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When you’re passionate about what you do and who you serve, it can be hard to say “no” and far too easy to fill every minute of every day with something work related.
However, as a small business owner myself who has suffered from burnout, put my marriage in jeopardy for the sake of my business, and battled workaholic tendencies, I can tell you firsthand that if you don’t have boundaries within your business, you, your loved ones, and your clients will eventually suffer.
We’ve talked about the importance of setting boundaries and how to set boundaries on Priority Pursuit before, but today, I want to break down the three kinds of boundaries all small business owners need to set so that you can protect yourself, your relationships, and your client experience.
Three Kinds of Boundaries All Small Business Owners Need to Set
Now, before we discuss the kinds of boundaries I want to encourage you to set, I do want to make two quick notes:
- There will likely be quite a bit of overlap between the boundaries you set for each category, and that’s a good thing. Setting boundaries might feel difficult at first, but when you set boundaries in your business, chances are, you, your loved ones, and your clients will all benefit.
- The boundaries you set should be specific to your needs, life circumstances, and business situation. There aren’t right or wrong boundaries. While I’m going to provide examples of the boundaries I set, don’t feel like you need to take mine. Instead, set boundaries that work well for you, what and who matter most to you, and your business.
1. Boundaries that Protect Your Mental, Physical, & Spiritual Health
First, you need to set boundaries that protect yourself—specifically your mental, physical, and spiritual health.
I don’t know about you, but when things get busy within my business, one of the first things to go are often the activities and practices I do to care for myself, such as Bible reading, journaling, and going to the gym. And, once these activities go, other areas of life and my business start to feel chaotic, making me more likely to burn out and feel stressed.
For me, personally, the best way I’ve found to care for my mental, physical, and spiritual health is to go to an early class at my gym, come home, clean our house up a bit, make a cup of coffee and a smoothie, journal, read two Bible chapters, take notes on those chapters, and pray. I do this Monday-Friday.
Now, in order to make this morning routine happen, a boundary I have to set is that I don’t start working until this routine is complete. Does it always happen? No. I slip up here and there due to various circumstances, but I do my best to keep this boundary because I know I feel better when I keep this commitment to myself.
Other boundaries you might set to protect your mental, physical, and spiritual health could include limiting how much work you take on to prevent burnout, niching down to a specific kind of work that you truly enjoy, choosing a designated day or days off every week, actually taking a lunch break, starting your day by walking the dog, putting your phone away at a specific time, or scheduling time on a consistent basis for a non-work-related activity that you love.
Chances are, your boundaries regarding how you care for yourself will look different than mine and many others listening (or reading), because we’re all going to practice self care a little differently, but as a small business owner, it is so important to set boundaries that protect yourself.
2. Boundaries that Allow You to Prioritize Relationships
Next, you need to set boundaries that allow you to prioritize your relationships, especially your relationships with the people who matter most to you.
If you’ve been a long-time listener of Priority Pursuit, you’ve likely heard me share how my lack of boundaries put my relationship with my husband in jeopardy. If you’d like to hear more of that story, go back and listen to “Episode 002: How My Business Almost Cost Me My Marriage.”
As a result, I know firsthand that when you don’t set boundaries that allow you to prioritize relationships, the people who matter most to you suffer.
As a wedding photographer, one of the things that has caused the most strife within my marriage is the fact that I have to work weekends. Over the years, this has forced Zach to go to events without me and robbed us of the chill weekends many couples and families get to experience on a regular basis.
A few years ago, knowing that I needed more weekends off, I started:
- Only taking engagement and other shoots on Monday-Thursdays
- Limiting myself to 20 weddings per year
With 20 weddings per year, refusing to take other shoots over the weekends, and being “closed” on Sundays, Zach and I have 32 weekends a year to spend together. And, I’ve actually decided that I’d love to have even more free weekends, so starting in 2023, I’ll only be taking 15 weddings.
As much as I adore my business and am so thankful that I get to do what I love, I love my husband and the life we share more.
Again, your boundaries may look very different than mine, but boundaries you may want to set to protect time with your loved ones could include having set work hours, capping the amount of work you take, scheduling weekly date nights with your significant other or friends, having designated family fun nights, scheduling time to visit your family on whatever basis is realistic for you depending on how far you live from them, or even just setting aside a little time every day to clean your home so the people you live with don’t feel that you’ve—once again—put your business before them.
The possible boundaries are endless, and whatever boundaries you set should be based upon the needs and wants of those most important to you. Because, whether you realize it or not, your business affects your loved ones.
3. Boundaries that Enable You to Serve Your Clients Well
Last but certainly not least—especially since you are a small business owner—you need to set boundaries that enable you to serve your clients well.
And, arguably, the most important and effective way to serve your clients well is to deliver products and services on time or—better yet—ahead of schedule.
In order for me to do this as a photographer, I have to set boundaries to limit how many shoots I take on per week and per month. For example, I limit myself to either two shoots or one wedding and one shoot per week, and I do not take more than three weddings per month.) This boundary is in addition to the 20 weddings I cap myself at per year.)
Now, like I said before, many boundaries you set will serve multiple people. For me, these particular boundaries help protect my mental health, allow me to spend time with loved ones, and serve my clients well, because I know I can meet all deadlines with buffer room to spare.
Just to give you a few other ideas of boundaries you might set to serve your clients well, you might decide that you always set a certain day aside to do X so nothing can prevent you from meeting a client’s need. You might set your phone on “do not disturb” in the evenings so you aren’t tempted to respond to a client’s message in a rash way. Or, you might refuse to offer a particular service outside of your niche (e.g. I don’t take newborn photos anymore.), because you know someone else will be able to serve them better.
Of the three kinds of boundaries we discussed today, I know setting boundaries with your customers can feel like the most difficult kinds of boundaries to set, because you want to make sure you’re serving your customers well. But, I can promise you that when you set boundaries, you’ll be able to serve your customers even better long term.
When to Break Your Boundaries
Over the last few years, I think it’s safe to say that in various podcasts and books, we’ve all heard the term “nonnegotiables” a few dozen times. In case you aren’t familiar with this term in this context, though, a “nonnegotiable” is a boundary or activity on your calendar that you never, ever break from.
And, guys, to be honest, I really dislike the idea of strict nonnegotiables, because life happens, we’re human, and it’s so important to give yourself grace.
To be entirely honest, the idea for this podcast episode has stemmed from a series of events that resulted with me breaking several of my boundaries due to various circumstances.
While the spring photo season is always busy, my spring season started feeling comfortable and under control while being profitable. Then, one of my very favorite wedding planners called me and explained that one of her clients was in need of a new photographer just two weeks before their wedding day.
The spring calendar was booked, but because I really value the relationship I have with this particular planner and because my heart broke hearing the couples’ story, I met with the bride 10 days before the big day and took her on as a client.
While couples usually book me a year before their wedding, I wanted to make sure this bride and groom received the full VRP experience, which was a lot to pack in in just 10 days. But, we got it done—even their engagement session just three days before the big day.
Then, the week after this couple’s wedding, rain messed up several of my shoots and resulted in things having to be postponed and rescheduled. On top of this, another wedding planner I adore asked if I’d shoot a styled shoot for her.
Long story short, through various circumstances, I ended up with two very busy weeks. At one point, I had five shoots within 26 hours, which is MUCH more than the two shoots I try to take per week. And, due to sunrise shoots, I missed my morning routine a couple times.
While things felt utterly chaotic, and I hope I never have to put myself in that situation again, I do feel that breaking boundaries in these circumstances was well worth it. Because, in these situations, I was able to serve a couple in a tough spot, serve wedding planners I care about well, and still meet client deadlines. (In these situations, I met deadlines. I was not able to necessarily over deliver in terms of delivery times.)
Are you familiar with “under promising & over delivering? Learn more about this customer service strategy & discover four easy ways you can exceed client expectations!
On top of this, I explained the situation to Zach, front loaded him on what this would require, and had his blessing—as the person who is most important to me—to take on a temporarily crazy schedule.
Long story short, I think it’s safe to say that you should stick to your boundaries most of the time, but there are going to be instances where you have to let something go. That said, the next time you’re in a situation where a boundary is in jeopardy, I want to encourage you to:
- Ask yourself if you can truly handle breaking this boundary on a personal level.
- Talk to the people closest to you about breaking this boundary to make sure they’re on board and you have their support during this rare circumstance to ensure they don’t feel neglected.
- Make sure you can still meet all client deadlines so you can serve your current customers well.
- Make sure that breaking this boundary aligns with your goals in some way and isn’t simply a huge favor that costs you time and money you don’t have.
- Take steps to ensure that breaking this boundary—which you’ve set because it protects something important to you—is either never going to happen again or is—at the very least—not going to become a regular thing.
Like we’ve discussed in countless podcast episodes, I don’t believe work-life balance exists, because life and business are demanding, and every season brings new challenges.
Boundaries are meant to be kept, but grace exists for a reason. So, friend, stick to the boundaries you set, but know that you’re the one who made them and that you can adjust them.
Do you need help setting boundaries in your business & getting your clients to respect those boundaries?
Like I said at the beginning of this episode, when you love what you do and want to serve your customers well, it can be difficult to set and honor boundaries. If you’re in need of more boundary-setting advice, I want to encourage you to check out “Episode 003: How to Set Boundaries in Your Business & Get Your Clients to Respect Them.”
In this episode, we break down both 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.
In the meantime, at the very least, please take the time to set the three kinds of boundaries all small business owners need to set.
Links & Resources Mentioned in This Episode
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