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Set Clear Boundaries to Keep You on Track
By Victoria Munro          

As business owners, we face constant requests for our time. While writing this, I received a phone call from a dear friend. Hospitalized after a sudden, serious accident, and still drowsy from the effects of anesthetic after surgery, she asked if I could help. She would be in hospital for another week and their number-one client urgently needed some work done. Would I take care of it? I felt sorry for her, wanted desperately to help and found myself saying, “Yes.” I already had commitments and was under a tight deadline. Now, I faced a dilemma. Without clearly defined boundaries, we may live at the mercy of our emotions and make unwise decisions.

Clear Boundaries define how you expect to be treated by others. Many problems can be avoided when you lay down clear-cut boundaries. Setting, and more importantly, enforcing these will streamline your business. However, this isn’t always easy, and women especially often find it a challenge. We may have been raised to treat the needs of others as more important than our own or have been rewarded for sacrificing our own needs for others. This can cause feelings of guilt and make enforcing boundaries difficult. In addition, the fact that we don’t relish conflict and hate the thought of hurting someone’s feelings can make it even harder.

Remember: you are your business’s most valuable asset, so establish boundaries that honor you. It’s okay to demand respect from others and to honor yourself. On a plane, the cabin crew instructs us to use the oxygen mask ourselves first, so that we will be able to help others. In the same way, as business owners, we must take care of ourselves first.

Set boundaries around money as well as time. Outstanding debt can be stressful for small-business owners. It’s important to clearly state your rates and terms on price lists, invoices, statements and contracts, and enforce them. You may choose to negotiate, but accept and agree on only what is truly a win for all parties. Let clients know what is and isn’t acceptable in this area. They will respect you for it.

If you work in a home office, you have additional challenges. You face a constant array of distractions, and it takes a dedicated person to work efficiently from home. Discuss with your family the problems you face in this area and ask for their suggestions and cooperation. It may be helpful to set time and space boundaries for children so they feel included and special but so you’re able to focus when working. Consider hiring someone to come in and entertain younger children for a set time each day or week—perhaps a responsible young neighbor or high school student.

To maintain boundaries and be successful in business, developing the skill of saying “no” is vital! It may not always be easy, but the success of your business depends on it.

Keeping your goals and immediate priorities clearly before you will make it easier to say “no” when you need to, and protect your precious time and energy. Assure clients of your commitment to excellent service, and let them know when you’ll be available. If you’re not available, tell them when they should expect a return phone call or email, then return the call or email when you promised. Set clear guidelines with employees as to when you are available.

Nine Tips to Help You Say “No”:

1. Think and plan ahead—remember what it’s like to feel guilty and frustrated about commitments you’ve made to do things you don’t have the time, energy or desire to do.
2. Commit to never giving an immediate response—request time to think about it. Simply say, “I need time to think about this. I’ll get back to you.”
3. Weigh the costs and rewards. Ask yourself, “Will scheduling this cause undue stress?” “Does this align with my goals?”
4. Learn to say “no” directly, without feeling guilty or giving a lengthy explanation. After all, you don’t usually offer a reason when you say “yes.”
5. Be prepared for others to push your boundaries and be ready to say “no” as many times as it may take
6. You may be able to avoid a confrontation by offering the other party choices.
7. When you’ve said no, remember that you’re not responsible for others’ reactions.
8. Practice saying “no” until it feels comfortable without offering any explanation.
9. Before making a commitment, be sure you have a complete understanding of exactly what’s being asked of you.

When I initially agreed to help my friend in the hospital, I assumed that it would be a quick project taking no more than an hour. In fact, it turned out to be much more complicated and time-consuming. I called her back, apologized, discussed the situation, and agreed to spend 30 minutes to help with the most critical issues.

Remember, you and not your clients should control your time!

About the Author: Victoria Munro is co-founder (along with husband Dave Block) of Make-it-Fly® LLC, a company dedicated to creating success for small-business owners through creatively designed programs and tools. Victoria has started and run nine different businesses. To receive FREE business success articles with tips to help you with your business, sign up for their award-winning ezine, “In-Flight Refueling,” at:, and receive a free copy of the eBook, Get More Done in Less Time: 101 Quick and Easy Time Tactics & Tips.

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Copyright © 2007 Victoria Munro. All rights reserved.