Starting my business five years ago has been one of the most rewarding and difficult things I have ever accomplished. I've learned a lot over the last five years. My skill set has grown as has my mental maturity. I've made plenty of mistakes during my time in business and they've helped me learn how to be a better business owner.
Today I'd like to share some wisdom with you about how to set up healthy boundaries in your freelance business.
So what are boundaries?
In psychology, personal boundaries are "guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits." (Wikipedia)
Setting boundaries in our personal and professional lives are important for maintaining healthy relationships, not only with others, but with ourselves. There are several types of personal boundaries: physical, intellectual, emotional, sexual, material and time. It's important to note that boundaries are not restrictions we set on other people. We are not responsible for other people's reactions to our boundaries. They can choose to respect your boundaries or not, but a part of having healthy boundaries is enforcing those boundaries regardless of how others respond to them. There's no point in having boundaries if you bend them (note: sometimes there are exceptions to this -but we'll talk about that later). Let's go through each category and talk through the types of boundaries you could set in your business.
Physical boundaries are just what it seems - it refers to our personal space (what I like to refer to as my bubble) and physical touching. Knowing how much physical contact you're comfortable with in a given situation is important to setting physical boundaries. So how does this apply in a freelance business? Say you have a client that likes to stand or sit too close to you for your comfort. Verbally telling them that you need some space between you is a healthy boundary. The same applies if you have a client who prefers to hug rather than shake hands. If you're not comfortable with hugging, it's okay to say - I prefer not to hug, but I'm happy to give you a handshake.
Intellectual boundaries refers to sharing thoughts and ideas. In a freelance business, you might make it a boundary not to talk about politics and religion with clients (unless it relates specifically to your business). In my field (design and marketing), an intellectual boundary you might have is not sharing your full plan for your client until they pay you or they sign a contract. It seems like common sense, but sometimes potential clients can pressure you to get all the little details about how you plan to market them before they've paid you for those ideas.
Emotional boundaries refer to when or how you share (or not share) personal information. In business, you may make it a personal emotional boundary not to share information about your private life with clients.
Sexual boundaries in business are especially important when running a business. Most people will never have an issue with this, but it's important to at least note in your mind what your boundaries are. Sexual boundaries in business can refer to consensual sexual actions and non-consensual actions. You've probably heard "mixing business with pleasure" before; it's important NOT to mix business with pleasure. You don't want to start an intimate relationship of any kind with a client. It's bad for business period - no matter how non-problematic it seems at first. As for non-consensual actions - again it's hopefully not something you'll ever have to do with - it's important to establish and uphold your boundaries. For example, I had a potential client "accidentally" send me an explicit photo. I immediately severed all ties with them and let them know that we would not be working together in any capacity. It was my boundary not to accept or brush off this kind of behavior and I made sure that it was a "hard" boundary.
Material Boundaries and Time Boundaries:
Material boundaries refer to money and possessions. Setting material boundaries means setting limits on what you share, or won't share, with your clients. Time boundaries is about how you share and use your time. I've grouped these two types of boundaries together because in business they often go hand-in-hand. For example, a client is running late on their payment. You can choose whether or not to continue their service (taking up your time and money) for a certain period of time, or you can choose to terminate their service. I tend to have softer boundaries when it comes to these. You may have more rigid boundaries. It's all about what you feel comfortable doing. Another example of this is doing charity work or work for free jobs. It's your right to choose not to work for free or give up your time. You can also set time boundaries by telling clients you will not answer calls/emails after on weekends and nights.
Enforcing our boundaries:
Like I mentioned earlier, there's no point in creating these boundaries if we don't uphold them. Sometimes though, we tend to bend or break our boundaries for outlier situations.
For me, an outlier situation might be: You have a time boundary that you wont' answer client calls or emails on weekends or do any work on the weekends. On Friday, you launched a new website for a client and the website crashes on Saturday afternoon. You may decide to work that Saturday and answer client calls (as there surely will be quite a few) to get that website back up. Breaking that boundary is your prerogative. It's important to realize though that you can reset your boundaries at any time.
I hope this information is helpful to you, and I'd love to know how you've used personal boundaries in your business or personal life and how they've been helpful to you. Have a great rest of the week everyone!
Resources for information on personal boundaries: