Better boundaries mean better business

Post by Nadine Fawell for the Kindness in Business series.

print by erosturannos on etsy

Better boundaries mean better business

A year and a half ago, I went from being self-employed to owning a business. I started hiring yoga teachers to help me out in my mobile yoga business. What a learning curve that was!

Not just learning to manage cash flow when there are wages to be paid, but also how to manage client relationships when someone else is the point of contact.

Then, there were the boundary issues.

My Nice Girl Syndrome nearly put me out of business. It’s one thing, giving too much when you are just doing that with your yoga students.

It’s entirely another when your employees or co-workers are asking too much too. And you are giving it to them.

I made this mistake over and over, with multiple teachers showing up late to their classes or not at all. Then there were the ones who stole clients from me on the basis that it was ‘only fair’ since they were doing the teaching. It took me quite a while to understand the real value of the structure I provide to both my teachers and my clients: clients can find the business easily, and get class at any time they want because they aren’t locked in to one particular teacher. Teachers don’t have to worry about marketing themselves, or collecting money, or finding a substititute teacher if they are ill or go on holiday.

That’s when I started realising, for real, that it was not OK, for my business, or for the teachers, to allow them to show up late repeatedly. Or to do unethical things like start working for my business at a client site and then approach the client to go direct.

The real kicker came with a teacher who taught lots of classes for me: around 10 a week to start with. By the end, she’d halved her class load.

How, you ask? In the 9 months she worked for me, she took almost 5 months of leave. People thought she didn’t care about them (they had good evidence for that) and so they didn’t sign up for class again.

The worst? I allowed her to do that. Because I didn’t enforce good boundatries. She always had an almost-feasible excuse for why she needed leave this time, and she appealed to my Inner Nice Girl.

How MEAN it would be of me to say she wouldn’t have a job if she NEEDED to take this leave, right?


I was allowing her to disrespect my time, the time of her yoga students, and her own professionalism.

Bad boundaries on my part led to a bad result for my business: five yoga classes a week represents a significant drop in revenue for a fledgling business.

Eventually, I fired her.

There’s no nice way to put it. That’s what I did. I fired her, and told her honestly that I was pretty sure the business was floundering because of her unreliability.

Then I tested the theory by taking over the teaching of her remaining classes. I built them back up to ten and beyond in just a few months.

I laid a boundary. I showed up fully for my clients.

Better boundaries, better business.

If you are anything like me, you will have a hard time laying and enforcing boundaries because you believe that you are not being nice or kind by doing that.

But, if you think about it, allowing people to do things that have negative outcomes is less kind. Both to you and to them.

Here’s a checklist to help you figure out whether you are showing kindness in your business by observing good boundaries:

• You follow up on unpaid invoices at least a week before they fall due.

• You have worked out the cash flow model that works best for both you and your clients and you adhere to that.

• If you have staff, you expect them to work to certain standards and address any issues that come up immediately.

• You ask for, and listen to, client feedback about your service. And you act on it.

• If you are uncomfortable with how a customer or staffer is behaving, you open dialogue with them about it. Even if you can’t quite put your finger on what the problem is.

• You always check yourself when you find yourself feeling like you ‘should’ do something for someone, particularly a staffer or difficult client. You examine the possible outcomes of doing that thing you ‘shoul’d’ do before you do it. This was the kicker for me: once I really started examining the WHY, the boundaries in my business just cleaned right up.

If you are running a small, passion-based business, you KNOW the work you do has enormous value. The infrastructure you create to allow that work to happen also has great value: that’s key. If people don’t pay you on time, or show up late, or not at all, they are putting your business at risk. Your business is the structure which allows your valuable work to happen.

So, chasing people for money, requiring them to work to standards? Makes sure that your business can survive and your work can keep getting done.

Better boundaries = better business.

Nadine Fawell is a Melbourne, Australia-based yoga teacher and entrepreneur. Her business, mm…Yoga!, delivers yoga to homes and offices all over Melbourne. And all her teachers show up on time these days.


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