When you work from home, you’ve actually got TWO sets of boundaries you need to set up. The first is boundaries for yourself, things like being disciplined about not answering the phone at odd hours, not letting cake making take forever and keeping your business expenses separate. The second set of boundaries you need to set up is with your clients: the times they can come and pick up, when you’re available for consults and so on. Quite honestly each set of boundaries can be hard to maintain, but the second one is the more difficult because you just can’t force people to be on time or respectful about your space.
Here are some ideas for how to keep customer boundaries when you’re working from home:
Treat your business as a business and they will too.
Be professional across the board (no taking orders via text, no answering the phone when someone is screaming in the background, no giving people quotes on random scraps of paper) and people will take your lead on how to behave. It’s when you start to be casual about things that they start to be casual as well – so if you’re always bending the rules for people, not communicating properly or professionally…guess what, they will do that too. You set the tone for your business. Set a friendly, professional one that has boundaries in it.
Have set opening hours and advertise those widely.
If you have set opening hours clearly listed on your website, social media profiles and in your emails people are much more inclined to follow and respect those rules. The opening hours tell them what to expect from you in terms of availability. Your opening hours are whatever you want them to be as they fit into your life – mine were 10am-4pm M-F and 9am-12:30pm Saturday (closed Sunday) because that’s what fit around my kids. If anyone questioned this, I just said, “That’s when I’m open,” and left it at that – if I felt pressured to justify it, I’d say, “As much as I’d might like to work 24/7, my family doesn’t appreciate it, so having set business hours is how I make time for both.” Did I work more than my advertised hours? Of course I did…but my clients didn’t need to know that. I also found that having a “range” of time that I was open on a Saturday worked a LOT better than having set pick up appointments, so if you can do it that way, I recommend it.
Don’t “advertise” that your business is home based.
It’s sad but true, people will naturally take liberties with your time if they know you are at home. Your website should have your suburb or area listed, but not an actual address unless you need to give it to them. People see the words “home based business” and for some reason they think this is a reason to behave as though you have nothing to do all damn day but sit perfectly still at home in your perfectly clean house waiting for their arrival as though they are the Queen.
Remind them of your availability at the time of confirmation and give them a reason not to be late.
When you email them a final payment invoice, or call to confirm the details of pick up address, gently remind them what the rules are and INCLUDE A CLEAR DEADLINE. “So I’m here until 3pm for your pick up, straight after that I’m heading out to do several deliveries.” They do not need to know that the truth is that at exactly 3:01pm you will be on the couch in your pajamas eating Pringles and watching Grey’s Anatomy. They only need to know that there is a damn good reason for them to be on time.
If it looks like time is running short, call them.
If the time for pick up has passed, don’t wait an hour to call and see where they are at then yell at them for making you wait. Do the polite thing and call them within 10-15 minutes of their being late. Sometimes they forgot to come, got lost or there was traffic, or any number of things happened to make them late. Make sure you remind them of your deadline. Be nice but firm. “Hi Jane, just checking where you are, because I need to head out for those deliveries in about ten minutes.”
Lastly, even when you do all of that there are some people who are just chronically whiny or chronically late. For the whiny ones, I find it’s best not to enter into a long discussion about it. Your hours are your hours, that’s when you can help them, and you have other clients/family which mean that pick ups at 9pm on Saturday night are not an option. If you struggle with this because you are by nature a people pleaser (as many of us are), then in that moment I want you to remember that your being in business is not only about your client’s happiness – your happiness counts for something too! For the chronically late, make their pick up time earlier than you really need to. Want them there by noon? Make them pick up at 11. Better yet, offer to deliver – which solves their problem AND yours.
I highly, highly recommend having boundaries around your home based business. The major difference between home and store based boundaries is in how YOU behave around those boundaries. If you know that clients are more inclined to take liberties because you are a home based business, then you’ve got to be just that touch more firm and professional about your boundaries. Be polite, loving, and accommodating where you can – but also make the rules clear and it’s win/win – they know what to expect and you can crack open the can of Pringles a little bit sooner.