Today we’re taking a deep look at boundaries and why they’re an absolutely essential part of working online.
Not only will healthy boundaries improve your productivity and protect your work-life balance, but they will simultaneously take the overall client experience to a new level of excellence.
Starting your own business as a Virtual Assistant is both exciting and empowering. With the freedom to build your own schedule, you might envision sipping drinks in a scenic location as you work from your laptop, ample time for sightseeing, and mingling with locals on your travels as a digital nomad. Perhaps you envision having copious time to spend time with young children as they grow.
Either way, many new Virtual Assistants quickly find themselves facing burnout and working more hours than a 9-to-5er. But we can avoid this by establishing healthy boundaries that set a precedent of expectations for your client.
The keyword here is healthy! Healthy for both you and your client.
These boundaries aren’t about building rigid walls that drive a wedge between your you and your clients. You have to determine your firm boundaries, your flex boundaries, and recognize when there’s room to compromise.
This will build mutual respect between you and your client, lay the foundations of trust that create an unforgettable client experience, and keep you clear of burnout so that you can enjoy the freedom that your business offers and show up to work in your best form!
Ready to set some healthy boundaries?
Establish your own boundaries
Before you start setting boundaries with your clients you need to set them with yourself first.
Knowing when you intend to work and when you’re not will actually do wonders for your productivity. Without proper downtime, we can’t perform at our best, which is not only stressful for you but a disservice to your clients as well. So do both of you a huge favor by setting a reasonable work schedule for yourself, it will serve you well in the long run.
We do this by first deciding how many hours you’re going to work in a week. Most Virtual Assistants are probably working in the range of 25 to 40 hours a week. If you’re working slightly more or less, that’s okay, just remember that the time you spend working ON your business counts as work too.
Divide those hours by how many days you planning to work every week, usually 4-8, and then space the hours out. Do you work better in the morning or the afternoon? Maybe the evening or the middle of the night?
Whenever you work best, set yourself a schedule and honor yourself by sticking to it, unless you find yourself in a flex or compromise scenario (more on that later!) You’ll be glad that you did.
You may want to check in with yourself on a few other things too, like what types of tasks you simply won’t be doing because of a lack of interest or skill, or interest to learn said skill! We aren’t designed to do it all, and being clear on the things that need to be addressed as ‘not in your wheelhouse’ is equally as important as identifying the areas in which you shine.
Set the standard from the beginning
At the start of your working relationship with a new client, it’s a common reaction to be very attentive, making yourself available to your client regardless of what time it is or what you’re doing. But in doing so, the client is going to expect you to be at their disposal whenever they need you, which realistically will not be sustainable in the long term.
What if it’s 9pm and you get a Slack message from your client while you’re out to drinks with friends? Or at 11 am on a Sunday morning while you’re taking a course to upskill your services? Are you going to drop everything and answer them?
While of course, you want to put on the cape and save the day for your client, doing so every single time (especially at the beginning) will set a precedent that will be ongoing throughout your entire professional relationship.
When you finally hit that wall where you can’t maintain that continuous availability, you’re going to burn out and risk disappointing your client.
Excellent client experience is rooted in structure and consistency, so it’s important to set up your boundaries with your clients from the very beginning and give them a reasonable framework that you can sustain long-term and that they can come to rely on.
Onboard your clients the right way
Now that you’ve established for yourself what your boundaries are, during your onboarding process you can let your clients know all the details so that they know exactly what to expect. The transparency and organization on your part will give your clients so much peace of mind.
Whatever method you use to onboard, be it an email, a CRM tool like Dubsado, a Slack message (all of these tools are covered in the Virtual Excellence Academy) or something else, it’s best to use the same method with each of your clients if possible. This is so that you have a reliable system for onboarding and don’t need to reinvent the wheel everytime a new one comes along.
This is the clearest way to establish boundaries with your clients. By the end of the onboarding sequence, they’ll know how you work, what hours you work, how they can reach you, and set up communication channels.
This is also the time to cover all the important information you need them to know. You can make known your vacation time or days off and acknowledge that there might be times when you’ll agree to work outside your normal hours (usually for a rush fee.)
Pro tip! Make sure there’s an option for them to sign, tick, or otherwise agree that they’ve read your onboarding message.
Setting healthy boundaries is a lot like setting expectations. When your client knows what to expect in your working relationship, the better experience you’ll both have. Trust me when I say your clients will quickly come to respect the reliability and clarity of your streamlined workflow.
Have dedicated lines of communication
In your onboarding message, or just through those initial client conversations, you need to establish where you’re going to communicate with your client.
Slack, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, text, ClickUp, Trello, or the old faithful email. There are so many different platforms where you can communicate with your client. Figure out exactly where you’re going to talk and stick to those methods for all your work-related matters.
Make sure you communicate with your clients if you’re going to be taking any time off, whether for a vacation, an emergency, a few hours for another appointment, anything that isn’t your normal working schedule.
Once you’ve explained that you’ll be taking time off from X to X, you need to actually take that off. Even if messages are still coming in, let them wait until you’re officially on the clock again. Remember, this is about consistency. When your client sees that you stay true to your word, it will only enhance the level of trust they have in you.
If you think your client will need some work completed during your time off, you have the option to recommend a sub-contracted VA or someone else you have a working relationship with to do some work in your stead.
Rush jobs and late payment fees
Occasionally clients will need work completed on a timescale that is outside your norm. When this situation arises, you can choose whether to accept the work or recommend someone else.
If you agree to the short turnaround time, make sure you’re applying your rush fee to your invoice. The same goes for clients who pay your invoices late. Have a fixed amount that you apply to an invoice for every week that goes past the due date.
Like with any other important terms, make sure that these fees are already discussed and agreed upon during the onboarding process, that way there are no surprises. The contract & terms swipe files offered in the Virtual Excellence Academy are perfect for this occasion.
When you apply rush fees and late fees you’re establishing a boundary so that your client respects your time just as much as you respect theirs.
Firm vs. Flex Boundaries
We can throw around boundaries like confetti, but it’s crucial to know when they no longer serve you, your clients, or your business goals, and to adapt, or even scrap those boundaries accordingly.
Flexibility is important to factor in when you’re a VA. Why? Because the role itself is full of flexibility that you’ll receive from clients being ok with you working autonomously. The very nature that you can work with who, on what, and wherever you want is extremely flexible.
If you truly want to offer an excellent client experience, it’s important to offer some of that same flexibility to your clients in return. This extends to the very boundaries that we set.
Firm, flex, and combination boundaries might look something like this:
I don’t work after 6pm. I don’t work on my religious holidays.
I don’t work weekends, but if there’s a really important launch event, and I have advance notice, I can be flexible.
I work on Mondays with ‘x’ client. But if the need arises, I could be flexible depending on my other working arrangements.
Another ‘firm’ may be that if you’re called to work on a weekend, you can be available at your rate plus 50%.
Your clients also lead businesses that afford flex, and sometimes, both of you can flex those compromise muscles, like any healthy relationship.
If you’re unsure when and how to flex, before responding to a client request, feel into the decision. Would you feel resentful if you do the thing they’ve asked? That’s a clear sign that it’s not the correct course of action and is coming up too hard against your boundaries.
You can simply say to a client “I’ll need to think on this and get back to you within the course of the day.” You do not need to make flash decisions, you need to show confidence in your ability to navigate both your own needs and the needs of the client at hand.
Let’s say a client has asked you to move your working day from Monday to Tuesday, for example. Usually, you simply wouldn’t do this, but this week you have absolutely nothing on that Tuesday and know it would be no problem. You really can tell them exactly that, with the disclaimer that you are able to be flexible on this occasion.
Next time you are feeling a little off and need some headspace, you may find that your client is willing to flex your hours to accommodate too. It’s a give-and-take, you see.
If you’re ready to find your own clients that you can build healthy boundaries and relationships with, sign up for The 5 Day VA Challenge now. This 5-day challenge will set you up with the skills you need to get started offering virtual assistant services online.