maintaining professional boundaries

So, after all of your hard work nurturing and guiding a potential client to sign on the dotted line, you’ve hit a snag: they expect you to be available at all hours and to deliver work in an unreasonable timeframe.

You don’t want to upset them and risk them walking away from your contract so you grit your teeth and smile through the pain. After all, the client always comes first, right?

Yes, but also no.

Look, we’ve all struggled with boundaries at some point. The feeling of dread at the prospect of alienating a client and having to start the process all over again is a powerful motivator not to upset the status quo. Though, no matter how much we try to avoid it, we soon discover that challenging behaviour left unchecked becomes a greater issue later on down the line.

It’s a common struggle for most service-based business owners but the good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way!

In today’s post, I will share four key tips on how to go about maintaining strong professional boundaries with your clients. You’ll discover how to start as you mean to go on so you can avoid the uneasiness that comes with trying to course-correct once a situation becomes tricky.

Set expectations early

The easiest way to continue (or start) maintaining strong professional boundaries is by setting expectations with your client as early as possible.

You could include your set ways of working within your terms of business/contract or provide a written version of the document as part of your onboarding process.

One of the principal reasons we dilly-dally with attempting to correct those situations where a line has been crossed is because we failed to clarify that a line even existed in the first place.

Very awkward.

Then, be consistent with following through

Once you have set those expectations and made them clear to your client, you then need to actually follow through with doing what you said you were going to do to enforce those boundaries.

For example, it’s amazing how many times people will complain about receiving emails after working hours but then they will respond to non-urgent emails after hours and thus continue to give the impression that they are contactable outside of their working hours… and then what was the point of even setting any working hours at all?!

The key point here is that no one will take your boundaries seriously if you don’t take them seriously either.

Communicate effectively

To show you are taking the practice of maintaining your strong professional boundaries seriously, it’s important to be an effective communicator.

It is difficult for your client to know where the aforementioned ‘line’ is and/or when they are approaching it if you find it difficult to politely reinforce and restate your boundaries when necessary.

Saying “it’s fine” when it most certainly is not fine is a wonderful way to breed resentment and speed up the disintegration of your working relationship. A good client will respect your honesty.

Banish the guilt!

How do you expect to continue delivering a great service if you are burnt out from being stretched too thinly by all of your client demands? (I’ll give you a hint: it’s unlikely!)

There’s no need for guilt if you are upfront about where your limits are from the beginning and also clear on them as you progress throughout the project. You and your client will have entered a working relationship based on a mutual understanding of these boundaries and expectations.

However, it is problematic if you agree to one thing (whether intentionally or unintentionally) and then decide that it’s not working for you so you change the terms on your end. That is not cool (and might also be a breach of contract).

As a service provider, it is strongly recommended that you should be the one providing the initial contract terms and agreeing on these with your client upfront; therefore, it is your responsibility to ensure that you capture your mutual intentions correctly before you proceed.

In conclusion, although setting and maintaining strong professional boundaries can be an anxiety-inducing issue for a significant number of service-based business owners, it doesn’t have to be this way! 

In today’s blog, I’ve shared with you the importance of setting your expectations early, being consistent and open with reinforcing them and avoiding misplaced guilt.

By following the above advice, you can finally stop over-exerting yourself to the point of burnout whenever you take on a new project, as you now know how to put boundaries in place. 

This is so you can have a healthy working relationship with your clients and do your best work.

Do you have any advice on setting boundaries for other service-based business owners? Leave it in the comments section below!

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