Are you finding that your business (that thing you do for money), which used to bring you great satisfaction, is leaving you drained and cranky?
Do you cover your eyes with one hand when you check your email?
Are your problem clients taking up all of your productive energy, leaving none for the “good guys?”
You may have a problem with boundaries.
When you start a business, most of the time you’re so damn happy to even HAVE clients that you tend to bend over backwards to do anything they ask of you. Since there are only the three of them, you have plenty of time to do this.
If you’re fortunate, those first clients refer, you build momentum, and suddenly find yourself in a state of overwhelm. You’re working ALL the time, and yet don’t seem to have any money left over at the end of the month.
This means it is time to change your startup boundary model (usually, from “no boundaries”) to a sustainable business boundary model.
First, you have to get clear on what’s not working, and causing you to feel drained.
- Do your clients have unreasonable expectations from a project?
- Are you experiencing scope creep way too often?
- Are clients disputing your invoices and/or not paying their bills?
- Are they failing to respond to your attempts to communicate?
If so, you need to build a clear way to deal with each of these issues into your company policy.
Some suggested solutions
Unreasonable expectations? Check your proposal language and communication up front. Consider writing more copy for your website to properly set expectations.
Scope creep? Learn to recognize it the moment it happens and offer to put together a quote for the additional work. This goes hand-in-hand with setting expectations.
Disputed invoices? Consider moving to a fixed-price model rather than an hourly model. When people know what they’re paying up front, you have buy-in from the get-go. This takes practice, and sometimes you end up eating time on projects you underquote, until you learn how to do it more accurately.
Failure to pay bills? Build a way to withhold the final product until the bill is paid into your policies. Better yet, if you’ve done a good job of establishing a reputation for delivering great work when you say you will, offer some discounts for full payment up front.
Poor response to communication? Establish a “no-chase” policy and a method for calculating how deadlines will slip if a client does not get back to you in an appropriate amount of time.
Make sure your team knows the new boundaries and is consistent in supporting them from end-to-end.
You teach people how to treat you.
Take a long look in the mirror – what sort of example are you setting? Apply your policies to yourself – if you don’t want to reply to emails or take calls on weekends – don’t send your clients emails or call them on weekends either.
Post your policies right up front, and repeat them often in your standard communication. Having standards helps you spot prospects who are likely to be non-compliant BEFORE you engage with them, and will often cause them not to inquire about your services in the first place.
Thank your teachers.
Don’t blame the clients who triggered the new policies. They’re not evil, or intentionally being difficult – they’re just helping you get clear on what you do and don’t want to deal with in your business. Most people respond really well to boundary setting and prefer clear communication on what is expected. Those who are offended are not your right client anyway.
When you feel stressed, or you start wanting to complain about a client, shift into gratitude mode instead – what are they teaching you about where you still need to get clear?
Now it’s your turn
I’d love to hear your stories about how you turned a frustrating situation into a success with good boundary setting. Please leave a comment below and share!