When I was a new coach, I quickly learned that a segment of my clients would say yes to just about anything they were asked to do. They answered the phone regardless of when it rang, day or night. They agreed to work early, late, and even in the middle of the night. They would schedule work every single day of the week and then wonder why they always felt behind and tired. When asked why they were agreeing to these things, I heard over and over again about the fear that a paying customer would go to a competitor.
This behavior is most common among people who are afraid that their business won’t be successful. They rationalize that if they say no to anyone, they are dooming their business to failure. This may also be a factor for brand new business owners who have not needed to establish their own rules in the past.
I want you to imagine that you want to get your teeth cleaned and you call the dentist’s office. Would you anticipate that you could get an appointment at 2 am on Christmas Eve? Would you be angry with the dentist if they refused to clean your teeth at that specific time? I suspect that you find it preposterous to even ask for an appointment at that time. In fact, you probably rearrange your schedule to accommodate the time that the dentist can see you and don’t even think twice about it.
Your business should operate in a similar manner. You need to think about when your customers need your services and determine what guidelines are reasonable. For example, a janitorial company that specializes in restaurants and office buildings will likely work at night. This is because that is when their customers need the work done. But, they would not ask their employees to start at 8 am and work until midnight. Instead, a shift might start at 8 pm and work through until 5 am with a break in the middle of the shift. A different business might need to be open from 9 am to 5 pm because that is what is appropriate for the services they offer.
Rules aren’t just about when you’ll be open. How many hours do you expect to work? How many hours do you expect your employees to work? What promises do you make to customers about how quickly you’ll respond to requests? What items will your business provide to employees and what do you expect them to provide for themselves? The list of things you can create rules about is limitless.
Rules are a great way to create appropriate boundaries with employees and customers. They help you communicate clearly with everyone and deliver a consistent message. But, they only work if you stick to them. If every time someone asks for an exception, you say yes, then it really isn’t a rule.
I’m often asked if I mean that there shouldn’t ever be any exceptions. Of course not. However, an exception is something that happens occasionally, not every time. You give it to someone who has earned an exception from you because of the value they bring to your business. I’m much more likely to make an exception for a long-term coaching client who is loyal to me than I am to someone who is “thinking about being a client.”
Rules are made in response to a need. There is no good reason to sit down and make up 50 rules if you only have 10 areas to address. They should be specific and easy to communicate to employees and staff. Once a rule is made and tested, it should be strong enough to endure for a while. When circumstances in your business change, your rules may need to change too. That is okay.
If you feel that your business has taken over your life or if you are losing staff because of burnout, setting rules is the first step to fixing the problem. Define when you will work, when you will take breaks, and what you expect from yourself, your employees, and your customers. Be reasonable. Set days off. Create breaks. Create barriers that keep customers or employees from hijacking your life.
Here are some examples that have come out of my coaching sessions – see if they help you get started:
- I won’t start work before 7 am and I will stop by no later than 7 pm, no matter what.
- I will take every Saturday off completely to spend time with my family.
- It is absolutely not okay to text anyone within our organization after 5 pm unless it is a life and death emergency.
- In our business, we have to answer emergency calls. Every employee will take a turn being “on-call” so no one person is always responsible for taking these calls.
- I will take at least an hour per day away from work in the middle of my workday even if all I do is go for a walk.
- We will only prebook work to 70% capacity so that we can easily handle unexpected things.
- You must have the consensus of at least two other team members that the issue is something that can’t be solved in-house before you disturb someone on vacation.
- I will let all calls after 7 pm and all calls on the weekend go to voicemail.
- On days when I see clients in the evenings, I won’t schedule morning appointments.
- When I do a weekend event, I will take Monday off.
- When I get paid, I will put a percentage in my tax account.
- For any active projects, we have a weekly Zoom meeting with our clients. Unless it is an emergency, any questions will wait for the next meeting.
Think about these examples some of my clients have selected and think about how they might work for you. Here’s a bonus tip – you can have rules for your personal life too. They might include what you eat, when you go to the gym, etc. Properly used, rules can help every part of your life work better.
Charlise Latour a business coach and owner of Accelerate Your Success. She works with each client to determine what their goals are and create a plan so they can achieve them. She is actively involved in Dancing & Singing With The King which raises money to promote dance education including working with local schools to offer dance classes during the school day. This is a natural fit as she is an avid ballroom dancer.