Let’s talk about the B-word. No, not that one—I’m referring to boundaries. As a business owner, you’ve surely been told about the importance of establishing firm personal and professional boundaries. Yet, as a creative, you may have trouble setting and enforcing said boundaries.
This is particularly true for event professionals who are in the business of making people happy. After all, we are in the hospitality industry and are people pleasers to our core! However, when you extend yourself too far to keep others happy, you risk losing sight of your own satisfaction and can succumb to burnout when it all feels like too much. (And, when you’re burnt out, your clients end up facing the impact!)
To manage your workload and keep your clients satisfied, it’s vital to set clear boundaries that let them know what to expect and when. This ensures that they operate within your parameters, not the other way around. Remember: You are the professional in this situation, so you get to make the rules!
If you’re struggling to create or stay within the lines you’ve drawn, follow these tips to make boundary-setting an easy step in the process without putting off any clients.
Put it in writing.
If you start to reel off your boundaries in your first meeting with a client, there’s a good chance it will go in one ear and out the other. Your appointments are already filled with important details for them to remember, so it can quickly lead to information overload. Plus, putting them in writing can be a gentler way to broach the subject than if you laid out all of your rules in person.
Instead, set expectations before they’re even a signed client. For example, include the guidelines for your working relationship in your contract so all new clients must read and sign off on them. I recommend doing so at the very beginning of your contract, as people tend to skim after a few pages. You may also consider creating a handout to include in your welcome packet as a gentle non-verbal reminder.
People make mistakes, especially when they are balancing event planning with their regular daily lives. If somebody steps out of line, don’t assume it was done in disrespect. There’s a good chance they forgot, so give your clients some grace. If you get a phone call at 8 p.m. despite having a clear rule about no calls after 6 p.m., call them back the next day, gently remind them about your out-of-office hours, and see if you can schedule a time that works best for both of you.
While patience is key as you start out with a client, take note of repeated issues. You may accept one or two mishaps, but if someone is consistently crossing your boundaries, there is a bigger discussion that needs to take place.
Hold your clients accountable.
You’re not a doormat to be walked over. Make it clear to your clients by establishing repercussions if crossing boundaries becomes a habit. For example, maybe you have a mandatory meeting about your working relationship on the third strike, or perhaps you charge an extra fee if you get pushed outside of your scope.
You are a professional, and your clients must respect you as such. Consider outlining punitive measures alongside the parameters you’ve listed in your contract. Then, if they know there will be repercussions for pushing it, they will understand that it’s more than just talk—it’s a matter of respecting your boundaries.
Don’t be afraid to walk away.
Of course, there will always be a few clients who just don’t care. They want things their way and are willing to step on anyone’s toes to get it. Don’t give them what they want! Instead, assert your freedom as a business owner and dissolve their contract if it gets out of hand. You should never have to put up with abuse or manipulation in your business.
This step is not one to be taken lightly, so be mindful that the consequence matches the transgression. It might not be worth firing a client over a few calls outside of your office hours, but if you wake up to angry voicemails every week, it should definitely be a consideration. (And, no, they do not get their non-refundable deposit back!)
Ensure that all of this is included in your contract, especially about retaining your deposit. You have already spent time working on their project and have blocked off a specific day in your calendar for them, so you have every right to hold onto that hard-earned money—especially when the dissolution of your agreement is their fault.
It can feel tough to set boundaries, but rest assured that the vast majority of clients are highly respectful of your time, expertise, and professionalism. Of course, there will always be bad eggs, but having your boundaries clearly defined from the start will make it far easier to navigate an unsavory situation. So, go ahead and spend some time thinking about your non-negotiables in business and start putting them into writing! From there, it’s just about keeping them close and protecting your time and energy.