Burnout and Boundaries – what you need to know as a small business owner

A lot of the discussion around small business owner burnout is that it’s caused by working too many hours, putting yourself second to your business and the general stress that trying to do all the jobs in your business from bookkeeping to marketing on top of your payable activities can create.

But one thing we often gloss over is the emotional distress caused by some of the interactions we have with our clients. And we’ve all had them. Whether it’s having a particularly unpleasant individual as a client who constantly makes unfair demands, through to those who just don’t understand that you’re not available to them 24/7.How to prevent nightmare clients causing you to develop business owner burnout - Picture of a burnt out pink candle

I think it’s healthy to discuss the bad experiences we’ve had so that we can learn from them. So, we can correct mistakes, figure out what went wrong and put measures in place to protect ourselves (and our businesses) in the future.

So, here are some of the common client problems you’ll encounter as a small business owner and how putting boundaries in place will help!

Clients making unfair demands

Have you ever been asked to do something and been told ‘it won’t take you long if you do it this way’, or similar? There seems to be a mindset with some clients that their way is the only way of doing things and anything else is your problem – not theirs!

I think being asked to do some work while on vacation certainly falls under the ‘unfair demands’ category but that’s exactly what this business owner was asked to do. 

‘I had a client once message me while I was on holiday to tell me that the new starter we had set on the week before had left and asked if I could re-advertise so we could review candidates on my return.

What makes things worse was that I did it 🙄’

This story reflects the importance of not only setting working hours and contact boundaries with your clients but also that you really do need to enforce these boundaries. While on holiday, turn off notifications, do not ‘take a quick look’ at your emails and forget about all things work related until you’re back at work again.

And if that thought leaves you with terror, consider outsourcing to a Virtual Assistant who can take care of things for you while you’re away and remind your clients of when you’ll be back at your desk again!

Clients not wanting you to charge them for tasks

We’ve all heard of scope creep where clients add more and more tasks to your workload expecting it to fall under your agreed scope of work but sometimes clients go above and beyond with their expectations as this freelancer recently discovered.

‘My client asked me if I would do a course that she wanted me to do and asked if it would come out of our hours, which I said it would.

She then proceeded to explain that what she does is put a course on and listen to it while she does something else and maybe this is what I could do rather than use her hours up. She wanted me to use my free time, to complete a course that would benefit her business…for free. 🙄’

I think most of us are eager to upgrade our skills so we can provide better services for our clients but expecting this freelancer to do a course specific to their needs and to do it for free. If you’re faced with a similar situation, you have two options – charge for the hours it takes you to complete the course at your regular rate or say no.

Clients relying too much on you

Have you ever felt like one or more of your clients come to you with everything, even when it’s nothing to do with the service you deliver to them? You don’t want to let them down because good customer service is important and you genuinely love helping your clients but sometimes, it all feels a bit much.

That’s certainly how this business owner feels!

‘Does anyone else ever feel completely floored by how much some clients rely on you? Most of the time I’ve got my shit together but every now and again (like today) I just feel completely overwhelmed and unable to function or truly comprehend the best way to support someone.

We talk about boundaries but those boundaries aren’t always about the time of day in which someone is messaging you, it’s really important to set your mental boundaries as well. And I haven’t set my own line anywhere near high enough.’

And they certainly hit the nail on the head about the importance of setting mental boundaries. It doesn’t matter how strong our boundaries are about working hours and means of contact if every interaction with clients leaves you feeling completely overwhelmed and drained.

And in this situation, there’s really only one thing you can do – learn to say no. If something is too much, or clients are coming to you with problems outside of your scope of agreement, it’s ok to say no. You can refer them to other freelancers who are better placed to help but don’t feel like you have to do everything your client is expecting of you.

Hopefully, these horror stories will help reassure you that we all have nightmare clients to deal with from time to time but you don’t have to put up with it. Putting boundaries in place and enforcing them is vital for looking after your mental and physical health and ensuring that you look forward to going to work each morning!