When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable

I can’t tell you in words how wonderful and exciting it is when you get your first client, or any new client for that matter.

That’s when you say to yourself “Yes! It’s working!”

This is the moment when you feel like you’re finally getting somewhere. All the hard work and preparation you put in has come to fruition.


But that’s only the start.

Now the hard work really begins because you’ve got to be able to ‘keep’ that client.

So, ask yourself. How far would you go?

How far would you go to ensure that your clients are happy?

Now I’m not suggesting you do anything illegal or immoral. What I’m asking is, do you have clear client boundaries?

I’m going to use the example of office hours. The time you have allocated to do client work. The times stated on your service agreement clients will sign before any work begins.

Okay. Here goes…

What would you do if a client suddenly called you late one evening stating they needed a task finished by 8:00 am the next day?

Would you drop everything and rush to get whatever needs doing done, no matter what it takes?

What if a client insisted on calling you on a regular basis outside your office hours, knowing full well you’ve finished for the day?

Or do they?

You may have given them your start and finish times, but could you have unwittingly changed the boundaries in the client’s mind because they know you’ll pick up their call? After all, you don’t want to let them down.

There will be times when clients need something doing urgently. Life happens. But there’s a difference between helping out now and again, to clients expecting you will be at your virtual desk whenever they call. And I don’t mean that disrespectfully either.

You could be giving out the wrong signals by continually answering out of office hour calls, the boundaries become vague and then this becomes the norm.

Vague boundaries will impact greatly on your business and you personally.

“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated.”
Brené Brown

Resentment is not a great emotion. And believe me, if you continue to have vague boundaries in your business, resentment will start to creep in and eventually take over.

You’ll feel angry at the client, but you can’t tell them how you feel so that resentment will build up inside of you leaving you feeling frustrated, stressed, and annoyed with yourself.

Another effect of vague boundaries is, if you continually allow work to encroach into your personal time, your own business needs will take second place. They’ll end up getting done during evenings and weekends. Here’s what will happen because of that:

  • Less time will be spent with family and friends, putting your relationships on the line.
  • You will become too exhausted to market your business because it’s taking all you have left to do the bare minimum of your own admin. If this happens how will you attract new clients?

Worse-case scenario - if two out of three of your clients suddenly decide at the same time that they no longer require your services, you could end up with a gaping financial hole in your business and nothing to fill it.

Here’s the thing. It isn’t the client’s fault.

It’s your business and you make the rules.

The wonderful thing about that is, you can change the rules. Even years down the line, and even if your established clients have become used to you working all hours.

If you’re setting up a virtual assistant practice, set your boundaries right at beginning and stick with them.

Be clear in your initial call with your client, what your boundaries are. If a potential client tells you they’d need a task doing on a specific day at a specific time and you know that you can’t fulfil their needs, be honest with them. There may be a simple workaround so suggest an alternative. Does the task actually have to be done then or is it because that’s how it’s always been done historically?

For established clients, you can still introduce new boundaries by giving plenty of warning and easing them into a different way of working.

Many years ago, when I first started my business, I had a client who insisted that I worked at their premises. Virtual assistance was still very new back then and they felt more comfortable working with me that way.

Fast forward a few years down the line. I told them I was moving out of the area and we would have to start looking for someone else to support them (notice I said ‘we’. I always try and find clients, and potential clients, an alternative).

We came to the joint decision that I could continue to support them from a distance. With new technology now available it was possible for me to put together a workable proposal. We went through it together and then implemented it over a few weeks before I moved, to make sure it was working smoothly.

We both had to make some adjustments in the way we worked. Because we wanted to continue to our working relationship, by putting together a simple step-by-step plan for the client, they were happy to venture into using modern technology with my help.

So, if you’re thinking about setting up a virtual assistance business, or, if you’ve been running one for a while and your boundaries have become vague, remember it isn’t just about the clients’ needs.

It’s a two-way street.

It’s also about you.


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