Being a business owner gives you the power to set your own rules and create your own level of freedom. But the responsibilities of running your own business can come at a cost – your work time spills over into your personal time – often to the detriment of your own well-being. When the lines between work and life become blurred, having a lack of boundaries can quickly lead to burnout.
So what are boundaries, what kind should you be putting in place, and how can they help you with both your business and your overall well-being?
What are business boundaries?
In your personal life, boundaries can involve something as simple as turning your phone on silent when you don’t want to be disturbed, or closing a door in a room when you need some quiet time. It can be one little word; ‘no’, in response to something you don’t want to do. But in business, professional boundaries can easily be overlooked. Particularly in the excitement of start-up enthusiasm and the need to please clients.
Business boundaries are there to determine when, where, and how you work. Without them, you could be answering messages, phone calls, and email any time of day or night, particularly if you’re juggling work life with home life. Which isn’t great when you’re trying to cook dinner or wanting to catch up on your favourite streaming programme.
The problems with not setting boundaries in your business
Multi-tasking might have been considered a positive strength in the last decade or so, but research has shown that it affects our ability to produce our best work, as our focus is spread too thinly.
The need to protect your time and energy is essential for your physical and mental wellbeing. Here are some of the problems you might face with a lack of business boundaries.
Relationship dynamics and unrealistic expectations
Do you find yourself answering emails late in the evening? You might think nothing of it the first few times. But just because your client is working at 10pm and bombarding you with questions, that doesn’t mean you have to respond there and then. Answering emails outside of your own hours just to keep your clients happy sets unrealistic expectations early on.
This could potentially affect the equality of the relationship and begin to feel like an employer/employee set up, resulting in resentment from you and frustration from them. You’re an entrepreneur running your own business. You are, therefore, a professional. You are in control of when and how you respond, and you are entitled to a level of respect.
You still need to keep your clients happy, though, so make sure they know when they can expect a response from you.
Not doing your best work
Trying to do too much is a huge drain on your energy levels. Tiredness can directly impact your ability to focus, and consequently, your productivity and level of work output. If you don’t have clear boundaries in place to balance work time with down time, tiredness can lead to fatigue, errors of judgement and negativity/imposter syndrome. In turn, this can affect the quality of your client work, and also your business growth.
Now recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as an occupational phenomenon, burnout is a state of physical and mental exhaustion as a result of long-term stress. Symptoms of burnout can include the following:
- Feeling tired/drained all the time
- Feeling helpless or detached from everything
- Lack of interest in anything
- A sense of feeling trapped
- Negative thoughts
- Constantly feeling overwhelmed
- Experiencing self-doubt/imposter syndrome
- Physical symptoms such as aches and pains
- Stomach problems
It can take a long time to recover from burnout which could negatively impact your business as well as your health. Therefore, it’s essential to put boundaries in place to avoid it happening in the first place.
Examples of business boundaries
Setting boundaries in your business enables you to manage your time more effectively, increase productivity, and build better relationships through transparency and clear expectations. Here are some you might consider putting in place:
Hours and availability
What hours do you work? What days do you work? You can put this information on your website, in your email signature, and on your social media channels to make it clear when you are available. Alternatively, let prospects know in advance when they can expect to hear from you. Then turn off notifications when you’re not working to avoid the temptation to check messages.
Email and phone
Perhaps you only work school hours, but occasionally do admin in the evenings. Your commitments outside of your business may mean that you can only do video calls in the early evening. Perhaps you can only take and make phone calls at lunchtime, particularly if your business is your side hustle alongside employed work. If so, make this clear to your prospects and clients.
Turnaround and response times
Your clients need to know what your turnaround times are. For example, if you’ve a project to deliver, when will you deliver it by? And if they need to contact you, when can they expect a response? Within 24 hours? 48 hours? If you can communicate this upfront, it can help you to organise your days more effectively.
Watch out for scope creep
If a client wants something which falls outside of the original scope of work, it’s important to point that out. Say no if it’s something you don’t want to or can’t do. Of course, if you can do it, be clear that it is extra work and therefore, extra time.
What you expect in return
Don’t forget, you’re trying to run a business here, so it’s important to make your expectations clear, too. If you need a response to something by a certain time, be sure to let your client know, as any delay on their part could affect the final delivery of the completed project.
Self-care – setting boundaries with yourself
Yes, you need boundaries too. From stopping work when you need to, and making sure you keep things in perspective. If you use your smartphone for business and personal life, you can set up filters and focus screens to create clear boundaries between work and home.
You need to take that rest time, go for that walk, indulge in those hobbies. Practising self-care is essential for maintaining positive health and well-being. Granted, it takes time to find that sweet spot of balance between your business and personal life, and a lot of it is trial and error. Ultimately, it’s up to you to listen to your body when you need to rest, and ensure you make time for fun, too.