As a small business owner, especially as a solopreneur or an owner/operator, it is easy to feel pressure to be on 24/7. On the phone, on social media, chatting it up at Chamber events, on top of every facet of your business, and constantly available to your clients and team members.

This, however, can lead to catastrophic burnout.

But you entered this industry because you love making people happy! So how on Earth are you supposed to tell them “no”? Here are three easy steps to basic boundary-setting that you can use today to start building space for yourself in your own company.

1. Consider your own needs.

Take some time to journal about the picture-perfect rainbows-and-butterflies version of your business. What does that look like? Do you want to scale or do you want to find purpose and profitability as a solo cleaner? How do people act in that perfect iteration of your company? How do they treat you? What are you willing to commit to doing to honor other people’s time, energy, and boundaries?  What would this business provide for you and your family for you to be happy with it? And what rules would you need others to follow to ensure that this business serves you too? You cannot build what you cannot imagine, so spend time daydreaming!

Things you may need:

  • A certain annual salary to be comfortable
  • Strict office hours to protect family time
  • A part time schedule to protect your health and save your knees
  • Not working on weekends
  • Insisting that clients are absent during cleanings to protect your health (or
  • A cancellation policy with a fee to provide for your family effectively
  • A client code of conduct to govern how you and your team members are

2. Set boundaries before someone tests them.

It is so easy to know what your boundaries are after someone has crossed the line: you feel it, right? Unfortunately, that is the worst time to set new boundaries. You will be met with defensiveness every time because they didn’t know beforehand and they cannot read your mind. After you’ve journaled about what you need from others, take this step to start planning for situations where you will need to enforce boundaries to meet your needs. Sit down and consider how you will handle a difficult situation with your clients, your team members, or the public before it might happen. It can be difficult to come up with sample scenarios. Stuck? Scrolling through any of the forums for professional cleaners will give you a lot of ideas about what could happen: many professionals ask for advice here during sticky situations. Read their stories and ask yourself, “What would I do?” This will take some imagination, but it will be a great start to your terms of service, office hours, employee handbook, and other resources that you can use to express boundaries ahead of time.

3. Offer something else.

So you’re ready to start setting boundaries. If you’re a people pleaser like me, your first time is going to feel very scary. It can be easier for new boundary-setters to use this tactic. I’ll give you an example. Recently, a friend asked me to help him move. I was in the middle of a software switch-over and experiencing symptoms of burnout. Instead of over-promising and under-delivering, I said, “I cannot help you move and pack, but I have a ton of boxes and bubble wrap that I can drop off. I can also loan you one of our cleaning kits if your supplies are already packed.” My friend was still ecstatic for the assistance and later told me that he much prefers when people are honest, because it helps him budget his own time and energy better. I also felt better about offering what I could instead of just saying, “no.”

Want to learn more about setting boundaries in your business? Come visit Amber Starling at the 2023 ISSA Show North America at the Solve for X Theatre on November 14 from 10:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., Booth #1477. We will do a guided workshop together, where we will gauge our own levels of burnout and start finding space for our own needs in our own companies.