Creating and maintaining boundaries can really make or break your relationships with clients as well as your mental health as a virtual assistant.
When you are fantasizing about working from home, I’ll bet you are not dreaming of interrupting family time, late or unpaid invoices, or demands for quick turn-around projects that will impact you getting any sleep. This is why it’s important to set and maintain boundaries with clients.
Why boundaries are essential as a virtual assistant
When you first start out as a virtual assistant, and sometimes even as a very experienced virtual assistant, it can be a struggle to create and maintain boundaries because of the fear of upsetting clients.
I’ve found that the opposite is actually true. By setting clear expectations, you’ll be able to help support your clients even more.
Setting simple, clear, and easy limits on your work sets both you and your client up for a more comfortable relationship for you. (No more 12 pm texts with urgent work)
Let’s say that you set a clear expectation that you answer emails between 9 am – 5 pm EST and will respond within 48 hours. Your client then knows that they don’t have to check in with you four or five times when you don’t answer in 10 minutes.
Your responsibility as a virtual assistant is to save time and mental energy and setting a boundary such as clearly stating when you answer emails, saves a client time and mental energy. It also comforts them because they know you are finishing up other tasks before responding (because you’re amazing!)
Setting these limits on your work also protects you from overbearing or very demanding clients. Once you start getting those additional emails from a client checking in on a task that’s still within your provided response time, that can be a red flag to watch out for other deal-breakers.
Virtual Assistant Boundaries to Set with Clients
Office hours are the simplest and easiest boundary to set and communicate when working on client projects.
Working hours will look different for everyone based on where you are and what you want your workday to look like. For example, your working hours might be 10 am – 12 pm and then 4 pm – 8 pm if you have young children and need to work based on their schedules. You can state your hours to be whatever you need them to be when working as a virtual assistant.
Communicating these times will let clients know when you can be reached in an emergency and when you can schedule meetings.
Uniform contact procedures
You’ll want to clarify the one way that all tasks will be communicated to you. Whether it is email, a task management app (I love Trello and Asana), or even text messaging.
This will help you to avoid missing tasks, misunderstandings about due dates, and keep communications streamlined.
Response time is the amount of time from the time a client sends you a message to when they can expect you to respond.
Your response time will tell your client when they can expect to hear from you, which is important when working remotely. You can’t just walk down the hall to ask a question as you could in an office, so making sure that clients know how long a response might take is essential.
When to communicate your boundaries
I recommend sending your boundaries as a virtual assistant in a welcome packet.
This welcome packet can either go out to your client with the proposal or with your contract. By sharing your boundaries right away, your client has the opportunity to ask questions before the tasks even begin.
If your client has questions about your work process or client boundaries, you are giving them an excellent opportunity to communicate, immediately.
When to consider flexibility with your boundaries as a virtual assistant
There are certain times and situations when being flexible with your boundaries can really show your dedication to your clients as a virtual assistant.
As you work with more clients, you will build strong, long-lasting relationships and retain long-term clients.
When one of your long-term clients has a busy travel schedule and can’t make a meeting on your usually scheduled meeting days, you might find yourself easing some of your boundaries.
That’s a good business practice. Here are some other examples of situations where you might want to make exceptions for:
- When a meeting is canceled super last minute due to a health emergency
- If a client is learning a new platform – such as Trello – allowing them to communicate via email or text until they feel comfortable on the new platform
- Answering an email or working on the weekend when your client is experiencing a true business emergency or launch. This means a real emergency – not a broken link on an Instagram post.
You will always want to communicate with your client that this is an exception and not a typical response. It both reminds clients of your boundaries and makes them super appreciative that you Have taken the time to help them.
If a high-paying client reaches out to me and needs to meet asap, you can bet that I will be on that phone trying to make a meeting work. Within reason, of course.
Non-negotiable boundaries as a virtual assistant
While we’ve talked about flexibility, we also need to talk about the boundaries that are non-negotiable.
These are the things that you will not budge on under any circumstances regardless of the situation to protect your family and your lifestyle.
For example, if your kids are usually off of school on Mondays, you may want to be clear about not taking client calls, ever, on Mondays. That way you don’t have to double-check that you have no meetings on days that the kids are home with you.
It is okay to set a couple of firm boundaries for clients.
The entire subject of boundaries comes down to what you are personally comfortable with. There is no right or wrong. The biggest takeaway to remember is that by creating boundaries you create long-lasting, strong client relationships.