If you are a small business owner like me, you not only love your clients, you take a personal interest in their successes, their lives, and their family milestones. You want to see them happy, you care about every high and low their businesses go through and you try, as much as you can, to help. We get to know our clients, learn about their children and sometimes even go out for a drink or lunch with them, just to shoot the breeze. It can be hard to set a happy medium between work and friendship when your personal brand weighs so heavily in the balance.
As a small business owner you are EVERYTHING. You are the business specialist, the receptionist, the errand boy, the administrative assistant, the consultant, the salesperson, the marketer, the customer services center, the accountant, the appointment setter, you handle all aspects of your own company and sometimes that can be overwhelming but you have to do it in order to succeed and doing so takes time, time you need to set to the side to take care of your business.
In the very early stages of working my through owning my own business there was never a time I was not available to my clients. I wanted them to know I cared just as much for their business as I did my own. It took me 10 years and the constant complaining of my husband to finally realize that I needed to set business boundaries for my clients. It had gotten a bit out of control. I had clients calling or messaging me at 1am in the morning asking for my advice or how to solve their business emergencies. If they saw me online posting on “Personal” Facebook wall, they would assume that meant they could message or call me and ask for my help.
I had to stop it, I had to put my foot down and set some boundaries. I often felt bad for not answering their calls or dealing with their problems but I needed my own time; I needed to detach. We as business owners can’t work all the time. We need time to workout, we need time for our families, we need time to ourselves, we need time to focus on the projects we we’ve been paid for and sometimes we need time to “woo saa” before we take that client call, because even though we love our clients… some of them just need that extra minute, hour or day of preparation before returning their call.
So what are some boundaries that you need to set? I’m going to give you a few that I have learned over my 12 years of owning my small business. I had to put my foot down or I was going to let my clients run my business and me into the ground.
I like to work late at night. That is when things are quiet, no one is interrupting or bothering me, the phone isn’t ringing and I can do what I need to do uninterrupted. With that said I have business hours for my clients to contact me via phone or email, which are 12pm – 6pm. I explain to my clients upfront that even though I may send them late emails requesting information they probably won’t get responses from me until the next business day. Refuse to answer business calls past your closing time. If you don’t respect your business hours your clients won’t either.
2. Clients as Facebook Friends… You can do it but…
Facebook can be a little sticky at times. It is hard to keep lines between business and personal separate, especially when your clients become your friends. Often they feel that if they see you online or posting that you should be available to them when they ask a question, no matter what time it is. It is very important again, to explain to your clients that your business hours are your business hours and that you will answer questions as soon as you can the next day or simply do not respond at all.
Sometimes it is hard for your clients to imagine that you are on Facebook late at night to enjoy Facebook just like they are. If you find a client being too aggressive via social media, attacking you or making complaints because you make them respect your business hours, try to deal with them in a friendly professional manner and remember it is ok to “unfriend” and “block” anyone who refuses to respect your boundaries. Your personal Facebook wall is not the place to complain about their inability to respect business hours. You should never have to deal with difficult disrespectful clients.
3. It is ok NOT to answer the phone during your business hours
When you are working on a project for a client or in a meeting you can’t answer every call, especially if you don’t have an answering service. Answering a client call can often throw you off task and delay the completion of the project you are working on. Let your voicemail take the call and then set a time at the beginning or end of your day to go through voicemails and missed calls and return them. If a client is persistent send them a text giving them a time you can call back and stick to it. It is important to make your clients respect your time, if you don’t you will both become frustrated which will result in a bad customer experience for your client.
Absolutely no one likes surprises and your clients will definitely hate them. It is imperative to explain all your policies upfront. In my case, before I begin work, I give my clients a business contract that explains retainer fees, terms of payment, terms of work, my responsibilities, turn around time, refund policy, pricing, discounts, and etc. It is good to have policies in writing to ensure there are no misunderstandings later to protect yourself as well as your client, just incase things go awry.
5. Be honest & take responsibility
Every business experience is not going to be a good one. It is best to be honest when mistakes are made, apologize and attempt to make good on anything you may have done to cause a problem or misunderstanding. This does not mean let your clients run over you. It just means that in any business mistakes are bound to happen. Every experience is a learning experience. Don’t run from them, learn from them and correct them to make sure they do not happen again. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY. Most of the time your client just wants is to be heard, an apology and a promise to make good. Good customer service is your most valuable asset, remember that.
6. Last Minute Requests & Changes to Agreements Incur a Fee
Don’t let last minute requests or changes to “agreements made” be the norm. Explain to your clients your “turn around time” and your “fee for rush orders”. Also explain that once work on an agreed upon project has been made, any changes to that agreement will incur additional fees. If you allow your clients to constantly make last minute requests or changes you will never finish your projects and you will find yourself losing money on a projects instead of making it.
Take time to research the cost of your products and services and stick to your rates. There is always going to be someone who thinks you charge too much or who will want to try to ease in more bang for their buck. If a client can’t agree to your rates it is ok to let them go. It is always great to have a sale; there is no better business booster than a great sale. But when that sale ends, it ends. If you don’t value the services you provide no one else will value them either. You know better than anyone the quality of your products or services. Don’t compromise.
8. Learn to say “No!” Well maybe not No but at least “I’m sorry but I can’t at this time.”
Saying NO can be the hardest boundary to set. As a graphic designer and brand specialist the quality of my work reflects on my business. Each client project represents my company and I refuse to slack on the quality of what I provide. Unfortunately there are times when clients ask me to design something that would make most people cringe. I often tell my clients my suggestions based on my experience and knowledge; when the request could compromise my reputation, I say No. All money isn’t good money and when a client asks you to compromise your art or the quality of your products or services, you have no choice but to refuse. Remember that most of your clients come to you because you are the expert in your field. Don’t let them down by providing something you know you can’t stand behind.
9. Schedule, Schedule, Schedule
As I mentioned earlier, a small business owner wears many hats and has a great deal of responsibility. It is important to schedule your time wisely. Use your time management skills and set time aside every week to handle the office management and marketing portion of your business. Even though you have business hours, you will work later and longer than the business hours you set for your clients. Knowing this, it is important to set your own quitting time.
I love what I do and I often find myself working around the clock on projects for my clients, as well as handling the business management end of my own business. I set a weekly schedule for handling client work as well as handling my own work. Setting a schedule helps keep you organized and on task. Since I know I’m a workaholic, I only work 4 days a week. In those 4 days I work 16 to 20 hours a day. On my 3 days off I refuse to work. I may take client calls but I let them know I can’t help them again until Monday. This doesn’t work for everyone but we as business owners we have to find a happy medium between work and personal time that works for us.
This is not an all-inclusive list of boundaries small business should set. If you have some suggestions you would like to share regarding how to set business boundaries, I would love to hear them in the comments below. Let’s help each other with what we have learned along the way to ensure we can all be successful business owners for many years to come.Aries – Graphic Design & Internet Marketing / AriesGDIM Tami Highbaugh-Abdullah Creative Marketing Director 317.345.4182 AriesGDIM.com / AriesGraphicDesign.com @ariesgdim – Twitter AriesGDIM Facebook Google+ AriesGDIM
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