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Stop saying yes to everything: how to set boundaries for your business

Credit to Chichi Eruchalu

Get paid on time, take a day before responding to emails, and say no to clients who aren’t a good fit – clear boundaries can help you succeed

Chichi Eruchalu is a mum of two who didn’t want to be chained to her laptop all the time. She admits she lost some business but says boundaries have helped her business to grow.

Business strategist and coachI like helping people. The vast majority of entrepreneurs do. As a coach and strategist I spend my days troubleshooting with clients, mapping out strategies and giving advice and support. I also have a web design business.

At the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey in 2012, I was overly excited. I said yes to all kind of projects, even ones I didn’t really enjoy but that paid an income. I worked all the time, worked with anyone, never took any time out and struggled to recharge properly. Needless to say juggling this with a full-time job, a young family and a partner often working away, I didn’t last long. This went on for close to a year, until I had to take a six-week hiatus while I regrouped.

There should always be a differentiation between your paid and unpaid clients

What I needed were some business boundaries. Strong boundaries set expectations and lead to a much happier experience all around because people know where they stand. As a recovering people pleaser, this was challenging. I hate to let people down and find it hard to say no, but I have had to learn to put myself first.

I have learned to walk away from clients who I know aren’t a good fit, even if that means I have to refund their money.For you to successfully grow your business and support the people who are truly committed to your work (ie, paying clients), you must first acknowledge that you cannot help everyone. Your time is precious and must be attributed where it is needed most. You must get clear on what is and what isn’t acceptable to you, and stick to those boundaries.

As a mum of two under five who did not want to be chained to my laptop all the time, I had to make changes. I had allowed a number of clients to pay me late. I was taking my phone to bed, checking it in the night and as soon as I woke up, in the fear that I had missed something important. I was doing work for free, and giving attention to people who constantly wanted to pick my brain. This did not respect my time or expertise.Technology has made it easier for the self-employed to connect, grow communities and build their businesses.

But it also makes you immediately contactable at the touch of a button, and many clients come to expect a fast response. From email and Whatsapp, to Twitter, Facebook and phone calls – if people want to reach you today, they can.

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But how you respond is up to you. I used to think that I was being efficient answering emails as soon as they came in, but it set an unrealistic expectation and my clients then wanted an immediate response. Your clients and potential clients treat you how you teach them to treat you.

If you are readily available and allow people to have instant access to you (especially those who are not paying for your services), you will create a rod for your own back. Now I commit to a 24-hour turnaround for clients and 48 hours for everyone else.

There should always be some differentiation between your paid and unpaid clients. If there isn’t, you do a disservice to the people who keep you in business.Boundary setting is an ongoing exercise that evolves as your business develops. Clear communication is essential, as is having contracts in place to clearly define what is and isn’t included in your work.

Just because you’ve delivered on a project does not necessarily mean you’re forever on hand for future queries or endless tweaks.Have I lost business because of these boundaries? Sure. Some clients won’t like the fact you’re not as accessible as you once were.

But at the same time, I’ve found others to be more than accommodating. Done right, boundaries bring much greater freedom and fulfilment to your business, freeing you up to the work that matters.

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