As a small business owner, and one person team for everything - social media, networking, marketing, administration, finance, and all correspondence with clients, it can be hard to stay on the professional side of the line at all times. It can be a slippery slope and it can be hard to navigate the gray area! Here are my 5 steps to setting boundaries which will save you time and stress!
- Abide by your office hours for emails, text, phone calls, etc.
This one is the easiest one to slip up on - and I'm guilty of it from time to time. My office hours are "always open" on facebook, but otherwise, I really do operate my business during normal business hours - specifically, 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. There are some nights I'll work late, and I'll send emails after that time, but otherwise I don't. I schedule phone calls or only make them during the day, or they're by appointment only. I rarely answer my phone if I'm not expecting a call. This sets the boundary for clients and the expectation that you are acting as a professional and should be treated as such. My lifesaver is the google app "boomerang" - I can schedule emails to be sent in the morning even when I'm working late at night and sleeping in the next morning. You can get a free version if you don't schedule more than a few emails that month, but it's absolutely worth paying for!
- Use professional forms of communication (avoid texting, social media messaging, etc. )
Do yourself a favor and set a facebook message auto response on your facebook page. I do get a few inquiries via facebook but I am so awful about checking it that it's a poor reflection of my customer service. It's also a very casual form of communication, and makes you seem less professional. It may be easy and convenient, but it doesn't make you come across as a professional. And because social media is something your clients are on all the time, it's harder to know when to not respond - when it gets too late at night or you're out with your husband on a date. Create those boundaries and you don't have to stress every time you open Facebook!
- Be professional online - in every aspect (especially online).
When you create your online profiles, you're creating a persona for yourself online. And with your information and opinions out for everyone to see, you should know that people will form their own opinions about you! Think long and hard before you post anything controversial, political, religious, etc. It most likely doesn't have a place on your business pages or profiles. If you're on facebook, keep your page and your personal facebook separate, don't friend request your clients until after their contract is over, and make sure if you have an instagram your profile is either private or truly professional. If you have a profile but it's personal and not private, it will look like that's your business profile - make it easy for clients. If you create a boundary for yourself between your professional life and your personal life, they will too.
- Keep consultation conversations professional.
This starts from the beginning in how you interact with your potential clients. When you set the tone with a professional email or phone conversation, they're going to take you seriously. I once had a client who, when we met for the first time, commended me for my professionalism. She said that another planner she wanted to meet with didn't send clear emails, and ultimately had to reschedule her appointment because she had to take her dog to the vet. The client told her not to worry about the meeting and booked with me that same day instead. Your clients care about you being a professional - they have an expectation that you will be professional and treat them that way. Do so and they will respect your boundaries!
- Stop apologizing.
This one has more to do with respecting yourself and believing that you're the professional you are. It's one thing to apologize for something that you made a mistake on. It's another to say "Sorry, I can't meet then, can we do this instead?" rather than, "The best date and time for me is: this. Which would you prefer?" Start removing "sorry" from your professional vocabulary and your clients and colleagues will take you more seriously. I think this is particularly for the females out there - we tend to undervalue ourselves and apologize to make others feel better. We shouldn't do that when it undermines ourselves! Value yourself first, trust that you're doing the right thing, and be confident!