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Business Operations

Client Screening and Boundaries

What do they have in common? Well, boundaries have been a conversation that has come up for me a lot lately. Sometimes that can sound off-putting, but I mean it in the most positive way! However, I haven’t always gotten a warm, fuzzy feeling about acknowledging the power of boundaries. In fact, prior to 2016, I really struggled with setting and honoring them in my life and business. As I’ve grown, though, I’ve come to realize that boundaries and client screening are closely tied together! Improving one tends to naturally improve the other.

Boundary Problems Lead to Client Problems

My problems started because, like any normal human, I really, really wanted to be liked and acknowledged. I wanted to be seen and accepted. I wanted to have a sense of belonging.

However, I apparently got tricked into thinking that the way to be accepted was to give away my time, my essence, my love, my energy, my money, my resources, my knowledge, and my experience. Whatever you needed, I would help you. I would share time and energy and resources with you without hesitation. (Thankfully, I have always been able to draw the line at sharing tacos. so I’ll give myself a few bonus points for that.) 

From personal relationships to clients, I expected myself to be constantly pouring out, no questions asked. And while I was definitely leaving satisfied customers and glowing reviews in my wake…

I was also causing myself so much harm and heartbreak.

Gradually, I realized I was constantly running on empty. It seemed like I never got anything back, and it was brutal. It was also translating into my work. 

Apparently, if you give clients the impression that you’re basically thrilled to double your work without increasing your pay….that you always respond within 5 minutes to emails and Slack messages…that it’s no problem to burn the midnight oil to solve crisis situations that even a moderate effort on their part could have helped us avoid….

You attract clients who take advantage of you.

This is both a boundary problem and a client screening problem.

If You Don’t Have Boundaries, You Can’t Do Client Screening

This is a bold statement, so hear me out!

When I didn’t have boundaries, I didn’t respect myself. I didn’t value my work. I didn’t think I was worth the respect of others.

With that as my headspace, what “client screening” criteria were available to me?

Rather than being able to make empowered choices to work with people I shared mutual respect with, I was offering discounts to work with clients who were less than ideal. 

Sometimes that meant they micromanaged or were difficult to work with. Other times it meant that their work in the world didn’t light me up. And sometimes it meant I accepted ridiculously low pay that I should have never considered.

I didn’t know my own worth, I didn’t have boundaries around what was acceptable, and as a result, I didn’t have the capacity to go about client screening. There were certainly people that I didn’t want to / shouldn’t be working with. By not signing them on, I could conserve my efforts for dream clients that I was excited to pour into.

Crafting My Boundaries

And then, I made a life-altering decision. I hired a coach.

I hired a coach who saw me. Who loved me. Who had grace and compassion for me, and who showed me tough love. Ultimately, the person who set boundaries with me. Who questioned my decisions and challenged why I had chosen the path that I had. 

She challenged the fuck out of me. 

And I resisted.

Y’all, I was so stubborn.

I dug in to where I was in life and what I was doing, making excuses for the people who were depleting me, making excuses for why I had to have the clients I had.

I didn’t want to be made to feel I was wrong or making a mistake. In addition, I didn’t want to be called into something higher or better or, heaven forbid, different.

My ego was in rare form.

And then things shifted. 

I’d like to say that it was instantaneous, but it was a slow and painful process that I put myself through. I literally made it hard on myself. Even though I could have made it easy, I didn’t. I resisted over and over until I finally wore down my own resistance and realized what a fucking waste of time that was.

Once I shifted, it was game on. 
  • What boundaries did I need to set? 
  • What had I allowed in my life to happen to me that was no longer allowed? 
  • Why was I setting boundaries? 
  • What relationships (personally and professionally) were actually good for me?
  • What clients do I need to let go of? 

I decided I was worthy of setting boundaries. I deserved to have solid boundaries, and I owed it to myself to have firm boundaries.

Boundaries Aren’t Cement (Also Known As, You Can Always Change Them)

Now here’s the thing… my boundaries aren’t cemented in. I can consciously choose to change ANYTHING or to allow ANYTHING in my life or business. 

BUT…

The key is consciously choosing.

I have learned to tune in to what feels aligned with my head, heart, and soul. If it’s aligned, it’s allowed. If it’s not aligned, it’s not allowed. 

Remember that line from Dirty Dancing, “Nobody puts baby in a corner.”? 

Well, that is how I look at my boundaries. Nobody gets to treat me like crap in any form or fashion. That is especially true for the people I work with and for. Boundaries and client screening are like two pieces of a puzzle that are designed to fit together. They literally just go together — as you develop boundaries, you’ll find that you are naturally reevaluating who you work with, and how that work happens.

My Boundaries in the Wild (Actually Living Them Out)

Recently I was working on a project with a few women, and it fell apart in a most disastrous and disappointing way. One of the women went on the attack and made it personal towards me. 

Frankly, I was shocked. I walked away from the conversation saying to myself, “These women really don’t know me. They don’t see me.” 

The next evening I ran into one of the women at a local event, and we decided to talk out the situation a bit more. She said to me, “Lany, I believe she (the other woman) is threatened by you. Out of all the women working on this project, you are the one with the most solid boundaries.” 

Now, I can’t say that I was leaping for joy, because I was still disappointed that the project fell apart the way that it did. When she made that comment about how strong my boundaries were, however, I gave myself an internal pat on the back and I shared with her verbally that I had practiced these boundaries for some time. 

I put in a lot of effort and practice to have boundaries this strong. 

One of my dearest friends was a part of that conversation that night, and she affirmed that “I had fucking strong boundaries”. 

You can’t just say you have boundaries and then let people walk all over them. You can’t cave to peer pressure, or to pressure from clients. It’s vital that you learn to be firm in your boundaries. 

You can bend when appropriate, but you cannot break. Palm trees and bamboo bend in the storm, but they don’t break. You can do the same.

Set, Hold, Honor: Verbs That Boundaries Love

Setting, holding and honoring your boundaries takes work. It takes practice. It takes effort. Desire and care for yourself. Loving yourself. Honoring yourself. Boundaries are meant to protect you. Not cause you or others harm. They are not meant to be malicious. They are meant to be clearly defined terms of what is and is not allowed in your life and business. 

When it comes to clients, boundaries do not mean you only work with millionaires who pay you with Bitcoin and offer you free flights on their private jets. They aren’t about building an ivory tower and keeping everyone out.

Boundaries actually enable you to build better, stronger relationships that are healthier on every level.

In fact, if someone asked me what my specific boundaries were today, I would be hard-pressed to lay them all out because I listen to my intuition when things show up. 

Someone or something may be pressing me to do something or to take a specific action, and if it’s out of alignment with my integrity and my intuition, I will set a solid, fast and firm boundary that I will not participate in said action. 

No if, ands, or buts about it. 

My boundaries are tied to my intuition, my integrity, my self worth, my self love, and honoring what I know to be true and right in my own life. Knowing that, I’m able to joyfully work with clients who respect me and see my worth. 

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