Hey guys! Karen Greenoe here! Today we are going to have a conversation about a topic that I see a lot of entrepreneurs, especially creative entrepreneurs, struggling with. And that is the topic of boundaries. Now in the interest of full disclosure I had absolutely zero boundaries when I started my company about 10 years ago. I was available to my clients all hours day and night. I was answering emails from bed. I was sacrificing my relationships in order to be available for my clients. But I will tell you, if you are in that same position, it may feel productive, but it is not effective. Not only is that not sustainable, it’s not expected either! Do you think any of your clients expect their dentist to be available on a Sunday afternoon because it is a convenient time to have an appointment? Or their kids school to be open on a Saturday so you can meet with the teachers? Now, I know some professionals offer these extended hours, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be the industry standard. I want you to start thinking about ways that you can fit your business around your life, not the other way around.
Before we dive in, I want to do a little mental exercise to give you a visual reminder of what boundaries can do for your ever elusive work/ life balance. In your mind’s eye, I want you to picture a big white clean table top. In the middle of that table is a mixing bowl. One of those nice, big stainless steel ones with the silicone bottoms so it won’t slide all over the table while you’re mixing. That bowl is filled with brownie mix just waiting to be poured into a brownie pan. All of the eggs, oil, and chocolate chips and even that yummy fudge swirl are all mixed in. Ok, darn it, now I really want brownies. But that is not the point of this exercise! Now I want you to picture this. The tabletop is your personal life. The bowl is your boundaries. And the brownie mix represents your business. All of the things the table, the bowl, and the brownie mix are serving a specific purpose. They are all good things. Nothing is bad about any of it. With the brownie mix contained within that bowl you can move the bowl to the center of the table if you need to focus on it more, you can move it to one side or the other, or, depending on your circumstance and what you need to focus your attention on the most, you can take it off of the table entirely. The size of the bowl doesn’t really matter that much. Or even how full it is with brownie mix. The fact that the bowl is there is what is important. Now what happens when the bowl disappears? Does the brownie mix stay in one place, or does it slowly spread over the whole table and start dripping off of the edges? The truth is, without the bowl in place, you are left with a big sticky mess that is really hard to clean up. Having that bowl in place keeps the brownie mix contained. Without it there, the brownie mix leaches into every square inch of that table. So, tell me, would you have rather have your brownie mix in a bowl or poured all over the table and dripping onto the floor?
Just like the size of the bowl can change the shape of the bowl, the color of it, what its made of, are all 100% up to you. Just as everybody’s boundaries look different. My boundaries aren’t necessarily the same as the entrepreneur down the street or the mom that lives on the other side of the world. There is no one size fits all. Your boundaries need to fit your life and your business. But, recognizing and sticking to our boundaries can be one of the most freeing things you can do for yourself and your business. I see so many small business owners struggling with this concept and it really does take a toll on their relationships, their family, and yes, even their business.
So, I am going to give you an overview of what boundaries look like in my business. These have evolved and adapted over the years as my business has changed and my family has grown. But, the further and further down the path of entrepreneurship I get, the more I recognize that sticking with these is essential for the health of my family and the health of my business.
The majority of my boundaries are centered around communication. Although it is absolutely incredible how connected our world is in this day and age, it’s also a bit of a curse as well. We feel like we are letting our clients down if we are not available to them at all hours day and night. But, I guarantee you, the clients that are worth working with will respect the boundaries that you put in place and, by leading through example, you will find that many of them will automatically start to respect those boundaries without you even having to spell it out in the first place.
Boundary number one is office hours. I do hold relatively strict office hours. This applies to meeting times, communication, and even events. Because of the nature of our business, most of our social events are held on Saturdays. So our work week is Tuesday through Saturday. We try to hold Sunday and Monday as holy as possible, although we do have some long standing clients that regularly have events on these days. One in particular, a professional sporting team in Charlotte, hosts all of their regular season games on Sundays so this line does get a little blurred during the season. But, to make up for that, we do strictly limit the number of one-off Sunday and Monday events that we will accept. I am a firm believer in the two day weekend. My hat goes off to Mr. Henry Ford who, at the turn of the 20th century, recognized the advantage of two days of rest back to back. If you are not getting two days off back to back on a regular basis, I urge you to try your darndest to work this into your life. You will be far more productive and far happier in your work when you are coming from a place of rest. There is massive amounts of research around how many hours a person works per week and how after 40 hours, productivity declines drastically. But that is a topic for another episode!
When I first started my business, I offered after hours appointments nearly every day of the week. Granted, I was not nearly as busy as I am now and we had not started our family yet so for the time being, I made it work. Also, our first studio was located a little bit outside of town so if someone who worked in Charlotte wanted to get to me, it was a bit tougher to meet during the day. But, like I told you in episode number one when we moved our company to our second studio location, I received a bit of a shell shock that catapulted me into not offering after hours appointments. The dance club that was next-door to us started offering fitness classes in the early evening. I honestly did not mind it until they started offering nude yoga! Now I have absolutely nothing against anyone who wants to take part in this practice, but I was the owner of a luxury floral design company, I thought this might not be the best impression to make on my clients! So I was essentially strong-armed into ending appointment times by 530. Thank goodness this happened before we decided to start our family because it made it very easy to continue this practice and be home for my growing family immediately at the end of the workday.
We also used to offer Saturday appointments and any Saturday that we did not have an event we would book back to back to back consultations. One Saturday, I remember having SEVEN back to back meetings! I didn’t have time to eat, drink or go to the bathroom that whole day! It was absolutely exhausting! And, on top of that being a lot to manage, what I started to notice was that the clients I was meeting with on Saturdays were more likely to be price shoppers. We had a much lower booking average for those clients we met on the weekends. Now, this is not a hard and fast rule and we have had clients that have come into town specifically to meet with us on the weekend so there is some flex with this role, but the exceptions are very rare.
Figuring this out really did open my eyes to the possibility that my time was better invested with my family on a non-event Saturday even though I FELT like I was doing what was the best for my business. Even though I’d had this realization, I was absolutely terrified to stop offering Saturday appointment to my clients. But, a few months later when I started running the numbers, our booking average had actually gone up and we had secured more events for the next few months than we had in the past year altogether. I truly believe by establishing this boundary, our clients started to value our time more and ensure that they were more committed to working with us before they would come to meet instead of coming in to kick some tires.
My second boundary is phone calls. I am going to go ahead and apologize to anyone who is ever tried to communicate with me by phone because I know it is really hard to get in touch with me. If I do not recognize the number or am not expecting your call, 99.9% of the time, let it go to voicemail. Now, here are my reasons for this. They are absolutely nothing to do with the people on the other end of the phone and it is entirely to do with me. Actually, that’s not entirely true, I do get a TON of telemarketer calls on both my cell and office number so I’ve got to weed them out somehow. But in all seriousness, my first reason for not answering incoming calls that I am not expecting is I know that when I get on a phone call I give it my all and, I know this is going to come as a shock to all of you, I am a little bit of a chatterbox. I am very guilty of staying on the phone for far too long and in most cases, everything that we talk about could have been communicated through a three-minute email which we would all then have a written record of. And, when you were running a small business, there are so many details floating back-and-forth on absolutely every facet of your business that is often very difficult to keep track of every single point.
The second reason for this is that it is very hard for me to quickly get back onto task once I’ve been on the phone. Phone calls are a distraction to me. I recently read a statistic that said once you are distracted from deep work it can take you upwards of 25 minutes to get back on task. And if there is research on this topic I know I am not alone. I would much rather have you leave me a voicemail and I returned that call when and I can be prepared to sit down and have a conversation with you that is well thought out and serves you well.
Now I know it may sound like I am screening our phonecalls, but on our office voicemail we do state that if you are calling to make an initial event inquiry, to send us an email. Not only does this mean that our office manager, Jenna, can coordinate any inquiries with new clients, it means that we have a written record of that communication that we can refer back to.
So, instead of answering phone calls as they come in, I pick one time during the day to return voicemails and knock out all of my phone calls for the day. I sit down with my notes in front of me, I have no other distractions, and I am 100% focused on the person I am talking with. You know if you’ve listen to more than one episode of this podcast that I would much rather have short spurts of true focused work than long stretches of bouncing back-and-forth between tasks. It is amazing how much you can get done and how much more effective you can be if you focus more on focused work in short periods of time.
My third boundary is email. this one is a tough one. If you’ve heard more than one episode of this podcast, this has been a boundary I’ve struggled with for a long time. I’ve found myself fitting emails into the cracks of my day while I am between appointments or with my family. But, the truth is, I can type on my laptop MUCH faster than I can on my phone so it is by far a better use of my limited hours in the day to sit down for a set amount of time and respond to all of my emails from the day in one go.
I also try very hard to not answer emails outside of office hours. But it wasn’t always that way! You remember the story about how I was answering emails while in labor with my first daughter? Yeah, I never want to go back to that!
A few years back, I was chatting with a mother of the bride and she said “You know, Karen, if I email you at 9pm, I know I will always get a quick response back.” I thought about that for a minute and you know what? She was exactly right! By 9pm, I’ve put my girls down to bed, I’ve cleaned up the kitchen after dinner and I’m settling in on the sofa with the hubs to watch a show. And every single night, I had my computer on my lap. I probably missed half of the plot twists in whatever show we were watching and I definitely wasn’t receptive to conversation with my sweet hubby, who I’d basically not seen all day. So, now, it is my goal to put technology aside during that time and focus on each other and whatever silly Netflix show we happen to be watching at the time.
Other than your clients having the impression that you are available all hours day and night, the other issue with answering emails after hours means that when you wake up that next morning, you are far more likely to wake up with a full inbox. And there is nothing worse than starting your day feeling like you are already behind! Instead, if I do feel the need to catch up on emails after hours, I’ll use a program like Boomerang where I can write my email response and schedule the delivery for the next morning during normal office hours. That way, by the time they have read the email and responded, I’m already well into my morning and my Big Three and already have a sense of accomplishment for the day!
One last word on email before we move on. Let’s talk about email auto responders. I have a bit of a confession to make, in the past, I have not been the best at setting autoresponders on my email when I am legitimately out of the office where I should NOT be answering email like if I am on vacation with my family. I have always had this fear that if someone knows without a shadow of a doubt that I am logged off, they will be upset with me. But this is simply not the case! If you are concerned, like I was, make sure to communicate that to clients ahead of time. The ones who are worth working with will recognize that we all need time to rest and give you grace. Now, let’s talk about the flip side of this. The OVERUSE of out of office messages. In my opinion, and again, this is just my opinion, if you have healthy email boundaries in place, you do not need an autoresponder set for the weekends, holidays or times that your clients would EXPECT you to be out of the office. Instead, list your office hours in your email signature and have the courage to sign off when the universe expects you to! Your business will not crumble if your clients do not “know” you are out of the office on Christmas Eve. Take heart and take a step back! Your business and your clients will be waiting for you when you return!
My last communication boundary is social media communication. I know we all have our preferred methods of communication and, like I said earlier, it is incredible how connected our world is and how many different ways we can communicate with each other. For me, my preferred method of communication is email. I love being able to refer back to our conversations in writing all in one place. Also, when something is taken care of, it gets moved out of my inbox. With things like Facebook messenger, Instagram DM’s and text messages, you cannot move those conversations out of your line of site after they have been responded to. For me at least, that means I do pretty frequently drop the ball on social media communication. Also, it leaves me feeling like I am scrambling when I am jumping back and forth between communication types. I want to serve these inquiries as best I can, but they need to be in a way I can manage well. So for these types of communication, I have an autoresponder saved on my phone to direct people to my email. It reads something like “Thank you so much for reaching out! I will be the first to admit that I am terrible at keeping up with Facebook messenger, DM’s, texts, etc, so please send me an email and I will make sure you are taken care of!”
It is a beautiful thing that the world is now more connected than ever before, but it can be overwhelming. You have to control it or it will control you. Set the expectation and stick with it!
The next step to creating clear boundaries is having a gatekeeper! As a business owner, it is SO easy to say yes to things that don’t necessarily fit with the goals of your company because you are so concerned with paying the bills. I get it! I’ve been there! Heck, I still find myself there sometimes! And then there is the issue of FOMO. By saying no to something, you are worried that you might miss out on your next big thing, your next big break. But trust me friends, if your gut says no, there is a reason. Trust it. When your next big opportunity comes along, you will know it! Now, even with my recurring clients, we still have to say no every once in a while. Being clear and communicating that you are not available is not a bad thing. You do not have to be available to everyone all the time!
Whenever we have an incoming inquiry through our website or our general inbox, it goes to our office manager, Jenna. When she joined our team, I put together a very specific guideline for the type of events and clients that fit within our company structure. Because that structure is in place, she can very easily say yes or no to new inquiries based on these standards . Because I do not even see those inquiries coming through, it gives me a place to step back and release the reins to someone else. When I was making the decisions on who would be a good fit for us, I will admit, I was acting emotionally. And very often, I was saying yes from a place of fear! Knowing in the back of my head the bills need to be paid, payroll needed to run, and this whole ship needed to stay afloat, made it so I had a very hard time turning business away. But, you cannot be the perfect fit for everyone. And that is ok!
My last step in setting boundaries is having grace with yourself. You are human, you run a human business and you have human relationships. None of us are perfect. There is no point in beating yourself up when your boundaries slip a little. It is bound to happen. I will admit, there is always a splash or two of brownie mix on my pretty white table. But that splash or two is pretty easy to clean up and get back in the bowl. So, if you have to release some of those boundaries every once in a while, go easy on yourself. Progress is the goal, not perfection.
So starting today, think about the boundaries you can put in place in your business. Once you start putting these boundaries in place and enforcing them, you will be amazed how much time you can free up to enjoy your personal life. Hop on over to the Biz Balance Podcast VIP’s group on Facebook and tell me all about it! I hope this changes your work life balance as much as it has mine!
September 3, 2019