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The Importance of Setting Boundaries

A little while ago, PFRE contributor, Tacey Jungmann, asked a series of questions on the PFRE Discussion Group related to a very relevant topic: Boundaries. Specifically, Tacey asked:

  • What are the boundaries you've established that have helped your business? 
  • Where do you struggle to enforce boundaries? 
  • Does boundary-setting paint you as "difficult to work with?" 
  • What's the most challenging line in the sand you've had to draw, and was it worth it?

It's a terrific topic because putting up appropriate, healthy boundaries is one of the cornerstones of a successful relationship, whether it be with a customer, a spouse/partner, one's children, or a workplace colleague in a corporate setting. Despite this importance, many people have a hard time establishing them. 

In a business setting, I think many of us are able to recognize "high-maintenance" customers and the negative impact that they can have on our business and personal well-being. This was discussed in a PFRE post about this time last year, where a number of the warning signs of such a customer were discussed, along with suggestions for action. That said, one of the complaints that we all tend to make with such a client is: "I probably could've stopped this bad customer behavior if I'd only put up boundaries from the start!" So, the question becomes, "Why didn't we?"

Why do we struggle with setting boundaries?
I think there are several reasons why putting up boundaries can be so challenging for us:

Overly Zealous Commitment to Customer Service
Anyone who has direct customer service as part of their day-to-day work gets pulled into the notion that taking a few lumps is part of doing business. So, rather than complain about it, we just accept it and write it off as one of "the costs of doing business". 

Fear of Missing Out
We worry that if we establish a boundary and say "no" to a request that a customer puts before us, we'll miss a key opportunity. This is particularly true for photographers who are relatively new to the field. There is always going to be the concern that if we don't say "yes" to everything that comes our way, we won't make enough money to make our business successful.

Fear of Confrontation
The natural concern to setting up a boundary by saying "no" to someone is that they'll push back and challenge the legitimacy of the boundary we've created or make us feel guilty that we're not exhibiting proper customer service. This often gets compounded by the fear that if we say "no" to an agent, he or she will talk to their colleagues about it and begin labeling us as uncommitted or "not a team player". 

I Owe Them
We often believe, and sometimes justifiably so, that our top clients deserve extra attention. While this may be true, it can also be a slippery slope once we start giving in on every demand they make of us. Then, there is also our current reality where Covid-19 has caused so many changes to appointments, often having to reschedule multiple times. While this may be understandable given these difficult circumstances, I personally have a number of agent clients who appear to be crossing the line and are using the Covid situation as an excuse for rescheduling and/or changing anything that doesn't suit them or their clients. 

Timing and Consistency Are Key!
As with any relationship, it is significantly harder to establish boundaries once we've let things slide for an extended period of time. The key is to set boundaries right at the beginning of the relationship. Yes, it's important to start making money right away but if the over-arching message that we're sending to our clients from the get-go is: "Here's my cell number, call me whenever you like--I'm available any time," we are doing ourselves (and our families) a disservice! Most people don't expect to be able to reach a professional at all hours, and I think that putting that out as an option makes us appear unprofessional, not to mention it is unsustainable and ultimately set us up for failure.

Once we've established appropriate boundaries, the most important thing we can do is to be consistent in enforcing them. I believe that when we set up reasonable boundaries (especially related to our personal/family time), most of our clients will respect us for it. 

I don't want to sound preachy, but I think this is an issue that we all face, yet few of us make a concerted effort to confront head-on. So, thank you, Tacey, for bringing it up. 

Please feel free to join the discussion.