APVA Member Sarah Banks has built her business to work around her life and was even able to take 3 months out in 2018 to work/travel with her family. In this blog, she shares how implementing boundaries has made this possible.
Although you hear so many stories about self-employment being stressful, a major cause of burnout, and that most small businesses fail within their first three years, going freelance has been one of the best things I’ve ever done.
However, it hasn’t been without its challenges, and I have had to learn to set strict boundaries along the way to ensure that I manage my work and life successfully.
When I started my business back in 2014, the key thing for me was to be able to prioritise my children – to take them to and from school, be around for key events, and have more quality time with them in school holidays. After running my business for 12 months, I realised that I could do even more than this – I could earn a full-time salary, working in a way that suited me, and even travel the world (as I proved in 2018 when we took 3 months out as a family to travel, and I continued to work). All of this has been possible due to me putting strict boundaries in place and saying no to clients who make unfair demands on my time.
In the early days of running a business striking the right balance between being accommodating and standing your ground can be challenging but setting boundaries with your clients is essential for your business to be successful.
So, here are my top 3 tips for putting boundaries in place with your clients.
1 – Decide on your working hours (and stick to them!)
You are the boss now and can decide how many hours you want to work a week and when you work those hours.
When you work is completely up to you – I choose to work longer hours during term time when my girls are in school (including occasional evenings if required) and shorter hours in school holidays.
The important thing here is to set boundaries with yourself first and don’t be tempted to an extra half an hour here and there as this can slowly lead to you overworking.
2 – Define your communication preferences
It is so easy to feel you have to reply to every client message instantly, but it is important that you don’t! If you are focused on another client’s work, that is their billable time, and you shouldn’t be distracted by a message from another client any more than you should if they sent you a text at 11pm.
Unfortunately, some clients do seem to expect us to respond instantly, but their expectations don’t have to become your reality.
During the onboarding process, make sure you let your clients know how they can communicate with you – be that via email, Slack, Whatsapp, etc, and what your response time is – e.g., 24 hours, this will avoid any miscommunications and prevent them from expecting instant replies.
I have implemented core hours when clients can easily contact me, but anything outside of these hours has to wait and they know I will get back to them within 48 hours unless there is something urgent.
I have also got really strict about where I access my emails – they are only on my laptop and iPad, and I disable notifications on my phone when I’m not working in order to protect my time. I strongly believe we should all delete our emails from our phones as they can be really distracting – believe me I know as I would pick up emails late at night in the early days and then be unable to sleep as I was stressing about the need to reply!
3 – Saying no isn’t a bad thing as a business owner
Whilst you may want to keep everyone happy so that you get great reviews and more clients, it is OK TO SAY NO!
People pleasing doesn’t make for a successful business and clients may take advantage of your good nature. ‘Scope creep’ can happen really quickly, so if a client asks for ‘just one more thing’ make sure you say no if it isn’t in the contract – of course, if you have the time to do this by all means you can add it on as additional work but make sure you are charging extra for this!
I hope that you have found these tips useful and can start to implement them in your business.
I would like to finish this blog by saying that when I started my business and talked to other small business owners and freelancers about the best way to work with clients, I was told that my way of working wouldn’t lead to a successful business. Well, I’m still here, 9 years later and my business has surpassed my own expectations!
You don’t need to do what anyone else tells you to as this is your business – so decide how you want it to work for you, and you will attract the right sort of clients.
Sarah is the owner of Banks’ Business Solutions and specialises in helping female business owners set up and understand the tech they need to use to run their business online.
As an online business consultant, she helps you get a grasp on the technology you use. Whether you have a digital business and work virtually, or you deliver your products or services face to face and simply want to improve your online presence – Sarah can help.