Setting Boundaries in Your Business
By Annalisa Burns
At your facility, you have rules about the care of your furry guests. But what happens when those rules are tested?
The relationships with clients, staff and ourselves are the three primary interactions that benefit from boundaries when operating a business. Setting boundaries is for safety first.
Assume Good Faith
Start with the idea that the other person involved has positive intentions. They probably only want the best for their beloved pet, their budget or themselves. Sometimes as business owners with past experiences and history, it is difficult to not have a bias. Take each person as an individual and assume good faith.
Boundaries for Clients
The number one boundary that clients seem to test is pick–up and drop–off times, but there are many others that need addressing. Here are some tips to consider:
• Put it in Writing
Require clients to sign a Policies and Procedures Form or Waiver, including your hours and contact guidelines. Post signs to include hours and policies. Putting rules in writing isn’t just to protect your business, it is to help clients clearly understand. Review the information and make sure it is clear and concise. Use simple terms. Bullets are often easier to understand than lengthy paragraphs. Have someone else read your forms and give feedback if anything is unclear.
• Set a Timer
Using a timer is a great way to set boundaries for clients and yourself, too. The timer on your cell phone works, but a kitchen timer is even better. Identify how long you want a task to take and set the timer. For example, try using it when returning new client inquiry calls. You might estimate that it should take X minutes to return a call and answer three questions. Set the timer and hold yourself to it. If you find that clients have more questions that you can answer in that time, consider making a FAQ to email people and post it on your website. You could even make a welcome video.
The benefit of setting this boundary is the person knows you will communicate your logistics and it builds trust and confidence in you. It also provides you with screening information if the person is testy, inflexible or demanding.
• Make Scripts
A script is a tool used in everything from teaching to telemarketing. Simply, it is a set spiel. You might already have a script you use—without realizing it. If you find yourself saying the same sequence of things to new clients, that is a script. If you aren’t using one yet, it can take stress off of you and help set boundaries.
Consider writing and using a script for new clients, quoting prices, outlining rules and how you do things at your facility. You can give this script to other staff members so they know exactly how you want calls or situations handled. Record yourself talking to find out what you already say. Then, commit it to paper and add what you think is critical. For example, pick–up times and cancellation information.
Boundaries for Staff
Retaining good staff is one of the challenges for business owners. Boundaries are critical in keeping staff—and your sanity!
• Identify Flexibility and Rigidity
Make a list of areas to be flexible in, and areas where it isn’t possible. The reasons might not matter, it can simply be what works for you. For example, with staff, you might be flexible about talking on their cellphone when cleaning, but not while supervising play time. Review this list with staff. One of the benefits of outlining both is that you are strengthening pathways of communication and setting up clear expectations and boundaries. It shows flexibility when possible, but it isn’t always possible. Once you have identified these areas, include it in a staff manual. As new situations arise, add items to that list.
• Appropriate Behavior
Keep in mind that every staff member has different experiences, training and knowledge. Learning proper behavior comes out of first-hand experience and the learning process. It can take some patience, but as each instance comes up, it is the manager or owner’s responsibility to address behavior and set boundaries. Don’t ignore unacceptable behavior.
Boundaries for Yourself
As business owners and managers, often the most challenging boundaries to set and keep are with ourselves. Not taking vacation or sick time, not budgeting for emergencies and retirement, and keeping the phone on and with us at all times (even while on honeymoon!) are just some examples of this “bad behavior” towards ourselves.
• Turn the Phone Off
A study performed at the University of British Columbia of 300 people found that when people had their cellphones with them (even just sitting on the table not being used), they “felt more distracted, which reduced how much they enjoyed spending time with their friends/family.” Plus, there is some research that indicates unplugging may actually improve quality of life. When unplugging, people spend more time with family and friends, get more exercise, cook more often and eat healthier foods.
The problem with answering the phone 24/7 is that you are “on call” all the time. It isn’t good for your mental health, always waiting and being ready for emergencies. Consider hiring an answering service for after hours. They can screen calls and notify you only after identifying a true emergency. Or, give the responsibility to an on–call manager. For other scenarios, like a client wanting to check on their pet at 11pm, create a script and give it to the answering service or on–call manager.
• Get a Financial Planner or Money Coach
If you aren’t taking care of your financial needs, hire a professional to work out your finances. Some of the boundaries many business owners need help setting is paying themselves enough, taking sick days and vacations, and planning for retirement.
One boundary that is critical is to commit to vacation time—and stick to it. Work the time off into your budget. Put it on the calendar and make a plan. Either hire staff to handle business while you are away, or better yet, close up shop.
• Simply Say No
Don’t agree to do something that makes you uncomfortable. You might decide to explain why, but you aren’t required to. This includes giving extra discounts, making exceptions or accepting difficult clients. It is okay for people to ask for clarity, exceptions and information. But, it is also okay for you to say “no” and give as much or as little information as you choose.
If saying “no” or setting boundaries makes you uncomfortable, remind yourself that it is necessary for safety and sanity. Start with small steps, and boundaries with yourself. Get support from friends, other business owners and professionals. The more you practice setting boundaries, the easier it gets.
Annalisa Berns, owner of Pet Search and Rescue, offers lost pet recovery services and coaching. Berns is a lost pet K9 Handler and Licensed Private Investigator (California). With over 14 years of experience, Berns is passionate about educating people about how to find lost pets. Author of the Lost Dog Recovery Guide and Lost Cat Recovery Guide, ebooks to bring lost pets home. Guest speaker at Groom and Kennel Expo, Western States Veterinary Association twice and American Veterinary Medical Association conference. For more information, visit www.PetSearchAndRescue.com or call toll free 800-925-2410.