The Importance of Setting Boundaries as a Creative

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Photo by Winston Hearne.

At a recent meet-up with a few friends who happen to also run their own businesses, the concept of setting expectations and boundaries came up in conversation. Many of us work with clients, others run online shops, but all of us have come up against the feeling of being pulled in multiple directions far too often.

Let’s face it—it’s really easy to become consumed by work as a creative business owner. If you freelance for a living, you may find yourself accepting every opportunity that comes your way. If you’ve launched a business, it’s only a matter of time before some poor soul comes calling, asking to “pick your brain.” That’s where I find solace in my experiments in boundary setting.

Turn Down Work

It’s truly an exercise in restraint on my part. You see, I desperately want to help a particular business with their website copy. To be honest, they need the help and I’m fully capable of doing the work. Yet, I know they’re not my ideal clients. So, I set boundaries by saying no and offering up a name of someone else who might be able to help.

You see, I figure that I got into this whole owning a business thing in an effort to win back some of my freedom.

More often than not, saying no to one project has opened the door for another, more appropriate project to come along. Identifying which projects to say no to and which to quickly snatch up is a story for another time, but it’s important to think about why we want the work that we want.

Implement Studio Policies

In the meeting I referenced earlier, one bit of advice was given that made me laugh and take notes at that same time. One friend mentioned the way she and her team manage client expectations by informing them of a series of studio policies she’s put in place. Everything from days off to when they check email is spelled out for clients in an effort to set expectations.

I obviously thought the whole idea was brilliant and began dreaming of ways to implement my own studio policies. I could let my clients and project managers know that I only check email once a day (you know… for productivity’s sake) and that on September 24th (my birthday) the studio (ahem… my laptop) will be closed.

Stop Apologizing for Your Schedule

You work really hard, right? Me too. Sometimes I don’t take days off for months at a time. Yet, oftentimes I will take an afternoon off or perhaps take a random morning to get my appointments and errands taken care of. And sometimes my weekend lands on a Wednesday, and that’s just the way it is.

You see, I figure that I got into this whole owning a business thing in an effort to win back some of my freedom. This means I might have to work for weeks on end in order to take a true vacation, but I’m in control of the decision-making process. Yet, I find myself on the verge of saying sorry to clients, friends, family members—you name it—for my schedule on a regular basis.

I know I’m not alone, because I see veiled apologies from my creative friends all over social media. On Instagram: “I worked my fingers to the bone for four months so I could relax this afternoon,” notes the caption under a pair of crossed feet placed squarely on a coffee table next to a tall pint of beer and a bowl of chips. On Twitter: “Not even sorry about heading to the coast on a weekday. #sorrynotsorry #freelancelife” Well, here’s the thing: if we feel the need to talk about how not sorry we are, we’re probably feeling a little guilty. The world around us may work very different hours, but that doesn’t mean we’re working any less than the rest.

I’d love to know what boundaries you set in your creative business. Have you implemented any policies you’d care to share? Do you make a point of saying “no” to gigs that aren’t quite right? What about those apology-grams for taking time off? Spill it!

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About Jennifer E. Snyder

Jennifer E. Snyder is a freelance writer, editor and podcast host based in Northern California. She shares stories of creative entrepreneurship, wellness, life’s adventures and everything in between. When she’s not working, she can be found giving in to her insatiable urge to travel as much as possible.

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