Creating Boundaries in Your Business

A few weeks ago, I went up north to my folks' place on the lake. I am profoundly grateful for it. It's such a wonderful place to go and just not hear any city noise and swim and just listen to the birds and chill out. I love it so much. And whenever I do a little trip like that, it reminds me how important it is to make sure that you take time for yourself. It's essential to set boundaries in your business.

One topic that's come up in the Photo Business Help Community lately is demanding clients. You probably know the feeling–when it feels like a client is taking over your intentions in business.

An example may go like this: You book a client through your normal channels, but they message you, bringing up other requests. They might ask, “could you give me extra photos? Could you edit them this way? Could I pay you after the shoot?” All these things come up for people. And so many of them are linked to our communication with our clients, our expectations that we set.

We don't talk enough about just personal boundaries. There's this idea that the customer is always right.

We have this sort of ingrained business vibe that the customer can't be wrong. And, of course you, want to meet your customer's needs. And of course, you want them to have a positive experience. However, it's not too often that we talk about our own boundaries as small business owners.

Especially since, in a photo business, it's usually just a one person operation. Sometimes to meet a client's request, it can be a big sacrifice.

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You may have to cancel plans if a customer says, “oh, I thought we were going to get these photos from today's shoot tomorrow.” Oftentimes, this issue does come down to client communication. But I think that we need to consider boundaries more often, and make intuitive decisions on a case-by-case basis.

In order to run a business that actually makes us feel good, we need to put own needs first.

In this example, that might look like saying, “I can help you out with that, but I can't get it by tomorrow. I'll get it to you in three days.” Or that might be something like, “I can totally do those extra edits for you, but it's going to cost you this much.”

It's putting a boundary down. It's also taking the resentment out of the transaction. As the business owner, you deserve to have reasonable expectations—it's not something that's based in greed or laziness.

At times though, I think we all feel that resentment, that annoyance. Annoyance around requests or emails are important to pay attention to.

If you're feeling annoyed when you get a request from a client, it's probably pointing to a miscommunication in your process.

If a client expects something from you that you don't offer, or that seems unreasonable, or that's outside of your capabilities or boundaries, chances are you didn't make it clear that that wasn't an option. Fixing this issue could be as simple as going back through your booking literature, your contract, your emails, back and forth.

Look for where you could have been a little bit clearer. The other step might just be getting used to saying no. This is a tough one, but putting up a boundary and sticking to it, is totally fair.

Here's an example. I had someone who loved my style, but wanted to do some photos with a white background. I'm capable of doing that, but I said, “I don't have a studio set up, and that's not something that I do. I shoot onsite. So if where you're at has a white background, we can do that. If you'd like to pay extra to rent a studio set up, we can also do that. I'm happy to do the white background, but I don't have the tools to do that style.” They were fine with it, and in the end, they were happy about working with what we had.

I've had other situations where people just don't want to work with me when I say I can't do something. And that's fine, too.

I've also been in situations where I've shown up to the shoot and we're at a park, and someone says “I'd really like just a simple one with a simple white backdrop.”

I don't carry portable backdrop setups. I don't show any kind of stuff in my regular portfolio like that. So, being in a situation like that, I could do a couple of things. I could try to get a shot where I could later Photoshop something in that resembled a white backdrop or looked close enough, or I could say, “I know you hired me because you liked my photos, but that's not something that I do. If you wanted to do something intentionally with backdrops in the future, we could talk about renting out a studio.”

This is all to say that there are tons of different scenarios where clients might not know what your boundaries are. They might not know what you're capable of doing.

Here are three pieces of advice:

Number one: rather than getting frustrated or annoyed, take a look at how you're communicating with clients.

Where might there be clarity lacking? What kind of a conversation did you have, or not have, that might have made them think that they could request what they did?

Number two: just be okay with saying no.

Be okay with highlighting what you're selling and what you're good at, and letting people know what you do and don't do.

Number three: use an intuitive business kind of approach and be open to new things.

Maybe you are curious about experimenting with something a client requests. You could say, I haven't tried this before, I'm going to warn you right now. It might not turn out how you like, but if you want to give it a try, we could, we could test a couple shots. I'll see what I can do in Photoshop.

There's no rules here.

If you want things to be clean cut and straightforward, check your communication upfront. If you want to be able to set boundaries with folks, practice saying no in a polite way. And if you're feeling like experimenting, then you can test stuff out that the client suggests, just to see where your skills are at.

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I did this once for a client. I had been practicing my composite photography, and I had a client who wanted to do a composite image for her business. And it was a really ambitious one. I sent her a few shots and said, “I think we can do this, but I want to also just be upfront that I might not be able to do it. I might not be there yet with my skills.”

She was totally cool with it. So we set out to do this composite shoot that took a bunch of different images. It turned out awesome in Photoshop, and was exactly what she wanted. It was way better than I ever thought I was capable of doing, and it was really fun to see some of my new Photoshop skills actually go to good use. Now I have the confidence that if someone asked for that, I could offer it. It was also a really good intuitive call.

I was just being kind of open. I think if you have a space for that, it can really open up a lot of learning. But if you don't, if you're feeling like that would just drain you, then it is okay to say no.

I'll reiterate, I'm on Clubhouse with other folks, amazing photographers, and Audrey Johnson of Audrey Nicole photography. I generally co-host every Monday at 2pm Central. You just have to join the Photo Business Help club and you should get pinged when we do that particular event.

If you are interested in joining this community, when the doors open again or learning a little bit more about it, just head on over to Once the doors open again, it's an amazing place to learn and grow and evolve your business so that you enjoy it.



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