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EPISODE 27: Boundaries, Boundaries, Boundaries

by Mar 30, 2021Podcast, Writers

In this episode we will cover:

  • Why setting boundaries is important
  • Identifying points of frustration as indicators you need a new boundary
  • How to establish and reinforce boundaries
  • The boundaries “gut check”
  • The boundaries “logic check”

Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. They make the world go ‘round.

It’s a topic so important, we had to cover it twice.

At their best, boundaries benefit both you and your clients. They set you up for the best quality work AND the best quality working relationship.

But how do you figure out when to set boundaries?

 

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • Why setting boundaries benefits both you and your clients.
  • How to identify frustration points in your client relationships {and how to fix them with new boundaries}.
  • How to use the “gut check” to determine when you need new boundaries.
  • How to use the “logic check” to determine when you need new boundaries.

 

Remember, they’re YOUR boundaries, so you decide when to enforce them. If you need to bend the rules a little sometimes, that’s okay! Just make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.

 

Resources referenced in this episode include:

Dubsado (invoicing/contract service)

Destination Legal (contract templates) – Use code PROTECTYOURBIZ for 10% off!

TRANSCRIPT

Jessi:
Welcome to the Brand Your Voice Podcast, where we’re digging into how you can create personality-driven content that connects and converts. I’m Jessi…

Marie:
…and I’m Marie. We’re the co-founders of North Star Messaging + Strategy, where we support business owners in outsourcing content without sacrificing authenticity.

Jessi:
Every brand has a unique voice that sets it apart. We're digging into how to capture the way your brand communicates from the words you use to the stories you tell. So you can create more compelling content that strategically helps you meet your business goals.

Marie:
And if you choose to outsource that content, you'll be able to do so with confidence, knowing your brand voice is in good hands and you can reclaim your time. We're so glad you're here and hope you enjoy this episode.

Marie:
So before we get into today's episode, funny story... We, you know, we've been doing this series of episodes specifically for writers and other content creators, and turns out there was a topic that was so important that we decided to visit it twice. And so if you are loyally listening along every single episode, there was an episode a few weeks back, on the topic of setting boundaries and here we are, again. However, we decided that the episodes are actually different enough from each other, and that we share enough sort of tidbits from another angle in this episode that it was actually worth sharing with you again.

Jessi:
At the end of the day, boundaries are such an important topic, especially for content creators, that there's no lack of a number of times when it makes sense to revisit this topic and check in on it. So we decided to keep this episode as is, you may hear some of the same stories, but from a slightly different angle and with some different takeaways and experiences around boundaries that we've had in building our own business around content creation. So enjoy this episode and I hope you'll take away from it even more than you did the first time and are able to implement some great boundaries in your own business.

Marie:
All right, welcome to another episode of the Brand Your Voice Podcast. And today we're talking about a topic that we love and also challenges us from time to time: boundaries. Just a note that this is part of our ongoing series of episodes, specifically for writers, whether you're a content creator, a freelance writer, a ghost writer, whatever it is. However, if you are a CEO of any other type of company, you probably know that conversation about boundaries is going to be useful for you too. So please feel free to stick around. And I hope you'll get lots out of this episode, regardless of whether you are a writer or creative or not.

Jessi:
Yeah. And I think boundaries are an especially important topic for done for you content creators specifically, but any done for you service. Because often there is a lot more scope creep in those types of projects. And we'll kind of go into some specific examples, but I want to kind of start with taking us back to the earlier days of our business when, you know, as Marie said, boundaries continue to be a challenge, I think always are a challenge in different ways because different boundaries get pushed in different ways as your business grows and evolves. But early on, our boundaries were being tested in many different ways because we hadn't built up any systems for implementing those boundaries. They essentially didn't exist, and we didn't realize they needed to exist. And as a result, because both Marie and I are people pleasers, we said yes to a lot of things that we didn't even realize were maybe things we shouldn't have said yes to. I remember a project early on. It was one of our early website copy projects where we were helping someone write their, I believe it was their about page.

Marie:
Yup. Burned into my memory.

Jessi:
You know, through no fault of their own, of the client's own. We ended up in a situation where that page went back and forth through, I want to say like 10, 12, 15-

Marie:
I was going to say 12.

Jessi:
Yeah, many, many revisions. And you know, part of this was because as we mentioned in a previous episode, we hadn't quite defined our process yet for creating copy. But also it was partially because as we were creating content, the client was realizing what they actually wanted and didn't want. You know, kind of changing their direction a little bit. And so what ended up happening was we had this back and forth that kept going back and forth with no end in sight, because we had not approached the project saying, well, we implement two rounds of revision. And that just gave the client the freedom to go back and forth as many times as they needed to. And that lack of a boundary turned that project, which we started out being very excited about into something that became very stressful, again, through no fault of the clients, but because we hadn't implemented the boundary.

Marie:
Yeah, absolutely. This actually makes me think of a friend of ours. I'm going to credit her, Brandy Lawson, who's the CEO of a fiery FX. So they're a great marketing agency. And one of the things she told me one time is like, you'll never hear me say, "Do you like it?" to the client. Because at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter. Like if what you're creating for them is aligned and it works, then, you know, the data speaks for itself. And again, I think that alignment piece is super important. Obviously we need to sure that it's, it does use their voice and it speaks to their values and all that good stuff. But, that's the problem we fall into as writers and really any type of creative service provider, is when we're trying to get it to a point where they like it, sometimes occasionally there are clients where that's almost an impossible task. So, that's not the only time that we've struggled with boundaries at all. Like I can think also when we started implementing retainers for our clients for ongoing content, this was, I mean, a recent... oops. On our part, just in the last year or two, we decided to create a highest level of retainer that costs, you know, twice as much as the other ones or whatever. And it was unlimited content... Don't do that. Don't do that.

Jessi:
It's a bad idea.

Marie:
Fortunately, nobody took us up on it because it was priced a bit high, but like if they had, you're getting paid a finite amount of money for an infinite amount of work, doesn't that make sense? It was foolish on our part.

Jessi:
Not only that, but it also set unrealistic expectations on both ends. And I remember having a conversation with a client who was looking at potentially getting this highest level retainer who asked the very sensible question of, well, what does unlimited content mean? Because I know you, you don't have unlimited hours, you don't have unlimited labor on your end. And so she wanted it rightfully so to be quantified in some way, because unlimited sounded nice, but it also is unrealistic. I'm grateful that that particular client recognize that and sort of called us out on that because it could have easily gone the other way. If someone could have said, Oh great, I get unlimited content. Here is my entire year's worth of content needs. Can you get it done for me in a month? And we would have backed ourselves into a position where we had to say yes or had to have a difficult conversation with them.

Marie:
Yeah, exactly. So, you know, we definitely are not without our share of boundary stepping overage, um, of our own boundaries, right? Like another thing that's come up for us, are last minute requests with really unrealistic timelines. You know, a client could ask whatever they want to ask. It's, you know, they don't know what they don't know. They don't know what you're able to do. What else is on your plate, what you're willing to do. So they're going to ask, but just because they're asking doesn't mean, you have to say yes. But we were often saying yes to things that we actually didn't have really the capability to do or to do to the level of quality that we like to hold ourselves to. And so what happens then is, you know, we again, back ourselves into a corner of, feeling really stressed out, feeling like we can't produce at the high level of quality that we hold ourselves to and feeling like we're delivering something subpar for a client. Sometimes it's totally possible to handle a last minute request and it's no big deal. But when it's not, you know, we have struggled in the past to tell them we really can't, sorry.

Jessi:
Yeah. And you know, to quote another person who we've gained a lot of mentorship from, Adrienne Dorison of Run Like Clockwork, we're not, most businesses are not creating oxygen. And often those last minute requests fall into the category of things that are perceived as an emergency, even if they are not necessarily a true emergency. And so I think this is something that becomes particularly problematic for done-for-you content creators, for writers, because they're often handling the face, you know, face to face content creation, things that are going out and being directly received by the audience. And what that leads to is this feeling almost of responsibility to be able to respond to those perceived emergencies. And as Marie was saying, they don't necessarily know your clients don't necessarily know what they don't know. And so even sometimes if you can technically take on last minute assignment, last minute request, it's so important to have established that if this happens, it is an over-delivery. If this happens, there's a process in place for it because you're protecting yourself, you're protecting your client, you're protecting your future relationship. You're protecting your ability to maintain your energy, and you're protecting your reliability as a service provider. So last minute requests are the sort of thing that, you know, pop up very frequently for writers and are definitely an area to tread with care. As we've experienced many, many times and learned, and from that, we have put very strict boundaries in place saying, you know, this is the timeframe where we need requests in advance. This is how much lead time we need. If it falls sooner than that, in our case, we have a rush fee and it's still not guaranteed. We have to check with our team, make sure we have the capacity, get back to the client and say, yes, we can take it on for a rush fee or no, I'm sorry. We do not have the capacity for that.

Marie:
Exactly. So ultimately I hope what you're hearing from our lessons learned is, you know, boundaries are essential. If you're a writer or really anyone period, boundaries kind of make the world go round. Yes, they protect you and that's really important because, you know, if your well is running low, you know, that's when a lot of burnout happens. It's where frustration occurs. That's where resentment can start to grow. It also benefits your clients for you to have boundaries. They may not believe that. It may be a little hard for them to accept it when you give them a boundary. Some people will even react with a bit of hostility when you uphold a boundary. But at the end of the day, if you are able to serve them out of a place of boundaried alignment and energeticness and desire to support them, like it's going to be a better relationship. It's going to be a better product at the end of the day. And it's gonna serve them more. So, you know, just letting them know that like the boundaries are there to serve them too.

Jessi:
Absolutely yah. I think what we've found over the years too, is the pushback on boundaries often tends to happen when it's a boundary that we either haven't acknowledged or upheld for a long period of time. It can be it's surprising to the client, or especially if it's a newer client who hasn't developed a relationship with you, it's someone who doesn't truly respect the complexity of the work that you're doing and your process. And so if someone is pushing back on your boundaries, that's, that may be a red flag that may be something to look at and see, okay, why are they pushing back? Is it because I've made exceptions in the past and I'm sending an inconsistent message? Is it that they are consistently pushing back because they just don't respect the boundary? And it's okay if your boundaries evolve over time, you know, you don't always know what you need. You don't always know, Oh, I can't do 8 million rounds of revision, I really only can do two. And that's okay to adjust your boundaries. But this is where communication becomes a really important piece. Contracts become a really important piece. You know, taking time periodically to evaluate what your process is and what your system is and where there may be points of frustration so that you can see, okay, is that frustration coming out of a lack of a boundary?

Marie:
Absolutely. So we've talked high level about this, but let's get nitty gritty into the details of how to set boundaries. So we're going to say this again and again, but contracts. Oh, beautiful contracts. You know, we have some friends who are attorneys who serve small businesses and they're like this isn't sexy stuff. And I'm like, Oh, I beg to differ.

Contracts really, can give you so much peace of mind. And they do a really great job of setting expectations, right from the beginning. You may also revisit contracts. You know, A, anytime you're about to send one out, it's a chance for you to look over it and see if you have anything else to add. Which, you know, of course we recommend you have an attorney support you with, but still just putting something down is better than nothing. And secondly, if you like, so we have a client that we work with and they always like to start with a three month engagement with their clients. And they called us the awkward dating phase, which I love, but it's because they want to make the gift like three months to see if it's a good fit. And then if it is then, you know, the awkward dating phase now has evolved into like the happy, you know, dating phase where they're like happy to be a long-term client of, you know, and, or have them as a long-term client. And if it doesn't go well, like, okay, you know, that's an opportunity to say goodbye. So, you know, put in opportunities, to revisit the contract. You know, whether that's, you know, just not having ongoing work in to perpetuity infinity and beyond, because you know, if you have something like that under one contract that may not serve you, if things are changing for your business over time and I promise they will be.

Jessi:
Yeah. And I think, you know, kind of the flip side of the coin, where we talked about people who pushed back against boundaries, there is also a lot to be said for clients who not only respect boundaries, but really appreciate you being forthcoming with them. And that's something that we've noticed over the years, as we have started to integrate talking about our boundaries as part of our process, right from the get-go right from the very first sales call that we have with a potential client. We say things like you get two rounds of revision. Our turnaround is about this much time. This is where our process starts. This is where our process ends. This is what happens. If you have an emergency request, all of those things are a part of the conversation, right from the beginning. So there's no surprise. And often what we've found is that the people who we're talking to were really appreciate knowing where those boundaries are, because it allows them to set their own expectations of how the relationship is going to be working and how it's going to evolve over time. And they also know right from the get go, when they may be asking for something that's outside of those boundaries. So they can kind of, you know, kind of self reflect on that and acknowledge that I'm asking you for an over-delivery. And I understand if you say no.

Marie:
Yeah, exactly. So as you're thinking about how to lay those boundaries out with a client right from the get-go, think about things that seem maybe obvious to you. Right. But like, what's your preferred communication method, do you prefer if they email you? Is there a specific email address they should use? Maybe it's an email address that actually goes to like your VA and not you, and then the VA tells you what to do right. Like tell them what it is, you know, if you give them access to your Voxer, do you want them to leave no more than two minute long messages or whatever it is, right? Like how often are you responding to requests to emails, to Slack messages? You know, you can, there's things you can do also to preempt this, right? You can have an auto responder that lets them know like, great, thanks so much. I will be back in touch within two business days. Like whatever it is, right. Define a business day. Are you off on weekends? Do you actually work best from 9:00 PM until midnight because that's when your kids are asleep. Like whatever it is, like define what your work day is for you. What's your turnaround time for a project? Like what, how much lead time do you need? And like what actually constitutes an emergency SOS last minute project, is there a rush fee on those? Let them know that ahead of time. How many rounds of revisions do you offer? What does that process look like? You know, who on the team do they have access to if there's multiple people? So all of this sounds like a lot to cover. You know, we're not like sales coaches necessarily, but we have found, and we have a pretty darn good conversion rate. We have found that just being upfront with a prospect at the very beginning about our process, A, it sets the tone. It lets them know sort of what's up for us, and how we're also respecting their time. But B, it also just helps continue giving an unspoken message that like, this is a business and we have systems and you can trust us because like we're pros.

Jessi:
Yeah. I think that this is one of the pieces that really helps distinguish content creators who approach their work as a business and from a business perspective, from a content creator who is not necessarily in that mindset yet. Not that that's a bad thing, but that, I think that the more boundaries that you actively put in place and talk about, the easier it is for a potential client to be like, okay, they know what they're doing. They have processes, they have thought this through and they know how to protect me and them. You know, for better or worse. That is something that I think allows potential clients to kind of take you a little bit more seriously.

Marie:
Yeah, absolutely. Also at the end of every single project, every single engagement, this is an opportunity for you to evaluate what's working, what's not working for you. One of the things that we've done since we actually have multiple writers on our team is we have a post-project debrief that goes out to anybody who was on the project. And it's like, what went well, what didn't go well. You can also ask your client this, right. But also ask yourself, what were there moments where you were like, man, if that was, that was fine, but I really working on Saturdays for that. And I really wish that I'd known going into that, that like, that was going to be the client expectation. And so now, you know, going forward, you just let them know like, Hey, so I'm off Saturdays and Sundays and everyday after 5:00 PM Eastern time, or like, whatever it is, right. You can just set that boundary right from the get go. And if that's absolutely not going to work for the clients, they'll let you know. And you know, what, if that's a deal breaker, then that's a deal breaker. And maybe you decide like, well, you know, if you're giving me this forwarning and I know it's only going to be this one time, that's fine. Like you can decide it's okay to permeate that boundary, but you're doing it with intention and you're not just doing it sort of in a place of like, Oh wait, you want me to do what now?

Jessi:
Yeah. And I think this is also a good time to do a gut check too. So like, if you are, for example, opening up your email and seeing an email from a specific client that makes you go, Oh, I really don't want to open that email. That's an opportunity to think about why. Is it because a boundary has been crossed? Is it because of boundary? Wasn't clearly stated what is making that reaction occur? Because often it really is a miscommunication, not because the client is evil and out to make sure that you're working every weekend and not because you don't want to give your best to the client, but because there was a breakdown at some point, and that that breakdown is now showing up in that gut wrenching feeling of, Oh, no, I got another email. What is it this time? And that can be really a painful part of the process.
But I think every service provider, every writer has had that moment where they start out excited for a project and somewhere along the lines, they realize that not only is it not exciting anymore, but something has kind of soured it. And almost always it's a boundary issue. And so the gut check is really important. And then the flip side of the gut check is the logic check, the data. Taking a look at your data and seeing where you might be losing your time, your energy, your money. You may not realize the boundaries being crossed or a boundary needs to be put in place. A boundary that doesn't exist that may lead to we'll use, you know, time as, an example, maybe instead of, you know, a piece of content that should take you six hours is taking you 10 hours because of all the back and forth with your client, but you've never put a boundary in place, but you charge on a flat rate. And so taking 10 hours instead of six hours is actually cutting into your profits. It's cutting into your revenue and the amount that actually can go to things like your salary and your operating expenses and all of that. So you may not have in the process of actually talking to the client and having great conversations and meetings and doing the writing and the revising. You may not have been thinking about it as Oh, a boundary being crossed because you may have been really enjoying the project. But when you look at the data, sometimes it says, Oh, maybe there should have been a boundary here that wasn't there.

Marie:
Yeah. Like I can think of a specific instance. This is whit a client that we love would love to work with again, have a great relationship with. We were creating a piece of content and it was an opt-in. We were creating an opt-in. And, we quoted it based on sort of what a quote unquote, what we thought a quote unquote standard opt-in was, got the project. And it was like probably four or five times as long as we were expecting. And we were like, Oh, okay. So we actually enjoyed it. And it was a fun process. And again, love the client, but it helped us realize like, Oh, we just need to set a boundary to like an opt-in- when we define an opt-in, we define it like this it's this many pages or it's this many words. And then we just like, let him know like, Oh, just FYI in the future. This is, this is like, what we were envisioning by this. Obviously, you know, we're doing this work now everything's fine. But just for the future. And he was like, Oh, okay, sounds good. Like easy conversations. Right. A lot of times they don't have to be scary. And yeah, like this isn't, this isn't something that only happens to people afflicted with like jerks of clients. Right? Like this can happen because maybe you're leaning into people-pleasing behaviors, like calling myself out here too. Right? Like I'm not trying to call anyone out. Who's listening here, a scarcity mindset. It can be part of it. Right. Saying yes to things without setting boundaries in place, because you're afraid of losing the opportunity or the money, the way it's always been done. Just sort of like not actually thinking about like, could there be a process improvement here, like taking the time to kind of take a step back? Like there's a lot of reasons it's going to happen. It's not just because, you know, clients are jerkwads. It, this can happen with very lovely clients too.

Jessi:
Honestly. Sometimes it's harder with the clients you love the most-

Marie:
Oh yah!

Jessi:
because of that people pleasing, you know, there's a mutual commitment to wanting to do your best to show up at your best. And it becomes very easy to just say yes, without really thinking about what you're saying yes to. And you know, one of the things that I've started to help encourage our own writers to say, when they're on a call with a client, with one of the clients that they're creating content for is if something is asked, just say, I will write that down. Let me check with the team and I will get back to you, or something to that effect. Even if you're a solo writer or a solo content creator, if you were having a meeting and new things are coming up, you do not have to say yes in that moment, you may still just say, yeah, sure. I can do that. But by taking a moment to pause and say, okay, I jotted that down. Let me just go check my calendar or let me just check my capacity and I'll get back to you. It gives you the breathing room to check in with yourself and say, okay, is this breaking a boundary? Is it testing an area where a boundary should be? Am I doing it just because I want to say yes, when I maybe shouldn't, or is it an opportunity to continue our relationship within the bounds of our contract? And if it's an over-delivery and you decide, yes, I want to do that, can I make sure to express that to the client? Like, yes, I'd love to do this. It does go outside the scope of our contract, but here's why I'm saying yes. And here's what that means.

Marie:
Absolutely. So before we get to your homework, I want to leave you with a couple of resources. One, you know, we've been talking about contracts a lot, just a disclaimer, we're not attorneys. This is not legal advice. However, a friend of ours who is an attorney, Sarah who runs Destination Legal, has an excellent contract templates that we ourselves have used. Um, and they've been really helpful starting place for us. Please head to the show notes, to grab a copy of that template. If that's something that is lacking in your business, or you feel that your contracts are too weak at the moment, or maybe it's just something you grabbed off the internet or wrote yourself. And there's also a coupon code, protectyourbiz, all one word, you can get 10% off on those. But they're worth every penny and we ourselves are big fans of, you know, Sarah and her templates.

And then also we recommend some kind of system for sending out invoices and contracts. The more automated you can make things the better typically we've discovered because you know, it just saves you so much time and energy. So we recommend using Dubsado. Again, there's a link for that in our show notes. So please check that out. We actually do all kinds of things like, automated invoices, automated contracts, automated meeting requests, by the way, that's some of their boundary you can set without even having to say anything. Instead of just saying like, yeah, sure. I'm free to meet Friday at 5:00 PM. Perfect. Like as you know, you actually would rather be making dinner or stepping away from your computer after a long week or whatever. Like you can actually set up a calendar through Acuity or whatever, Calendly, Book Like A Boss, there's a lot of these. And you can set the times of which you are available to meet, and then you just give the link to the client. It's great because they pick a time that works for them, and you already know it works for you and it's sort of within your ideal times for meetings. So anyway we use Dubsado to send out that kind of thing, it's really helpful. So just letting you know, if you had to the show notes, there's a few resources there for you.

Jessi:
Absolutely. And so let's get to your homework, which is really kind of an ongoing assignment. We mentioned earlier that we send post project debriefs to our own writers to kind of reflect on a project once it's done and talk about what went well, what didn't, what resources they could have benefited from having, and also where they felt like their boundaries may have been tested a little. And what we want to ask you to do for your homework is to implement this in your own business, on an ongoing basis. So just all you have to do is keep a pad of paper by your desk or a Google doc up or somewhere where you can take notes quickly and easily and keep track of when you feel like boundaries are being tested. You could do this at the end of every project, kind of like our post project debriefs, or you could do it as projects are going on.

So I mentioned earlier, you open your email and you have one of those messages that kind of gives you that gut wrenching feel of, Oh, I feel like this is testing a boundary or pushing a boundary, write that down. Because you may be in the middle of a contract that you don't have a lot of wiggle room within the boundaries that are set, but you know, you'll have that list to look at the next time that you are bringing the client on the next time that you update your contracts. And it's very difficult to, when you're sitting there getting ready to send a new client proposal to think back and remember every single time a boundary may have been tested, or you may have decided I need to reimplement a boundary. So just take some time to write that down, keep track of it and evaluate where you may need to put new boundaries in place.

Marie:
Yeah. So ways that you kind of know that this is happening, Jessi talked about the gut check earlier. So if you dread opening or responding to an email, if you dread working on a client's project or dread meeting with them, if you feel like the time and energy you're putting into a project is not commensurate with the amount you're getting paid. If you feel yourself procrastinating a whole lot on a project, you feel like something's inequitable or unfair in the work. Or you have this sort of nagging sense of like wanting to people please. But you kind of know that this is like hurting you. Like these are all little moments to just be like, rut-ro raising the flag to say, there's a boundary problem here. You don't necessarily have to be able to articulate it right in the moment, but just keep track of these things. And you're going to start to see patterns and that's going to really help you with setting up boundaries in the future. So once you have that list, continue just brainstorming ways that you can create and shore up your boundaries and communicate them clearly.
Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Brand Your Voice Podcast. Make sure to visit our website, northstarmessaging.com, where you can subscribe to the show on iTunes, Spotify, and more.

Jessi:
If you found value in this episode, we'd love for you to leave us a review on iTunes and share it with your friends. Thank you, and happy content creating.

For additional content strategy and branding tips, check out northstarmessaging.com/blog. Also, please tag us on Instagram and let us know you’re out there! @northstarmessaging 


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