As entrepreneurs, your job is usually to help people. It’s what you like doing, it’s what you’re good at, and especially when you’re a new entrepreneur, you want to do all you can to please your clients, and it often means that the lines of boundaries can become a bit blurred, or let’s face it, sometimes your good nature and well-meaning attitude is simply taken advantage of! This sends your productivity hitting an all-time low as you constantly shuffle between responding to clients and putting out their fires, to going back to working on your top priorities, only to be interrupted again with another ‘emergency’, or you’re chasing late payments or you’re following up your clients for the information you need to complete their work that they promised you 3 days ago.
The remedy to this is setting and keeping your clear boundaries and advising your clients of these before they engage with you. To do this though, you need to know exactly what you are prepared to do and accept with your clients and what you feel crosses the line. Some things to think about can include:
1 – Payment Terms
Do you require payment up front? Is a 50% deposit required? What will you do about late or non-payments? If you require full up-front payments, will that always be the case or will you be happy to negotiate a payment arrangement after you’ve worked together for a certain length of time?
2 – Contract hours
When are you available for your clients to contact you? Will you answer your phone 24 hours a day and be constantly at their beck and call? Do you switch your phone off after 6pm and weekends? Similarly, when do you expect your clients to be able to respond to you? If you’re available on weekends do you expect that they should be also? Do you want your client to answer any out of the blue questions, calls or emails from you within a certain timeframe? If they don’t respond within the timeframe, does that impact your delivery turnaround time? Are you prepared to receive unlimited emails from your client? Will you answer each one individually or will you respond to all questions in one bulk email? Will you respond within 1 hour, 4 hours, 24 or 48 hours etc?
3 – Turnaround Times
How long does it take you to deliver your work? S it a non-negotiable timeframe or can you do rush jobs? If so, are there any additional charges or conditions for urgent work? How m any times can your client come back to you and ask for additional re-work without charge? If there is to be a charge for re-work, how is it calculated? What happens if you’re waiting on information from your client that is holding you up from commencing or completing your work?
The above are just some of the usual examples where boundaries can become blurred if they’re not communicated properly to your clients and you may find some or all of them relevant to your business. Go through all aspects of your business and decide what’s not currently working for you and add or subtract to the points listed above to suit your needs. You might find that some things you were happy with when you first started out, such as the odd late-night call, is no longer acceptable to you now.
When you’ve worked out what doesn’t work for you, decide then what you do want instead. For example, I don’t want clients sending me 12 emails a day and calling when I haven’t responded straight away. What I do want is for my client to email me once a week (or day etc) detailing all their questions, feedback and responses and I will reply within 24 hours during my standard business hours.
Now you know everything you do want from your clients, turn these into your boundaries and company policy. Set out all your acceptable terms on your letterhead and create a formal document. Next time you’re quoting for work or signing up a new client, attach a copy of your company policy and they’ll have all they need about your business terms and boundaries from the outset.
Most of the time, you’ll find your clients will appreciate knowing the boundaries. Sometimes they won’t be happy, but these people are usually the ones that would take advantage of you anyway. If you come across a client like this, you can decide at the time whether their work is valuable enough to you that you’ll negotiate on your terms or not, but at least if you do, you’ll have a starting point to begin your negotiations from.
Finally, you need to make sure you stick to your own guidelines! Clients will push your boundaries because they are focussed on their needs and not as interested in your requirements. Sometimes they forget you don’t answer calls after 6pm or they may not realise it’s 7pm and they’re still working. Other times they hope you’ll answer their second email but when you do, you’re inviting them to do it again. Then it becomes harder to say no the next time around.
Where possible, keep your behaviour and boundaries in line with your company policy. Second email comes in? Put it in your calendar for the next day or week to respond to. Phone rings after 6pm? Remember your boundaries and don’t answer it and return the call the next day. Most clients realise you run your business by your guidelines but sometimes you’ll need to remind them of your policy. This is so much easier to handle when you’ve already provided them with the document from the very outset.
Do you struggle with setting and keeping clear boundaries with your clients? Do you have any other good tips? Please share them with us in the comments below.