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Tips for setting boundaries when you run your own business

3-minute read

Tips for setting boundaries at work
Catriona Smith

Catriona Smith

3 May 2023

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Not setting boundaries at work can be draining and impact your mental health and wellbeing over time. Whether it’s with a client or a business partner, communicating your limits and expectations for how you want to be treated is key to your emotional and mental health.

But what are boundaries anyway? And how can being strict with them help you feel happy, productive, and preserve your energy as a small business owner? Read on for examples of boundaries – and tips for sticking to them.

Simply Business has partnered with Mental Health at Work, a programme curated by Mind, to support the UK’s self-employed with their mental health and wellbeing.

Together we surveyed more than 700 small business owners to understand their challenges. Now we want to start a conversation and end the stigma surrounding mental health at work through our Mind Your Business initiative.

What are boundaries?

Quite literally a boundary is a line separating two areas, for example a hedge marking the edge of a field and the start of another. But what does this mean in a business context?

Boundaries are the limits you set for yourself in professional (and personal) relationships. This could be on your time, mental boundaries, emotional needs, or physical space.

Why are boundaries important for small business owners?

Simply Business research with small business owners shows 54 per cent aren’t having enough time for hobbies, leisure, and socialising, which is negatively impacting their wellbeing. While there may be many reasons for this, protecting your leisure time is one way you can set a healthy boundary between work and life.

Have you ever had a disagreement with a business partner? Or been in a client meeting where you’ve not been treated with respect? While this can be upsetting and difficult to know how to handle, this is an example of someone crossing a line with you. And it’s important that you tell them how it makes you feel and the standard you expect in the future.

Boundaries can also refer to how you use your time and protect your energy when it comes to stopping work or taking breaks.

Work-life balance can be particularly challenging if you're running a side hustle or just starting out with your business. But it’s important to take time to rest and make sure you don’t become overwhelmed or burnt out.

That said, our research found that 50 per cent of small business owners feel that running their business has a positive impact on their mental health. Here, one freelancer shares his experience about moving from employment to self-employment, and what employers can learn to help empower their workforce. Whether it’s maximising autonomy or the importance of having a team or professional network, these are key to feeling motivated and engaged at work.

Examples of professional boundaries

Boundaries will be personal to you as they relate to what you want and how you want to be treated. However, these are just a few examples of where you might want to set boundaries at work as a small business owner:

  • late payments – if a client’s consistently not paying you on time then they’re not respecting you and your business. As well as sending a late payment letter, your boundary might be not to work with that client again, or changing how and when you deliver work
  • managing a price increase – your costs have gone up and you need to pass on higher prices to your customers. If a long-standing client asks for special treatment, be firm and explain where your boundaries lie on the issue
  • people pleasing – do you say yes to too many things and it’s taking you away from your business priorities? Protect your time by saying ‘no’ (with kindness) more often
  • a challenging business partner – if you have an equal business partner then make sure everyone’s clear on the expectations on time, workload, and responsibilities so you don’t build resentment

How to set healthy boundaries in the workplace

Simply Business has partnered with Mental Health at Work to provide practical guides to support the self-employed to manage their mental health. Here are some tips on how to set healthy boundaries.

Identify your boundaries

Firstly, spend time thinking about what your limits are. Is it finishing at 6.30pm every day so you have time for dinner with your family? Is it saying ‘no’ to a business partner that’s asking you to do too much? Be clear on what you feel is right for you, and stick to it.

Communicate clearly

Ideally people will already know where you stand (if you’ve been clear from the offset), but if something happens then you’ll need to respond to it reactively. If you need to let someone know that they’ve crossed a line, think about how you can let them know with compassion but still keep your needs front of mind.

Keep it simple

Try to avoid over-explaining your boundaries. Just outline where you stand and why this is important to you, but don’t feel like you need to make excuses for how you feel.

Boundaries for business partnerships and collaborations

When approaching business collaborations and cross-brand promotion, you should make your boundaries clear. For example, don’t be tempted to give something away for free and be mindful of your brand and your business when working with others.

Three business experts speak more about approaching partnerships in this video:

Visit Mental Health at Work's dedicated Self-Employed Support Hub for toolkits, resources and powerful stories to help improve workplace wellbeing.

Mental health and wellbeing resources for small businesses

Do you have any tips for getting that perfect work and life balance? Share your experience in the comments.

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Photograph: Flamingo Images/
Catriona Smith

Written by

Catriona Smith

Catriona Smith is a content and marketing professional with 12 years’ experience across the financial services, higher education, and insurance sectors. She’s also a trained NCTJ Gold Standard journalist. As a Senior Copywriter at Simply Business, Catriona has in-depth knowledge of small business concerns and specialises in tax, marketing, and business operations. Catriona lives in the seaside city of Brighton where she’s also a freelance yoga teacher.

We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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