Who doesn’t want to known as a nice person? Most of us strive to be pleasant, good-natured, and kind. We give the benefit of the doubt, send yet another “just following up,” email, spend 10 minutes on a conference call listening to the same song on repeat before hanging up – and call the annoyance just part of doing business.
But the truth is there is a vast difference between staying flexible and letting a lack of clear boundaries run (or ruin) your life. We pay a very hefty price when we accept poor professional behavior in order to avoid conflict or potentially lose business. Professionalism is fading away because we’re letting it.
Over the years I’ve learned that I’m not doing myself any favors by adding “the nice tax” to my business dealings and have had to figure out healthy ways to require respect and professionalism from my clients. I’ve learned that when we are overly concerned about being “nice,” at the expense of our values and expectations, we actually attract people people who don’t take us as seriously (or value our time, etc). It ends up being a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Repeat after me; There is absolutely nothing wrong with expecting people to be punctual for meetings, show up prepared, and send their payments on time.
If setting and enforcing business boundaries is challenging for you, read on to learn a few different strategies I’ve implemented to improve business communication.
1. Add a Communication Clause to your contracts
Lack of prompt communication is my number one pet peeve, particularly as a publicist who needs her clients to prioritize media opportunities in order to do my job well. In this era of cell phones, Facebook, email, and texting, there’s no excuse to ignore urgent requests. To make this boundary super clear, I include a clause in my contracts that states, “Unless otherwise agreed upon by both parties, all messages MUST be returned within 24 hours.” I bold and highlight it in red so they simply can’t miss it. I also make sure to practice what I preach by returning messages within 24 hours as well.
2. Add a Late Fee for Missed Payments
Another way to set clear boundaries is to impose a late fee on payments. I add a 5% late fee on payments that come in 3 days past their due date. The 3-day window allows for some flexibility (see! totally reasonable and nice), but makes it clear that on-time payments are a requirement to do business with me.
3. Watch your language
In order to soften requests, we often use language like, “take a look when you have a free moment” or “I know you’re busy, but…” Starting off requests with an apology or vague deadline implies that your needs are optional and less important than the person you’re contacting. Look, we’re all busy, but remember that you cannot execute PR strategy without some element of brand participation. Instead of starting off with a timid request, be clear about what you need and when you need it. You can always add “if you anticipate not being able to review these edits/send over a sample/etc please let me know by 4pm today so we can postpone our meeting/make other arrangements, etc.
With clear expectations, protections and the confidence to enforce your professional boundaries, you demonstrate your own value and hold your clients to your own standard. Think about where you may need to tighten the reigns on a client relationship and you can more effectively require professional courtesy in your business relationships. By holding firm on your expectations and requiring clients to treat you the way you treat them (remember The Golden Rule?) you’ll be amazed at how much more smoothly your business runs and how much your client relationships improve.