Now you may have read that title and thought nahh I’m good, I want to have close relationships with my customers, we have an understanding, we’ve had no issues.
TRUST ME not creating boundaries from the very beginning is a massive mistake, that I made, and it will effect you, your sanity and your Business in the long term.
What I mean by ‘boundaries’ are rules, procedures or structures that you stick to (and don’t bend) or lines that you don’t cross and that you make clear from the start, and knowing when to say no.
Boundaries are important because they allow you to have clear work and personal time, ensure a good working relationship that doesn’t cross the line, and everyone knows where they stand. It also prevents confusion and to be blunt, people taking the piss and walking all over you in future. Not to mention keeping you sane, preventing burnout and avoiding tears and sleepless nights down the line.
Look at it like this, in your previous 9-5 would you have contacted your boss on their personal mobile at 11pm on a Saturday night to tell them there’s a problem with xyz or they need to call Mrs Smith back. Or when you get an out of office from a company or a colleague would you track down their personal number and call them while they’re on holiday? Nope because there are lines you don’t cross!
So as an example of problems and just plain awkwardness that can arise from NOT having clear boundaries, here’s something that happened to me early on. I had an hours dog walk booked, I turned up and the customer had left a parcel on the side with a note asking me if I could take the parcel to the post office because they didn’t have time and it HAD to be posted that day, they’d left no extra money for postage… To me there’s a difference between going above and beyond for your customers and crossing the line (boundary).
To me this was totally crossing the line, not part of the service, I didn’t have time myself, not my responsibility if this isn’t posted, I’d have to go out of my way not to mention spend extra money on fuel, but the customer was so used to me never saying no and the lines between business and friendship being blurred, that they assumed I would do this for them. I won’t even mention the woman who asked me to hang out her washing….
Another example is responding to requests immediately no matter what you are doing, no matter the time of day, and always saying YES no matter if that means rearranging or cancelling your own personal plans.
I cannot tell you how tiring and totally overwhelming this can become as well as causing severe burnout.
Not having clear working hours and days I PROMISE you, will bite you in the bum down the line. For example, I have lost loyal customers after years of no issues and good relationships purely because I stopped putting them above my own personal plans at the weekend and my own mental well being. I was cancelling catch ups with friends at weekends and working round the clock 7 days a week just to seem flexible and reliable. While the customer was so grateful at the time, as soon as i started saying no, they weren’t happy!
So what can you do and how do you put boundaries in place from the start?
- Have a separate work phone or number
Keep personal and business separate, you need to be able to literally switch off! Don’t give your personal number to any customer no matter how close you think you are.
2. Have set working hours/days
Make sure your customers know that you will be switching off the work phone and you won’t be contactable on Facebook after 7pm or on a Sunday for example. You can also add an automatic response to your Facebook page messages. Make sure you stick to this one or you will start to feel like you are on call!
3. Have a clear payment structure
Let your customers know at your first meeting how and when they need to pay you, sending an official looking invoice is also a good idea so you’re not having to text about payments which can make the agreement seem a little casual. Have everyone pay you the same way, it will make your life so much easier!
4. Have cancellation procedures & policies in place
E.g if they cancel within 24 hours of the walk/groom/pet sit they will have to pay the full amount/half of the amount, whatever you feel fair.
You need to come across as though you are a business because YOU ARE. This is something people can really end up walking all over you on and could mean you’re loosing a lot of money and respect if you allow people to cancel at the last minute constantly. Things will genuinely happen where they need to cancel but you will get those who book you ‘just in case’ and then cancel and mess you around if there’s no comeback on them.
5. Don’t say yes to everything
I don’t mean be difficult on purpose but if you have personal plans, don’t cancel them! If someone asks you to do a dog walk at 10pm and you’re not comfortable with that, don’t do it! Its not being unreasonable or difficult, its being your own boss and having the option to say no if you can’t or don’t feel you want to do something.
After all if you’re going to say yes to everything you may as well be back in your old 9-5!
6. ALWAYS get a new customer to fill out and sign an agreement form which states your cancellation policies, fees, payment processes and any other procedures (boundaries) you have. Better still, give them a copy of it so if in the future they cross the line, you can refer them back the agreement they signed.
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Let me know your thoughts and what boundaries you put in place!