Ex-boyfriends, boundaries and business lessons...
I recently had a question from a member of my Crush The Can’t Club, about how to handle difficult conversations with clients. And oh how I have been there! The drop in your stomach when you spot an email from said sucky client, the feeling completely overwhelmed with all of the messages and requests, the wanting-to-scream-or-run-away and not knowing which would be most beneficial!
This was absolutely true for me during the two experiences I had to let go of clients back in my copywriting and social media management days. And both reasons when it got down to it - I hadn’t set healthy boundaries.
I’d been allowing clients to give me more and more things to do that I couldn’t keep up with, or that were actually outside of our remit of agreed work, but I didn’t tell them. I just kept going and going and saying ‘yes’ until I’d filled my schedule to the brim, was absolutely worn out and found myself at boiling point: cue the resentment, eye rolls and stomach lurches.
Why didn’t I just tell them? Well internally I had a few things I thought I should prove:
“I can handle it!”
“I want to keep everyone happy!”
But all that was doing was making me miserable. And unable to supply the full capacity of high-level work I was capable of. Not cool for me. Not cool for my clients.
Gay Hendricks in his book The Big Leap says: “the solution to most communication problems is a sweaty 10 minute conversation.”
And aint’ that the truth!
These sweaty conversations are required in every life area, from friendships to relationships to colleagues, and when we’re in business and running the show we HAVE to be prepared to have these conversations with clients, too.
After said conversations, said clients were absolutely lovely, and really wanted me to continue. But I was sadly too far gone. I’d allowed my boundaries to be squashed so much that I felt I couldn’t come back from it.
So what do you need to know on your quest to fix up and follow new boundaries that serve you instead of squander you?
People respond to you in the way you allow them to.
Yep. If your clients are emailing you a million times a day, are throwing requests at you, are changing their minds, are asking for discounts, and you’re feeling resentment creep up…it’s because you’re allowing it to happen.
Eek, I know. I’m sorry.
“But what do you MEAN I’m allowing it to happen? I sent them a contract 3 months ago about how this would go.”
Hey I hear you. And a contract is GREAT. In fact it’s essential. And it really does help you to set the tone for the work you will do together. (Don’t have a contract? Don’t worry - my friend and lawyer Natasha Minchella has you covered over here.) But, it is merely a guideline that your client may or may not read in depth before you start work together. (I mean, they absolutely SHOULD read it in depth, and you absolutely should make sure that happens.)
But what YOU are allowing and setting as an example on the daily is what sets the continual tone for a working relationship.
If you’re replying to emails during weekends and evenings, your clients are going to continue emailing you during evenings and weekends.
If you’re finishing initial discussions or email proposals with the words ‘here’s the price, but if that’s a problem we can work something out’…you’re going to be asked if there’s any wiggle room on said price.
If you don’t want meetings or phone calls before 11am but you hear yourself saying YEAH, SURE through gritted teeth when your client asks for a call before 11am, you’re going to continue having calls before 11am (and resenting it.)
You have to DECIDE what you are and are not available for, before you can set those boundaries to other people.
You have to be non-negotiable about what is a YES and what is a HELL NO.
You have to respect yourself and your time and energy enough first to be able to put those things into place.
Some questions to ask yourself:
“What am I available for?” Working X hours for X cost, X calls of X hours included,
“What am I absolutely NOT available for?” Calls before 11am, answering emails after 4pm, responding to those extra ‘can you justs’ with a ‘oh okay then…’ albeit through gritted teeth.
In fact, this reminded me of the time I took an ex-boyfriend back THREE TIMES because I felt ‘guilty’ that a grown man was crying about the break up. He didn’t want it to end, I didn’t have any sense of boundaries, so I just thought it would be ‘easier’ to carry on.
Spoiler: it wasn’t.
When I finally took a step back to decide what I WAS and WAS NOT available for, I was able to find the strength and courage to say: IT’S A NO FROM ME.
The thing that holds most people back from setting clear boundaries is feeling that they’re not being kind or that they won’t be liked. But here’s the thing to remember: setting boundaries is the kindest thing you can do, both for you and the other person.
“Saying yes when you really mean NO leads to resentment, which is the biggest energy drain ever. Saying no and having clear boundaries is actually a spiritual act. The most giving, loving, compassionate people are those with the clearest boundaries, for when they say yes, they are able to give unconditionally.” - Rebecca Campbell, Work Your Light Oracle Cards
So where in the fluff do you start when it comes to being friendly but firm, kind but kickass with your clients, for the sake of your sanity (and to save yourself from a criminal record) ..
An absolute GAME-CHANGER that helped me to get my sh*t together, set strict boundaries, and importantly: know how to say that in a way that didn’t make me sound like a douche, was this magic book Love, Business Owner by Ash Ambirge, a collection of 300+ expert-written business scripts to help you say bye-bye to feeling like a naive, too-sweet-for-her-own-good pushover—and show up to the table like an in-control pro.
It’s hands-down one of THE best investments I’ve ever made in my business. Not only did it help me cut out the worry, time and energy of constructing tricky email and conversations, it also gave me permission to BE THE BOSS.
You can get your hands on your very own bible for every business conversation you’ll ever need to have, HERE.*
*I'm a proud affiliate of Ash’s work, and that’s because I absolutely LOVE everything she does. I can genuinely say my business life has been turned around by this collection of scripts.