In the orientation calls for my business training course this past week, I found myself giving the same advice to many of the designers: separate your business (e.g. Capella Kincheloe Interior Design) from your person (e.g. Capella). Most of the designers I spoke to had trouble creating boundaries. They had trouble saying no. Clients were calling on weekends.
When you own a small business you and your business are inevitably entwined. However, your boundaries will be much easier to manage if you can separate yourself from the business.
This is really just a mind shift, a way of thinking.
Instead of: I need to ask for travel reimbursement, you need to think that the business needs to be reimbursed for costs incurred for travel.
Instead of: I don't work on Sundays, think: the business is closed on Sundays.
Instead of: I need that invoice paid so I can pay my bills, think: Invoices must be paid on time so the business can pay the bills and be viable.
So here are some really small things (that are easy to fix!) that may be sabotaging your efforts at creating boundaries.
If you're using your personal cell phone with clients you are inviting a blurring of boundaries, because you're blurring the boundaries yourself. There is no reason that you can't have a dedicated line for your business. It creates a wonderful boundary between business and personal and it shows clients and vendors that you have a business and not running a hobby on the side. A separate business phone can be turned off outside of business hours. Let callers know you are on vacation with a custom away message.
Fix: There are many small business phone solutions (Grasshopper, RingCentral, eVoice), but one that has worked for me is Google Voice. You can get a free local number and can use it over the internet or the Google Voice app on your smartphone. You can even get an adapter to use it more as a landline and still have mobile capabilities. There is no reason to not have a dedicated business line.
While I wholeheartedly recommend Google Voice, I do not recommend having an @gmail.com address or @hotmail.com or @yahoo.com. Like everything in your business, brand your email. Time for a little tough love: Any email that isn't firstname.lastname@example.org undermines your professionalism. There is absolutely no excuse to not have a branded professional email address. Without one, your business doesn't look like a business, it looks like something you're not serious about. If you're not serious about treating your business like a business, then your client won't be either.
Someone once said that we didn't start businesses so that we could work 24/7. Yet I see designers giving literally everything they have physically and emotionally to their businesses and not ever taking time for themselves (maybe consider a business retreat). Undefined business hours can be a boundary buster.
You can choose to work outside these business hours and sometimes it will be necessary. You want to go above and beyond for your clients, but they should feel like it is above and beyond, not a regular occurrence. Meaning, that clients and vendors know and respect your business hours. Generally, you shouldn't be holding meetings, sending emails, replying to non-emergency text messages or phone calls after business hours. You can schedule emails to send at a certain time with an app called Boomerang. So you can reply to an email at 2 am, but schedule it to send at a more reasonable hour.
Fix: Define your business hours and stick to them. If it helps, I've seen designers put their hours in their email signature. Put it in your contract, talk to potential clients about business hours.
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