Always Open? A Blog about Business Boundaries
As we start our Small Business Tips series I thought I would use our first post to talk about something that I struggle with a lot.
The concept of always being “open” or available. As a small internet based business it is a huge struggle to “close for the day” and step away from the business. With social media being a huge part of things there is a constant stream of emails, messages and comments and people want answers immediately!
Our attention span has collectively shortened over the past few years and I completely understand, I am not the most patient person and Locally Obsessed depends on the response time of other businesses, sometimes I find it hard to wait as well. I’ve been through a few burnouts and watched my Family suffer with my absence (even when I am around I am not always present) This has really helped me empathize and give people time, weekends and rest. It is so important to treat small businesses like you would treat a brick and mortar or a professional office. This means thinking that maybe they will not respond on weekends and holidays and that they should even have a couple business days to respond.
Just a few short weeks ago I was suffering from this crazy overwhelm, feeling pulled in a million different directions, tired, and constantly fielding clients requests instead of working on the bigger projects within my business. I decided it was time to start setting some boundaries and using my time much more productively!
Here are some steps I took that you can also put in place to establish boundaries and manage your time much better!
First, think about what you want. In order to communicate your guidelines to others, you first need to know what they are Decide on your working hours, when clients can contact you, what is included in your work with clients and set aside designated time and DAYS off.
Set a designated time for emails! This is crucial. Emails are, in fact, someone else’s to do list. This is the most important thing I have learned on my journey. When you are responding to emails all you are doing is setting up more tasks for yourself . This doesn’t mean do not respond to emails, that is obvious not good practice but set up a designated time to deal with correspondence. Always start your day with the most important things on YOUR to do list. End your day by responding to emails and updating your to do list.
Let your clients know your availability and response time. Lay out your limits very clearly. For instance, if you don’t want your coworkers and clients to contact you at all hours tell them so! You can do this verbally with colleagues, via automated email responses with clients or even to the general public via social media posts. Be polite and relateable, tell them WHY you cannot be contacted at all times :) You don’t have to DEFEND your decisions but sometimes sharing a little background information can help. It’s all about respect and treating your clients as you would want to be treated.
Set boundaries at home. Do you have designated non-work days? Sometimes it can be hard to switch off but taking time away from your business is so important to keep your energy, creativity and mental health working in tip top shape! Time away from work also gives your mind some time to process all of the ideas and information going through your brain. If you are afraid of forgetting ideas or tasks then write them down and address the list on your next work day! You may designate the whole weekend to be work free, or maybe just a day. Find what works for you.
If you must, give yourself a small time slot to check in on work while at home or during non work days but set a timer and when time’s up, it’s up. Put your phone in a drawer if you have to or better yet leave the house, get some exercise, concentrate on other projects!
Be Consistent. Setting boundaries is all about creating habits, and the best way to do this is with consistency. If you give in once, or let something slide, you’re going to have to work twice as hard not to let it go next time.
There might be the odd exception, maybe for a really important client or short deadline and if that is the case then acknowledge to yourself and your client that this is a one time situation and not to expect it next time.
Automate. I cannot stress this enough! These days it is so easy to automate things. Set up an auto reply to your emails outlining your work hours AND RESPONSE TIME, I’ve seen people happily use time frames of 12-48 hours, it really depends on what works for you and your business.. You can also do the same with Facebook messages.
Automate your social media posts as well so that your accounts don’t fall silent over your days off. Schedule Facebook posts and use an app like Hootesuite or Plann to auto post to Instagram and Twitter.
The real secret to setting firm boundaries is to start. They won’t be perfect right away, they will evolve and you will get better at enforcing them. But like any new thing in business, you can’t perfect it until you start. It is not good to be available ALL THE TIME, this concept of HUSTLE is destroying some amazing ventures. Being available 24/7 will increase you chance of burnout and burnout can lead to failure very very fast.
I recently got to interview Jen from The Lash House Studio, she is someone I’ve always admired for having clear business boundaries, here is what she had to say on the topic.
Q: What kind of boundaries have you set with your clients? A: Recently I had to implement a daily time period in which clients can reach me. I was getting texts/DMs/emails late at night, middle of the night and as early as 545am. Most messages were not urgent such as cancelling or rescheduling. It was “I forgot to stamp my card” or “what face wash do you recommend” (which is not my area of expertise as they have purchased a lash wash... that is my main concern!) I finally added to my instant reply on my FB page that my messaging hours are now 9am-9pm. I understand we all operate at different hours etc. and social media makes it so easy to message anyone at any time but please be aware of the time. I have to end my work day just like anyone else and wind down.
Q: Why is it important to you that you have clear boundaries?
A: Boundaries are important. People seem to assume that because you work from home and have your own business that you are always available. I personally require one day off a week. I need to catch up on errands and rest just like everyone else. I was always available in the first year or two, I was building my business and would bend over backwards to please clients and accommodate them and forget about my own needs. I recently worked 13 days straight at Christmas time to ensure everyone was "Lash Ready" for the holidays. I didn’t mind, but it’s not something I will do frequently. If I burn myself out, I am no use to my clients and that is unfair to them and myself. So I am making sure I have one day a week for myself and book my days accordingly.
Q: Have you had any negative experiences with putting these systems in place or do most people understand?
A) I did lose a few clients and had some comments about the implementation of messaging hours. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but this is my business and this is how I choose to operate. I need and deserve time in the day where I don’t have to worry about being on or near my phone. It can be exhausting, if clients choose to not understand or respect that, then sadly they are not the clientele for me. When you are a sole business owner, you eat, sleep, breathe and stress about your business 24hrs a day. It’s the life we chose. and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I love what I do. I love the client base I have (always accepting new clients) I feel it’s important to respect business hours. Do you call or text McDonald’s or Walmart when they are not open knowing no one will answer? Hours of operation are put in place for a reason, we can’t all be available 24/7. As business owners, we do have a life outside of our business and we need to allow ourselves to make time to enjoy it ... believe me. I am still learning. I catch myself responding to messages when I shouldn’t. It’s a natural reaction. I have to stop myself and say no, this isn’t life or death it can wait until the morning.
Ultimately, as Jen mentioned as well, it’s your business and you get to decide how you run it. When you decide what’s important and clearly communicate your business boundaries to clients, you set up the conditions for success! Business boundaries help you stay aligned with your vision for your business and prevent burnout! When you establish your boundaries you will feel empowered and have the freedom to do more of what you love and less of what you don’t!
If you have any tips or recommendations that have worked for you, please feel free to leave a comment so we can all learn from each other’s successes!