And this is perhaps the most important part of The Challenge. Read this and ACT on it, friends. This is the meat of what makes my world tick! In the name of getting fired up about what’s most important and dedicating your life to your family and being your best self for you AND your business - today I’m giving you the good stuff. The following is a subject that I am passionate about because of how it has changed my life, my marriage, my family and the quality of my work: Boundaries.
You stay up till 2am working > you email your client at 2am > your client starts expecting you to answer her calls after business hours > you feel obligated to because you want to please your client > you are on facebook and twitter and email all weekend > your client emails you all weekend, expecting answers > you start to get resentful and complain about your clients not having any respect for your boundaries > you get overwhelmed and distracted during the day > you aren’t your best self > your work suffers > your relationships suffer > you’re behind and stay up till 2am working again > you’re spent. again. > rinse and repeat.
Sound familiar? Do you get mad when your clients email you late at night? Call you on your day off? Call you during dinner? Want you to reply to their emails on the weekend? Trust me, I get it. For what felt like forever, I was stuck in this cycle. I’d work till 3am, would email people at all hours and get mad when they’d email me back at those hours. !?!? I’d get so resentful when clients would email me on weekends expecting a reply. Worst of all, I always felt obligated to reply ASAP out of fear that I wasn’t pleasing them. I had no life and I blamed everyone but myself. And one day I actually - I am so ashamed to even type this - stepped out of church to answer a client’s call. That was the end for me. It dawned on me that this was 100% MY fault. From that moment on, I worked (and still work) my tail off to keep solid boundaries.
How do you think your clients feel about you when they see an email timestamped with 3am? Even 9pm? First they think, Oh, great! I can email them anytime I want because they are awake and working! In the same breath they may think, Wow, that person has no structure… no time management skills… too much to do… or worse yet - no personal life. It’s a myth to assume they think, “Oh wow, they work hard.” Yeah. Too hard. Instantly you get the feeling of imbalance. Is that something you want your clients to feel? For those of you in the wedding business - or those who have gone through your own wedding - what kind of people would/did you want around you during that sometimes-stressful, sometimes-scary engagement and wedding day? People who have their lives together! Hello! Weddings have the potential to be the most stressful event a couple can experience. They are intimate, sacred and … as we all know … a bride can’t do it all herself without pulling her perfectly-coiffed hair out. Brides ideally want people to guide them through the process - planners, photographers, designers, etc - who make them feel calm, happy, excited, secure, taken care of and confidently structured. Can you give good service and a great product without having it all together behind the scenes? Possibly. Do a lot of people do that? Definitely. Can you think of the days you were calm, centered and balanced and how that affected your clients? Yes. It changes the game. This is not about being perfect; it’s about working to create boundaries that give you more balance and therefore affect everything you do and everyone you work with. Boundaries help you raise the bar. Planning large weddings for many years, I have seen the difference between being on call 24/7 and getting walked all over VS setting boundaries that clients actually love and respect. Boundaries allowed us to do our best work. Trust me, I was really really really fearful at first to set a structure. I thought if I wasn’t available 24/7 I’d lose business. The opposite happened. I started focusing on seeking the type of clients that I knew were going to respect my boundaries… and you know what? My quality of work improved and I started getting better clients and bigger contracts that allowed me to have the ability to choose clients. Nightmare clients are not worth ANY amount of money. Do you love being around happy, energetic, balanced people? Wouldn’t you pay money to have them in your life if you could? Brides do. A solid product + a powerful brand that helps you attract the right clients who understand your value + structure in place to allow you to provide an extraordinary client experience = wedded bliss!
Do I ever break the rules? Yes. If a close friend needs personal help at midnight, I’m there. I’m talking about business here. It’s unfair to you and your family to let clients walk all over your personal time. Fact: short of a fire in the venue or a death in the family, there is NOTHING emergent about weddings that should require you to be on call 24/7. As a small business owner, your life, personal rest, family and friends and your clients are WORTH fighting hard for. Let me just tell you this is particularly HARD for me because I want to give my time and my heart to everyone. But, in order to give my heart at all, I have to set limits. Example: I started Lara Casey Reps out of necessity. I got burned out giving away “free” guidance to people and wore. myself. out. I had to create a structure - boundaries to protect my life and the quality of my work and relationships. I could go on and on about how that boundary decision changed my world forever. Yes, it’s still a daily fight to keep balance. I have a soft heart and I want everyone to soar. If there were 20 more days in the week and my blood was Red Bull, I’d be happy as a clam building businesses for free all day. This is why I - and so many others - blog so openly. I want to give. But, I can’t give to everyone individually all the time. I now know to hold to my true value when people ask me for “free” advice. But, people respect it when you have a clear mission for your boundaries. They love you more for it and it encourages others to do the same. What if every single one of your friends asked for new family portraits? You’d be spent. Some of you ARE spent from this very thing. You devalue your services when you don’t have boundaries. Side note: I LOVE THIS POSTER. For me, it’s not about money; it’s about value. It’s about giving my best to everyone around me. It’s not in my nature to say no to helping someone (and I walk a fine line with this) but it’s only fair to my paying clients - and my schedule - to work hard to never cross that line. A quick email here and there is ok UNTIL you start to get 30 of those quick emails in a day asking for branding advice and it takes away from your ability to perform at the highest level. I’m grateful that this hasn’t happened in a long while thanks to the limits I’ve set.
Getting fired up requires structure to prevent burnout first. The Bad Boundaries Cycle is an epidemic. Here’s the kicker…. it’s in your control. You can blame your clients all you want, but when it really comes down to it, who is the one setting the rules by example? Who is the one emailing them after hours and showing to the world via social media that you are open for business? YOU create the rules by following them yourself. You literally train people how to treat you by establishing limits. No matter how deep you are with clients running all over you right now, it’s possible to turn it around. It’s essential. Some of these changes may not happen overnight but some can happen instantly. And trust me - I know they can be really crazy hard. You have to do what’s right for you in your business structure. Establishing boundaries is tough till you literally feel the benefits of having them. When you see structure change you and your business, boundaries are worth fighting hard for. It’s never too late and - if you want to get seriously fired up to make things happen - it’s vital that you start making changes now.
YOUR CHALLENGE TODAY is to define structure/boundaries in these areas:
OFFICE HOURS: I started to notice that when I stopped using facebook and twitter on the weekends - and stopped sending email on weekends - I also got less weekend email myself. You could call this a coincidence; I call it logic. What are your work hours? Do you even have them? If not, you do as of today. This is easy to implement even if you currently have boundary challenges with clients. It will take a little time to train people into this, but they will appreciate structure just as much as you do. Start telling clients when you make appointments. “I have new office hours…” Do what works for you, but make sure you do something.
PHONE BOUNDARIES: A lot of people have my cell phone number. As in every single one of the MTH alum. I tell them to use it because, after spending 8+ hours with me learning about how I structure my life, I know they won’t abuse that. No one ever has because I set the boundary by being open about what’s most important to me - God, family, rest, and doing my best work to help others soar. That subtle boundary allows me to appreciate the calls and texts I get because people know me enough to know my limits. (I love you all so much!) For business, we use RingCentral for office voicemail and you can set office hours on the system. Feel free to call and listen to our nifty opening recording: 8777197979… just hang up right after the greeting so we don’t get a ton of random calls today! It cost $100 for a voiceover actor to record our greeting and helps us have a focused work time since calls are fielded there. We work 9-4:30. After 4:30, all calls go to a digital voicemail that gets sent to our email. Thanks to the phone system, I never get business calls on my cell. I can, however, set my extension to forward to my cell when I’m out of town working. It’s brilliant. Create office hours and stick to them. It makes you more focused and productive.
EMAIL BOUNDARIES: Since our office hours are 9-4:30, from 4:30 to about 6, I answer email and wrap things up for the day. If for some reason Ari is on call and I answer anything later than normal, it doesn’t get sent out till the next morning. I literally turn my Entourage to “offline”. At 9am the next morning, I let those emails go out. I set the tone for when I am available via email. That structure has changed my life. Seriously, try it and see what happens. I can promise you it will change your life, too.
OTHER PEOPLE’S BOUNDARIES: Respecting other people’s boundaries creates better relationships. We have clear structures here in the office. I rarely email the SW ladies on weekends and, if I do, I put a giant note on the top that says “Ignore this till Monday - go have a great weekend!“ I want them to come to work on Monday rested and rearin’ to go, so I never push their limits. Do unto others… I don’t want calls after hours, so I don’t call people after hours. I don’t want urgent email on weekends, so I don’t send them myself. I also work really hard not to show favoritism to clients. Everyone gets the same extraordinary level of service. I strive to OVERdeliver within my work structure. The moment you bend for one client, they will expect it from then on. It’s unfair to the rest of your clients and to you. Respect other people’s boundaries and they will love you for it. It may even make you closer and it will definitely raise the bar on your value.
SOCIAL MEDIA BOUNDARIES: I cannot keep track of Facebook email, so I literally have a note on my profile in capital letters that says I DO NOT CHECK FACEBOOK MESSAGES. PLEASE EMAIL ME. I wish you could just turn Facebook messages off. Most of the Facebook messages I get are not business-related or they are spam, so I don’t get emails about them to my regular inbox. I don’t want all of that clogging my real work. I have no way of flagging and keeping track of Facebook messages, so I set the boundary by saying I just don’t check it. Many people unfortunately don’t read that, but if it’s really important, I know they will email me directly. Yes, there are hundreds of messages in there and I feel bad sometimes that I don’t read them, but I’d feel worse if I let that take over my inbox and prevent me from getting good work done. As for Facebook and Twitter usage, as I mentioned last week, I rarely ever use social media on the weekends. Even during the week, I rarely ever tweet late at night. Every time I did, I’d get late night DM’s and all kinds of distracting stuff. We do it to ourselves, so just set that limit.
SCHEDULE BOUNDARIES: Stick to your office hours and it will make you more productive. If you know work ends at 6pm, you’ll work hard every hour before that. Knowing I don’t work on weekends now, I work my tail off during the week to get it all done. When I made that choice, it required me to take a strict no-tolerance policy on distractions during my work day. I’m more efficient and focused. It’s so worth it. A FAQ I always get: what if clients can’t meet during office hours? Once a month, I schedule a day where I take late meetings. Only once a month. For me, this has worked out perfectly. Maybe for you, clients can only do weekends. Pick just ONE Saturday a month to take sessions or meetings. Limit it. Setting these boundaries gives you your life back AND helps to give you focus. If you know you are shooting all day one Saturday or one Tuesday night, you are going to come in with guns blazing, ready to focus on just that! It takes the resentment of having to take late and weekend meetings out of the picture. You’ll be better for your clients. Period.
FAQ’s: 99% of the questions people ask me are answered on my blog. I have worked really hard to share as much as possible 1. because my mission is to educate and encourage people to succeed and 2. because since I started blogging regularly, I’ve gotten much less email asking for advice. It’s all there. So, if you keep getting FAQs, don’t get mad at people for not reading the fine print. Maybe that print needs to be a little bigger. A key function of a website or blog is to provide information. Make sure it’s accessible and FAQ’s are answered. This is a big one for us with Southern Weddings. We have extensive FAQ pages that save us email time and frustration in getting repeat questions. Having easily-accessible, clear information helps establish my boundaries and lessen my load. My friend Jasmine is a great example. Pretty much everything she gets asked is answered on her blog. She works really hard to share and educate. Do the same for your clients and you help them and save yourself time.
Remember that saying NO to one thing is saying YES to another. Sound off! What boundaries are you creating starting today? How are the The Daily Challenges going?
STEP 2: Next, clear more clutter in your environment and on your computer. Work it! Take no prisoners with that clutter!
STEP 3: Prepare for Greatness. Set yourself up for success tomorrow, next week and next year.
STEP 4: Take a break! Active rest. Plan breaks in your day, week and month to get renewed and recharged to make things happen.
STEP 5: Leap! Face your fear.
STEP 6: Encourage others. Spread the love and you’ll get it right back.
STEP 7: Define and implement solid boundaries.
What are you saying YES to by establishing healthy business and personal boundaries? Start now. It’s worth it x infinity! - Lara
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