I have learned a couple of important lessons about setting boundaries with myself and others over the past 10 years. While I always strive to exceed expectations, I have learned the importance of not bending over backwards to help clients – with either my time or my pricing.

And definitely not both at the same time because this leads to an exhausted, cranky, and broke entrepreneur.

I learned that the hard way.

Please know I am not a “pleaser” by nature. Sure, I like people to like me – but I don’t need a ton of external validation to feel good about myself.

While doing good work gives me great pleasure (and frequently referrals), I am an introvert and need a lot of recharging time. I also know I need white space in my calendar to find my best ideas.

Let’s talk about some ways you can make sure that you don’t overwork yourself or overserve needy clients.

Guard your downtime

I try to work Sunday noon to Friday noon. My goal is to be offline from mid-day Friday to mid-day Sunday. I work Sundays because some of my clients have full-time jobs and can’t meet during the week. I also need to do writing when the phone and emails won’t distract me, and Sunday is ideal for that.

I had to work on Saturday the past few weekends. Sometimes I don’t mind, and sometimes I do. If I’m doing something creative or catching up on writing, that’s cool. If I’m working on a rush resume, I might be happy for the lack of interruptions and annoyed about working on it at the same time.

When I plan ahead, I unplug from my laptop and smartphone and have great time on Saturday, and then I hunker down on Sunday. That usually works well for me because I have had some fun and then I can drop in and have very productive Sunday afternoon, which sets me up for a strong start to the week.

During your downtime, don’t feel like you have to answer email. It will be there when you get to it. Your time is precious and needs to be treated like the treasure it is.

Share your boundaries

Don’t assume clients know your availability. Sharing your office hours and setting expectations for response time can avoid a client drama or disaster. As a small business owner, you will want to be very clear about your boundaries.

You should think about:

  • How responsive do you want to be?
  • How available do you want to be to your clients?
  • Do you prefer clients call or email?
  • Are you okay with clients texting you?
  • Will you have different tiers of clients who will get different access to you?

Decide what your preferences are, and then clearly communicate them to your clients. You need to stick to it, too. A consistent client experience is a good thing. If you respond instantly all the time, you will set an expectation with the client that you are always available.

Example: I had a client who sent me emails on Saturday, which I was dumb enough to answer. And then they called my cell phone at 9:30 AM Sunday morning. I didn’t answer and they didn’t leave a message. Instead, they sent another email saying they were in a panic. This and this needed to be changed. They didn’t understand why I did this other thing. Then they asked me when we could talk.

I started feeling really annoyed, but I was the problem. I hadn’t been clear about my boundaries.

Please know I was busting my butt doing a quick turnaround on a resume rework for them. I charged them less than half of my usual rate because they had just paid for another service, and because it didn’t seem like it would take too much time and they were in financial hardship. I liked them and I wanted to be as helpful as I could be.

What actually happened was they didn’t respect the incredible gift I was giving them with the short turnaround and it was totally my fault.

Follow your own rules

Your rules are your rules. Honor them, and make others honor them as well. Running your own business is a big commitment – and most of you are in it for the long haul.

Our phones make it possible for people to reach us at any time. In order to not resent your clients and your business, you need to protect yourself and your business. If you drop your price or jump every time a client says so, you will get walked over, and that doesn’t feel good.

Good clients will follow your rules and see your value. Annoying clients will trample over your boundaries, ask for immediate turnarounds, and insist on extra discounts. If this happens too often, you will be exhausted and depleted, which doesn’t enable you to serve your clients well.