No One Has to Be Worked to Death in This Industry: Setting Boundaries with Your Clients
That headline was a quote from one of my speaking engagement in Denver last month. A wedding vendor asked me about dealing with clients who call any time they want, seven days a week. He was concerned that by not being available at all times that he would lose business.
I told him that when I started my company, I made myself available all of the time. I, too, was worried that I would lose business if I weren’t always there for my clients. After a while, I realized that I wasn’t doing my clients or myself any favors by running myself ragged and never taking time off. I had to start setting boundaries. That wasn’t an easy thing for me to do.
Today I am in New Orleans speaking to the local chapter of the National Association of Catering Executives (NACE). I am discussing having difficult conversations. Boundary setting is one of those difficult conversations.
I work from home, as do many of the wedding entrepreneurs with whom I’ve spoken. For many of us, that means that family and friends think we’re just hanging out and at their disposal.
My kids ask me to run errands for them, my mom asks me to go to lunch and shopping (that’s a hard one to turn down), and sometimes they get frustrated that I can’t drop everything and do what they want me to do. I’ve had to explain many times that I’m happy to do all of these things for them, but they have to be planned. My schedule can be flexible, but rarely can I drop things on the spur-of-the-moment.
As far as difficult conversations go, those were pretty easy to handle, although I sometimes get a guilt trip from my mother. Handling labor-intensive clients can be a bit more challenging. Here are some of my tips for setting boundaries with clients:
- Ask your clients’ expectations. Your potential client may have good reason to need to work with you at odd hours. Perhaps he or she is a nurse, or a fire fighter. If you know this from the beginning, you may be able to set a special schedule for working with this client, or you may decide that you cannot fit with their schedule. Either way, you can avoid aggravation by knowing that you will be making special allowances for this client, or you can politely suggest that she work with someone else.
- Be upfront. Include your office hours in your contracts and explain them to your clients. For example, I’m typically available for meetings and calls Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. I offer meetings and phone calls after hours and on weekends, but unless it’s an emergency, those appointments have to be scheduled.
- Check your emotions. If you have a client who doesn’t adhere to the work schedule you outlined in their contract, don’t be afraid to remind her, but be matter-of-fact. Refer her to the contract and your expectations conversation.
- Give her an opportunity to explain. Perhaps she had a change in her schedule. You may need to renegotiate your initial plan.
- Stick to your guns. We have all had manipulative clients who call at all hours and drain you of your energy. It’s up to you to stop it. If a client isn’t treating you well, you may have to let that client go. Please make sure you have adequate language in your contracts so that you can fire a client if necessary.
For many of us, telling a client that we have expectations of them can be really difficult. Let me put it in another perspective for you. If you have one client who is taking up a large percentage of your time, or if she is frustrating you so that you can’t be effective, you are short-changing your other clients who are following the rules. You owe it to your “good” clients to get rid of the “bad” ones.
How do you set boundaries with your clients or your family? I’d love for you to share your stories here.