Boundaries are awesome

When you have kids, you soon realize the boundaries you set are often not a matter of preference. Boundaries keep them alive. Humans are foolish, prone to do irreparable damage to themselves unless someone with more wisdom comes along and fences them from their own fatal tendencies. But when we get older, without the guidance of parents, we forget that boundaries, especially professional ones, have to be continually set and reinforced–for our own good.

Some boundaries are easier to respect than others. With your life on the line, stopping at a red light isn't an issue. But what if it isn't life-threatening? Unfortunately, we often see boundaries as legalistic, restraining us from all the happiness of possibilities. And they can be. But professionals set boundaries out of care for the result, not compulsion.

Do you require that clients use your Basecamp account? Do you restrict the number of stakeholders allowed on a project? Do you refuse to work until you have collected a deposit? Do you accept feedback from a client's neighbor? Do you enforce a work schedule to leave room for personal growth and rest?

I’m as proud of what we don’t do as I am of what we do.
— Steve Jobs

Those situations demanded a boundary in my work. And by boundary, I don't mean a line or paragraph in the fine print. I mean a document in plain language, covered with your client directly. Believe me, it's much better to deal with resistance to your expectations up front than to try to enforce them after the project is underway.

Boundaries, in fact, are awesome. If scenarios similar to those I listed haven't happened to you, they will. Building strong boundaries now will help avoid painful disputes, missed expectations, as well as create the conditions necessary to do your best work. That's why an agreement from yourself is as important as one from the client.

For example, I don't answer work calls before 9am or after 6pm weekdays. That might be frustrating to potential client who's a workaholic or night owl. When I set that expectation, I agree to the risk of losing a contract due to my availability. But that boundary allows me peace with my family and personal commitments, which in turn allows me be fully engaged and productive at work. 

Maybe you want to set the expectation with the the client that you ask a lot of questions (you might be surprised with how many feel threatened by this). My friend Kevin Hoffman has a statement to this in his contract:

If you are looking for a consultant that is going to ask a lot of questions and expect detailed answers based on your own unique experience with your business, then I’m your guy.

Did you catch that? Kevin just weeded out any client that terminally rejects that kind of relationship, he keeps the kind of client he wants, and he's able to work in the way that will serve the project the best. See how powerful boundaries can be?

That's the paradox of boundaries. By creating limits for yourself, you gain freedom. You know longer have to agonize over these decisions every time they come up or feel like your're disrespected when boundaries that exist, but never expressed, are trampled. It puts you in charge of the way your business behaves.

So take pride in your boundaries. The quality of your work depends on them.