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Holy shit you guys, we made it to season 4! Welcome back – we missed you! We thought we’d kick off with a scary-but-important topic (do we say that about every episode?!) – setting and keeping business boundaries, and all those awkward icky bits that need doing and saying!

Red flags and firing clients

Diving straight in with a biggie – FIRING CLIENTS.

It’s something that happens at some stage when you’re in business – parting company with a client, and there is definitely a sense of relief once it’s done.

Something to remember is that if you’re reaching the point of firing your client, they’re probably not super happy in the working relationship either. Although it’s fine to let them go even if they’re feeling fine about you. It’s your business!

Usually, your gut instinct tells you about this at the start of your communications – don’t ignore your feelings! There’s no satisfaction in proving yourself right if they turn out to be a very much non-ideal client.

The process doesn’t feel good, but it’s a necessary evil to reclaim your sanity in certain situations. And sometimes it’s purely down to a mismatch of expectations or working methods – not necessarily fault on anyone’s side.

We’ve talked before about how business is a money and energy exchange, and if the energy goes a bit weird, it’s probably time to part company.

One dangerous leftover from the last 18 months is that so many small businesses are taking every enquiry on, just in case – we’ve all had our faith in our ability to make money consistently shaken up by losing everything in a week back in 2020.

What are the warning signs?

Obviously, these will vary and be quite personal, but some of ours are approaches by email, all in capitals, with no punctuation, not using your name when first contacting you, refusing to email or insisting on using social media direct messaging to communicate, wanting to do everything on the phone, needing emails at a certain time in the morning, asking for discounts, being rude when we say no to discounts, and declaring how much time something will take when you’re the expert they’re hiring for that job. You get the general idea…

Expectations and communication

Managing expectations is really key to making your business work for you, and not being ruled by it. Knowing when you work, how you work and communicating that clearly to your clients before you start working together definitely makes everything easier and better on both sides.

Sometimes it really is as much about how something’s phrased more than what is actually being said. Someone saying they only have X budget, is it possible to tailor/shorten a package to fit that budget is much more likely to get a yes than someone who approaches the issue aggressively.

Saying no

Eeeeep. Yes, saying no is an option, and something you do more of as your business grows and you get better at identifying what works for you and what really doesn’t.

Saying no is really hard when you’re new in business, or less experienced. When income isn’t consistent, or you’ve just started, or hey, there’s been a pandemic, you’re not sure where the money is coming from next and so scarcity can make you say yes when you want to say no.

But there is a point where you become aware that there are clients out there, enquiries out there, other income streams out there, so you don’t have to take the stressful clients on. You can say no!

(They may not be inherently stressful – they just might work very differently to you, or have very different expectations of you than you deliver usually, or need more hand-holding, or whatever.)

Your boundaries can really differentiate you from other people who offer the same service or product as you – how you work can become part of your USP!

Something that is useful to develop so you can say no more easily is a network of people who do similar things to you (or things you get asked to do and don’t do), who all work with different types of clients. That way you have a ready-made list of people to refer to, and you can matchmake the client with the provider based on what they need.

Which brings us nicely onto:

Asking for help in your business

Not quite a boundary exactly, but definitely comes under the heading of “difficult things to do in your business”. The majority of solopreneurs are appallingly bad at asking for help, and labour under the belief they have to do it all alone or it doesn’t count.

Half the time that’s not even a conscious belief, just something we carry and only unearth when we’re figuring out why we’ve burned out and we’re a puddle of emotions on the floor.

(And by “they” we always also mean “we” – we’re not immune to any of these things!) If you find yourself feeling like you have to prove something, take a step back and work out where that is coming from. Is it actually pressure you’re putting on yourself?

You do need to know, and probably find out by doing, what you’re good at and what you’re not, and what you enjoy and what you don’t in your business.

Then you can enlist help – and there’s a weird stage where you can’t afford to pay yourself, but you do pay other people to take on tasks that free up time for you to do what you’re best at.

We have different superpowers and strengths

By which we mean, don’t assume you’ll have to pay someone for the same amount of time that a task takes you. Especially if you hate it. We had an example recently where Carla was putting off a job because it was a 3-4 hour one and she didn’t have a block of time free, and Sarah did the same job in just over an hour.

But we understand letting go is hard! Even more so when you have high standards for yourself, and you worry if anyone else can meet them. (Spoiler – they can, but even if they don’t, good enough and done is far better than perfect).

Can we just take this opportunity to point out that your work is still your own if you have help with it, or outsource parts of it? When you make dinner, you don’t generally start by planting a potato.

Boundaries are not indulgent

It can feel really indulgent to set firm boundaries around your own work – to say I only work between these times, or I only check my email once a day, or whatever it is that makes your business joyful for you.

Having a support team (even if that is one person) is very soothing, but most of us aren’t used to that at work unless we’ve been fairly senior, and so it can take some getting used to.

Not only is it allowed, but it also helps us to work better and our clients to be happier!

Solutions (kind of)

We definitely don’t have all the answers, sorry guys. We’re figuring it out as we go just like you are. But here are some of the things that have helped us:

  • Having pricing in a pdf or printed document
  • Setting strict times for first and last meetings of the day
  • Morning routine – tea, breakfast, morning pages
  • Prioritising time off – putting your holidays and days off into your calendar before anything else
  • Setting your own working hours and sticking to them
  • Being flexible on your terms
  • Email autoresponders (which falls under good communication, generally)

Let’s talk autoresponders

Sarah has one which came about after a firing client situation earlier in the year, Carla has one which goes out when she’s away and is now considering an auto-response to every email that comes in.

Listen to the episode to hear Sarah’s in full – it’s so good! Full of personality and also very clearly setting her business boundaries

We’ve also seen a few of our lovely clients & enquiries, contacts & friends, have autoresponders which say they only check their emails at certain times (or on certain days! one day a week!), setting an expectation for a reply, and linking to favourite posts or frequently asked questions.

You can customise it completely, but it’s a good tool for setting boundaries right from the start of your working relationship.

And finally, priorities

It can be alarmingly easy in business to write yourself a very long to-do list and then think that everything on it is a priority.

Everything is not a priority.

But it is also very easy to spend a lot of time on things that look and feel like a business, but which are not necessarily contributing to the health and growth of your business.

While endless growth is not sustainable, there will always be an element of growth in your business. Like a tree, you might grow upwards for a bit, then outwards for a bit, then level off for a bit.

In order to keep this going, you need to make sure that what you’re spending your time on is the right thing. And remembering that things evolve. So maybe don’t spend an entire working day designing a business card, because frankly we could both wallpaper entire rooms with old ones which we no longer use because our businesses, branding, messaging has changed.

If something (cough, accounts and social media, cough) is a priority but is also something that would take days and days of your time, then outsourcing is something to seriously consider.

Actually, social media is a really interesting one, as it feels like it should be a top priority job. But for some people, it won’t be contributing anything at all to profitability and won’t be bringing in jobs, so can be relegated to a twice a month post without any negative impact on the business.

In contrast, for some people, daily posting to socials is what gets them their audience, their sales and their clients – so it is a priority and should stay on that list.

Before we go

We’re going to drop a sneaky link back to our procrastination episode because some of that productive procrastination is relevant here. Feeling like you’re working on your business, but not actually moving it forwards. Ahem.

It really is ok to pay people to do the stuff you don’t like!

And our very last bit of advice is to sometimes take yourself to one side and have a little word with yourself.

Ok Rebooters, see you next episode!