If you own a small business, things get busy. You wear ALL the hats: bookkeeping, sales, marketing, administrator, project manager. You have to keep track of client communication, documents, deadlines, and project milestones. Not to mention you still need to be the visionary for your company, planning and leading it to the next stage of success.
In order to manage it all, we need to put boundaries in place for how we spend our time. I believe owning a business is a means to creating the life you want to live.
That means the boundaries you set should be based around what you like and what you don’t like, what feels good to you and what doesn’t, what you want to spend time on and what you don’t. Once you know your boundaries you can create new habits to honor them in your day-to-day routines.
If you’re new to setting boundaries, here are some questions you can ask yourself to figure out what your ideal boundaries for business are:
- How many hours would you BE HAPPY to work each day/week?
- What kind of people do you ENJOY working with? (What is their attitude and demeanor?)
- What is the BEST way for a potenital client to reach you?
- What are your FAVORITE things to do in your buisness?
- What tasks do you really DREAD?
Create Boundaries Based on Your Values
Have you ever sat down and really thought about what is important to you? Have you looked at what situations seem to frustrate or stress you out on a daily basis and how to remediate them?
Setting your priorities and honoring them will naturally create some boundaries. For instance, if you want to be present, mentally and emotionally available, when your husband gets home from work at 5:30 in the evening, then your boundary may be to implement a hard stop to your business activities at 5pm. That may mean you need to start wrapping up your day at 4:30pm by closing your email and writing your to-do list for the next day.
These are some things I believe everyone should prioritize:
- Your physical needs (Such as drinking water, eating well, going to the gym)
- Your personal and family needs (Such as grocery shopping & cooking dinner, picking up kids from the bus stop)
- Your mental health (Taking a walk, journaling, taking an afternoon nap)
Also, consider at what points of the day your energy levels and ability to focus are higher or lower.
Types of Boundaries You Could Set For Your Business
Boundaries for Communication
Methods of Contact
If you’re introverted or have some level of social anxiety, you probably hate phone calls. Especially surprise phone calls. When the phone rings, you panic a little.
“Who is it? What do they want? What if I’m not prepared to answer their question? How long is this call going to take because I have to do XYZ…”
As a business owner, you can decide the BEST method of contact for you and direct everyone there.
For my business, the best way to reach me is to email me or to schedule a call with me. I only take phone calls by appointment. In fact, all of my client calls and most of my lead calls take place over ZOOM. The client books the call through my CRM (customer relationship management system), 17Hats, which saves me from manually having to go back-and-forth with a client to find a time that works for both of us. I have a business phone number, but when someone calls it, they are sent to voicemail unless I was expecting a call. If the caller leaves a voicemail, I will designate a time to call them back. This gives me time to prepare to answer their question.
This is my voicemail greeting:
“Hi, you’ve reached Erica Rice Digital Consulting. My business hours are 9am-4pm, Monday-Friday. If you’re calling during those hours, I’m likely with a client or working on a client project. I take phone calls only by appointment, so feel free to leave a message and I’ll get back to you, or, if it’s urgent, please shoot me a text. Thank you! Bye.”
I rarely have someone text me for an urgent matter. I’ve learned that there is almost never a real emergency in business even if it may feel like it at times.
You get to decide what is urgent and what’s not in your business. If my client’s website goes down (got hacked, displays an error message), I would try to take care of that right away if I could, though it’s not a life-or-death situation.
Length of Meetings
You can set the length of your meetings. If you are currently taking 60-minute lead calls, could you fit them into 30 or 45 minutes instead? Doing so might allow you to meet with more clients or free up time for administrative tasks or personal time.
Hours You are Available for Meetings
Personally, I prefer afternoon meetings. That gives me the morning to prepare for them and create an agenda if I need to.
Boundaries on Your Time
Hours of Operation
If you can, set daily operating hours. They don’t need to be the same hours every day of the week. You may need to have some evening hours available for clients so you choose to work later on Wednesday and Thursday, but you get off work at 3pm on Monday and Tuesday.
Honor this boundary by:
- Not checking email outside of your hours of operation
- Not answering Facebook messages that are related to work outside of your hours of operation
Choose a daily and weekly schedule that suits your priorities, responsibilities, & values. I recommend a time-blocking method where you group similar tasks together and allot time for them each day or week.
Your time blocks could be:
- Admin work (bookkeeping, contracts, invoices)
- Client Project Work
- Client Meetings
- Answering Emails
- Personal Time (Lunch, errands, shopping, paying bills)
Schedule these according to your energy & focus levels throughout the day. If you know you’re not a cheery person in the morning, schedule your client calls for the afternoon. If you know you focus best at 5am, use that time to knock out admin tasks, email, or project work.
Ask yourself, “What does my perfect day look like?” and use a notebook, a paper planner, or Google Calendar to create time blocks for a daily schedule & weekly plan that works for you.
Boundaries on the Type of Work You Do
If you really hate doing something – outsource it. As soon as you can afford to, outsource it. Hire an admin assistant, a bookkeeper, or a sub-contractor who can do what you do. Give that task to someone who can do it more efficiently and would enjoy it more.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given since I started my business is this:
“Stop thinking like a solo entrepreneur and start thinking like a CEO.”Barbara H. Smith, Business Strategist
I needed this kick in the butt SO bad. I was trying to do everything in business by myself. I was overwhelmed, but still not making the money I needed to pay my bills.
Chances are, you make the most money when you are working directly with your customers or clients or on their projects. That is where 70-80 percent of your business time should be spent. If you ARE outsourcing things, then you’ll probably spend 20-30% of your time overseeing those things and making decisions.
Figure out where your time is best spent for your own mental health, personal enjoyment, and for your business’ profit. It’s never too early to start building your team. Focus on what you love and allow each member of your team to work in their “zone of genius” as my friend and mentor, Elizabeth Henson, says!
What If A Potential Client Doesn’t Want to Work With You Because of Your Boundaries?
Owning a business does not mean that you need to work with everyone. In fact, you shouldn’t. Just as your products and services, prices, or the look of your branding may not appeal to everyone, your communication style and your business processes may not be for everyone either. That’s ok!
I believe that the right clients will respect your boundaries. In fact, they probably have similar boundaries for themselves because, “like attracts like.”
For instance, I am very introverted. Sometimes I talk fast and I get very passionate about things, but for the most part, I’m a listener, an observer, and a deep thinker. I am highly sensitive to others’ moods and energy, so I have to limit my time with people or I will get drained and lose sight of my own thoughts, ideas, and opinions. I need to re-center often, so solitude is a must. A majority of my clients are similar in these ways.
The right clients understand the way you do business or at the very least, they will respect it. Healthy people know how to respect boundaries even when they don’t like them. We all want to work with emotionally healthy individuals, right? We also need to create a work-life balance for ourselves, however you personally define that.
Boundaries Help Keep Business Ownership FUN
Yes, I said it. Boundaries can be fun. It’s never fun telling people “no”, but you’ll be really proud of yourself when you realize you’ve made the switch to putting your own needs first. Boundaries are a form of self-care.
Boundaries make business ownership more enjoyable because your clients and business partners will begin to work within the structure that works for YOU and your priorities. For instance, if you only take calls Monday – Thursday, you can set time aside for spontaneity on Friday afternoons if that’s what you’ve been craving.
When you become the master of your time, you design your business around the life you want to live. What is more fun than that?
It is your personal responsibility, in life and business, to teach people how to treat you. It’s important to get clarity on what matters most to you and how you want to work. Boundaries are a guideline and setting them doesn’t mean that you can never break a boundary if and when it makes sense. Before you make a decision to break your own boundary, check in with yourself and make sure you won’t be resentful toward anyone (yourself or the other person) later. We are always growing, changing, and making shifts in business, so don’t forget to adjust your boundaries as needed.
Meet the Author
Erica Rice is the owner of Erica Rice Digital Consulting, a website design and digital marketing company based in Hampton, Virginia. She specializes in helping small, service-based businesses improve and expand their online presence through unique and authentic branding and content marketing strategies.
Erica provides training on social media and online marketing best practices which, of course, are ever-evolving. Join Erica’s Facebook community, Tech Help for Healers and Helpers, to stay current on the latest trends.
Photo by: Cilla Tuckson Creative