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Are You Too Available? Tips to Setting Boundaries for a Balanced Life

behind interior design business tips for interior designers career advice leadership personal growth small business strategies Feb 04, 2022
How interior designers can set boundaries with clients

You want to stand out to your clients as someone they can count on to be responsive and engaged. But, at the same time, too much availability can lead to burnout. This is why setting boundaries is important.

But setting boundaries with clients is also challenging at times. After all, you’re trying to develop your interior design business, and losing just one customer can be devastating. That’s why it’s important to know how to approach this situation and maintain excellent client relationships and a healthy life balance.

Here are some tips to setting boundaries with clients:


Why Setting Boundaries Is Important

Shouldn’t you just suck it up and focus hard on pleasing your clients? Absolutely not! Setting healthy boundaries helps to ensure your success, not diminish it.


Demanding Clients Sap Your Creative Energy

Is one overly demanding client worth sacrificing quality for your other clients? The more stressed out you are over a single client who seems determined to disrespect your time and behave unreasonably, the less you have to offer your other clients.

By setting boundaries with difficult clients, you retain your creative energy for everyone else. You need to be at your best for everybody you work with if you want your business to be sustainable.


Setting Boundaries at Work Increases Your Value

Women are often conditioned to be helpful and feel guilty for setting healthy boundaries. For example, women in the workplace are more likely to take on office “housekeeping” tasks, mentor younger colleagues, and volunteer to help overwhelmed coworkers.

Unfortunately, women rarely benefit from these actions. They aren’t held in higher esteem, and their work isn’t seen as having more value. In fact, their status is often diminished. Clients and coworkers see them as helpers or assistants, not as equals. In other words, you won’t be able to increase your rates by making yourself helpful and available.

That’s not what you want when your goal is to partner with clients rather than work underneath them. This doesn’t even begin to address the increased levels of burnout that women experience due to the pressure to be constantly available.


Limiting Your Availability Is Healthy

One of the biggest boundary-crushing behaviors clients engage in is refusing to respect your availability. They call in the evenings and demand responses to their texts on weekends, and some even make you feel guilty when you aren’t as available as they think you should be.

If you don’t discourage this behavior early, you end up with less time to spend on yourself, and you feel the constant pressure of always being “on.” This stress and lack of balance can impact your physical and mental health.


Key Steps for Setting Boundaries at Work

The best way to deal with boundary issues is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Think of these tips as steps you can take to communicate boundaries clearly so that you can avoid uncomfortable conversations later.


Create a Project Document Before Any Work Is Done

Before you start work for any client on any project, create a document outlining all aspects of the project and communications. Then, ensure that every stakeholder signs off on it.

Your project document should contain the following terms:

  • Scope (the work that will be done and won’t be done)
  • Clear deadlines for each phase of the project
  • Payment details, including payment methods
  • Communication agreement (how you will communicate and when)

If you make everything clear ahead of time, you will be able to refer to this document when your client wants more than you agreed to do. It will be easier to say no or explain that additional work will be billable.

The document should also detail client obligations, including responding to requests for information, providing access to properties, and so on.


Be Clear About Your Office Hours

It can be difficult to set boundaries around office hours and availability, mainly since we carry our communications devices in our pockets all day. Today, home and office are often deemed the same.

Additionally, entrepreneurs often fail to establish (and stick to) clear terms about their availability. This muddies expectations, which is why it’s important to communicate your availability.

Communicate your hours to clients directly and clarify that you may not respond off-hours. If you have a website for your interior design business, post your availability there, as well.


Build Timelines Into the Approval and Payment Process

Not all boundaries relate to your time and availability. You should also set expectations that your client will treat you as a professional (e.g., pay you on time).

Try a proactive but friendly approach to prevent clients from stalling. For example, when your work is complete, send out an email. It can read something like this:

“I’ve completed work on the Hampton Rd. project. I’m confident you’re going to love it. If you have questions or concerns, please let me know right away. If I don’t hear from you, I will be on the lookout for payment by the 15th.”


Make a Firm Friends and Family Policy

How do you handle requests for advice and services from friends and family members? If you haven’t come across someone who “just wants a couple of ideas” or “would love your thoughts on their basement remodel” yet, it is likely to happen in the future.

When you experience this, it can feel like walking into a minefield. That’s why it’s imperative to think about this now and know exactly how you will handle it ahead of time. Remember that you aren’t obligated to provide free or discounted services to anyone. If you do, make the terms clear.

Here are some acceptable responses to these requests:

  • I can’t provide personalized advice; check out my blog instead
  • It isn’t in my budget to provide free or discounted services
  • I’m happy to offer one free hour of my time to friends but have to bill services after that
  • I offer a 10% discount to friends and family

The point is, it’s okay to say no. If you say yes, be very direct about what you are willing to do.


Never Share Your Personal Contact Information

There are many reasons to establish a dedicated website and email address for your interior design business. This is one of them.

Set a boundary that limits all communication between yourself and clients to professional channels only. You’ll find that it’s much easier to create some healthy distance between yourself and your business this way. Then, simply turn off notifications for your work emails, and enjoy some time to recharge.


Setting Boundaries with Clients That Push Limits

Despite your efforts to be proactive and friendly, you will have clients who persist in treating you as if you are obligated to them 24/7. Others may insist on arguing over a bill or question your expertise at every turn.

Even if you are a professional conflict avoider, you have to be willing to stand firm. Use these tips to set boundaries when things get contentious.


Learn to Say No to Extra Requests

It would be perfect if clients simply stuck with your original project agreement. But, unfortunately, some simply will not do that. In these cases, it’s essential to stand firm. Say no, and refer them to the existing agreement if they continue to push, especially if they don’t want to pay extra or restructure the initial agreement.

Sadly, some people will see one concession on your part as proof that they can continue to violate boundaries.


Have Prepared Communications Ready

It’s difficult to address issues with clients when you are feeling frustrated or angry. To help with that, take steps to make communication work just a bit easier.

Start by creating a few email templates that address common client issues in a firm but polite manner. Then, you’ll be able to send the communication you need to without worrying about composing the perfect email.

Make sure you prepare an email for:

  • Requesting immediate payment on a past due invoice
  • Reminding clients of the rate they agreed to pay
  • Politely stating that work will stop unless the agreed information or other deliverable is made available
  • Refusing a new work request

You can use technology to make communicating with clients even easier. For example, many accounting and billing software packages can send invoice reminders automatically. Autoresponders can help send out-of-office reminders to those who persist in trying to communicate.


Fire Problematic Clients

Sometimes, setting boundaries with clients isn’t successful. If you’re still having trouble with a client after trying all of these strategies, the last recourse is to sever the relationship. It’s challenging to do, even guilt-inducing. You may wonder whether you did enough to salvage things, even when you know you’ve worked hard to find a middle ground, and the client was simply too demanding in the end.

Yes, this step does need to happen over the phone. Some things just shouldn’t be said via email.

Making that call won’t be easy. Just focus on the emotional energy you will have once the relationship is over and how your other clients will benefit.

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