Your goal with your business is to help people and their dogs… which can make it easy to fall into bad habits, and incredibly hard to set boundaries and stick to them.
You want to feel generous. So you give a little too much of yourself. Which… leads to exhaustion and burnout.
Even worse, you’ve then set the expectation for your clients that they should expect that behavior from you. That that is “normal.”
And that’s dangerous.
But I’ve got good news… If you’re reading this, you probably run your own business. That means you get to decide what your business looks like.
YOU get to set the rules.
What kind of rules? Let’s talk about that.
Setting Healthy Boundaries in Your Business
As a business owner, you have 100% control over what your business does — that can be scary, if we’re talking success or failure — but it should also be liberating!
I’d like to challenge you today to take 5 minutes and think about what your *ideal* business / work life would look like.
- What does your schedule look like?
- How many appointments are you seeing each week? Each day?
- When do you work? When do you not work? (Buffer, for example, has a 4-day work week! #lifegoals)
- How do you want to get paid? When / how much do you want to get paid?
- How much time off do you want? How often?
- What kind of clients do you want to take?
- Do you want to offer classes? Private lessons? Something else?
Compare those things to what you’re doing daily now — what needs to change so you can get there?
Those “changes” give us rules or boundaries we can set in place. Of course, it doesn’t stop there — you can also include things like how you want to handle cancellations and reschedules. You can including how often (and when) you respond to email.
In short, you can add in boundaries about pretty much any aspect of your business. However there are a few caveats…
Exceptions: When Just HAVING a Boundary Doesn’t Cut It
Knowing the boundaries you want to set is incredibly important. But it’s not enough.
Before you can enforce boundaries, you need to communicate them to your clients. There are a number of ways to do that.
You can include information in your contract. You can include it in your information on your website. You can put the information in your email reminders and mention it in your initial lesson. But if you haven’t communicated the information, you can’t expect your clients to know. And, of course, you can kindly remind them if they overstep.
For example, let’s say you prefer email over text or phone, and a client sends you a text message about their appointment next week. You can respond with something like, “Thanks for letting me know! I’d be happy to talk about that more during our lesson next week. Can you email me a note about that, so I don’t forget? I’m currently on my way to see another client.”
Setting Boundaries — But Being Flexible
Also — setting boundaries doesn’t mean your boundaries have to stay the same forever. In fact, it’s almost impossible to anticipate every necessary boundary — often, you don’t know what boundaries you really need until something goes wrong.
Or your life situation may change — maybe you have kids now, and didn’t when you started your business. Or your workload looks different now; you’re juggling more clients, so you can’t spend as much time on email or the phone. Or you’re managing a team, so you can’t take on as many appointments.
Boundaries also don’t even have to be 100% enforced (though if you’re going to make an exception, I recommend calling it out).
After all, they’re your boundaries; you’re allowed to be flexible.
It’s also fine to set up boundaries that you know you’ll almost never enforce, so you have them *just in case.* For example, if you make it clear you have late fee if a client doesn’t pay their bill on time, you can choose to reach out instead when their invoice becomes overdue and say, “Hey, our policy is to charge a late fee after X days — it’s been X days. But before I do that, I wanted to reach out and see what was going on, and see if there’s anything we can do to resolve this. I’d be happy to give you an extra X days, if that would help.”
(But can you see how that calls out the exception?)
Boundaries Should Grow With You
As a final caveat, I want to mention that in the early days of your business, you’re less likely to know what boundaries you need — but also, it’s in your best interest to be a little bit eager, and enthusiastic. When you’re just starting a new business, you may need to be a little more flexible about some things… and then set rules in place as you go. As a new business owner you’re also likely to be unsure which boundaries are really important to you. So set a few, if there are things you know will matter… and realize it’s fine to implement others over time.
Is It Possible to Set Too Many Boundaries?
The short answer is yes.
When setting boundaries, you do need to consider what the market and your clients will tolerate.
For example, if your boundary is that you’ll only take clients between the hours of 1am and 6am… you’re probably going to have trouble finding clients who are willing to make that work for them (and their boundaries).
But That’s Not Usually The Problem…
In general, I find trainers think there are boundaries that they can’t set because clients won’t tolerate it… and they’re often wrong. Most of the time boundaries have to be pretty extreme before they’ll become a problem.
You may not be able to limit your availability to between 1:00am and 6:00am but you absolutely can choose to not take evening clients. Many trainers think that’s not an option – but it is! I know multiple trainers who make that work for them. Or, you can choose not to work weekends. Again, I know multiple trainers who do this and do just fine (at least, if you consider growing a 6-figure business to be ‘just fine’).
You can absolutely tell clients you only check email twice a day, but they should expect to hear back from you within 48 hours of sending their email. However, it probably won’t fly if you tell them you only check email once a week.
And you can absolutely tell clients that they need to let you know about cancellations at least 24 hours in advance (and be flexible, making exceptions when you feel it appropriate). But you probably can’t tell clients they need to let you know 2 weeks beforehand.
Setting Boundaries: It’s Not Just For You
The final point I want to make is that while boundaries can sometimes feel selfish… ultimately they tend to benefit our clients as much as they benefit us.
When your boundaries are effective communicated, it helps your clients know what to expect. Knowing what to expect makes us feel safe and builds trust. And when those boundaries are kept, you are better able to bring your best self to their appointments. You don’t end up feeling burnt out, or hating your job.
Having boundaries is the training equivalent of management; they help avoid conflict — often, you can choose to either set a boundary in advance, or deal with conflict later on. Setting a boundary in advance is almost always the better, kinder option.
So — go ahead and share. What boundaries do you have for your business? Which ones are you considering, now that you’ve read this article? What boundaries would you love to set but you’re not sure if you can? I’ll read every comment!
I have several pages at the end of my contract spelling out expectations, responsibilities and policies that restate my contract in plain language. Clients initial each point as part of signing the contract. Clients seem to appreciate the clarity and transparency.
I love that idea!