I started my online marketing and copywriting business back in 2014 and it took me longer that necessary to grow because I didn’t know anything about the business aspect of all this. I’ve always been great with words, but creating workflows, setting rates, and overall just knowing what decisions were the best was a challenge.
So I floundered. I let other people set rates for me and I wondered why I still had to work part-time in a restaurant to make ends meet.
Now? This is my full-time career. My small online business pays the bills just like my husband’s 9 to 5 and it’s still growing. Together, and in the past year, we planned our dream wedding, bought our first home in our favourite neighbourhood of our hometown, bought a new truck that’s perfect for road trips, and more. I have to pinch myself some days because this wasn’t always the case, but I also know that my experience is why I want to help others so much. I want you to grow faster than I did and sustain it.
Learning how to set and stick to boundaries is a work in progress. Every day I have to remind myself of my boundaries and why I have them. It used to feel difficult, but now it’s a lot easier.
In the beginning of my learning around boundaries, I was searching for a way to break up with toxic friendships. There were a few people in my life that I thought I had to hold onto, or else I wouldn’t be a good friend. I thought this despite how their negative energy impacted my work days. The day I realized that you can break up with friends and set boundaries with others was the day that things changed for me overall.
I learned that it’s okay to say no. It’s okay to say not right now. It’s okay for you to decide how to live your life how you want and it doesn’t matter what others think as long as you’re respectful.
Through the learning process, I narrowed it down to a few steps you can take as well. Here’s 3 key boundaries that need to be set and maintained if you want to grow your small online business and start generating more revenue.
Your contracts need to be clear in order to be strong. Especially as service-based businesses, we need to break down exactly what is included in a specific package. It’s smart to also include what any extras may cost should your client require additional work outside of the original plan. For example, my proposals for brand strategy and website copywriting projects include a flat fee for the project and a detailed list of what’s included in that rate: The number of meeting hours, word counts, and any additional deliverables. It also includes rates for common upgrades or add-ons. For example, additional meeting hours, additional word counts, and satellite deliverables. This way everyone is on the same page when they sign the contract.
Trust me when I tell you that it feels terrible if the contract terms and project scope aren’t clearly defined before you start working together. There’s no excuse to not have a contract. Enough freelancers and small businesses have made mistakes in this area in the past that if you’re new, just take our word for it! I don’t care if you’re doing something small for a friend or it’s your mom’s friend or whatever… contracts keep everyone safe and preserve relationships.
If you’re new to entrepreneurship, you might be thinking: What’s a workflow?
Your workflow is essentially the process that a client follows from onboarding through to your goodbyes. What happens at each step of the way? What are you responsible for? Your team? Does your client have any homework or checkpoints? Workflows save us time, energy, and help us make more money as service providers because we are more efficient overall. Develop your workflow and stick to this plan wherever possible.
My workflows look a little something like this…
Lead and onboarding: Schedule a discovery call, send a proposal, client signs contract and pays to secure start date. Homework sent and completed, and kick-off meeting scheduled.
The work: This looks different depending on the type of project, but across the board it always starts with research, a strategy session, and more research. I also always have clients formally sign off on strategy documents before I start writing anything for them as this ensures we’re still on the same page.
Revisions: Any clients who purchase word counts from me are also allowed a set number of revisions in their package. Typically we only need 1 round, however some more complex projects require 2 revisions. I have specific steps for revisions as well.
Offboarding: Most of my client packages include a wrap-up consultation so I can send them on their way knowing exactly what to do with their new content or copy. I also invite them to join my private client-only Facebook group and send follow up questions there. A few days after everything’s settled, I send a testimonial request.
Within each of these phases there are quite a few steps that I have outlined in detail or automated. This level of detail promises a consistent client experience for everyone who works with me. It also helps me save time on admin, therefore dedicate more time to doing the work.
Communication used to be a big problem for me. I would reply to client emails while in bed at midnight, wake up at 6am and go straight back to my inbox. When I had fewer leads in the early days, I felt like I had to be known for how quickly I reply. This was bad. This was not sustainable.
Instead of being known as prompt, I was taken advantage of. Clients would ask for rush jobs at inappropriate times knowing that I would say yes. They started to assume I would say yes, giving me the project instructions and fees without even asking if this was okay with me. I worked all hours to keep up and was hugely underpaid. I felt like an employee, but I didn’t even have the perks of an employee like clocking out at 5pm and health benefits.
This took the longest to get control of, but it started with setting office hours and including these in my contracts. I stopped taking calls whenever and started charging for calls, aside from those included in packages and the free discovery call each client is offered before we begin working together. Even though it took me a while to get a handle on my actual working hours, I only felt obligated to reply within regular office times and could work in peace outside of this window.
If you can relate to any of the above here’s some boundaries you can set in your online business around communication. Take these as simply suggestions for you to adjust to fit yourself.
Communication boundaries that will help you grow your small online business:
Set office hours. My client-facing hours are 9:30am-4pm unless otherwise noted.
Don’t reply to emails outside of office hours. There are plenty of apps you can use to schedule your client replies to be within office hours. This enforces the above precedent.
Get comfortable being clear when a request is outside of the project scope. Now when a client asks for more, I note the additional charge and my availability. Everyone wins! I actually have a template pack in the shop that includes this email… steal my tough conversation email templates and much more.
Turn off social media and email notifications on your phone. This one was huge for me! It takes away the temptation to reply.
It seems simple, but I promise the above will really help you grow your online business in a way that feels easy to balance with your personal life.
It wouldn’t be a true look behind the scenes in my business if my rescue pup, Champ, didn’t make an appearance. He reminds me to clock out on time each day.
When you learn to set boundaries in your business and do your best to maintain them, being an entrepreneur feels a lot better. I always say that self-employment requires extreme levels of self-motivation, but that daunting task is easier when you aren’t drained. I’ve experienced this shift myself.
I love to hear from you! Did I miss anything that others should know about? Share your must-have boundaries with us below.
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