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When running a service-based business, setting business boundaries can seem like a major challenge. While fulfilling the needs of your clients, you can lose track of your own needs in the process. That’s why it’s important to protect your time and energy as a service provider.

Contrary to popular belief, setting boundaries does not mean turning down opportunities or letting down your clients. You can still provide a memorable client experience while guarding your time.

Here’s your guide to setting business boundaries that benefit your clients and your business.

Woman writing in calendar - setting business boundaries for service providers

Why setting boundaries is vital to your business

As a small business owner, you’re not only responsible for your own tasks, but you’re also in charge of managing client expectations. Oftentimes, you might find yourself saying “yes” to client requests, even if they don’t align with your goals or services.

When you lack boundaries, you might find yourself compromising your own values. Furthermore, you may begin to allow your clients to take the lead, which can result in your deadlines going off the rails.

In contrast, when you set boundaries that work for you, you end up creating a sustainable business that makes an impact on your clients and lights you up from within.

Boundaries can help you…

  • Build trust with your clients
  • Create a memorable client experience
  • Manage your time with ease

Ultimately, boundaries help your business survive and thrive. Your clients will appreciate your commitment to providing a streamlined experience.

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Signs that your boundaries are not strong enough

As you can imagine, there are a few key “warning signs” for when your boundaries are not strong enough. The obvious outcome is feeling stressed, but you don’t have to be burnt out to need stronger boundaries in your business.

You’re letting your clients run the show

One of the biggest signs that your boundaries need strengthening is that you are letting your clients run the show. Instead of guiding your clients to the best decisions, you’re saying yes to every single demand.

In the long run, always saying yes to client requests can result in scope creep, unrealistic expectations, and never-ending projects.

It’s important to remember that your client hired you for a reason. Spoiler alert – it wasn’t to spend their precious time running your business, too.

Pro tip: Set realistic client expectations before you start working together. Consider creating a welcome guide (like this one) to establish boundaries and determine if you’re a good fit.

You’re losing profit in your business

When you lack strong boundaries, you risk undercharging your services. While it’s beneficial to go above and beyond for your clients, you need to do so within reason.

Remember, you are an expert at what you do! Giving too much away for free can undervalue your work as a service provider. On top of that, you risk setting a precedent for future clients who expect the same perks.

Pro tip: Create defined packages for your best services, based on what your clients need the most. Anything beyond that requires an extra fee unless you plan on offering surprises or bonuses to sweeten the client experience.

You’re not finding time to work on your business

Another sign of lacking business boundaries is not having enough time to work on your own business. When you’re catering to your clients, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tasks and forget your overarching vision.

Here’s the thing: building your business matters as much as building your client’s business! After all, you need to focus on your business growth in order to get clients in the first place.

Pro tip: Perform an audit of your business to self-evaluate what needs the most attention. Focus on where you’d like to pour your energy going forward.

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Methods for setting better boundaries in your business

Wondering exactly how to set better boundaries in your business? Let’s discuss common boundary-setting methods for protecting your energy, impressing your clients, and growing your business income.

Set office hours

One of the best ways to take control of your schedule and limit access to you is to set standard office hours. Why? Because office hours set a precedent for when you can be reached.

Regardless of if you work in an in-person environment, you can benefit from setting office hours. In fact, online business owners need office hours more than ever! This way, your clients will know when to reach you and will not expect a response outside of your official schedule.

Pro tip: Include your typical response time for when you can be expected to reply during your office hours. For example, if your days fill up quickly, try not to promise a same-day response. Instead, mention that your clients can expect a response from you within 24 hours.

Use canned email templates

Oftentimes, you may end up slipping on boundaries depending on your mood or client circumstances. This flexibility can cause you to create new policies “on the fly”, which can, in turn, undermine your personal boundaries.

Enter canned email responses. Using pre-written email templates can keep you from making exceptions for clients on a case-by-case basis. As such, you’ll be more likely to stick to your boundaries since they’ve already been created.

Examples of email templates you can use in your business:

  • Onboarding email templates
  • Responses for sticky client situations
  • Sales emails (including follow-ups and responding to ghost clients)

In short, canned email templates create structure in your business. They also hold your clients accountable and protect you from sneaky clients who try to pressure you into bending your policies or processes.

Pro tip: Whenever you send a helpful or effective client email, save it as a template for future use. Keep a running list of your best email responses. Better yet, add them to a client relationship management (CRM) tool like Dubsado for use in your client process.

Create Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

In case you’re wondering, SOPs are procedures specific to your business that explain the exact steps needed to complete a task. You can create SOPs for all sorts of different activities in your business, from leading calls to publishing content.

Common examples of SOPs for service providers:

  • Client onboarding process
  • Launch process for a new service
  • Marketing promotion plan

For example, my client onboarding process always begins with an official lead capture inquiry. Upon receiving the inquiry, I respond with an email with my welcome guide. The client and I then book a discovery call… and so unfolds the client onboarding procedure.

How SOPs can help your small business:

  • Maintain consistency
  • Save you from starting from scratch
  • Prepare you for scaling and growth

When you’re committed to a specific process, there’s less wiggle room for boundaries to be broken. In short, SOPs uphold your business by creating consistency and standardized processes.

Pro tip: A great time to consider creating SOPs is when you are ready to expand your team. SOPs are especially important when you start hiring, as they can be rinsed and repeated for new team members.

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Clearly establish your role

Speaking of welcoming new team members, another way to set better business boundaries is to clearly establish your role. Protecting your time and energy means identifying your zone of genius – and assigning the rest to a trusted expert.

Once you have identified your key role(s) in your business, you can start the process of outsourcing other important tasks. Outsourcing creates a container around your zone of genius so that you can spend time doing what you do best.

Tips for outsourcing and growing your team:

  • Identify the areas where you need the most help (without compromising your zone of genius)
  • Make a list of non-negotiables (this way you won’t get caught wishing for them later)
  • Respect the boundaries of the person you hire (they are running a business, too!)

Pro tip: Make a list of the most important tasks in your business. Categorize them by what only you can do vs. what a trusted team member could do for you. Spend as much time as possible doing the tasks that only you can do.

Here’s what happens when you have strong boundaries

When you have strong boundaries in your business, you end up making space in your business for what truly lights you up. Not only that, but you’ll also become more profitable and purposeful when it comes to serving your clients.

You stay profitable in your zone of genius

Profitability is not only about sales and expenses. For service providers, your profitability also includes your time and experience. Boundaries give you the space to keep client work in an outlined container – which makes it easier to manage your billable hours.

You book the right clients for your services

If a potential client crosses multiple boundaries early on in the onboarding process, you can use this evidence to decide how you’d like to proceed. Boundaries allow you to spot red flags quicker and with less effort.

Strong business boundaries also ensure that you provide the right services for your clients. Remember: clients often don’t know what they need. It’s your job to guide them in the best way.

You find time to work on your business

As my personal trainer says, “any remaining time is yours.” With the right boundaries in place, you can being to differentiate between client work and your own business tasks. The best part? Once you are comfortable with your boundaries, you can start adding in more flexibility.

Time blocking, content batching, and blacking-out important dates are all examples of how you can manipulate your business when you have solid boundaries in place.

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It’s time to set better business boundaries

At the end of the day, setting boundaries means getting serious about what truly matters to you as a business owner.

What is one step you can take today to ensure that you create healthy boundaries to help your business thrive? Send me a DM @dreamworthydesign to let me know!

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