Successful Service Providers Swear by Holding These 3 Boundaries in Their Business

Successful service businesses don’t grow on their own. 

And they certainly don’t benefit from your fragmented time or attention (over the long term). As a mindfulness coach and business consultant for the last seven years, I know this from experience. The kind of experience you learn the really uncomfortable way. So what’s the lesser-discussed Achilles heel that makes or breaks a client relationship and, ultimately, a service business? We all have to do that one thing, but we’re all wondering if we’re doing it right?

It’s boundaries. 

(There. I said it.

Do you cringe a little when you hear the word boundaries? 

Like, what are those anyway?! On any given day, I’m not exactly sure if I’m doing those well or not. Wait, am I setting boundaries at all? 

Well, you’re certainly not alone. 

We caught up with a few of our (Profis) professional service providers working in therapy, life coaching and business consulting to understand the boundaries they swear by holding in their businesses and why boundaries mean the difference between hobby or craft in the service industry.

Boundaries in Therapy are all About Doing “Your Work”

Your work as the therapist is about skillfully and compassionately setting and holding boundaries with your clients.

But the “your work” we’re referring to here is really about the client’s work. Because that’s who you’re here to help in the first place, right?

And if clients aren’t honoring the time boundaries of the therapy session itself, turning the attention on you as the therapist or avoiding the very things they’ve come to you for, then you’ve got a boundary issue plain and simple. Counselor Kevin Brown, LPC of Therapy in Mindfulness, boils boundaries in his practice all down to three things:

Setting Time Boundaries in Therapy

Time boundaries around session length, whether they are on-the-hour or buffer time between client sessions.

“Having good, solid time boundaries is a form of self-care, energy regulation and management,” relates Kevin. “So that's a very practical kind of day-in and day-out logistical boundary that's really important.”

Even more so, shares Kevin, “being able to transition effectively to be present with the folks that I meet with, having time boundaries is essential to that. So I'm not getting squeezed or overextended, feeling rushed, feeling stretched or feeling spread too thin.”

As a therapist in a platform like Profi, syncing multiple calendars and setting up your working hours with buffer times help you hold these time boundaries.

Self Disclosure Boundaries in Therapy

Personal self-disclosure: it’s about you, not me can be used as a distraction.

One boundary “that's part of our ethics as professional counselors, and in terms of maintaining focus where it needs to be and not getting personally involved in another person's process, is about self-disclosure, or disclosure of personal information,” explains Kevin.

Holding Your Clients Accountable to Doing "Their Work"

Accountability: Holding clients accountable for doing their work, not unloading their work on you as the therapist.

“When they're just using the therapeutic relationship to dump emotionally or get validation for the challenges that they're experiencing, but not necessarily wanting to take accountability or do something to actively help themselves,” relates Kevin.

Profi Tip: How can you tell when an accountability boundary is being crossed as a therapist?

“If it feels like I'm trying harder than the client is, that's a good indicator that maybe I need to take a step back and just let them do their own work,” advises Kevin.

This can show up in different ways in a therapeutic session, “like refocusing the conversation onto their part in a dynamic or a situation or a challenge that they're experiencing rather than just me empathizing and taking the emotional burden that they might be experiencing on.” 

“It's more about really focusing on where their power is and what they can do about it. And what's getting in the way of them being able to feel empowered, take control and do what they're here to do,” Kevin says.

Why do these three boundaries matter so much in therapy?

He adds, “We all can feel challenged to not want to do our work or want to avoid the difficult stuff. And that can sometimes mean trying to make it about me or the relationship. It can just become a distraction.”

And distractions won’t help us help our clients be with themselves more kindly, trust themselves more or help them feel like they’re enough. So, managing distractions with strong boundaries allows both your client and you to relax into the session and really do the work meant for both of you.

Since therapy operates from the Western medical model, it just so happens to have clearer natural boundaries built in. And that can feel like a major contrast with coaching.

Boundaries in Coaching Can Feel Permeable and Hard to Hold

As a coach in an incredibly connected, always-on world, where do you set limits?

You may have already connected with a client across multiple communication channels. But this modern reality doesn’t mean you have to respond to everyone, everywhere, at any time.

When your coaching clients aren’t honoring the time boundaries of your working hours, requesting you engage with them in multiple communication channels or not showing up so they don’t have to be held accountable for their actions, then you’ve got a burgeoning boundary issue on your hands. Metaphysical Life Practitioner, Patty Beach sums up boundaries in her practice as follows:

Limiting Your Availability As a Coach Using Office Hours

Limiting availability: time boundaries around office hours.

"If you're bothering me 24/7," Patty outlines:

1. She won't be able to show up for her clients,

2. and over time this boundary crossing can build resentment that her time isn't being valued or respected.

She warns that too much availability as a coach, like by text message at the drop of a hat, diffuses your client impact as a practitioner. "Is the client really going to take the time to do the work and take what I say seriously?" she inquires? Probably not.

Making a Mindset Shift From Coaching Hobbyist to Coaching Craft

Mindset shift: from a coach to a practice.

When you seriously decide to build a successful coaching practice, your thinking needs to shift from being the "yes coach" to being the "professional practice." Using integrated platforms that combine secure individual sessions with secure messaging, package and program development and form creation become foundational in upping the bar in your business to take it from side-gig to professional craft.

Using Technology to Create Sacred Space in Your Coaching Practice

Creating your sacred space: using all-in-one technology to enforce your space boundaries for you.

In our personal and spiritual lives we may know exactly how to create sacred space for ourselves. So, why not in our professional practices? The reality of skipping physical, mental and energetic space boundaries like this can be showstopping — even leading to health issues and burnout.

Why do these three boundaries matter so much in coaching?

Choosing the right technology for your coaching practice can literally be the container in which you practice and uphold these boundaries like for Patty, who uses Profi.io as her virtual office. Clients “can blow up my inbox (inside Profi secure client messaging), and I can create solid boundaries around my office hours,” she relates.

Diffusing our energy as coaches won’t help us help our clients navigate their lives with confidence, grace or inner wisdom or transform what’s not working for them. So, focusing client communications and workflow in a single channel, or platform in this case, organically sets clear boundaries, allowing both your client and you to show up fully, focused and present to do the work meant for both of you.

While the wider coaching industry is largely unstructured, the world of business consulting operates from highly structured sets of often unspoken cultural and behavioral norms that need to be agreed to upfront.

Business Consulting Boundaries are all About “The Contract”

The pressure for consultants to perform in business contexts — oftentimes above and beyond the performance of internal employees — is real.

You’re joining an established team dynamic, mindset and process as both the newcomer and the person who’s supposed to solve all their problems, right? So defining a clear “contract” from the engagement’s outset is the single most important thing you can do.

Business clients who aren’t honoring your rules of engagement, project scope and pricing contracts or any mini-contracts around your availability and delivery times are throwing out major boundary red flags that you cannot ignore. As a SaaS Content Strategy Consultant myself and Founder of Conscious Content, I’d distill boundaries in my practice down to:

  1. Your Rules of Engagement: Boundaries around ongoing communication and the initial contract
  2. The scope and pricing contract: Expectation-setting boundaries around the work itself and the energetic or monetary exchange.
  3. Mini-contracts: Refining and re-setting expectations; time boundaries around your availability and delivery dates.

Why do these three boundaries matter so much in consulting?

Whole relationships and contracts can hinge on these tiny moments of choice. And these moments, or choice points, can make or break the engagement or become an unnecessary elephant in the room with you and your client, stakeholder or team.

Avoiding these choice points won’t help us help our clients transform the way they operate, understand their audiences more intimately or grow or scale their brands and businesses. So, managing each choice point with strong boundaries allows both your client and you to relax into the agreement, trusting the outcome as what’s in the best and highest interest for both of you.

Boundaries Mean the Difference Between Hobby and Craft in the Service Business

Whether you call them limits, nos, boundaries or contracts, they’re all fundamentally the same. 

They’re the tiny yet precious moments where you choose the success path of every client relationship you build. And that will incrementally build your craft and your business, one boundary at a time.

So, how do you set boundaries?

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