As a woman of a certain age, I’ve grown wise to the fact that there are two things that are most precious to us. But too often we can spend our whole lives giving them away without a moment’s thought.
When we have lots of these two things, we take them for granted. But when we don’t have much of either of them, we grind along, working to other people’s schedules and demands.
They exist as a finite resource for everyone, no matter where on this planet you live, and yet we can’t make more of either of them when we run out.
They are the most valuable resources we have in our lives and businesses, and yet without some fundamental boundaries in place, we will under-value them; give them both away to anyone who demands them of us, without recognising the need to use them first on ourselves and what’s important to us.
These two things are time and energy.
When I was in my 20’s and 30’s, I often felt I had boundless amounts of both. If I felt tired, I would just grab another cup of coffee. If I was hungry and didn’t have the energy to cook a meal, I would simply throw in a ready meal in the microwave or eat a sandwich on the run.
We could do that then, couldn’t we? And without much thought to the consequences or long term impact.
But as I woke up to my 40’s, kicking off the decade with a young family (2 kids just 22 months apart), reeling from losing my dad to cancer and a business to run, my time and energy resources were suddenly depleted.
That coffee fix or sandwich on the run didn’t quite do the job as it had in my 20’s and I spent most of that decade crawling my way through quite extreme peri-menopausal symptoms, over-worked adrenals and wearing my Superwoman cape just to get by every day.
But what has all this got to do with business?
There’s a magic word that I want to focus on this month with you, that has become one of the most important strategies to my own business growth, and one that comes up time and time again in our coaching conversations with our clients.
And that’s boundaries.
Without boundaries in place to protect and fuel your time and energy resources, you will often end up working like a ‘busy fool’, as one of my clients called herself before we began working together. You may be making money, but for the number of hours you are putting in, the money you pay yourself at the end of each month, it doesn’t feel worth it.
So this month, I am shining a light on this important topic within your business. I want to share with you some boundary strategies that we need to put in place with our clients, and with ourselves.
In this article, I want to focus on the top 4 work boundaries I’d recommend you have in place in order for you to increase your profitability and avoid burnout.
1. Hours Worked
What hours are you prepared to work?
Very few clients that I have worked with have ever stopped to think about how their ideal week could look; they have allowed their weekly routine to be shaped by what their business gives them.
When you first started up your business, your work diary probably looked very empty. It’s not until you begin marketing, start to work with clients and become able to attend various events or conferences that you find your diary starting to get booked up. Meetings are being scheduled to suit other people. You don’t take into account the preparation or rest time you need between appointments. Your once open diary is now pulling you apart, you’re wearing your busy badge of honour and you find you don’t have the time to focus on projects that could grow your business.
The irony of time management is that you can’t actually manage time; you can only manage yourself.
In order to put a stop to this, I’d recommend you take a breath and work out what your ideal week could be. If a week feels too routine for you and you imagine different things happening at different times of your working month, change the time frame to an ideal month.
Here are a list of questions to help you define your ideal week.
- My ideal working week starts on …
- What would I do on my first working day to set the right tone for my week ahead?
- How would I spend the other days? (For example, are there certain mornings or afternoons that are important to keep clear for certain activities?)
- My favourite day of the week is … and this is the reason why …
- The days and hours that I want to work with my clients are …
- I am most in flow during this time …
- What I love to be spending most of my time doing is …
- Who I want to be spending more of my time with is …
- When I am not working, I want to be … (This question is especially important for those of you who don’t have other commitments, such as family members to look after, to pre-determine your working hours. It can be far harder to switch off from work when you only have yourself to be committed to, so decide what it is you want to be doing when you are not working.)
- How I want to feel at the end of my ideal week is …
- What do I want to do or achieve daily?
- What do I want to do or achieve weekly?
- What do I want to do or achieve monthly?
- What are you not prepared to sacrifice? (Are your Fridays sacred? Do you have to pick up children every day at 3.30 pm? Are you happy to work during the weekends but you have to have two days off during the week? Decide what time you aren’t prepared to give away so you can set those boundaries in place now and avoid frustration or resentment at a later date.)
Once you have answered these questions, decide what changes you can make to your scheduling and working hours right now. Do you need to block out certain mornings or afternoons for routine activities, such as content creation or team meetings? If you are unable to make any immediate changes, at what point in the future can you introduce this new schedule? Can you add this to your diary right now?
You do have total control over who and what takes your attention during your working week. I know some of you may not feel this is the case right now, especially if you are fully booked with clients for the next weeks or months. But when you decide what’s important to you in how you spend your time, you set the necessary boundaries needed to create the space to grow and you will realise that the right clients will want to work with you when you are available, rather than you being dictated by their schedules.
2. Capacity Available
What is your capacity and availability for taking on new clients?
I often hear business owners asking for more clients, but they haven’t stopped to consider how many clients would give them a ‘full’ business. Think of your business like a hotel booking sheet. A hotel will have a finite number of rooms to sell for every day of the week. No matter what you sell, you will find there will be an optimum level of clients or products or programmes you can sell, whilst still maintaining the level of service you want to give.
If you choose to maximise your sales and compete on price (AKA always sell at lower prices because you feel it’s easier for you to sell), you are going to find this a tough marketing strategy; competition is going to be tight and you have to ensure you have the distribution channels or delivery systems in place to keep up with the demand.
For most of you reading this, you will have better success in thinking in terms of optimising your sales and deciding how many clients or customers you can serve in any one week or month. By doing your sales numbers this way, you can work your charge rates back from here once you’ve decided how much you want to earn, and thus set your boundaries as to how many clients you can effectively onboard each week, month or quarter. This simple exercise can radically change your profitability over night and if you need help in working this through, get in touch.
Email me at [email protected] and I’m happy to arrange for one of our coaches to talk you through the process and help assess your profitability options.
3. Communication Channels
Technology is a double-edged sword; it’s made ways of communicating and corresponding with clients and prospects more accessible than ever … but that’s also meant that you are in danger of managing multiple platforms, never being able to follow a message trail and always being switched on.
First rule of communication is that you DON’T have to be everywhere or have every messaging app switched on at all times.
Yes, each of your clients may have their own preference, but if you allow every one of your clients to communicate with you on their messaging channel of choice, you are going to let your precious time and energy run out each day. You decide which communication channel(s) you want to use and set your working hours.
For example, you may want to only use email for all communications on the projects you are working on and you promise to respond within one working day or same day if you get their email before 2pm. And for all quick messages or check-ins before meetings, you keep your WhatsApp on between the hours of 9am and 5pm, Monday through to Thursday.
I have had many clients over the years, complain of having to answer WhatsApp messages on Sunday mornings or late at night. But the truth is that they have allowed that relationship to happen because they didn’t have clear communication channel boundaries set up at the start of their relationship.
If these boundaries slip as the relationship goes on (as often is the case if a client forgets or gets comfortable with working with you and treats you as they would any other member of their team), you can simply remind them of the original agreement and reset the boundary again.
For those of you who run a business that serves many hundreds of customers online, the same principle applies for customer support and help desks. Be clear on what support your business offers and at what times, and your customers will know what is expected. Bad customer support happens when there are no clear communication boundaries set up and the customer will ALWAYS have higher expectations of response than you can give them. So avoid this from happening by setting clear expectations up front.
4. Holidays & Time Off
Last but not least, is the need for holiday boundaries. I see too many self-employed business owners rarely plan their holiday times.
If you were employed, you would automatically get 20+ days holiday a year. And yet, when most people want to work for themselves because of the freedom of choice, they rarely take holidays. The irony!
For most of you, I’d put money on the fact that holidays and time off are forced upon you; either by kids’ school holidays (you can’t work when the kids are off so you swap one job for another!) or you end up booking a week off just as you reach breaking point and the holiday becomes a necessity before you keel over in exhaustion.
Holidays and days off need to be planned ahead. Without this, you will just keep working and working and working. So set the boundaries now, and look ahead over the next 12+ months and decide which days you want to set clear for holidays.
You don’t have to book anywhere, nor do you need to decide what it is you want to do with that time off. But without blocking these days out in your diary, you will automatically fill up the space with work, more work and more work. I have to do this myself every 3 or 4 months, on top of our family holiday time. If I didn’t block out chunks of 2 or 3 days around the flow of our business, I would just keep on trucking, which I know is not good for me over a long period of time.
These 4 boundaries may be just the foundation for you to work on more, depending on what business model you run and how you work with your clients. But if you have found yourself working like a ‘busy fool’, then starting with these will hugely help shift your patterns of work and help reclaim your time and energy precious resources.
Now that you’ve read through this, I’d recommend you schedule the time to work through each one. You will need time and energy to do this; a clear space to think and reflect on what’s important to you. For some of you, you will think you won’t have the time, but this will be because you haven’t got the right boundaries in place for you and your business. Without taking this critical time out, you run the risk of keeping those wheels spinning.
If you are really super busy, start with a small slot of just 20 minutes – just the right amount of time to sit down with a cuppa – and work through the first one, Hours Worked. This is the most do-able one to put into place, especially if you start to change your schedule from two months hence. This may not make an immediate difference, but you will thanking yourself for your forward thinking in just two months time if you do!
And if you know of someone else who needs to read this article, please share it with them. You could be saving their health and sanity!
Until next time, do less, be more, play bigger.
About the author
Karen Skidmore is a midlife leadership & business coach for entrepreneurs scaling their purpose & profit. Business Books Awards finalist 2020 & podcaster, Karen uniquely combines the being-ness and doing-ness of business to help you grow, without burning out.
The first step in discovering the True Profit in your business is to take the True Profit Test.