Are you feeling overwhelmed and burned out? Do you dread getting up and going to work every day? Do you feel clients are taking advantage of you and your time? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it’s probably time to set boundaries in your business.

Aren’t Boundaries Limiting?

As an entrepreneur in the health and fitness field, I’ve learned many lessons over the years, including that I cannot be everything to everyone. But when first starting out, I felt I had to work with as many people as possible to be able to pay my bills. Hence, my hours were all over the place and my clients controlled my schedule. Eventually, I began thinking that a “normal” 9-to-5 job with a regular paycheck and benefits sounded really good.

Fortunately, I learned that it’s not only O.K. to establish boundaries within my business, but that it is, in fact, essential to do so in order to flourish. This not only saved my sanity, but it gave me my life back and helped establish my business as just that—a real business with real business hours. As Sandy Krakowski, CEO and founder of A Real Change International alludes to in a recent blog post, making yourself available to everyone at any time doesn’t make you look like an expert. It makes you look overextended and unprofessional.

“One lesson that I have had to learn over and over again in both my business and in life,” says Mike Veny, CEO of Unleash Your Groove, based in New York, N.Y., “is that you train other people how to treat you. This starts with clearly defining your expectations. By clearing up expectations on the front end, you avoid problems on the back end. Your clients will take you more seriously, you will serve them more effectively and you will have a more profitable business.” 

Business Hours

One of the most difficult areas to rein in, especially in our technology-driven, immediate-gratification world, is business hours. Depending upon the nature of your business, people may expect you to be available 24/7. But is that appropriate for you, or even realistic? 

Some professionals enjoy working an off schedule that includes odd hours and weekends. “Problems arise, however, when you don’t want to be working at odd hours and weekends,” says Amanda Vogel, M.A., fitness writer, social media consultant for the fitness industry and owner of Fitness Test Drive, a blog that reviews health and fitness technologies, clothes, equipment and workout gear. “You want to be sure that your business hours don’t become so open and accommodating to others that you set yourself up for burnout.” 

“It’s important to establish clear start and end times for your business in advance and stick to them,” explains Veny. “Your clients and prospects will learn what they can expect from your business and you will be perceived as more trustworthy. If you don’t establish clear start and end times for your business hours, your clients will determine your hours and you will be perceived as inconsistent. Don’t let the fear of losing clients ever adjust your schedule. Also, establish a rule that when work is finished for the day, then you are done for the day. Sticking to a solid schedule will help prevent burnout.” 

Mike Z. Robinson, 2015 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year and owner of MZR Fitness and Mike Z. Robinson Enterprises in San Luis Obispo, Calif., agrees. Rather than limiting your business prospects, Robinson feels that setting boundaries on your business actually attracts abundance. 

“People like to feel they are getting something unique and [there’s no better] way to create that kind of buzz about your business than to not only limit the amount of people that have access to it, but also limit them to when they have access to it via specific business hours. By taking this approach, you allow yourself to charge a premium for your services, make more money, create a niche clientele, distinguish yourself from other fitness businesses, attract higher quality potential clients and provide a perceived higher value of your business.” 

Make it clear to new clients what times you have available to work with them. If their schedule is not conducive to yours, have a list of potential colleagues that may work better for them. Set up a referral program amongst a group of trusted colleagues with whom you share a similar level of professionalism.

Responding to and answering emails, text messages and phone calls should also be limited to your set business hours. If you don’t want to work weekends and evenings, for instance, then do not email, call, respond to messages or answer your business phone during those times. 

For established clients, be honest with them. There’s nothing wrong with saying something like, “I know you’re used to me being available weekends and evenings, but I’m streamlining my business and trying to improve my quality of family life and will no longer be available during those times. If you email or call during the evening or weekend, know that I will get back to you the next day or on Monday.” 

Beverly Hosford, author of Career Freedom: Find Your Path and Get Ahead in the Fitness Industry, feels that setting boundaries on business hours is necessary, but that they should be flexible. She uses the example of how at one point she decided to give up training in the evenings. A few months later, she received a referral from a highly respected triathlete trainer for a new client who wanted to work out in the evenings, three times a week.

“I was honest with her and said I don’t usually take evening clients, but we could see if we were a good fit and reevaluate a few weeks later,” Hosford says. “She turned out to be one of my favorite clients of all time. It’s good to have boundaries, but be flexible just in case the perfect client comes along.” 

Carve Out a Niche and Know Your Ideal Clientele

Have you ever sat down and thought about what your ideal client looks like? What types of goals does this client have? What background do they come from? What do they struggle with? If you don’t paint a picture of your ideal client, then you will end up taking anyone and will not carve out a niche for yourself. 

“Most business experts recommend that you choose a niche and stick with it,” explains Hosford. “The more you distinguish yourself as an expert in a particular area, the easier it is for people to know you’re the right fit for them.” 

This also applies to current clients with whom you just don’t click. 

“Being very clear on the type of client you want to work with is one of the most important boundaries you can establish for your business,” explains Vogel. “Working with a client who is unpleasant, unmotivated or simply doesn’t appreciate your value can hold you back and drain your time and energy quickly, making your job less rewarding. When it comes to these types of clients, create boundaries around preserving your own sanity, ability to progress with your goals and job enjoyment.” 

Veny concurs. “Fire any clients that are a problem or your experience with them will get worse as time goes on. Problem clients come with an added hidden cost—the cost of recovering from the stress that they bring. When you only focus on your good clients, you have more capacity to handle their referrals, which will include even more good clients.” 

Should You Place Boundaries on Deals and Specials?

Boundary Builders 

  • Avoid time suckers by scheduling specific blocks of time into your day to check messages and use social media.
  • Use apps such as Asana and Anti-Social to help decrease distractions throughout your work day.
  • Hire a virtual assistant—someone who lives remotely and can help you with various tasks, allowing you to focus on the things that are most important to you.
  • Set up your email so that an auto-responder is sent out to clients and prospects during off-business hours.
  • Get a second phone number. There are several companies that will provide you with a business number—even for your cell phone—including Grasshopper, eVoice and Google Voice.

We all love a good deal. But does offering discounts and deals to clients and potential clients bring you more money in the long run? 

“In the fitness business, it’s a fine line to walk,” says Robinson. “If you’re looking to cater to a more financially elite clientele, the deals and specials will only lower your perceived value and do the opposite of what you’re intending to do through this kind of marketing. However, on the flip side, if you’re targeting a more general population, then specials and deals could possibly create a few extra memberships for your business.” 

Vogel warns to be careful about offering too many deals. “Promoting too many discounts or special offers tends to dilute the value of your services and the buzz over the discount itself. I like to think about creating a sense of occasion out of a discount or special offer. Turn it into a campaign that prospects and clients know won’t just come around again next month. This not only helps the promotion be more successful, it helps you set boundaries for your own pricing parameters. The more you offer discounts to clients, the more they might begin to perceive your ‘value’ as a professional to be less than it is.”

“If you don’t charge what you’re worth and what you need to earn a living, you’re more likely to get burned out,” adds Hosford. “I say, charge what you’re worth to earn a comfortable living and then you’ll be able to afford offering discounts to those who really need it.”

One thing to keep in mind is that people tend to not value what they don’t pay for—or don’t have to pay much for. Your clients are more likely to put the necessary effort and commitment into their programs if they’ve paid your full price. With that said, another option for those who can’t afford your full price is to steer them toward group training. They still get focused attention from you at a lower cost to them. 

Are you ready to start loving your work again? Build boundaries for your business today so that you can serve those you want to for years to come.