One of the trickiest parts about being a small business owner is setting professional expectations. Specifically, we mean taking a hard line with your personal boundaries and adhering to professional consistency. These topics aren’t always talked about when starting a new business, but as you grow, they’ll become increasingly critical. Here’s why:
Every business everywhere maintains boundaries and consistency. Think about it: your local grocery store wouldn’t call you to talk about weekly promotions at midnight. Not only because this is outside of their operating hours, but also because that’s way too late for a phone call! That’s an example of boundaries.
Meanwhile, if that same grocery store only had coffee in stock once out of every five visits, if you were a coffee drinker, this would fail your expectations since the store lacked consistency.
Taking a firm stance on boundaries and consistency will help legitimize your business while keeping you in control of your brand experience. Here are tips for both categories, listed roughly from easiest to hardest.
There’s a narrative that a lot of small business owners are told. You’re told you need to work harder, better, faster, and smarter than the competition. That you need to hustle, to rise and grind, that sleep is for the weak, and the only thing that matters is profit.
We’re here to tell you to breathe. Boundaries don’t just teach clients what to expect from your work – they also protect you from things like burnout and exhaustion! And while they’re difficult to implement, they are critical for growing your business. Here are strategies for establishing and maintaining boundaries:
Set – and stick to – your work hours.
Whether that’s 9 AM-5PM or something less traditional that works with your schedule, make sure your working hours are clear and understood with each of your clients. After all, your clients don’t want emails at 1 AM (and you don’t want a panicked phone call at 1 AM). Create your hours, and follow them to a T.
Keep your personal information private.
You’d be hard pressed to find the home address or phone number of any CEO in America just from a quick internet search. Well guess what? You’re the CEO of your company! And you deserve every iota of privacy that they do.
Consider keeping your phone number private and signing up with Google Voice instead. Rather than giving out your home address, set up a PO Box at your local post office.
“No” is a complete sentence.
This one is tricky – as a small business owner, you will be tempted to say “yes” to everything – every client, every job, every hurdle, every challenge. You might think that turning down opportunities could lead to missing out on profits and word of mouth. Instead, we recommend keeping a close eye on your personal boundaries and learning when to say no.
For instance, if a client is giving you a bad feeling – maybe they’re not being upfront with their intention to pay, for instance – you can walk away. If you want to build a craft that’s outside your area of expertise – keep honing your skills until you’re ready to put your name on it. Learn to say no when appropriate. It’s one of the greatest lessons you can learn as a business owner.
Now, let’s talk about consistency.
Consciously or not, we all have expectations for brands. With Amazon Prime, you consistently expect your product to come within 2 days. With Apple, you consistently expect to get a high-quality, tech-forward product that plugs in seamlessly with other Apple products.
Customers have expectations around your brand, too. Your customers are going to have consistent expectations about your timeliness, messaging, quality, and more. Here’s what we recommend in terms of establishing consistency.
Create your schedule according to what works best for you.
For some florists, their days are a little hodgepodge of crafting, shipping, and outreach. But if one of those is more challenging than the others, consider having a set, consistent day of the week dedicated to just that.
For instance, let’s say you’re further than average from your post office. Then, make one day of the week your “shipping day.” If outreach is a struggle, specify dedicated time for your personal marketing efforts. This consistency will help you better plan your week – while also setting client expectations.
Make consistent social posts, blog posts, and emails.
People know where to find our very own Stefanie at Oh You’re Lovely because she goes live every Tuesday morning at 10AM CST and Thursday night at 8:30 CST. Because of this consistency, she can pull in strong audience numbers.
We recommend keeping the same kind of consistency week in and week out. Determine not just a date but a time of your messaging. This might require some research and experimentation (here’s an interesting test on social scheduling). However, once you’re locked in, we suggest keeping your schedule consistent daily, weekly, and monthly.
If you say you’re going to do something, do it.
No brand is stagnant. Apple just made computers before making a phone and a watch. Dollar Shave Club now sells toothbrushes. Likewise, your brand will need to grow and evolve over time.
Sometimes, that growth may come easy. For instance, if your specialty is bridal bouquets, it might not be as hard to create a bridesmaid bouquet. However, shifting into, say, wreaths or corporate events may be a different challenge.
Here, we’re going to recommend consistency of effort. Truly try your hand at new practices in consistent intervals to keep your skills sharp and your brand relevant.