boundaries in business cat jumping fence

Why set boundaries in business

Boundaries in business can allow you to show up as your best self and have high-functioning relationships with your clients.

As a coach or healer, you know how important it is to operate at your best. Using your intuition, listening skills, and ability to guide others through difficult life transitions all require that you are centered and present.

In order to function at your best and have the greatest impact on your clients, setting business boundaries is a must. 

Setting strong boundaries in your business allows you to put the guidelines in place so that you AND your business keep running smoothly — without burning out.

    What are business boundaries?

    The APA Dictionary of Psychology defines boundaries as:

    • a psychological demarcation that protects the integrity of an individual or group or that helps the person or group set realistic limits on participation in a relationship or activity

    Simply put, business boundaries are guidelines that you put in place so that you can protect the time, energy, and respect of both you and your clients.

    Examples of business boundary issues:

    • A client continuously shows up late to your calls and then expects the sessions to go over time, but you haven’t communicated this is a problem.
    • You have a client who always cancels at the last minute despite knowing your cancellation policy — and expects you to make an exception each and every time.
    • You run a small group program and it never fails that the same person monopolizes the group discussion every week, leaving no space for others.
    • Your big goal is to get your new course done, but you just can’t seem to find time in your schedule to do it. Every time you put it on your calendar, something else gets in the way.

    In each of these cases, a boundary issue is present. Often the issue is with others, and sometimes the boundary issue is with ourselves (such as when we aren’t following through on our own commitments.)

    Setting boundaries in your business helps you protect your energy and manage your client relationships.

    When you’re proactive about setting boundaries, you avoid things like burnout, miscommunication, and upset clients.

    What happens when you don’t have business boundaries

    When you don’t have any (or strong enough) boundaries in your business, you can suffer on many fronts. 

    If you don’t have strong business boundaries, you might feel:

    • Constantly “put out” or taken advantage of by requests from others
    • Resentful of clients and others who keep asking for things
    • Like you’re near burnout or break down at any given time
    • Like your sleep, health, and other parts of your life are suffering

    The benefits of setting boundaries in business

    When you’re a business owner, it’s your responsibility to protect your own resources and manage your relationships with your clients.

    When you do: 

    • You protect your intuitive, empathic, and spiritual gifts and use them to the best of your ability.
    • You better manage your own time and energy — and your productivity increases.
    • You strengthen your client relationships and build trust by being transparent.

    You also feel more empowered, strong, and even more professional when you have firm boundaries in your business — and that energy emanates outwards.

    Why boundaries are important in coaching

    Coaching, healing, and therapy are all 1:1 services that rely on you forming a relationship with your client. Any relationship needs strong boundaries to survive, especially close relationships like those established with coaches, healers, or therapists.

    Boundaries help both people in relationship and they help protect the relationship itself. With boundaries, we can establish a sense of trust and safety which is integral to these client relationships.

    As the coach, healer, or therapist, you are responsible for setting the boundaries for your work with clients and for your business. 

    You’re responsible for business boundaries such as:

    Payment terms: 

    • When and how a client will pay you 
    • What happens if a payment is late

    Policies: 

    • When and how a client’s sessions will run 
    • What happens if they’re late or don’t show up

    Communication Guidelines: 

    • Can a client reach out in between sessions, and if so, how? When can they expect to hear back?
    • What topics are open for discussion and which are you not comfortable addressing (and in that case, may refer a client out)?

    Handling issues:

    • What happens when a client has an issue with you or your services or wants to quit
    • What happens when you have an issue with the client or want to stop services

    These are just some of the common scenarios that you’ll want to prepare for in your business and set and communicate boundaries proactively.

    3 phases of setting boundaries with clients

    There are 3 phases of setting boundaries, in business and otherwise.

    Phase 1: Setting the boundary.

    This phase requires you to get clear on what your boundary actually is. Remember you get to create them for your business, for example:

    • Do you have a 24 hour cancellation policy or a 48 hour one? 
    • What happens if a client chooses to not continue working together? 
    • What happens if a client stops scheduling calls with you?

    These are boundaries you get to set as a business owner, so be proactive and think about how you want things to run.

    Phase 2: Communicating the boundary.

    This phase is about communicating the boundary to your clients. It’s not enough to just have a policy. You must communicate that policy and ideally, get the client’s agreement to that policy. 

    At minimum you want to have a client agreement that outlines how these types of issues are addressed. You may want to communicate the policies again in a client welcome guide. In some cases, you may want to communicate the policies verbally to the client in your first session. 

    Be as clear as possible and communicate in as many ways as you can. This can eliminate confusion later on in the client relationship.

    Phase 3: Enforcing consequence of boundary violations.

    This phase is about enforcing consequences when the boundaries you’ve set are violated. Many times, this is the phase where most people struggle.

    What happens if a client continuously no shows for appointments? You want to consider proactive strategies for managing these issues. This could look like: 

    • The first time a client no shows, it’s a warning and reiteration of your policy. 
    • The second time, they could lose the session entirely and be billed for it. 
    • The third time, you might consider ending the relationship. 

    Only you can set the consequences for you and your business. It’s important to remember that even if you set consequences, you can still decide what to do on a case by case basis. But it is much easier to have a policy and consequences in place rather than decide on the fly when your boundary is violated and the emotional stakes are high.

    The emotional aspect of setting boundaries

    Having your boundaries in place and communicated via your policies is pretty cut and dry. But what about the emotions that can arise around setting boundaries in the first place?

    Many of us were never taught to set boundaries (or in fact, our boundaries were repeatedly violated by others), so we feel uncomfortable doing so. But boundaries are an important part of respecting yourself and respecting others. 

    If you are struggling with strong emotions around setting boundaries, I recommend the following:

    • Do some work around strengthening your self worth. Boundaries are inherently about knowing we are valuable and protecting that value. The more you can strengthen your own sense of self-worth, the easier it will be to create boundaries that serve you.
    • Explore your people-pleasing tendencies. People pleasers often subjugate their own needs in favor of serving others. If you resonate with this, you most likely adapted this behavior in childhood. Remind yourself that your own needs are important and advocate for them.
    • Examine your belief about the client – coach relationship. When someone pays you, that doesn’t mean you need to be constantly available or at their beckon call. It means they are paying you money in exchange for your services. That’s why you want to clearly define the services you’re providing, so you don’t go outside your scope.

    Often the emotional consequences of setting boundaries can hold us back more than actually setting the boundary itself. Give yourself grace as you navigate this deeper work.

    business boundaries Instagram post

    How to set boundaries in your business

    When it comes to setting business boundaries, you want to think about the boundaries you set in your relationships with clients, partners, and employees (if you have them). You also want to think about the boundaries you set with yourself. 

    Setting boundaries with clients 

    We all know we need to set clear boundaries with clients, but so often usually do so reactively, meaning after something has gone wrong.

    Unfortunately, that puts us in a position of either needing to ask forgiveness for not communicating a boundary up front, or worse, fulfilling their request even when it means making a sacrifice we don’t want to make.

    The key is to set expectations ahead of time, clearly communicate them, and most importantly, enforce them with natural consequences.

    Examples of setting boundaries with clients:

    • Communicating clear expectations, in your contracts and verbally. Spell out things like when to expect a response to an email, what happens if they’re late or don’t show up, and what is expected of your client throughout your work together.
    • Letting clients know when a request is outside your initial scope of work and either renegotiating or saying no if it’s something you can’t or don’t want to do. 
    • Not taking on clients that you either can’t or don’t want to work with. This is so important! It doesn’t serve you nor your client when you take someone on that you can’t / don’t want to work with.

    Setting boundaries with yourself

    It’s no secret: The better you take care of yourself, the better you can serve. In that way, boundaries are a form of self-care for coaches and healers.

    Setting boundaries with yourself means paying attention to yourself and your needs, including:

    • Tuning into what you really need. Every day, ask yourself, What do I need right now? It could be water, rest, a walk around the block, or something else. 
    • Prioritizing quality over quantity. The ideal amount of clients is the number of clients you can serve powerfully while allowing plenty of time to tend to yourself.  Find your sweet spot and stay there.
    • Stop comparing and “shoulding” all over yourself. Just because another business owner can go live on Facebook all day and pull 10 hour workdays doesn’t mean you should. 
    • Do more by doing less. Focus on the few key important things and don’t worry about the rest. Save your energy for what’s most important.

    Examples of setting boundaries with yourself:

    •     Setting a work schedule and sticking to it
    •     Saying “no” to things that aren’t on your priority list
    •     Not taking on more clients when you’re at your max
    •     Not overscheduling yourself with calls and meetings
    •     Not giving free coaching or showing up anytime you are asked 

    Keeping your word and your commitments to yourself is part of boundary work. It also reinforces that you can show up for yourself.

    Business boundaries allow you to show up as your highest self

    Remember, you weren’t put on this earth to serve everyone’s needs, but to do what you do best. In order to do that, you must set boundaries.

    You can make a bigger difference in the lives of your clients and in the world when you show up as your most powerful self. And boundaries can help you do that.

    As your own boss, it’s up to you to ensure you’re taking care of yourself and that you’re serving clients from a place of energy and power, not a place of burnout and resentment. 

    When you communicate clear guidelines with clients, you manage expectations, create clarity and trust in the relationship, and build stronger relationships.

    Ready to create stronger boundaries in your business?

    Setting boundaries in your business helps you support yourself, so that you can feel good and thrive while supporting others. 

    This is a key part of doing the inner work to grow an aligned sustainable business.

    If you’d like to learn more about holistic business coaching that supports the whole of who you are, check out my offerings.