Establishing boundaries in any sort of relationship can be incredibly difficult and tricky.
But one of the ultimate boundaries that needs definition, especially as an entrepreneur, is between you and your clients. And this can make for some very awkward or difficult conversations.
First off, the type of relationship you have with your client – if any – beforehand, will be a huge factor. If you’re friends, have common friends/family, or were even referred to by another client, certain expectations are already put in place before either of you have signed on the dotted line. Sometimes friends or family can expect certain things (read: favours!) from you and expect you to go above and beyond, even if they’re already getting a good deal. More on this below…
While it’s not always a great idea to do business with friends or family, there are definitely times it can work out great for both sides! I’ve been lucky enough to work on a few projects with friends but we were definitely careful and had an open conversation beforehand. Expectations, compensation, and a clear “this is business” were discussed beforehand and YES we even made contracts. I’m fortunate enough to have one friend who is also an entrepreneur who knows all too well how important it is to have these boundaries established with friends (even of 25+ years!) in our businesses.
Now, you may have a new client who is just a bit needy or demanding, and you’re struggling to figure out how to redefine your boundaries and business relationship. This is one of the worst parts of being an entrepreneur, especially a VA, as we’re always trying to help our clients succeed and do everything we can for them – but there comes a point where it’s just too much, and their expectations are just not sustainable. I went through this recently with a client and I was DREADING the conversation of “here is when I’m available, and please do not contact me directly outside of these hours.” How can that not be a super awkward conversation?! Well guess what – her reply was “Okay! I am totally open to trying this and will do my best!” WHAT! How could it have been that simple?!
Well, we’ve worked together for a few years so we have a mutual respect and understanding for one another and that was certainly a large contributing factor. But another aspect was that I wasn’t necessarily asking her permission, I was defining my hours while also allowing for some wiggle room, as I can work in the evenings/weekends at times, when I decide to. But as long as your boundary adjustment is realistic and won’t destroy your business – establish it and set those rules in stone ASAP!
Here are a few tips for establishing boundaries:
If you’re looking for additional support and some great guidance on establishing boundaries, we strongly recommend the book Boundary Boss by Terri Cole. We have been working our way through this book for a few months as there is some solid, HARD work that goes along with it. But breaking through these mental obstacles can truly heal pre-existing boundary issues and help you develop and implement healthy new ones.
Relationships and their dynamics are fluid which means that you need to be able to adapt and shift, as well, to meet those changing dynamics. It is never easy but it is important to create these boundaries for yourself and your business so that you can sustain the level and quality of work that your clients love from you.