5 Steps for Setting Boundaries with Demanding Clients - Christine Kane

There is one fundamental truth that has served me (and my clients) immensely. It is this:

Setting boundaries with clients teaches people how to treat you.

So, what does that mean?

It means that it’s up to you to allow or not allow certain treatment.  It also means that you have to get clear about how you want to be treated.  It means that you have to take responsibility for writing your own Owner’s Manual, and hold yourself accountable for living by it.

In other words?

Stop blaming your clients (or anyone!) for not knowing your rules! Especially if you never enforce them yourself!

Here are five steps for setting boundaries with your clients.

1 – Get Clear About What’s Not Working with your clients.

This is an easy place to start.  Write down what’s NOT working with your clients or your team or even with YOU.  You’ll probably have some obvious starting points.  Here are a few examples:

– Clients calling at all hours of the night.

– Not adding on the extra hours for all the time I’m answering client emails.

– Flying coach when I travel.

– Wasting time listening to team or clients gossip or complain.

2 – Turn Each Item Into a Business Standard.

Go through each item and turn it around. Make it a new standard. Create a “company policy.”

When you first got started in your business, it may have been fine to answer a few calls after hours. Hey, no big deal. You only had one or two clients. And you were excited to have them!

The problem is that, as you grew, you forgot to go back and create some standards or boundaries with demanding clients.  And you can no longer handle the chaos.

So, if you don’t want clients to call you at midnight, then what time do you stop taking calls?   If you don’t want to fly coach, then can you make it a company standard that you always fly first class?

3 – Share with your clients.

Share your new standards with your clients or team. Make sure you do this from a centered, proactive place.  Not when you’re in a highly charged situation.

One reason people stink at setting boundaries with clients is that they wait until they’re triggered.   At that point, you’re not setting boundaries. You’re probably blaming them and making yourself the victim.

4 – Enforce your boundaries and business standards.

We are often the biggest problems in our own businesses.

It’s not our clients. It’s not our team.  It’s us.

So, this means that you have to be the one to stick by your boundaries, policies, and standards. And this is where it gets tricky.  It’s SO easy to let one thing slip and then end up back in your old habits again!

It’s helpful to post a list of your new policies or standards by your desk as a reminder!

Also, remember that you must include yourself in your equation. If you’ve told your clients that you don’t take business calls on weekends, then don’t make business calls on weekends.

5 – Be On the Lookout.

From now on, be on the lookout for symptoms of your own lack of boundaries.

And remember: Where there is stress, there is a lack of a standard.

Whenever something overwhelms you, or a client situation drains you or smacks you out of the blue, it’s not a bad thing.   It’s simply a chance to ask, “Where is there a lack of a standard? How do I need to deal with this in my policies and procedures?”

In other words, you’re always going to be in discovery mode. This is exciting!

BONUS TIP:  Get a Mentor

This article might not be popular among your clients or friends who would prefer that you aren’t so clear.  That’s because we’re taught to “be nice” more than we are taught to “be big.”

So, you must find people who can model this behavior for you, who encourage you to succeed, and who offer a different perspective on happiness than just “be nice.”  Surround yourself with people who hold you accountable to your intentions and goals.  Get a coach. Be in a Mastermind. Get support as you Uplevel!

What d’ya think?  Are you good at setting boundaries with clients?  Got any great lessons to share?  Share your thoughts below…

  • Jennifer

    Dear Christine,
    First off great article! I am hoping you can help with some advice in my situation. My husband acquired a local client late last year for me to do HR/Payroll. He agreed to visit the client twice per month for high level issues and I visit one day a week, all of this for a fraction of the cost that the previous HR manager was paid. Quickly thereafter, I knew that this was an impossible task, as I found myself working from home full time on this one client alone. I get phone calls with requests before I wake up, emails from employees with HR issues and payroll questions and the work quickly piles up if I don’t answer. Payroll itself is a part time job, but there is constant turnover, on boarding, terminations, employee issues, HR, benefits, reports and the list goes on… I think I created a monster by trying to be too responsive since everything is urgent to them and I honestly don’t know what to do. I am at my wits end and am not good at setting boundaries. What do you suggest the best way is to go about this situation we created so we are both happy?
    Thanks so much for your insight,

    • Christine Kane

      Hi Jennifer – I guess my first response is to ask you: Tell me what points in this article spoke to you – and what actions you considered just based on what you read here?

  • Sandy

    Hi Christine,

    Lovely direct article!

    As a startup business your wearing several hats and trying to please your clients by being available to them. Since my clients are professionals, I figure they would have common sense NOT to call late evening hours. Ohh BOY!! Was I wrong. At first it would frustrate me thinking OMG I just took on a needy client, then I realized the problem was my boundaries were not clear.

    Time to utilize your tips.
    PS- As an entrepreneur I find it difficult to find a great Mentor as business coaches are costly. :$ I’m 8mons in my business and still searching and it’s frustrating as I know my struggles yet can find the help to push my business to next level.

  • Traci

    I’m a salon owner and for years I have the problem of setting boundaries. In my mind I think I need to accommodate so that I can retain the clients. I work from a salon in my home but am repeatedly hit with texts and calls after hours. I try very hard to only reply on my days I am open. I may get texts at midnight in a Sunday asking me what my openings are for the next week. I don’t answer. But it also makes it very hard to remember all the texts. I feel have some who book ahead, but most want in on my days off, or after hours. I don’t do it. I try to set boundaries but notice when I do I lose clients to salons open those hours. So I’m not sure how accommodating I should be. In my mind if I don’t please them, they will leave. An example: I get a text from a lady, can you get me in today for a color? I said I cannot because I’m booked, but I have tomorrow and the next day available. She says “thanks.” I see a picture on Facebook of her new hairstyle two days later. I don’t know if she got it done that day or went somewhere else two days later. It’s almost as if I am not respected.
    Advice appreciated.

    • Christine Kane

      Traci – It sounds like you’re letting your emotional reactions to things (seeking out that woman’s facebook post?? how does that help you? Not at all!) dictate whether or not your systems will work. Stepping into abundance mentality and what I call “empire mentality” in your business means that you have to stick with your systems and standards long enough to walk through the painful reactions that come up and tell you that you will fail. you won’t fail. you just have to shake free of the kind of people you have attracted up til now. having a coach and a mastermind to support you could really help.

  • Monique Lusse

    Hi Christine,

    How long would you suggest waiting for a client. Does it depend on the length of the meeting? My clients can book 30 mins or 60 mins phone meetings.

    Thanks a bunch.

  • April

    This has been one of my biggest problems. I try to accommodate rather than set a boundary. I have started to set boundaries more often with clients, but have a tendency to give in after a plea for help, or an emergency case and then it starts all over again. That’s when I try to reinforce and get back to that place of boundaries and respect of space/time. With some, I have even gotten to the point of giving up and giving them an ultimatum…either you respect this boundary or I can’t work with you. That has worked with a few, but some just keep pushing regardless. My question is, is there a proper “best” way to reinforce a boundary after you have let the client cross? Can you fix it mid project? And if so, how?

    • Christine Kane

      April, This is a common challenge when we’re starting out because we are wired to ‘help’ and it’s easy to twist and contort when others are reactive because we just want to help them.

      One of the best ways to help people is to set clear boundaries and expectations at the beginning of the relationship – “Here’s how we’ll work together…” Teach people how to treat you. Be the leader in this relationship and remind them of how you work together.

      If a boundary is crossed. Let them know – “I noticed that last week you….” “I just wanted to remind you what we need to do when this happens…” then list again the boundaries. It might be reminding them that this program doesn’t include email coaching, so when something like this happens, here’s what you need to do – reach out and book a call etc…

      Your clients are looking for you to lead them. Otherwise, people will make up their own rules and trespass on your time an energy (and they will).

      Try having an open conversation with them reminding them of what you agreed at the beginning of the relationship.

      Hope that helps.


  • Chrissie

    I have also found that clients’ bad behavior can result from their need for control. I’ve backed them up a little to better understand what it is that is driving the constant calls, need for attention, updates, etc. and more often than not, it’s not a total lack of trust…it’s that they have been someone controlling every aspect of their lives and businesses and now I’m involved and my systems are what they are and need to be and it doesn’t jive completely. I’ve looked for ways to allow for simple yet meaningful check-ins with them AND where I can give them back some control. It usually works.