Clearly-set boundaries help other people to understand how you want to be treated. They are the rules that apply when others deal with you and your business and once set are a proven way to reduce stress.
Many of us aren’t good at establishing these boundaries, something that probably stems from way back in our childhoods. As children we were taught that other people’s needs were more important than ours – that we should obey adults without question. We were rewarded for pleasing other people and sacrificing our own needs. Sometimes we put ourselves last because we dislike conflict, or because we don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings.
This behaviour of putting ourselves last contributes significantly to why we fail to set boundaries. It’s such a habit that we find it really difficult to tell people what we want.
The good news is that breaking bad habits and setting boundaries are learnable skills – ones that can make a huge positive difference to the quality of the independent professional’s life and reduce stress. Here’s five ways to help you feel more in control of your business and restore the balance between your clients needs and your own.
1. Be clear about what you do and what you don’t do
If something is outside the bounds of your normal scope of work, then simply say so. It is easy to get caught up agreeing to do unusual things or one-offs that take up a lot of extra time. Your time is valuable and you want to spend it accordingly.
2. Be clear about your on-call hours
If you are one of these soloists who is basically on call 24/7, then I believe you are doing yourself – and your clients – a disservice. It’s just as important that you have time away from the business as time in it. Communicate your available hours widely, and let your voicemail take messages outside of those times. Really – turn the phone off!
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3. Set payment terms that put you in charge
Outstanding debtors can be a huge source of stress for solo professionals. If people aren’t respecting your payment terms you need to let them know that this is unacceptable. Be clear upfront about what your terms are (actually advise new customers verbally), and consider using payment options that give you control (e.g. credit card payment and direct debits).
4. Setting expectations about deadlines
You are in control of your diary, not your clients. If you find yourself consistently working excessive hours, or longer than you want, then you are taking on more work than you can manage. It’s time to stop doing this! If you really want the work, then you’ll need to hire in some assistance. It’s all about putting yourself on an equal footing with your business. You are no good to anyone stressed out and under too much pressure.
5. Practice makes perfect – Just say no!
Don’t feel uncomfortable about saying no to an unreasonable request. And guess what? You don’t need to explain why. After all, we don’t offer an explanation when we say yes.
Implementing these simple practices of setting boundaires will help you to regain control of your schedule, your time and your workload. Asking for what you really want – and getting it – is one of the advantages of being an adult! Remember: your business, your rules.