Does the idea of dealing with a boundary issue in your business make you break out in a cold sweat?
For many of us, creating and holding boundaries is challenging. Creating boundaries or dealing with leaky boundaries often requires saying no, which can feel counterintuitive when building a thriving business.
However, there’s a lesson that I — and many of my clients — have learned the hard way more than once: Having boundaries in your business brings you MORE freedom and success.
The tricky part can be actually recognizing something as a boundary issue. Often we look at things in isolation, treating them as a one-off situation. But when we take a step back and start looking at things a little deeper, we can often see a pattern that’s tied to our boundaries (or lack thereof).
So, how do you know your boundaries have gotten a little squishy and need some work?
Here are four signs you may have boundary issues in your business.
#1. You Feel Like You’re Dropping A Lot of Balls
You may be wondering why things like missing deadlines or dropping the ball in other areas are related to having boundary issues in your business.
It’s a valid question.
The truth is that you may be dropping the ball. However, it may also be a case of you *thinking* you’re dropping the ball when you actually aren’t.
Whether it’s a real or perceived issue, the fact of the matter is that when we‘re overloaded and saying yes to too many things, it’s very easy for things to start to slip through the cracks. Then, we feel a loss of control.
Being overworked and overwhelmed is usually a symptom of a broader issue, often related to our boundaries. When we’re saying yes to everything, things can start to fall apart.
It’s not unusual for people who run their own businesses to slip into “yes mode”, as we want to make our clients happy. Unfortunately, when we are always trying to accommodate everyone else, our boundaries get squishy.
The end result? Boundary issues start to creep up everywhere and we’re left struggling to handle it all.
The first step to remedying this is to look at what you have on your plate — everything on your plate — and start making some decisions about what you can offload, what you can redirect, or what you can say no to if it comes up again in the future.
#2. You’re Having Cash Flow Issues
Let’s start off with being clear: cash flow issues don’t automatically mean you have boundary issues, but there’s a possibility these could be related.
One of the biggest issues I help my clients work through is dealing with scope creep. When a project starts as one thing but morphs into something else, that’s literally money we’re leaving on the table. And sometimes, we don’t even notice it’s happening!
Whether you’re a designer who agreed to design three pages and now your client is expecting six pages, or you’re a content writer who provides two rounds of edits, but your client is expecting you to do five rounds, this represents time that wasn’t accounted for in terms of what they are paying.
While there’s nothing wrong with being flexible (in fact, it’s a necessary part of doing business), scope creep often comes in the form of “death by a thousand papercuts.” Sure, it may seem like it’s “only” ten minutes, but that time adds up quickly, and the next thing you know, you’ve reached the end of the project and done five or ten hours of extra work without getting paid.
That unpaid time is time that could have been spent on other projects or activities related to growing your business, both things that help ensure a good cash flow.
Payment terms are another area related to cash flow where we can see boundary issues arise. If you have a client who is consistently late with payments or likes to quibble over the bill every month before paying, this can get sticky.
As a business owner, you do your best to forecast your cash flow from month-to- month, and offering too much grace with payment terms can completely throw this off kilter.
The other place to look and see if you may have some boundary issues related to your cash flow is to look at who you’re paying and what you’re paying them for.
If you have employees or contractors who work for you, think about their wage and their hours. For example, let’s say you have a contractor you pay for 20 hours a month. Are you giving them 20 hours of work to complete each month? If this is mismatched it can lead to cash flow issues.
Sometimes we have the wrong person in a role. Maybe you hired someone to be an account manager, and you’re paying them accordingly. But over time, you realize that the work they actually do could be completed by someone in an admin role and be billed at a lower rate — meaning you’re overpaying for the work being done.
Unfortunately, sometimes we just decide we’re going to “go along to get along,” and that’s definitely a boundary issue. If people you work with aren’t delivering as expected, it’s time to reset expectations so you can ensure you don’t have money slipping out the door unnecessarily.
#3. You’re Teetering on the Edge of Burnout All the Time
You may not have ever made a connection between burnout and boundary issues, but I can tell you from experience that it’s a classic sign.
While the term burnout gets thrown around all the time, one of the missing pieces of the conversation is that burnout can look different for different people. My version of burnout may be different from yours.
After years of working with business owners, my experience is that it usually shows up in three main ways.
- Your business is royally pissing you off. I’m not talking about having a bad day or a bad week. I’m talking about when you are irrationally angry about your business A LOT (or basically all the time). This is especially true if it feels like your reaction to what is happening is out of proportion to the trigger.
- You lack the motivation to do… anything. Sometimes you just need a little break to reset and regroup. But if your motivation has left the building on what seems like a permanent vacation, you’re likely experiencing some level of burnout.
- You’re seriously procrastinating on business tasks, including ones you used to enjoy. If the things you used to like about running a business are suddenly on your last nerve to the point you’re avoiding them as much as possible, it’s probably time to dig into what’s happening.
When you’re experiencing boundary issues in your business — whether they’re related to cash, client, capacity, or anything else — it can slowly erode your joy. It can strip your motivation and make the things you used to truly enjoy about running a business seem like such a chore.
If anyone of the above is currently showing up for you but you can’t link it to anything in particular, it’s time to take a deep breath and start figuring out the WHAT and the WHY.
You can check out this post for many examples of where to look at your business to begin working out what’s contributing to your burnout, malaise and lack of interest.
#4. You’re in a Perpetual Feast or Famine Cycle
Do you find yourself saying yes to ALL THE THINGS because you need the cash? But then, because you said yes, you don’t have the capacity to do anything other than work on client deliverables?
This can be really tricky because what happens is in the “feast” part of the cycle, you have no time to work ON your business and do all the marketing activities you need to get a steady stream of clients.
As a result, when things start to slow down, you’re scrambling to find the next project or client so you can keep your cash flow up.
Lather, rinse and repeat over and over again.
When you’re strapped for money it can seem unthinkable to set a boundary that you won’t take on more than a certain amount of work. The reality is that you need time to do other business things so you can start to move out of the feast or famine cycle.
Create a Plan to Handle Your Boundary Issues
When talking about boundary issues in your business, it’s important that we acknowledge that what I’ve outlined above are just some of the most common ones I’ve observed or experienced over the years.
What boundary issues look like can be different for everyone, so figuring out where *your* business boundaries may be a little (or a lot!) squishy is a great way to help mitigate issues before they even begin.
As a business owner, you can’t be everything to everyone, and sometimes, the best thing you can do for yourself is to get some support to help ease the load.
If you’ve been wondering whether an OBM might be the right type of help for you and your business, I’d love to chat! You can get in touch with us right here.
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