Boundaries… where do you draw the line as a business owner?

by on June 20, 2013

business boundariesIt was a beautiful day in Sarasota, Florida. The sun was shining in a bluebird sky. The warm breezes ruffled the air and the palm trees were swaying.

And there I was, holed up in my hotel room, hunched over my laptop, writing copy.

A knock on the door. My friends were planning an outing to the beautiful Myakka State Park. Did I want to come?

Argh, no. I had to keep on working.

Even though I wanted to see the Florida forests more than anything (trees are my favourite!).

Boundaries. In work and personal like. Where does one draw the line?

Setting boundaries

The idea of boundaries has been dancing around my head the last few months. I’ve had various situations, like the one above, where the idea of boundaries reared its head. This whole working on my holidays happened a few months back and I vowed that I would never let work encroach on my personal time like that again. But then when I went away last month, I almost let it happen again and I stopped myself just in time from agreeing to take on some work while I was away.

We all deal with boundaries, whether in the running of our businesses (should I give that discount?) or in our personal lives (should I agree to host that party even though I really don’t have time?).

In business, boundaries can be sticky. We’re trying to earn a decent living, and sometimes that can get in the way of making the appropriate judgment call.

It’s important to give our boundaries some thought, though, and decide what crossing the line means for us. Being clear on this makes decision making easier. It helps to ensure that we are running our businesses on our own terms. And that we feel good about things.

Here are some of my personal boundaries:

  • Only accepting guest blog posts from people and businesses I know, like and trust and that have contributed and participated in the Small Business Bliss community. I have accepted posts in the past because I liked the topic and assumed that the writer would do as I do when guest posting: sharing on social media, participating and just generally displaying gratitude for the opportunity. It wasn’t always that way and I realized that I had to draw the line.
  • Not working throughout vacations. I need my personal time. If a client can’t wait a week for me to come back, then they are not the best fit.
  • Not working evenings and weekends. Again, I need this personal time for my work-life balance.
  • Taking time to exercise each day, even if it’s just a little walk around the block.
  • Not offering discounts. When it comes to friends and personal connections, I take more of a value add approach.

Some boundaries I’m still grappling with:

  • Whether to take on RFP (Requests for Proposals) and how much work I should actually put into preparing proposals for clients. Sure, agencies whip these off no problem, but it’s a different drain on resources for a solopreneur like me.
  • Phone calls and in-person meetings that can sometimes take ages, but I don’t charge for. Where do I draw the line of my brain is being picked for free and it’s time to start charging?

What boundaries should I set?

Setting boundaries is a very personal thing. I’m sharing some of my own examples, but I’m not trying to say that these are good ones. I’m not trying to give you tips on which boundaries you should set. It isn’t about that. It’s about you.

What is the deeper learning taking place here? Why has this situation manifested in your life? How are you reacting? How are you embodying the virtues of integrity. Power. Self-love. Responsibility. Realizing that this whole boundaries thing is part of a journey of personal healing has been an extremely profound realization for me.

So essentially you need to figure things out for yourself.

A good indication is how you feel when a request comes through. When I got asked to work on my holiday, my first reaction was oh my god, I can’t believe I’m being asked to do this. I got frustrated. It didn’t feel right. But then I almost said yes anyways. Those feelings were telling me that something was off, and that I needed to stand strong.

Don’t play the victim

Sometimes we let others cross our boundaries. Yes, we let them. No one can cross your boundaries unless you allow it to happen.

I think in many situations, standing strong and saying no is all kinds of uncomfortable. We worry about making someone angry. Or losing a customer. So we just agree because it’s easier and we don’t have to deal with any potential conflict. But we’re just getting stuck in a doormat pattern. It doesn’t help us learn and grow. And it doesn’t help us to move along a higher path – isn’t that where we all want to go?

We need to communicate clearly the boundaries we have set – we can’t expect others to instinctively know what they are. Each and every one of us is so different. We’ve all been boggled by requests where we just can’t believe that someone would think it’s OK to ask for that. But it’s not about them. It’s not our business what they ask for. Our business is ourselves and how we act. And how we stick by our boundaries with confidence.

On that last holiday of mine, I had a client email me smack in the middle of it in a bit of a panic and an “I need to get this done ASAP” demand. He had completely forgotten that I was away, even though I had let him know several times and made it clear I would not be working. When that email came though, my finders were itching to respond. But I didn’t. I stuck to my guns.

Some flexibility is important

Should boundaries be set in stone? Some of them, yes. But as we know, running a business involves the ability to go with the flow and sometimes be a little flexible.

Had I not agreed to do some work on that holiday, I could have lost out on a HUGE project. So even though I felt a little frustrated with it, I realize that it was an important opportunity for me.

Or there are times when my work load is heavy, and I do have to put in the occasional Saturday. I’ve noticed that I let that stress me out. I shouldn’t be doing this. I said I wouldn’t work weekends. But actually putting in those few hours can be a big help in alleviating some of the stress and pressure of the coming week. So a rigid ‘no weekends ever’ boundary isn’t in my best interest.

I’d love to hear from you on this topic of boundaries. Do you think they are important? What are some of the boundaries you have set, whether personal or business?

I am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. Visit to take a look at the reinvented Facebook Page: Well Sourced by Visa Business. The Page serves as a space where small business owners can access educational resources, read success stories from other business owners, engage with peers, and find tips to help businesses run more efficiently. Every month, the Page will introduce a new theme that will focus on a topic important to a small business owner’s success. For additional tips and advice, and information about Visa’s small business solutions, follow @VisaSmallBiz and visit

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather Stone July 4, 2013 at 3:25 pm

Hi Martina,
Gosh. Boundaries. Where to start. There are so many places in your business and professional life this becomes an issue, and for every one you mentioned in your post, I can probably think of a few more (as can everyone else out there, I’m sure.) I think a tough economy can makes these questions even harder for a small business owner to sort out. But the bottom line is that you are responsible for your business and failing to draw the right boundaries, even in an effort to grow your business and maximize opportunities, will likely bring diminishing returns in the end.
Heather Stone recently posted..LinkedIn Updates Mobile App to Include Search for Jobs, Companies and Groups


Martina July 5, 2013 at 8:24 am

Totally agree with you Heather! Boundaries crop up in all facets of running a business. And as you say it’s a very personal responsibility to decide where to draw the line, both for your own personal benefit and for your business success. Thanks for stopping by!


Harry July 7, 2013 at 8:17 pm

Martina – Very useful point to touch on. In personal, and especially small business, life you have to learn to say NO – whether it is to customers that demand too much, product enhancements that deviate from core principles or overall strategy that will not help you reach your goals. The company that demonstrates this best is Apple. They clearly know what they want to be and set boundaries accordingly.
Harry recently posted..Is Your Office Design Helping or Hindering Employee Productivity?


Martina July 8, 2013 at 8:38 am

Absolutely learning to say no is a crucial business skill. As you say, it all comes down to your goals and sticking to what will help you achieve them. Thanks for your comment Harry!


Ti Roberts July 12, 2013 at 10:08 am

Great piece, Martina. It’s important to have clear boundaries that you’re certain you can stick to. You don’t want to hurt your business by having too many or too little.

Thanks for sharing your insights with our bizsugar community.

Ti Roberts recently posted..[VIDEO] TRTT Episode #7 – Should You Swap Guest Posting For Paid Advertising? (subscriber questions answered)


Martina July 12, 2013 at 12:40 pm

And thank you for popping by Ti! Appreciate it!


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