If you’re an online business owner (coach, service provider, healer, guide, strategist, etc.), and you’re…

Consistently going over time in sessions.

Saying ‘yes’ to extra things that aren’t actually in the agreed upon scope of work.

Almost immediately heeding the clients request to “hop on a call real quick.”

Constantly adding in more and different types of supports to containers to “make sure” your clients succeed.

Replying to emails or communication from clients the moment you see them, even if you were in the middle of doing something else or it’s outside of the hours you’d like to be working.

Then you’re very likely feeling stretched thin or even downright exhausted by some (or all) of your client work. Especially your 1:1 work, though this can also be true in group containers and the like.

You also very likely then have some big opportunities to set, communicate, and maintain better boundaries with your clients. One, so that the work can actually become more sustainable for you to deliver. But also two, so that your clients can more reliably see the intended results of the offer, not least because you, yourself will hold better space and/or do better work when you’re not constantly drained by the client delivery.

But what boundaries need to or even can be set? That’s what I’ll share in this blog post.

Right Fit clients respect (and love) boundaries.

First: why don’t we like setting (and maintaining) boundaries with clients?

There are a LOT of potential reasons, but the one that I’ve heard the most as I’ve supported clients through their own boundary work with their clients is: I’m afraid of losing the client.

That line of reasoning simultaneously makes so much sense—in all stages of business, but especially so in the earlier stages of business where potential clients actually saying “yes” feels anything but reliable—and is not actually relevant when you’re working with true Right Fit clients. Why? Because Right Fit clients respect and even love boundaries being clearly communicated and consistently maintained.

Think about it: imagine you’re working with a service provider who you’ve hired to do something for you in your business. Let’s say they’re a copywriter who is writing your website copy. You sign on the dotted line, pay the invoice, fill out your onboarding questionnaire answering questions about your business, and then…you don’t hear from them. A few weeks go by, and you’re wondering: when is my copy going to be done? You look at the contract, and you realize that the contract doesn’t communicate dates or timelines, but only that a certain number of pages of copy will be written. You remember talking in the discovery call about how you’d like to have this done in a month’s time so that you can align it with a launch of a new offer, but now you can’t remember: did you guys actually agree to work on that timeline? And if so, how come you haven’t heard from them yet?

Maybe you choose to reach out, and they say that they’ve been working on it and will get you a draft by the end of the week—which, thankfully, they do. When they send it over, they communicate that you’re “allowed to request revisions.” You have some revisions you’d like to request, so you do, but one of the pages just feels entirely wrong. Now you’re wondering: what extent of revisions can I request? Can I ask that they entirely redo a specific page? And also, how am I supposed to request revisions? In the document itself? Via email? Maybe they’ve even contacted you by email, by Voxer, and in a “client hub” via comments—so you’re super confused on which of those three locations is best for you to contact them.

You go ahead and make your revision requests, opting to do so directly in the document with the copy. And then…a few more weeks go by, with no further communication from them. Finally again you reach out—amidst fears that maybe you gave the feedback in the wrong place and they didn’t see it, and/or that you’re being “too much” or “rushing them”—and they respond giving you a timeline, then they follow the timeline and get your revised copy over to you.

I could keep painting this picture, but even doing so is making me feel itchy. It’s SO uncomfortable being on the client side when there aren’t clear boundaries and expectations in place! Especially if you know that the service provider you’ve hired is a great person, you quite like them personally and professionally, and they do really great, rave-worthy work—they’re just not doing that really great work while maintaining the responsibility that all business owners have to set, communicate, and maintain boundaries.

Right Fit clients respect and love boundaries because the boundaries help them to know that they’re doing what they need to do, that they can trust you to follow through on your commitments, and that they are being respected and valued in the same way that they are working to respect and value you. Right Fit clients LOVE it when business owners set, communicate, and maintain boundaries, because it makes it clear to them how they can succeed and/or “get the most out of” the work with you. You will not lose a Right Fit client when you set, communicate, and maintain boundaries with them. In fact, you’re more likely to keep a Right Fit client when you set, communicate, and maintain boundaries with them—especially when you do so right from the beginning of your working relationship.

If you’re wanting to have better boundaries with your clients, but you’re fearful that setting and/or maintaining those boundaries would mean that a future client might not hire you or that a current client might fire you, then I invite you to acknowledge that fear. It’s allowed to be here, and there’s nothing wrong with you for having it. You might even want to invest some time in getting to know that fearful part of yourself (I share a somatic practice for doing so in this podcast episode, which was intended to support you with visibility fears but can really be used for most any fear).

At the same time, you might also want to revisit who your Right Fit client is. Because yes, someone could seem to align with the Ideal Client Persona you’ve created, but not actually be a Right Fit client. And until you are clear on who your true Right Fit client is, you’ll very likely continue attracting wrong fit or not-yet-right-fit clients who are less likely to follow and respect boundaries that you set.

psst! There are four core foundations of a Right Fit client (that, together, take you into WAY deeper clarity than any amount of traditional client work ever could). We share those four core foundations as well as some examples of how they impact everything else in your business, from your offers to your messaging, marketing, and sales processes, inside of our free masterclass, The Sustainable Success Starter Kit.

So what boundaries can you set with your clients?

There are all sorts of boundaries you can set that Right Fit clients love and benefit from, so this is by no means an exhaustive list. The categories of boundaries as well as specific examples of those boundaries are simply the ones I’ve seen to be most frequently missing amidst many of the business owners that we support, particularly inside of EXPAND and in Private Coach-sulting.

I’ll go into them more deeply below, but here are the overarching categories:

  1. Time boundaries
  2. Communication boundaries
  3. Money boundaries
  4. Legal boundaries
  5. Energetic boundaries

Each of these categories of boundaries show up across pretty much every single stage of client delivery, and therefore need to be set at the beginning of a client container—if possible!—and then maintained all the way through. It’s your responsibility as the business owner to set and maintain these boundaries, because by the very nature of you being the business owner, you are in a position of power. Of course, you want to work to keep the playing field between you and your client/s equal, taking care to not position yourself as in any way “better than,” but even with that: it’s your responsibility to do so because you are the one who is naturally in a position of power.

Let’s look at each of these five categories of boundaries below and what specific boundaries you might set within them. I invite you as you’re reading to have a place to take notes, particularly jotting down: 

  • What boundaries you’d like to set, communicate, and maintain
  • What situations you’ve experienced with clients either partially or fully due to the fact that this/these boundaries were not set and/or communicated and/or maintained (there is a lot of gold in our previous mistakes and errors!)

Time Boundaries

Time boundaries are any boundaries around both your and the client’s time. There are a lot of obvious ways that this one plays out—which I’ll detail below—but there’s one significant place that needs a time boundary that most business owners don’t realize is actually a (very necessary) boundary: the actual timeline of the container. 

I think it’s safe to say that most business owners think about questions like, “How long is the container?” e.g. “It’s a 6 month group coaching program,” or “they have access to the course for 12 months,” or “the project takes place over the course of a week,” etc. But where the actual “boundary” piece is often missed is: what is the timeline that the average Right Fit client for this offer needs in order to achieve the intended result or transformation of this offer?

I remember I was talking with a coach a few years ago about her 1:1 offer, which was a 3-month offer. But when we looked at the length of time that her average Right Fit client (for that specific offer) needed in order to achieve the result she was marketing, it was more like 6 or even 9 months. 

Boundaries are meant to serve both us, the business owner, and the client. If we’re setting arbitrary boundaries, particularly over more “macro” things like timelines, rather than actually thinking about what the client needs in order to achieve their intended result, then we’re setting a boundary, sure. But we’re not setting a boundary that is actually in service of the client, nor is it in service of us or our business (it’s simpler to get rave reviews, referrals, and re-sign-ups when clients are supported to achieve the intended result of the work). 

Timelines of the container itself need to be determined based on the length of time it would actually take for the average Right Fit client to take the required steps to achieve the intended result of the offer. NOT on what you think “will sell,” and in fact it’s your job as the business owner to set the offer up to reliably facilitate results and do the work to figure out how to sell THAT. (We go in-depth on offer-building, including finding those required steps and then choosing a timeline off of that, in our free guide: Powerful Offers that Transform.)

Other time boundaries you’ll want to think about:

  • Session length (Again, you’ll want to choose timing for sessions based on what the average Right Fit for this offer client needs in order to achieve the intended result, either of that specific session or in the context of the container as a whole—not arbitrarily.)
  • Rhythm/cadence of sessions and/or how much time is in between sessions (Remember: want to allow time for integration, in all work but especially if you’re doing work of the human transformation variety.)
  • Ending sessions on time (and if you can sense as the practitioner that you’re not going to end a session on time, asking for consent to go over time)
  • Communication timelines (This is important for all business owners, but especially done-for-you service providers who are completing projects on specified timelines. Specifically you’ll want to think about: what will your typical response time be? And what response time do you request from the client? And what happens if you don’t receive a response from them for an extended period of time? Coaches may also want to consider: how quickly will you respond to communication from clients?)
  • Allowed length of voice notes (e.g. if you’re communicating on Voxer with them, do you want to have a max time allowed for voice notes?)
  • Timeline for providing feedback or edit requests on deliverables (and what happens if they don’t meet that timeline)
  • Timeline for rescheduling or canceling a live session (and what happens if they don’t meet that timeline)
  • Scheduling sessions (e.g. are you going to pre-schedule all sessions with a client at the very beginning of the container? As opposed to allowing them to schedule sessions whenever they’d like to.)
  • Your general availability for calls (no matter your time zone, you get to work hours that actually work for you — and clients get to adjust accordingly, which, Right Fit clients will gladly do)
  • The effect of emergencies or extenuating circumstances on the timeline (e.g. what if you get sick partway through the project, and that delays the timeline by a week?)

Note that just because I’ve listed these boundaries above does not mean that you have to have any or all of them. You get to choose what is and isn’t relevant for you and your work as well as whether you want to institute any or all of these boundaries within your work. This also is certainly not an exhaustive list of time boundaries. Perhaps you’ll even want to think for yourself: are there other time boundaries that I want and/or need to set in my client work or business as a whole?

Communication Boundaries

These boundaries are essentially asking the question of: How and when will communication between you and your client/s take place?

I ran a mastermind a few years ago and included in it was a group Voxer chat. Partway through the mastermind, I opened up an individual chat on Voxer with one of the members to help them through something particularly sensitive. That would have been fine if it was a one-time thing (and I had preemptively communicated that with the client and maybe even the group), but then for a couple months after that I would occasionally support that client in both the group and the 1:1 chat. Until finally there came a moment where the client specifically shared with me: “I’m not sure where I’m supposed to reach out to you anymore, because I know that the 1:1 chat isn’t actually included in the mastermind, but we’ve also kept using it.” Yep, you read that correctly: the client was the one who reminded me that I had a boundary I wasn’t following. And yep, me not communicating about why we were no longer following that boundary ended up causing confusion for the client, even though in my mind it seemed “helpful.”

Here are some boundaries around communication you may want to consider:

  • Location of communication (e.g. email? Voxer? Facebook group? etc. — remember that you get to choose where is best for YOU, and Right Fit clients will almost always be able to adjust to those needs. Also, is there any type of communication you won’t do? e.g. “hop on a call real quick”)
  • Expected timeline for a response to their communication, as well as an expected timeline for their response to your communication (and also the effect of non-communication on the timeline: e.g. if you don’t hear from them for a month, does that mean that you’ll extend the timeline of the project by a month? Or will the scope of work now change because they delayed the timeline?)
  • How to use various supports/”make the most of” them (e.g. how to use Voxer support, types of questions you could ask, etc. — I share our experience around setting and maintaining boundaries around Voxer Office Hours in EXPAND in this podcast episode.)

Again, this is by no means an exhaustive list, and all of these ideas for boundaries may or may not be relevant to you and your work. I invite you to consider: are there other communication boundaries that I want and/or need to set in my client work or business as a whole?

Money Boundaries

Ohhhhh man. Money boundaries are often the toughest one to set, communicate, and maintain for business owners! Mostly because money, perhaps more than any of our other resources, tends to carry so much emotion and baggage. And yet, it’s for precisely that reason that we as the business owners need to be crystal clear on our money boundaries. Chances are, our clients have all sorts of feels about money, and we can preempt any stickiness around money by simply being crystal clear with them on boundaries and expectations from the get go.

Here are some money boundaries you may wish to consider:

  • Payment policy (e.g. do you offer payment plans, and if so, is there a markup? how much of their total investment is due prior to handing over deliverables and/or completing a package? how are payments accepted, and are there any modes of payment that are not accepted? etc.)
  • The refund process (e.g. how and when can they request a refund, if at all? If they can request a refund, how much of what they’ve paid can they request? Are there any hard and fast cutoffs, after which they can no longer request a refund? etc.)
  • Cancellation policy (e.g. how and when can they cancel their contract, if at all? If they cancel mid-month in a coaching offer, or mid-project in a done-for-you service, what does that mean for the payment they’ve already made and/or any upcoming payments? etc.)
  • Late payment policy (e.g. will you stop work if payment is not received? Is there a fee? etc.)

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I invite you to take what is relevant to your business and leave the rest. I also invite you to consider: are there other money boundaries that I want and/or need to set in my client work or business as a whole?

Legal Boundaries

Pretty much all of the boundaries I mentioned above are things that you could (and very likely want to) include in your contracts and/or terms and conditions. Of course, I am by no means a lawyer nor is this intended as legal advice. If you are looking for support on your contracts or other legal matters (like terms and conditions!), then check out the Contract Club by Not Avg Law. (That’s an affiliate link!) For a one-time payment of $30, you can get lifetime access to a growing body of contracts, policies, and more from someone who knows online business and the specific legal needs that we have.

What I’ll share specifically is this: you absolutely, without a doubt, need to have very clear contracts and/or terms and conditions in your business. And your clients absolutely, without a doubt, need to agree to those contracts and/or terms and conditions prior to beginning work with you. 

There are many reasons for this, though probably the biggest one is: contracts (and other legal measures) protect both you and the client. They make it easy for both of you to know what’s what, they clearly spell out what happens when the unexpected happens (e.g. force majeure or even the client or you simply want out of the contract), and they are a way for you to both be crystal clear on what your role is in the container. I know that sometimes contracts and all things legal can bring up some fear; I also know that not having contracts and all things legal in our businesses also can bring up some fear. 

If you’re feeling fear about having a contract, then I invite you to acknowledge that (you can even use the somatic process I shared about under “Right Fit clients love boundaries” to begin establishing a relationship with the fear). Often that fear is based in a lack of clarity and/or understanding, in that contracts and all things legal can feel really muddy/unclear and yet carry the potential for significant implications. That’s part of why I love the Contract Club so much, because the team at Not Avg Law help to break down the different parts of contracts and other “legalese” and really help you to understand what it is that you’re saying and what it is that you’re asking of yourself and your clients.

Energetic Boundaries

The boundaries mentioned above have all been quite practical and even somewhat tangible: there are very clear ways to tell if someone is following the communication boundary of only reaching out to you on Voxer, rather than Facebook Messenger, for example. While all of the aforementioned boundaries are SO important, there’s one more area of boundaries that business owners often miss: energetic boundaries.

There’s quite a few different energetic boundaries you may wish to consider adopting—like the one I mentioned above about keeping an equal playing field between you and your clients—but the number one energetic boundary is this: you are not responsible for making your clients succeed (because only they can do that). You are simply responsible for creating the conditions within which they can (and do) reliably succeed.

I share more about what I mean by this in episode 011 of our podcast, “How responsible are you for your clients’ success? (balancing personal responsibility with professional reliability).” 

I was talking with a client in EXPAND recently, who shared that she was getting caught in a start-stop pattern wherein she’d be really motivated and inspired after receiving support, but then a week later she’d get stuck, forget what she was doing, and lose motivation. My first inclination upon hearing this was to think, “Oh no!! Maybe I need to include a bunch more live support to make sure clients don’t experience this start-stop pattern!” 

However, not only have we intentionally built EXPAND with the exact amount of live support that it has very intentionally so that it reliably facilitates its intended results for and with our clients, but adding in a bunch more support (beyond the 20+ opportunities for individualized and/or 1:1 support available throughout the 6 months that are already there) wouldn’t actually be in service of our Right Fit clients. (Despite seeming to be over the short term.)

Think about it: if we somehow were able to entirely prevent our clients from experiencing a start-stop pattern as they’re building their Sustainably Successful business for their entire time in EXPAND, what are we not doing? We’re not supporting them to experience the (very normal) phenomenon of a “stop,” and learn how to meet themselves there and then start back up again. 

Do I want our clients to experience a start-stop pattern? I mean, not specifically. And not all of our EXPAND clients do, or at least, not all do at the same degrees. But I do want our EXPAND clients to be equipped to meet difficulties and obstacles on their path as a business owner, purely for the fact that that is something that they’ll continue meeting throughout their entire business-building journey (well after they’ve “graduated” from EXPAND). If we can support them to face those difficulties within a relatively “safe” space where it’s unlikely they’ll get “stuck,” “stumped,” or “stopped” for long due to the many avenues of both active and reactive support we’ve built into the program, then it’s actually in their best interest to let them have that difficult and/or challenging experience. In having that experience, they’re building up capacity to have those experiences, and therefore to move themselves forward through those experiences both now and in the future.

It would have been easy for me to fall back into old patterning where I believed that I needed to make my clients succeed. The often outcome of this approach and “making” our clients succeed, however, is that while the client might seem to succeed more over the short term, we’re often helping them achieve shorter term success at the expense of longer term success. 

My invitation to you is to explore where you might feel like you need to make your client/s succeed, and then also explore: how is that desire to make them succeed actually affecting them over both the short and long term? Chances are, you’ll find that things you’re doing from this motivation are actually less helpful and supportive than they may initially seem.

What are your next steps?

We’ve taken a cursory look at the five categories of boundaries that you want to set, communicate, and maintain with your clients in order to be even more successful at facilitating results for or with your clients, while doing so in a way that is made even more sustainable by the same boundaries. Now you get to decide: what boundaries are you going to set? How, when, and where will you communicate them? And finally, what will be your course of action if the boundary is not followed, either accidentally or intentionally?

The ability to set, communicate, and maintain boundaries is an essential component of the business-building acumen needed to build a business that brings you as much joy as it does revenue. Therefore, it’s something that I support our clients inside of our comprehensive business training program, EXPAND, to do, covering both the practicalities (“what boundaries to set” “how to communicate them with future clients” “how to reset containers with current clients”) and the soft skills side (such as building up the physiological capacity to have a tough conversation with a current client, or saying “no” to an out-of-scope request). 

I would love to support you to do the same. Join us inside of EXPAND today to get started.

(p.s. EXPAND will be on sale as part of our Spring Spectacular from May 7-9. However, if you’d like to get started earlier than that, but don’t want to miss out on the sale, let us know via the chatbox in the bottom right corner of your screen and we’ll send you an early bird exclusive discount code. In your message, include your email address as well as the word “boundaries” and we’ll send that right over!)

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hey!

I’m Carly Jo Bell.

(Though you can just call me Carly.)

Carly Jo Bell is a business strategist and mentor, and fonder of Whole Co media. Through her courses and programs, podcast, and one on one coaching, Carly helps pulled-in-every-direction entrepreneurs create a business that brings in as much joy as it does revenue — by cultivating deep self trust, and solid foundations as the first step.

For more from Carly, and to learn about her signature “looking external for inspiration, and internal for answers” approach, join the conversation by signing up for her weekly email series, Carly's Couch.

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