Ah, boundaries. It’s one of the stickier subjects in life, both in personal and professional aspects. While they’re absolutely necessary for preserving your sanity, it can be a difficult line to draw when you know it’s possible that it could disappoint others.
This is particularly challenging for creative service providers, as we often feel bound to our clients needs. When they say jump, we think it’s our responsibility to say “how high?” Yet, when we give into our clients’ demands without a second thought, we are actively relinquishing control of the situation. You are a professional who has been paid for your services—not an order-taker—so it’s your responsibility to maintain control and set boundaries where they need to be drawn.
For many wedding professionals, that begs the question: How do we have those tough conversations with our clients without losing their trust?
Keep these strategies in your back pocket to pull out anytime it’s time to set (or enforce) boundaries with clients.
Establish rules and expectations in your contract.
The beauty of your contract is that every single client has to agree to its terms before you start any work. If you include your must-have boundaries (i.e. office hours, methods of communication, what is not included in scope, etc.) in your contract, encourage your client to read them in detail before signing off. I recommend including them in the first couple pages of your contract as people tend to skim after a while. Catch their attention from the start and make sure that they have a full understanding of what’s expected when they sign on the dotted line.
Enforce them firmly but respectfully.
If you notice your clients start to push the line, start with a gentle reminder about the terms they agreed to from the start. In general, clients aren’t out to disrespect you and your team; they might just need some time to adapt to the expectations of working with you. However, if bad behavior becomes a habit, it’s time to schedule a sit-down meeting to discuss steps to resolve the issue. This is a great opportunity to pull out the signed contract and refer to the rules and boundaries listed within — legally, they’ve agreed to those terms and must respect them.
Know when to call it quits.
Ideally, you’ll see every event through to completion; yet sometimes, the clients are the biggest obstacle to success and it’s easier to step away from the project altogether. For example, if you have a client who simply won’t abide by COVID guidelines, it may be in your best interest to dissolve the agreement and avoid associating yourself with a risky event. When it’s clear your clients are not respecting you, your team, or your brand, consider walking away and cutting your losses. You should already have a clause in your contract regarding the consequences of breaking the rules, so point to that and don’t feel pressured to return any deposits for a client’s errors.
If you take one thing away from this, let it be this: Boundaries are far more effective when introduced early and reinforced with reminders along the way. Get comfortable talking about your expectations and rules in sales meetings, even before a contract has been introduced. Your ideal clients will respect your intentions and be thrilled to book regardless of where you draw your lines.
Jennifer Taylor is the principal of Jen Taylor Consulting, a consulting firm that works with creative businesses of all sizes to implement streamlined workflows and organized systems to find more time and space for business growth and personal development. She is also the owner and founder of Taylor’d Event Group, a leading event planning company that serves local and destination clients in Washington State and Maui, HI.