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Boundary Setting 101 for Solo Entrepreneurs

Select the best response to the statement below:

As a solo entrepreneur, setting boundaries is all about?.

a. Having a conversation with the neighbor after she takes your parking space.

b. Telling the kids what time to go to bed on a school night.

c. Reminding friends and family to not drop by when you're working from home.

d. Requesting that agenda in advance if you need it to be more productive.

If you answered, "all of the above," you've mastered the first step in understanding boundaries and their impact on you.

Setting boundaries means communicating your needs to those around you. It requires knowing how to define what is important to you and respectfully articulating those limits to everyone in all aspects of your life and work relationships. Predicated on win-win solutions, boundaries also allow others to figure out what they need in working around the parameters you've declared.

As a solo entrepreneur, it's hugely important to set healthy limits for yourself to keep your energy high, to ensure projects remain cool and fun, AND to ensure the ultimate success of your work.

This e-article demonstrates how boundary setting is essential, especially for solo entrepreneurs, and offers insights and techniques to help establish healthy limits in life and work relationships.

Healthy Control

When you get right down to it, setting boundaries is about control. Yes, this is when it's appropriate to be a control freak!

Establishing healthy boundaries is like creating a bubble around yourself where you are in charge of everything coming in and out of the bubble.

Here's what you are controlling as a solo entrepreneur:

- The work you choose. Is it fun or tedious?

- The people with whom you'll work.Don't act like you still have a boss and there is no choice!

- The amount of time you'll spend on something. Starting to resent work? Don't blame others - set your boundaries!

- The ways you invest your time. Hate weekly, unproductive meetings? Say so!

- What people say and do to you. Stop any behavior that is offensive or abusive.

- Factors critical to your success. Ask for more time so you don't stay up all night working to meet unreasonable deadlines.

We're talking healthy control here. Boundary setting is NOT about controlling the behavior of others. It IS about how you choose to respond (not react) to the behavior of others.

For example, if you need a specific action or piece of work to happen and people aren't doing it - trying to make them do it is not setting a boundary - it's trying to control their behavior. And that, my friends, is definitely NOT cool.

Unhealthy Boundaries

I've heard several conversations lately that lead me to believe people aren't setting good boundaries.

"You're not giving me the space to disagree."

"I have 3 clients who are late paying me."

"I'm reluctant to grow my business because it means possibly taking on clients I don't enjoy just to get the money coming in."

Sound familiar?

Failing to set healthy boundaries as demonstrated by these examples can result in loss of income, energy, opportunity and ultimately success.

How to Avoid Setting Boundary Traps

I don't always know the exact cause, but I can guess why some people don't set healthy boundaries and offer simple suggestions for avoiding such a fate.

A word of caution: Don't struggle or go it alone in tackling these obstacles. It may require deeper understanding and intervention to surface blind spots or chip away at blocks that have been around for a long time. Ouch! Talk with a trusted friend, coach or counselor---someone skilled in interpersonal relations and helping people change.

- People blame others for their anger and resentment

A wise friend once shared this wisdom with me: "If you're blaming, you're not learning."

Blaming others for crossing your boundaries means you're really not taking personal responsibility for your actions. You are giving away power. It's as simple as that.

So, if you're blaming others and feeling angry, it's time to stop that unproductive response. Move into reflection and responsibility, figure out what's really going on, and THEN set a healthy boundary.

- People are afraid of conflict

It's true. Setting boundaries can result in conflict and emotional reaction. And many people would rather walk over hot coals than deal with unpleasantness.

A method that helps me overcome fear is to imagine the worst thing that could happen as a result of my action. Once I name it and give it definition, it doesn't seem so awful anymore. Conversely, there's nothing like visualizing the best-possible, most positive outcomes to get me over a hurdle.

- People need to please others

To paraphrase a line from Ricky Nelson's classic song 70s song, "You can't please everyone; so you gotta please yourself."

As a solo entrepreneur, there's only so much of yourself you can give away before you deplete much-needed personal reserves to keep going at work and home. It's not being selfish to respectfully go after what you need. At some point you'll learn that preserving your own energy is much more important than winning the "approval" of others. You'll earn their respect and trust instead.

- People don't know what they want or feel

Feeling stuck, lacking direction, overwhelmed and don't know what boundaries to set? It happens when people suppress or deny what they want or feel.

Symptoms of being stuck include spinning thoughts, blaming others, emotional outbursts or ineffective management of emotions, physical discomfort (headaches, stomach aches, accidents, depression, etc.) All these things mean a person is stuck, not flowing, not able to identify wants effectively and unable to set boundaries. It may also indicate the person is not paying attention to their 'gut' - that non-thinking part of us that sends physical and emotional clues that require our recognition and acceptance. This is most difficult for people who are more comfortable dealing with facts, figures and the black-and-white details of life.

To get unstuck, first admit that you're stuck and address the symptoms of discomfort. Are you holding tension in your body? Are you angry, anxious, tense or worried? Headaches? Depression?

If you're feeling anxious, take time to STOP doing and pause, breathe, notice and reflect.

Then, re-direct that nervous energy by doing something physical or directed toward community and outside of self. Shoot some hoops. Play with the puppy. Volunteer for a few hours at your favorite charity. Sing in a choir or play in a band.

Once grounded and better tuned in to yourself, you'll have an easier time figuring out what you want and how to get it. That leads to the next point.

- People don't take time for themselves

It's hard to succeed in life unless you carve out time for yourself - via meditation, playing with the kids, engaging in a hobby or pursuing something that offers joy and peace outside the office.

Self-care is good for lots of things - but in THIS article - it's about putting you first and learning about yourself --- what you NEED and WANT---in order to succeed. Then you can set boundaries. It's another way of putting yourself FIRST that is ALSO a win/win situation for the people around you.

- People think of others before they think of themselves

While I agree it's better to give than receive, even the Dali Lama spends four hours in daily meditation. Boundary setting is about taking care of you FIRST. Then, you can give generously to others for the highest good of all involved.

Five Techniques for Setting Healthy Boundaries

Setting healthy boundaries allows you to live into your power - taking responsibility for BEING energetic, enthused and successful in your work and life. Ready to give it a try? Here are some techniques to get you started:

Skill #1 - Define Realistic, Timely Boundaries

Sounds simple, but this first step of articulating what you want?and don't want? in your work and personal relationships is often the hardest. Do you want to travel all the time? Work late nights and weekends? Interact with people who seem to drain your time and energy because they're high-paying clients? Then set limits to move away from that negative directions and toward what you want/need.

I admit there are times when flexibility is required. Occasionally, I'll stretch my boundaries in reaching for a greater goal. For instance, while spending time with my family after supper is important, I sometimes burn the midnight oil (especially when getting ready to leave the office for a week of vacation!). However, the more I stay true to my boundaries, the more empowered and energized I become.

The best time to set a boundary is proactively, before an incident occurs, or as soon afterward as possible to avoid escalation. It's a good idea to start that list of things that are important to you in work and relationships?those non-negotiable and gotta-haves that are the stuff of life. That's where you'll define your healthy boundaries.

Skill #2 - Saying, "no"

One of the very best ways to set a boundary is to say the magic word: "No."

It's clean, simple and very effective.

Steer clear of those passive-aggressive tendencies for getting around a nice, direct 'no.' For instance, don't be tempted to take on projects and then avoid doing them. Say, 'no,' up front. It's healthier in the long run.

Skill # 3 - Communicate with "I" Messages Once you define boundaries, work through emotions and focus on solutions, you're ready to put it all together and communicate. Let people know, directly and respectfully, when they're crossing your boundaries.

Try this easy-to-master technique, called "I Message," to help you state what you need or what you're thinking.

Say: "(When you do X) + (I feel Y) -->

(and so I need Z?your solution)"

For example:

"When you say I can't move forward without your input, I feel boxed in - like I can't move forward. I need help understanding how I can proceed so we can work together to get this done well."

"When you keep asking me to do this work, I feel frustrated that you aren't respecting my choice for how I spend my time. I need you to back off and respect my wishes."

The "I" Message" technique is an informal guide to navigate boundaries. Don't think you have to follow its exact formula. What's important is to disclose what you're experiencing, be specific about describing a particular situation and clearly articulate your solution.

Even if you're uncomfortable talking about feelings, I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and give "I Messages" a try. This might motivate you:

Sometimes, people (including me!) mistakenly label judgments as feelings. Judgments are easy to make and are negotiable with other people. A situation may or may not have happened as you perceived it. After all, it's not unusual for people to view the same scenario from different perspectives.

However, feelings are NOT negotiable. That makes it hard for someone to argue or take offense when you state how you feel.

Identifying feelings takes a willingness to explore a deeper awareness of self. It's worth the effort to take the time to dig into knowing yourself - not the other person.

Here are examples of " I" messages" that indicate feeling statements for the non-touchy/feely crowd:

"When you keep changing your mind about the project timelines in our contract, it costs time and money that I can't afford to lose. I need for you to stay within our contract agreement so we can get this done."

"When you argue about doing this work, I begin to think that you don't trust me when I say it's important. I need to know that you're willing to do this work."

Skill # 4 - Focus on Solutions

Don't you love working with people who come up with answers to what you need! Taking this cue, look objectively at the issue. Think about offering workable solutions instead of dwelling on problems or reacting in anger and frustration.

Then, focus on the solution YOU need. Take time to really think about what would solve a boundary issue for you. Are you engaging in conversation to assuage fear and establish a sense of control over a situation that feels out of control? This isn't focusing on a solution - it's trying to get your emotional needs met! What solution addresses your needs? Much better!

Examples of good solutions are:

"I need an agenda in advance to know I'm not wasting my time" "I need us to get clear on this deliverable to make sure we agree." "I need to hear "Yes, Mom" so I know you've heard me and will follow through." "I need for you to stop this conversation because I'm not the right person to help you."

Skill #5 - De-Personalize

There may be times when you feel like shrieking as someone reacts to your boundary setting, but don't let emotions get in the way. Take a deep, calming breath. Get centered. Wait a few minutes to work through your emotions if needed.

Here's the deal: An emotional reaction to your boundary is about the other person - not about you. The reaction is his or her problem - not yours - unless you let it become your problem (which is not setting a boundary!). If you DO engage in someone's reaction, you end up consuming that person's emotional garbage - and who needs that?!? Yuck! When you care about what others think, when you need to be right, when you're not confident in yourself ? that's when you get sucked into the reaction and its ensuing conflict. But, when you de-personalize, the situation diffuses.

Here are some examples of reactions to my boundary setting:

"You must not trust me." "You're starting to get weird about money." "I feel hurt by this conversation."

These statements indicate I've touched a wound in that person by setting a boundary. And that's not something I need to engage in or resolve.

Your Turn

Here's what's critical - not setting healthy boundaries wastes precious time, energy and resources - things solo entrepreneurs can't afford to waste. It means less time with family, less income, less energy for clients, and on and on. The price is too high and could ultimately lead to a Solo-E's failure.

So, my challenge to you is this:

Start sharpening your boundaries NOW! Identify that first step to get you started. Define what you will do and commit how to address it in the coming days. It can be as simple as making a list of those non-negotiables you want for working with a specific client. Or defining what you need ?or don't need ? from family, friends or associates to help you succeed as a Solo-E.

The results will be:

- All clients pay you on time.

- You work only with those you enjoy.

- You work on projects that bring you joy.

- You invest your time with exquisite care.

- Your energy will SOAR!

It's worth it!

For more information:

If you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation as you move through setting boundaries, get help! You'll want to stay grounded and centered as you navigate your way through conflict and emotional charge.

Some resources that might help you in setting boundaries:


This website helps you create a framework for working relationships that assumes a basis of trust. The process of creating a SOGD is a great way to think ahead about what each party might need from the other when setting boundaries - BEFORE feelings are hurt.

2. "People Skills" by Robert Bolton

Still my favorite book for basic communication skills, this little gem has been a resource for me for almost 20 years.

3. If you want additional help, consider talking with a respected friend, coach or counselor.

Copyright 2004, Karen Tax


Karen is a Life Coach ( who works with people in shifting to entrepreneurship. She especially likes working with folks to find their "juice" or sources of energy, using their passions to guide their business and life.

*********** Find more articles like this at - Keeping Solo Entrepreneurs Juiced in Business and in Life. Our team of Solo Entrepreneurs are comprised of small business experts who support others in finding business success with the flexibility and freedom to have a life, too. Network with other freelancers, self-employed and Solo Entrepreneurs in our forums, enjoy our articles and newsletter, and find other online training opportunities. ***********

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