My wife and I were sitting on our front porch one sunny summer morning recently having a tea and talking about our businesses. She shared with me that she was starting to feel overwhelmed, like her work, the work she loves doing, was consuming her every waking moment (and some of her sleeping ones too). We talked about what was going on day-to-day that would make her feel this way. What we discovered was very interesting.
Kristine has two very successful businesses – she is the owner/operator of Pilates for Runners, a Pilates studio here in Cincinnati, and she’s a very successful Arbonne Independant Consultant. She has a LOT of clients and interacts with them constantly; she gets emails and text messages from clients all day long. The work she does requires a lot of coordination so getting lots of messages is not the issue, that’s just the nature of her work. The problem was that Kristine felt she needed to respond to every message right away. This is what was causing her to feel overwhelmed – like she could never escape her work. She said she needed to set some boundaries. I thought this was a great move on her part and together we brainstormed some ideas that have really helped her. She’s set some healthy boundaries and she now feels less stressed and has separation between her work life and her personal life (which I really appreciate).
This post grew out of that conversation. Below are some of the boundaries Kristine and I use for our businesses. Setting boundaries is key if you want to achieve long-term success without all the stress.
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Setting boundaries for small business success
It’s OK to say no
If you run a service-based business like me one of the most powerful boundaries you can set is saying no to work. You really don’t have to say yes to everything that comes your way. It’s your business and you should be OK with turning away a client if it’s just not a good fit for you. You want to always be attracting and working with your ideal clients. The fact is, you do your best work for people who match your ideal. Say no more often and see how the quality of your work goes up and your stress level goes down.
Manage your precious time
I’m just going to say this straight up: small business owners are terrible at time management. OK, I feel better now. It’s not pretty but it’s true. I should know, I’m a small business owner and I’m terrible at time management. What we’re good at is running our businesses. I got an email recently from an awesome singer/songwriter named John who is struggling with managing his time. He wants to be writing and playing music but instead he finds himself sitting at his computer working on his website, connecting on social media, researching crowdfunding, etc. In order for John to continue to grow his business he’s going to need to set some boundaries. Here are some ideas.
Set a schedule for everything you do in your business. If you need to be writing a blog post every week, schedule the time to write. If you need to connect with your audience on social media, do it once a day for 30 minutes. If you should be writing songs or working on a client’s website, schedule that too.
Define your working hours
Let your clients and customers know when you are available and only respond to their emails and texts during your pre-defined working hours. This simple little step has really helped Kristine to be more productive and feel less stressed. You could setup an auto-reply email for off hours that says something like “Thanks for reaching out to me. I answer email weekdays between 10-11am so look for a response from me soon!” Simple and to the point.
Don’t do it all yourself
As small business owners we’re used to doing everything ourselves. And why not? We can do it all, so why shouldn’t we? Because you should be spending most of your working time running your business – designing websites, teaching Pilates, playing music – and much less of your time doing busy work that someone else can be trained to do. Virtual assistants, or VAs are a great resource to help you delegate some day-to-day tasks so you can focus on the nature of your business. VAs can answer your email, book appointments, do research, edit audio and video, manage your social media, update your website, and much, much more.
Say no to meetings
Some meetings can be a real time-waster for you as a busy small business owner. When asked to meet, whether via phone, online, or in person, ask yourself a couple of questions to determine if the meeting is truly necessary or just a waste of your precious time.
- Is the purpose of this meeting clearly defined?
- Is there a solid objective we need to achieve by having this meeting?
- Can we achieve the same objective another way? For example via email?
Define your workspace
If you work from home it may be hard to get into work mode if you don’t have a well-defined and dedicated work space. Kristine and I recently converted our basement to a shared office, and when we’re home that’s the only place we work. Also, be sure your family is on board with your needs around working from home. Set some house rules about where and when you work, when you need to be left alone, noise levels, etc. You can also go somewhere else to work on occasion; this can be really helpful for you creative types. Go to a local coffee shop or a park. You might be surprised how productive you can be in a completely different environment.
Stop scope creep
If you have a service-based business like me you might know all about scope-creep. That’s when the scope of the project keeps growing and you end up doing a lot more work for the original agreed-upon fee. To avoid this, you should define in great detail the project specs and stick to them no matter what. This is sometimes hard to do because we want to show our clients that we’re willing to bend over backwards for them. That doesn’t mean they can take advantage of us. Don’t be afraid to charge for changes outside the original scope of the project. Be honest and let the client know if the project is starting to exceed the original scope and that it will cost extra to continue. Chances are they will understand, and if you do great work they’ll be more than willing to pay up.
The end result
You are a passionate small business owner striving for long-term success. There will be times when you’re going to have to set some healthy boundaries to ensure that success. Take control of your business and your life and put some of these ideas into practice now. The end result? You will be more productive with less stress and your amazing business will continue to thrive and grow.
What boundaries have you set in your business? How have they helped you? Try some of these ideas and share the results with us. I love hearing your success stories!