Too often, we are own worst enemy when it comes to setting and abiding by our business boundaries. When we don’t consciously take the time to consider how we want our business – and our clients – to treat us, we end up allowing our sabotaging subconscious to make spur of the moment decisions based on old programs and assumptions. This can lead to us feeling stressed, undervalued, out of our depth and under attack – which then destroys our joy in being of service.
Why are boundaries so important?
Our boundaries are what we tell others – and ourselves – about how we want to be treated. The problem is, before can you communicate this information to anyone else, you need to spend some time thinking about it, feeling into what you want, and making conscious choices from a place of clarity and calm. It is no good trying to set boundaries reactively, when you are stuck in a chaotic situation, although these kinds of situation can give you the wake up call that your boundaries need work. When is the last time you gave yourself the space to sit with your boundaries and really assess how well they are serving you?
Boundaries bring the joy back into your business. When clients ask me how to go about setting boundaries for their business, I advise them to first seek a holistic understanding of all the ways in which a particular boundary impacts their life. It is very difficult to set a boundary that is 100% in alignment with who you are, and what you want, unless you first get clear on what is truly important to you. This means thinking about a boundary from the perspective of all the different types of needs you have, feeling into how your boundary will support those needs:
- Physical, and
Tune in to the values you want your business – and your life – to uphold. Focus on your vision for the future and how you want your business to grow. Only then do you have the understanding you need to create boundaries that make it easy for you to live those values and pursue that vision. Without those clear boundaries, you are just stumbling around in the dark, reinventing the wheel over and over again, and getting nowhere fast.
What is a healthy business boundary?
A healthy boundary is internally aligned. That means it supports your values and your vision. If a boundary is not aligned, if you don’t totally believe in it, you won’t feel comfortable communicating it, and you will find yourself trampling all over it and wondering why. A healthy boundary is also externally consistent. It gives you a structured framework that makes it easy to be trustworthy and responsible. It helps people know what to expect from you, because you are giving the same message to everyone, presenting yourself honestly, with authenticity. When problems arise, you don’t have to panic, because in setting your boundaries, you have already made a plan for how to respond.
Limited or non-existent business boundaries are unhealthy, because you end up being at everybody’s beck and call. What is important to you gets lost in other people’s demands for your time and attention. Similarly, weak and wishy-washy boundaries can do more harm than good. These are often the boundaries you put in place in a hurry, or without much thought. Because they are not aligned with your needs, you are a pushover when it comes to enforcing them, and nobody knows what to expect from you. It might seem strange, but rigid boundaries can be just as unhealthy as weak boundaries. When your boundaries are rigid, they tend to break when they come up against unforeseen circumstances and situations where you need – or want – to make an exception to the rule.
The healthiest business boundaries are those that are not only clearly defined, in tune with your needs, and consistently applied, they allow you to be agile as well. This flexibility to respond to the unusual and the unexpected comes from that clarity you sought when you first set the boundary. Since you understand how it supports the needs that are important in your life, you can make conscious choices about how to adapt, making sure to maintain balance by giving yourself extra support in any area that suffers as a result of your choice to move a boundary. In this way you have the freedom to respond gracefully to the needs of others, without sacrificing your own needs.
Healthy boundaries are also kept current. What is appropriate for you now may not still work in a month or a year’s time. Your boundaries need to move and grow as your values and vision evolve. As a result, it is important to regularly revisit that initial exploration of your needs to ensure that you are consciously aware of what is important to you and can bring your boundaries into alignment so they support who you are becoming, not who you used to be.
How to let your clients know about your boundaries
It doesn’t matter how good your boundaries are, if no-one else knows about them. This goes for every aspect of your life, but here we will concentrate on business boundaries. The first place to communicate your boundaries to your clients is in your terms and conditions and contracts. These legal documents should create a safe space for you and those you work with by clearly setting out what they can expect from you and what you expect from them. In other words, your boundaries!
A contract that cares is one that is easily readable. It speaks to your clients in words they understand and relate to, and it conveys the personality of your business in its tone. It is much easier to accept a boundary that is expressed lovingly, that explains some of the reasoning behind it, a boundary that is fair and reasonable, than one which is harsh and autocratic.
Your boundaries should also inform every communication you have in your business, from your marketing to your conversations.
Letting clients (and potential clients) know about your boundaries in advance supports you to say no when you need to.
- If you have strong boundaries around who is a good fit to work with you, and you convey those boundaries in your marketing, you help unsuitable clients weed themselves out at an early stage so you never need to waste time and energy on dealing with them.
- If you have strong boundaries around urgent work, and your own capacity, you are less likely to load yourself up with more work than you can handle. Saying to clients “this is my turnaround time” and knowing that the boundary has been consciously set to allow you to do the work while still taking care of yourself saves you the embarrassment of apologising to clients when overwhelm sets in (ask me how I know this!)
- Having a clear policy around scope creep and letting your clients know in advance that additional requests will incur additional costs prevents you feeling resentful and taken advantage of by clients who want more more more.
- Letting your clients know that you have regular work hours and when they can expect a response from you saves your sanity – and your relationship with your family as well.
Communicating your boundaries through disclaimers, complaints policies and dispute resolution processes allows you to limit your responsibility and ensures that your clients are not only warned about potential problems, they are also reminded that they need to stand in their own power and not blame everything that goes wrong in their lives on you.
Finally, communicating your strong, healthy boundaries shows the universe that you value your own worth. When you have strong, healthy boundaries, you are more likely to put in place reliable systems and automate elements of your business that need to happen consistently. You are more likely to step up as CEO and deal with potential risks rather than hiding from them or pretending the danger does not exist. You are more likely to show up authentically in your business, because with your boundaries supporting you and your needs being met, you feel safe to be yourself. You are also likely to have more capacity to be generous from a space of conscious giving, because you won’t feel like others are taking from you all the time.
How I can help
I hope this blog post has helped you to see your business boundaries in a new light. They are not just important for ensuring you meet your duty of care as a business owner – although that is essential – they are also vital for giving you the freedom to have your needs met , uphold your values, and pursue your grand vision.
If you would like to dive deeper into a number of essential business boundaries, with workbooks to help you think clearly about how they are currently serving you, how aligned they are with your values and vision, what needs they are supporting, and explore how you can make them healthier and stronger, I invite you to consider my Bold Boundaries series.