Setting Boundaries in Your Business
Today I’m going to cover 7 tips on setting boundaries in your small business. This is a subject I’m SUPER PASSIONATE about. And real talk: something I have to continually be mindful of in my own business and relationships. There’s so many good books and resources on the topic, and newsflash: I’m not a therapist. But I wanted to share some things that I’ve learned as a business owner in hopes of helping others build a life/business they love WITHOUT leading to the dreaded burnout. Are you ready? LETS GO!
What are boundaries?
Boundaries are essentially you figuring out what your priorities are and where you draw the line with others + yourself. When setting a boundary, you’re realizing what your limit is in a certain situation and how people can interact with you appropriately. Boundaries are necessary when defining your path to wholehearted and healthy living – at home, at work, and in your heart!
It might make you feel icky when someone crosses your boundary line. This is your gut telling you to take notice and realign with your inner self. While creating and maintaining boundaries can be really tough, they are essential for your wellbeing and growth. AND they are equally as important for building a successful and satisfying business that can thrive.
Tip # 1. Only take on free work if it is an opportunity for you to learn or to be creative.
This is a hard one for us photographers. It’s not uncommon to be asked to “collaborate” or “just take a few photos…” but that can be a red flag for being taken advantage of. While it’s pretty normal to offer free shoots or charge less in the early months of your business, there comes a point when you can’t afford to shoot something without monetary value. UNLESS, it’s something that will spark your creativity, or if it’s an area you want to grow in, or if it’s something that’s really going to light you up.
It’s important to understand your boundary line here, because as a photographer IT WILL HAPPEN TO YOU. The beauty of being a small business owner is that you get to decide if the proposed opportunity is something that you can reasonably agree to without it feeling jibbed. No one is forcing you to take on a gig you don’t feel good about. Your time, energy, and work holds value and is worthy of respect.
Tip #2 Tell your clients how to appropriately communicate with you.
From the start, I tell my clients exactly how to communicate with me. I tell them that I’m probably not going to be answering any messages that they send me after five p.m. I also tell them that if it’s something business related, that they should be sending it to me via email instead of a text message or Instagram DM. It can quickly turn to chaos when 50 different clients are trying to reach out in 4 different forms of social media messaging platforms! Keep your communication in one place, it will save you SO MUCH STRESS I promise you!
It’s important to first decide how you personally prefer your clients to communicate with you though, and then inform them how to do it. Setting your communication boundaries up front will set their expectations from the get go. I also have in my email responder that says it can take me up to 48 hours to respond to an email if it’s during business hours. If I don’t respond to an email that they sent at 8:00 p.m. that evening, I’m probably going to be responding the next day. However, if it’s a busy season or I’m out of town shooting, it might be longer. I set this email response time with some flexibility so that we can both respect each other’s time, and my energy isn’t being drained by constantly having to check my phone.
Tip #3. Only say yes if it is a HELL YES!
If you get that gut reaction where someone is reaching out to you for your services and you’re thinking to yourself like, “Oh my gosh, I don’t want to take this on..” then DON’T TAKE IT ON!!, Because chances are that if you’re already feeling that way, that it’s going to only get worse in the process of working together. Whether it’s just a bad vibe from the clients, or you’re doing it just to reach an income goal or literally for no reason you can think of, trust your instincts.
Essentially, you only want to be taking on clients that you know are your ideal client. If I know I LOVE shooting weddings and couples I’m not going to take on 50 family sessions a year because that doesn’t align with my vision for my business. So make sure that you know what you want, who you want to reach, and what you want to take on. There may be a lot of turning down work – and I know saying NO suckss, but that leaves more room for you to say HELL YES to your ideal clients! This is setting a boundary with yourself to only take on work you can give 100% too. You AND your clients deserve the best!!
Tip #4. When you have a difficult client, be respectful, but firm.
You always want to be kind of respectful to clients, especially if they are being difficult or if they’re constantly asking for more. Whether that’s by over communicating their needs and wants, expecting more than what you can give, be as clear as possible about what you can and can’t do. If a difficult client is giving unnecessary negative feedback, it might be inner work that they need to do on themselves, and chances are nothing you do will ever satisfy them. So just make sure that you’re being respectful and kind, but don’t let anyone talk you out of your boundaries – OR YOUR CONTRACT!!
Remember that this isn’t just a personal relationship, but that you have a business that upholds certain standards of conduct and your clients need to respect that. Always remember to sign a contract with your clients before accepting any money or providing any services!
Tip #5 Know your workload limits
This is a personal boundary that every small business owner will face in their career. We want to believe that we can do it all and get it all done. But truly, you cannot do it all WELL. Make sure that you’re only taking on the work that you know that you can provide at a quality that is out of this world. This means prioritizing the work that you are passionate about and putting a limit on how much you take on. That way you can provide the absolute best service to your clients. “Less is more” can be applicable here.
You don’t need to shoot 100 weddings every year, and honestly you probably can’t serve everyone with the same quality of work as if you accepted only 2 weddings a month for your absolute ideal client. For me I take on only two sessions a week because I know that if I take on any more than that, my creativity just starts to tank. So I take on less so that I can give more to each and every single client.This can look different for everyone. We all have different levels of energy, and there’s no “One Size Fits All.” So whatever that looks like for you, be mindful of what work you say yes to. And as you learn, it will become more clear as to the workload that you can take on effectively to meet your standards of quality work.
Tip #6 If someone is acting inappropriately, you have the right to say no.
I have a clause in my contract that says if I start to be sexually harassed, that I have the right to leave any wedding or shoot. If someone starts to get aggressive with you, you have the right to be able to walk away and to respect those boundaries within yourself. Your safety and mental health needs to be valued, and this should be a non negotiable.
If someone keeps asking you to give them more than what you’ve agreed to, you have the right to say no. You have a contract for a reason and you only are obligated to offer what is in that contract. You are the boss. So remember that and be firm about it.
Finally, Tip #7 You need to set boundaries with yourself
This looks like setting specific hours for you to work and not working past that time. It can also mean setting boundaries for yourself on social media so you’re not scrolling too much (I’m soo guilty of this one!!) And that also means turning off your thoughts and having boundaries with your internal process. So you’re not sitting on the couch with your significant other thinking about work constantly instead of connecting and resting intentionally.
It’s really important to differentiate your work life and your home life, especially if you’re literally working from home and YOU are your business. Set aside different areas of your home specifically dedicated to WORK, and don’t bring your job to bed with you (YEP no emails at 11pm ok?!) When you set these boundaries with yourself, you’re giving your work the proper dedication it needs, and letting yourself LIVE outside of the physical and mental “office.”
There is so much more I could say on the subject. But those are my tips that have worked in my experience. It can make a world of difference for your business AND mental health. So go out there and set some freakin boundaries.