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Business Management – Setting Boundaries

Let’s talk about boundaries in business. The “B” word is a sneaky one. On the one hand, it is important to learn, remember and set boundaries in all aspects of your life. On the other hand, in business, you want to be accessible and approachable and available to your colleagues, partners, clients… How do you balance being available and accessible and having a life and some privacy?

Availability is a good thing…. To a point

We live in a very communicative and connected world. We all have at least one computer, a smartphone (which is another computer in our palms) and sometimes a tablet too. We are all on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram and many other channels. Chances are most of your reading this have more than one email address… We use multiple apps for communication: Skype, WhatsApp, SMS, Phone calls, Hangouts and many more…

On the one hand, it is important to learn, remember and set boundaries in all aspects of your life. On the other hand, in business, you want to be accessible and approachable and available to your colleagues, partners, clients… How do you balance being available and accessible and having a life and some privacy?

The fact that we have the means to communicate and connect all the time, 24/7/365, doesn’t mean we have to be available all the time. This is a no-brainer, right? WRONG!

It seems that there are people who take these options and these means of communication a tad bit too far. And so we need to set boundaries. Because if we don’t, we’ll burn out and we’ll end up in conflict with too many people. It’s bad for business and it’s bad for life.

Examples for boundaries crossing I encounter in my business:

The “I don’t care what time it is” type: the person who will call you on your phone at 7 am or at 10 pm or even midnight! He will also not hesitate to send you a text message, hangout message, WhatsApp (he’ll look you up!), Skype and complain you are not answering.

The “I can’t read” type: the person who, despite receiving a message from you saying you are busy and will get back to them, or a message saying you will not be available on specific times, still tries to contact you on all means, over and over again…because they have a question….

The “I can’t sleep” type: the person who is a night owl and thinks you should be one too, so they email you and send text messages and /or WhatsApp messages at odd times like 2am or 4 am.

The “I’m bored/stalker” type: the person who is an attention freak and just needs to know you’re there… that’s the person who will try to get you involved in all aspect of their life – the kids, the wife, the dog… they will contact you at any time with zero regard for your time, follow you on all social media, get involved with your friends and comment on anything you post.

The “control freak” type: this is the micromanager. The person who needs to know where you are, what you are doing and why, every minute of every day. This is the person who will contact you with questions and nag you until you answer no matter what your business relationship with them is.

The “OCD/Panic attack” type: this is the person who, no matter what happens (good or bad, urgent or not) will email you hysterically with caps and exclamation marks, use words like “demand” and try to call you and message you on all means over and over and again. This is the person who, if they have your cell number and your office number will call them both one after the other, because if you’re not answering on one, then surely you have the answer the other; and then send messages and try to call both numbers again…and again….and again. This is the person who, when you finally get back to them, will tell you that they received an odd message on Facebook and need you to help them figure out if it’s a virus, or that they needed to ask you if your meeting or call (pre-scheduled for a specific time) is still on… even though there’s still a week until that time.

The “I don’t care what you sell, I’ll use you as I see fittype: this one is tricky. Obviously, you have more skills and knowledge and chances are you’ve done a thing or two in your life before starting your business. This business contact type is the person who learns about your skills, gains insight as to your capabilities and then tries to use you for tasks and services that you can perform, but don’t sell (because maybe it’s not something you like to do, or maybe it’s not viable business and profit wise). This is the person who will pay for X amount of your time and services, and then request/demand/persuade you to do “just that” and “just this one” for them, turning you into their general personal assistant.

The “buddy” type: this is the person who feels comfortable enough to invent affectionate nicknames for you or talk to you about your personal relationship, even though you are one of their service providers…This is a person you can expect to hear a “Hey sis!” or “hey bro!” from, or even “babe”…

We’ve all met and handled these types throughout life. We’ve met them in the form of friends, co-workers, bosses, partners and clients. So how do we deal with them?

Here’s what I do to set boundaries in my business

✅  I set my business hours clearly in the contract with my clients. I work in Israel, so my work days are Sunday – Thursday and my office hours are 09:00 – 18:00. These are specified in my quotes too, so even before someone becomes a client, they know what to expect. During those hours I am available to my clients by electronic means (phone, SMS, Skype or hangout). If an emergency happens (highly unlikely in my line of business, unless it’s an acute reputation crisis) then I am available whenever they need me, but I ask that they message me first before calling on the phone.

✅  I silence my phone. At night my phone is next to my bed because it is also my alarm clock. But imagine how unpleasant it is when the screen lights up with messages and incoming calls from clients who seem to think it is ok to try to reach me at night. During the day my phone is next to me but it is also silenced because the ring cuts off my thread of thought and forces me to at least look at my phone when a call is coming in. With my phone silenced I can work faster and get more done for my clients but I can still see the screen light up and choose to answer or not to answer a call. If I miss the call, I can call back. No harm done!

✅  I open my Skype only when I have an e-meeting scheduled. It works in the background, so I can see calls and messages pop up on my computer screen but I do not have it open unless I need it.

✅  I keep certain communication channels for friends and family only. My WhatsApp is one such channel. Anyone who is not a close friend or family trying to contact me on WhatsApp is blocked automatically. Even if it is a client. There are plenty of other ways to get me and sending me text messages as well as WhatsApp messages and calls and emails won’t make me answer faster. It will, however, annoy me.

✅  I ask my clients to email me, not call. An email serves two purposes. First, it allows me to get back to the client when I can and often sooner than I can answer a call (example: I’m at a conference where I cannot have a voice conversation on the phone, but I can answer an email on my phone). Second, it serves as a written reminder for both me and the client of requests, open tasks and whatever it is we need. A call is great but if you called and asked me something while I was busy with something else, I may very well forget what you asked me by the time I finish whatever I was doing.

✅  I use a time logging tool. I use Toggl which is a cool web-based timer (also has a mobile app) to track my time. I sell my services in bundles by scope of work and hours per month and I run a business. I need to keep track of how much I spend in real-time on each account. I use this not just to see when I spend more time than I sold on a specific account, but also to know when I overestimated my time. I never overcharge clients, but I do need to keep my business profitable.

I know, you probably already knew everything I’ve written about, but it’s not always easy to apply. Some people have zero regard and respect for your time and your life and feel that if they pay you to do something, then they have purchased “the rights to your life”. Sometimes people are just workaholics and like to work all day and all night… either way, it is unhealthy for both business manager and client. So if you are to thrive in business and succeed, you need to remember this:

Be strong and positive, connect with your clients on a human level, but set and maintain your boundaries. Even if it will cost you a contact or two…

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Elinor Cohen
Elinor Cohenhttp://www.engstr.com/
ELINOR is an Engagement Strategist (a combo of Community Management, Content Marketing, Online Marketing and Social PR), dedicated to helping brands grow, evolve and engage. Focused on the Human aspect of anything and everything around us and remembering that all business is done with and between people, She works with brands to help them evolve and transition from the narrow B2B or B2C approaches to the broader B2P. Elinor also trains Executives in Social Media and Personal branding and the future generation of Engagement Strategists. She is currently operating from the world’s innovation hub – Israel, the Start-up nation – working globally with clients from around the world.

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