Why You Need Boundaries

I was on vacation, relaxing after a busy season of client projects and savoring my time away with my family.

Then I got a call an emergency call from a client. There was a frantic plea from him concerning lost data. If something wasn’t resolved quickly their operation would be shut down and the FBI would have to get involved.

So I took a break from my vacation and helped.

But do you think that was the right call?

Recently I wrote about doing what’s best for your client.

And I had a great response from Sean F. when he said,

“I felt like you left off something really crucially important that I have failed to implement in my own personal and business relationships: boundaries.

It’s a little dangerous to say ‘do what’s best for your client’ to people without boundaries. It feeds into their guilt about saying no to stuff they should say no to.”

Sean, I agree 100%!

In fact, I think it’s so important we’re going to spend the next few newsletters talking about why boundaries are essential to us as freelancers.

Why do we need boundaries?

Let’s start with us. The personal reasons that we need boundaries.

I’ll leave this in context of our role as freelance business managers, but boundaries are important for ALL aspects of our lives – from our children to our in-laws to our friends and co-workers.

Our Sanity

In looking back, I think I’ve instinctively known to set some limits. Part of my Daddy Daycare experiment was knowing that I was only going to be available to work two days a week.

And that the other three days of the week were going to be spent with someone that would be demanding my immediate time and attention at any hour of the day. Babies, right?

But it doesn’t take much imagination to realize that constantly fielding hair-on-fire requests from clients can very quickly lead to more stress, more time demands and more frustration.

One of my themes in writing this newsletter is to help freelancers reduce the anxiety and stress of running a freelance business. We have a finite reserve of mental/emotional energy and every time we refuse to honor a boundary, we tap into that reserve.

Without boundaries, I lose, and so do the people I care about most.

Which leads us to

Our Family

I am Dad to three children. I love them, and they push my boundaries. Parenthood would be pretty boring if my kids just agreed with me all the time.

I hear it’s going to happen more as they get older.

In the context of boundaries, this leaves me with two trains of thought.

First, just because my kids ask to watch Netflix for the 20th time doesn’t mean I give up and agree. I choose which battles are appropriate to fight.

The same should be true with my clients.

Because if I let my clients behave like my children, my family gets hurt too.

Having appropriate boundaries in place means not letting work bleed in and having the “space” to make my home what I want it to be.

Secondly, I expect my kids to push at the boundaries as they grow. That’s their way of exploring the world. This doesn’t mean you buy them an iPad and an unlimited data plan at the age of four.

Clients will push the boundaries occasionally too, but it’s a sign of a mature business when you don’t budge on your non negotiables.

Our Business

Clients that test our boundaries are bound to happen. It’s a rite of passage, really.

It’s what we do with them that determines the long term health and survival of our business.

On a practical level, my role as a freelancer largely revolves around cognitive skills. If I can’t think straight, I can’t do my best work. It’s in my best interests as a professional to limit the things that will completely stress me out.

Of course, the reality is that it’s a balancing act. Flexibility is one of the cornerstones of the freelance life. We can give and take as situations (or the FBI) show up.

Having boundaries in place helps us make the best choices when they do.

Next time we’ll talk about different ways we can set boundaries with our clients.

Let me end with a little encouragement from Sean F.:

“… learning about boundaries has been the biggest eye opener for me ever. Now that I know about it I can do it deliberately …”

(Oh, and just so you know, I’m not in trouble with the FBI. Really.)