers.
Personally, I set a cap so Zach and I can have 32 weekends a year together and so I don’t get burnt out. But, again, I don’t tell my clients that. Instead, I explain that I cap how many weddings I take a year to ensure that I’m able to give my couples the attention they and their wedding photos deserve.
Long story short, when you communicate your boundaries to your clients, do so in a way that is kind and helps them see your boundary as a win for them.
Friend, you might be hearing all of this and thinking, “I’m sorry, but there’s no way this is going to work with my clients or for my business.”
And, I get that. I used to tell myself the same thing.
When I decided I wasn’t taking weekend sessions anymore, I was so nervous that people would be upset. However, you know what? Not a single one of my clients bat an eye.
My couples regularly take off work for their engagement sessions and make a date night or whole day out of the experience. As a result, their session is a happy memory for them.
More surprising, though, families have adjusted. I primarily shoot weddings, but I do take families as I can fit them in, and I’m still amazed at how many families I work with who are happy to have family photos shot on a weekday at sunrise before going to work, school, and daycare.
I used to spend every Saturday working, but now, I have 32 weekends a year to travel with Zach, take Hattie for long walks, sip coffee in bed, read, and spend time with the people I love most.
When you clearly communicate your boundaries, the clients who respect you and your work will adjust. I promise.
Again, your clients take time off to have their teeth cleaned every six months. They’ll figure out how to work with you.
Setting boundaries is important, but I think it’s important to discuss the fact that sometimes, in rare circumstances, it can be worth it to break your boundaries in situations that are worth your while or are a true service to your clients.
For example, when one of my couples said that because of the groom’s military schedule, they could only do their engagement session on a Saturday but would fly me to San Diego to shoot it, I happily shot their engagement session on the beach on a Saturday, and Zach and I made a vacation out of the trip.
Or, when I received an email from a panicking bride after her wedding date had to be moved due to COVID and she was trying to figure out when all of her vendors were available, I responded to her at 10:00 pm, and she was so thankful.
When another couple had to change their wedding date due to COVID, which was going to result with me having to shoot a double header, I shot the double header.
You can also make breaking your boundaries worth your while by charging an additional fee. For instance, maybe you don’t work on the weekends, but you’d be willing to make an exception for an additional fee. I mean, you aren’t shocked when a plumber charges you an emergency fee to come to your house in the middle of the night, and as long as you clearly communicate, your clients can decide if the additional fee is worth it to them.
99% of the time, stick to your boundaries. But, when it’s loving or worthwhile to break them, know that you can. You’re the boss!
If you’re finishing this episode with a new list of boundaries, that’s awesome! Get this information on your website and make it part of your workflow and sales funnel so future clients can see this information right away.
You might also want to consider sharing about these new boundaries on social media. For instance, create an Instagram and/or Facebook post that nicely states you’ll no longer be offering ___ or that moving forward, you’ll only be offering your product or service on ___. Position your post in a way that serves and respects your clients, and they will return the respect.
Now, this probably goes without saying, but if you currently have things on your calendar that break your boundaries, don’t cancel on your clients. Complete the obligations because you said you would and set a new precedent moving forward.
If you have more questions about setting boundaries, please join the Priority Pursuit Podcast Community on Facebook or shoot me a DM on Instagram with your email address. Some friends and I will be hopping on Clubhouse very soon to dive deeper into boundaries, and if you’re interested in tuning in and asking questions, I don’t want you to miss out!
When we chat again, I hope your shoulders feel lighter because you have boundaries in place. Thanks for being here, and we’ll chat again next week!
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