I’ve run my own businesses for the past seven years, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned (albeit the hard way) is the importance of setting time expectations and boundaries with your clients.
In some ways, clients can be like small children in this respect. For example, if you give your kids candy every time they cry, they’re going to learn to cry more often to get their sugar-high. If you put them to bed every night at 7 p.m., they’ll learn to go to bed at 7 p.m.
With clients, if you pick up the phone every time you see them calling on your Caller ID, they’ll expect a pick-up every time. If you consistently reply to their emails at midnight, they’ll come to expect 24-hour email responses.
That’s why setting time boundaries is extremely important. Of course, you can write such boundaries in your contract from the outset, but there are also a number that you can set simply by setting expectations through the client management process.
Here are three reasons why setting these boundaries is so vital:
1) Your Sanity.
It took years of interrupted dinners and frantic 11 p.m. email responses to wear me down and realize how important setting boundaries is to my mental health (and that of my very patient wife). The problem was that I had set a precedent with several clients that I would take their calls or reply to their emails at all hours of the day or night. And my clients were all too happy to take advantage of that fact.
Don’t get me wrong — sometimes emergencies happen that require after-hours response. But random brainstorming sessions and non-urgent calls and emails do not fall into that category.
Just because your clients have sleepless nights or email addictions doesn’t mean you have to, as well. Set the boundaries early. One thing that helps me is batching my emails and not checking my inbox after 5 p.m. I also don’t answer the phone after-hours. I’ll check my voicemail and, if the matter is urgent, I can deal with it.
2) Your Productivity.
It’s not only after-hours emails and calls for which you need to set boundaries. It’s also the (misguided) notion that every email and call deserves an immediate response. If you are constantly replying in real-time to every email that hits your inbox, your clients are going to come to expect immediate responses. And, odds are that if you’re spending your day dealing with real-time email management, you’re not being very productive on the actual task list you had set for the day.
Once again — setting boundaries is vital. Email batching is important. I also find that using my Out of Office notifications are also very helpful. For example, if I’m going to be in a series of meetings, or simply have to crash on a big presentation for a few hours, I’ll set my Out of Office notification to let people know that I’ll be unavailable for a few hours. Again, if it’s urgent, they can call and leave a voicemail.
3) Your Profit.
Of course, if you’re not very productive, and your clients are driving you crazy — your cashflow is going to suffer. They key to being able to handle a large client base is working efficiently. If you have one client monopolizing all your time, you’re going to find it hard to manage your other clients.
In what other areas do you find the importance of setting time boundaries with your clients? Do you have any funny or interesting stories to share? If so, we’d love to read and share them in the comments section below!