Setting Boundaries and Saying ‘No’ as a Small Business
In addition to being a small business owner, I am a full-time employee at a tech company that requires two hours of commuting per day. I am a daughter, friend, fiance, granddaughter, niece, dog mom, horse mom, and more. I am planning a wedding, all while working to build my fempire through evening client meetings, weekend client meetings, project hours, etc. I posted an image of a logo I designed recently and someone who has a bit of an idea of how thin I tend to spread myself commented, ‘But when do you sleep though?’ I am busy – as are a great deal of small business owners. Busy, to me, has always been good. A sign of success – a sign of doing something right. But recently my view has shifted slightly. What if busy is a sign of doing something wrong?
As a small business, it can be incredibly challenging to turn down potential clients. It can be challenging to say ‘no’ to a meeting, or to reschedule or suggest a different time than initially set by the client. Small businesses often deal with assumptions that we set our own hours, are always reachable, have day appointments available to grab a coffee or lunch, and for some of us that is simply not the case.
As I mentioned earlier, I have a full-time job, which means my evenings and weekends are exclusively devoted to:
A) Completing existing projects
B) Meeting with potential clients
C) Wedding planning
D) Catching up with friends & family
F) Going to the barn
G) Spending time with my fiance and pup
H) Binge-watching Netflix
But if I were to make a pie-chart of approximately how much time I spent on my small business compared to everything else, it would look something like this:
Now don’t get me wrong – I am beyond thrilled that my side business is booming. I feel so lucky to be able to work with like-minded, forward-thinking small businesses on a regular basis because I love my community and the innovators within it. With that being said, it can be so easy to get burnt out if you are unable to say ‘no’.
This week, I had obligations booked Monday-Thursday evenings, after full days at work. Two new prospective clients, an existing client, and a networking event. When I first started my business, I had a client who reacted negatively because I didn’t reply to an email right away on the weekend and therefore claimed I wasn’t truly available to my clients or easy to reach. Small businesses are held to a different standard than businesses that operate from Monday – Friday, 9:00am-5:00pm. It is understood that if you try calling outside of those hours, or emailing outside of those hours, your call or email will be returned the following day. But because small businesses are built on client loyalty, it can be hard to not respond to an email in the evening or on the weekend, or agree to meet with a client on a Sunday morning even if you had a prior personal obligation.
So, how do we say ‘no’? We teach people how to treat us. We book appointments at times that are within set hours we’ve established (maybe only Monday and Thursday evenings instead of every possible evening), we set an automatic email that alerts new clients that our email operations are conducted between Xam and Xpm, and we understand that we can’t take on every single client who may ask to be taken on. At the end of the day, if a potential client wants us to set our personal lives aside for their business, are they a client worth having? It’s worth thinking about.