Stop Being a Doormat: How to Set Clear Boundaries With Students and Clients

May 3, 2022

Do you struggle with setting or maintaining clear boundaries in your dealings with your students or clients? Setting clear boundaries in your business relationships is critical as a business owner if you want to avoid burnout, resentment, crossed wires and misaligned expectations.

This is especially true in the online business space, where the convergence of our businesses often being inextricably linked to our personal brands, where “remote work” can quickly turn into being on call 24/7 and where a multitude of communication channels (hello email/Slack/Instagram DM/FB messages/texts/customer inbox) can make it feel like need to be ‘always on’.

In today’s podcast episode, we dive deep into how to set clear, kind and firm professional boundaries with clients and students in your courses and programs, and how to enforce them kindly, firmly and fairly. This episode could save your sanity, your business relationships and give you back a sense of work/life balance, so listen in!

Listen On: Apple Podcasts | Spotify

As a digital course and program creator with hundreds of people in my flagship program, Launchpad, and my digital courses combined, I have learnt a thing or two about the critical importance of setting boundaries over the past four years.

For so long, I was a yes girl.

I accommodated every client request, I ignored my own contract terms and conditions simply because I was asked to (or sometimes, low key threatened), I said “yes” to requests that meant saying “no” to family time, I made exceptions more than rules and – decision by decision – I became more and more frayed at the edges.

Over time, I’ve had a number of mindset shifts that have helped me to not only start to more robustly set and maintain boundaries, but also to realise that doing so DOES NOT make you a bad person. In fact, it serves not only YOU but also your clients to do so because it creates clarity and fairness in all of your dealings.

This is What You Need To Know.

Truthbomb #1 — You Can Be A Good Person, Without Being a Doormat

In online business, our personal brands are inextricably linked to our business, and for that reason two things happen:

  1. Normal business rules are perceived not to apply:
  • “You’re posting on Instagram on the weekend; why aren’t you answering my unsolicited DM?”
  • “You seem so nice online, I hope you don’t mind if [XXX]”
  • “Oh, I thought the payment plan was a membership, I need to cancel it”
  1. Because who we are is wrapped up in our business, we don’t want to seem ‘mean’.
  • “I know I said my rate was $150, but I know you said you can only do $50 so that’s fine”
  • “Oh, you didn’t get started until 5 months in? I’M SO SORRY, let me go ahead and extend your access for free right now despite there being very real costs and overheads associated with doing so”
  • “I’m being tagged in the Facebook group on a Sunday evening.. I better answer”
  • “Oh, you didn’t read the contract? That’s okay let me (do thing in direct contravention of the contract) right now”

Setting boundaries as a personal brand is even more important than for other businesses, because you need to ensure that the ‘familiarity’ that people feel with you doesn’t turn into misaligned expectations on you.

Truthbomb #2 — What You Allow, Will Continue

.. And that is YOUR problem to fix, not theirs. If your actions aren’t in alignment with the boundaries you set, others won’t respect or follow them, and that’s on you.

This applies to both the things you DO, and the things you DON’T do. Let me explain.

For example, our Launchpad clients know that our team is actively in our Facebook group during business hours on week days. If we were to suddenly start answering posts on weekends, it would set the expectation that this is the norm, and it wouldn’t be FAIR to expect our clients to think otherwise. This is an example of a situation in which we would be guilty of allowing a boundary to continue to be crossed via our own actions. On the flip side, let’s say we notice that there is a client inside of our program that is copying our work closely and applying it as our own. We have a strict boundary around our IP, but if we essentially gaslit ourselves and made excuses for the client by telling ourselves “oh, it’s not that bad, maybe they didn’t mean it”, our resulting inaction would allow the boundary to continue to cross.

Ultimately, you set the benchmark for what you put up with with both your actions and your inaction, and it is YOUR responsibility to manage that effectively.

Truthbomb #3 — Setting Clear Boundaries is An Act of Service

Instead of viewing boundary setting as ‘mean’ or ‘clamping down’, I invite you to view it instead as an act of service by providing clarity to avoid ambiguity and misaligned expectations within your relationship.

Launchpad, for example, is a high touch program with a huge element of personal interaction.

BUT, it also has a very clearly defined scope of inclusions, and clear deadlines and timeframes for when we promise to deliver on all of our promises.

For example, we personally critique our client’s work. This means personally reviewing sales page, webinar slides — there is big, long list of in-scope items. Without clear boundaries, this could so easily get messy. But, we have a clear submission deadline of Sunday at midnight for work, and we promise to turn it around by 5pm that week.

Our clients KNOW these timelines, and there is never any ambiguity around asking to rush an item through — because they know to be prepared well enough in advance to submit with enough time ahead of, for example, their launches.

WITHOUT these clear boundaries, we could (and have) experience unreasonable requests, which may not be possible and which could very well breed resentment.

Truthbomb #4 — Their Problems Aren’t Your Problems

Also known as — Their Urgency Isn’t Your Urgency, Their Circumstances Aren’t Your Fault, and more. This one can be hard, but it’s important.

Someone else’s problems (outside of the scope of your work together) aren’t your responsibility to fix. There are very rare compassionate exceptions of course, but overall this is a BIG one that people pleasers need to allow themselves to lean into and be okay with. Caring is one thing, but totally taking on the burden of someone else’s problems because they have unfairly tried to push them onto you is another entirely and you don’t have to (and shouldn’t) accept that.

Truthbomb #5 — A Contract Is a Contract

Perhaps this is the lawyer in me, or perhaps it’s because they are legally binding and enforceable agreements, but I don’t take contracts lightly.

If you have a program or course, you need to have either a contract (program) or clear terms and conditions. And, not only that, but you need to stick to those terms.

They are the parameters of your relationship, and it is not only ‘within your rights’ to enforce them’, but it is only FAIR to do so. If you start bending the rules, or giving one client special treatment over another, it isn’t fair on the others who DO need (and who are) playing by the rules.

Contract amnesia is also a real thing, and so it is useful to not only have a contract, but also a clearly communicate the key areas within the contract at several touchpoints.

For example, we host onboarding calls within our Launchpad group where we communicate the main sections of our contract in plain english, and also highlight it positively by framing all of the amazing things we do for our clients FOLLOWED BY the things we expect of them, too.

For example, we provide a year of access to our materials in all of our courses and programs, something we are clear about at several points in our relationship — in our marketing materials, in our contract/terms, in our onboarding call and in several communications throughout the year.

Not only would it go against our clearly communicated boundaries to NOT enforce this if someone gets contract amnesia later on, it wouldn’t be fair to our other students or clients, it would hurt our business and the intention behind this boundary in the first place (for example, in Launchpad we have very real hard costs associated with every client), and it would set a bad precedent.

Truthbomb #6 — You Can’t Control Other People’s Reactions

Despite ALL of the above, the truth is that there are going to be people who react poorly to the boundaries that you set within your business. The mantra we have adopted? That you can’t control other people’s reactions; the only thing we can control is ourselves.

When making a decision, it’s important and fair that we enforce our boundaries — without doing so, we would be making decisions that are not in the interests of our business. As long as our boundaries are communicated clearly, there is no ambiguity and we do it kindly, we have done everything we can within our control and we can sleep well at night knowing that our client has been served in a manner congruent with our previously mutually agreed expectations. Does it mean that it will always be received that way? No.

And that is something, as a business owner, you will sometimes need to come to peace with.

Do you struggle to communicate or enforce boundaries within your own business? What’s your biggest aha moment from these truth bombs?

  • Are you ready to create, launch and scale your flagship digital course in 2022? Head to steviesayssocial.com/launchpad to apply for our 12 month, high touch group coaching program.

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