Want to bring in more money from your small business? The habit of setting and, more importantly, keeping boundaries is one of the most important skills you can develop to create a thriving and sane small business. You are in business to make money and that is okay. I am surprised by the numbers of people who somehow think that there is something wrong about doing our work and getting paid for it. But that is for another post.
When I was first dating my husband I had two Basset Hounds. Although they were pretty good dogs, they had the run of the house and I have to admit they were pretty much did as they pleased. One day a friend brought me yet another hound dog she found running in the street without any ID. I agreed to take him long enough to find his owner or a new home. I could not find his owner and he schooched right into my heart ( can you see why?) and I couldn’t give him up. My now husband was appalled at the idea of me taking in another dog. He said a dangerous thing to a newish relationship, “It’s me or the dog!”
Hmmm. I did not think that was a boundary he really wanted to set up as he might not like the result. But I knew his frustration. So, I told him he was absolutely right about not wanting to have a pack of wild dogs. If we were going to have three dogs we needed to put in place some dog rules. Thankfully, he agreed. A crisis was averted and we decided on what would make living with three dogs practical. Once we did, we let the dogs know what they were and we kept consistently reinforcing these new behaviors. It is hard sometimes. I still want to let them get on the couch with me, but I know that is the thin edge of the wedge and if I do it once then they are all three up on the couch whenever,which is entirely too much fur on everything, so I keep to our rules. After just a very short time, the change was amazing. The thing is, they are happier and we are certainly happier. It worked out very well.
It works much the same way with our relationships with our clients. It seems simple enough. But, when the process of setting and keeping boundaries is overlooked it can cause chaos, frustration and ultimately someone may get bit. Oh no, I was mixing metaphors here. But… we will get ourselves into situations with people we had no business being in or doing more than we should have for less than we needed and then we feel bad and often blame the other person for the situation.
Just like with dogs, it is usually not their fault. Sure a Terrier may need tougher boundaries than a more mellow Collie. It is that way with people too. Some are higher energy, more demanding, less respectful or more needy than others . But it is up to us to decide who we want to work with and to teach them how to treat us. We need to determine our procedures, pricing and expectations and communicate them to our clients in a non-reactive matter of fact manner. This is better done before a situation occurs than to try and tell someone the rules after the relationship has been going a certain way.
I was talking to someone yesterday that has a problem with this. She really loves teaching and helping people in her area of expertise. So she gets carried away and works with them for hours getting a feel for their project and actually consulting with them. I asked her if after she has spent all that time on their project if she actually expected that they would say, oh you have been so helpful, let me pay you for your time. Ummm. No way. Maybe one person would do that but most will not. We have to be in charge of ourselves, our time and our money.
When I hire someone to do something for me, I want them to be the expert and I want them to be clear about the details of our work together. Sure we can negotiate the finer details, but they need to have a starting point, a system, a way of working. This puts me at ease. I know what to expect, how much it will cost and how long it will take. When this doesn’t happen I have to do too much work. I have to do their job for them about determining what their work is worth. I am less likely to jump into something that I am unclear about. When someone has a process mapped out, it gives me confidence that they have been doing their job for a while and are good at it. Knowing how I feel about being the client makes it easier for me to be the on the other end of the deal and set my boundaries and stick to them.
Boundaries With Money
Many of us have hard times setting our prices. I remember when I was first starting my practice as a clinical psychologist (see About Judi). It was so hard to fathom that someone was going to pay a hundred dollars to talk to me for an hour. I actually had to practice saying the words, My fee is a hundred dollars an hour”. It is important for us to set a fee structure and then stick to it. Yes you can make exceptions, but make them rarely. If you have trouble closing the deal, practice with someone so that you get to the point where you can tell someone what your fees are like it is no big deal. You need to believe this is a fair price and put it out there.
Lat year, I developed and put a page on my website showing my three website packages : The Young Pup, The Working Dog and the Best in Breed. I had two main reasons for doing this. First, I wanted my web visitors to have a clear idea what I offered and the range of my prices. Having my services and the starting price points of the packages spelled out keeps them from having to call and fear sounding stupid or embarrassed if my services are not what they need or my prices are out of their range. Second, and most importantly, I did it for me. I was really the one that needed these boundaries to help me from getting into sticky situations with my clients.
I am fortunate to have the skills and expertise to create a fabulous website with all the bells and whistles they need to attract the business that they are looking for and to convert their visitors into clients. But the full range of services takes a lot of time in design, development and coaching. So I love when someone signs up for the Best in Breed package. Or the Working dog and then add on future consulting hours to teak it and educate them on how to use their site. However, I also like working with some start-ups or artists or other people where that level of investment is not possible at this point. I want to and do take on some clients who need to be Best in Breed but can only afford at this point to be a Working Dog. However, I know my tendency is to over deliver. That is fine and I always will do that to some extent, but I have to have limits or I would be working for 2.50 per hour. Having developed these packages makes it easy for me to talk to my clients about the differences between the levels of service in time and deliverables so we are on the same page with our expectations. It makes it easier for me to be clear about what they did or did not buy.
When I sat down to map out my packages I had to think of it this way. When I was doing building and design ( see about Judi), I might have a client come to me and ask if I could renovate their kitchen and they only had a budget of f $15,000. Now, that is a small budget for a kitchen renovation. But if I wanted to do the job for them, I might say, “Well sure. We can make some changes to make your kitchen attractive and functional on that budget.” So we would start to work on it and maybe they would say, “Wow, wouldn’t a Viking Stove look great here?” . It would be pretty easy for me to say, “It sure would, too bad it isn’t in your budget right now.”
But, if I have a web design client on a tight budget that gets the Working Dog Package, and we are almost through the project and they say, Wow, wouldn’t a featured post slider be great on the site? “ And I know they are right, that it would be just the perfect thing and in this case I have the capability to create it. But… I have learned to stop myself from my first impulse to please them, and then say, ” Yeah, that featured post slider would be perfect. But it isn’t in your budget right now. To add it will be another six hours work. Can you swing that now or shall we wait until Phase II?” I tell you I have learned to set these limits for myself and be clear about it to my clients the hard way. For sure I have gone ahead and built them their featured post slider when it was not in our scope of work because I was excited about how it would look or work for them. But often, what is likely to happen is that the free featured post slider ends up taking 3 hours to get it done and then 5 more hours for all the tweaks the client wants on this free slider. Then, either I will be aggravated and pissed off to trying to please them or they will be disappointed that it is not perfect for them and so no one wins.
Boundaries With Time
Although people say that time is money, you would never know it from how sloppy we can be with this precious commodity. Over the past couple of years I have addressed this in several ways that have been very fruitful.
First, I have carved out an hour every morning to go walking. Set in stone. I walk from 8-9 AM and then take an hour to get a shower, dress and eat breakfast. I then have 15 minutes to check my e-mail and calendar and start work at 10:00. Getting outside and exercising is especially important to me since I sit all day, mostly in front of a computer or with clients. I need this time to get moving and be out in nature. To make sure it happens, I have set up a walking group and we meet unless it is pouring down rain, lightening or icy. Not only do we get exercise but we have juicy conversations about work, marketing and life and it is great fodder for writing.
The second big time boundary I made was to set Monday as the day each week that I save to work on my own business, rather that working on my clients’ businesses. If I don’t do this, there is never enough time left over for for me to do my own work. And remarkably setting this time for myself, has increased my revenue. My client work still gets done but I am working smarter on the right balance of projects and if I did not take this time for me, I would not have figured out how to do this. Amazing how that works!
The third time management boundary I put in place came about because as I became more well known both on line and off, I get lots of requests to meet from people who want to, “pick my brain” about something. Some offer to take me to lunch. But, I rarely go out to lunch during the week, even with friends. Some people want to make an appointment to talk about their projects since they may want to work with me. The thing is, if I was to meet with all of these people, I would a) have not time left, and b) have no brain left. It would be picked clean. To deal with this issue, I created the Talk It Out Session.
I realized that when anyone even prospective clients met with me to discuss their I project, or their life they got great information in that one hour whether they ended up working with me or not. So, when someone calls, I will tell them I have a few minutes to talk but if it is something that is going to take some time, they may want to go on my site and fill out the questionnaire to set up a Talk it Out Session. When the form is submitted it automatically creates an invoice in Freshbooks which lets the client pay for the session by PayPal, before it is scheduled. This really works well for me and weeds out the people who are not truly interested in working with me. It is a great way for people to get a feel for what they will get by working with me and we can both determine whether it is the right fit. If I think the job is outside my scope of ideal project I will make a referral to someone that has the expertise for that type of job.
I hope this discussion gave you some practical ideas for helping your business grow profitably while keeping your sanity. I’d love to hear the ways you have set boundaries in your business and how it is working for you.