3 Areas to Think About When Defining Your Boundaries as CEO

People keep asking for your time, energy, and attention. Someone invites you to an impromptu coffee date in the middle of something important or wants to meet up with you about something after business hours. But when it comes to your business, you must learn to say no when necessary.

You want to turn these types of things down but fear it’ll have a detrimental effect on your life or business. Maybe you’ll miss out on an opportunity or offend a client or potential business partner or friend.

But there’s always a trade-off and saying yes to everything is really the thing that can hurt your business. The key to not doing that is the CEO’s best friend: boundaries. You must set strong boundaries for yourself and your business and not waver over them.

That (especially the not-wavering thing) sounds easier said than done, right? Well, in this episode of the Promote Yourself to CEO podcast, you’ll learn about the three different types of boundaries you, as a business owner, need to think about setting for yourself. You’ll also learn how to enforce and stick with your new boundaries.


On this episode of Promote Yourself to CEO:

8:47 – The first boundary you need to examine is the biggest challenge I hear from women entrepreneurs.

12:32 – What is the flow state, and how do you get into it?

16:46 – How do you organize your calendar? I walk you through how I do mine as an example.

19:13 – I talk about how to manage clients when it comes to your calendar’s specificity, including emergency appointments.

23:40 – What about appointments for non-business related things (i.e. lunch with a friend or potential business referral)?

26:50 – So many of us struggle with constant communication. I discuss setting up your boundaries around this so you don’t make yourself seem available 24/7.

30:22 – How can you set expectations for your response turnaround time? Here’s how we do it through my preferred communication channel.

33:27 – I talk about boundaries around your non-preferred methods of business communication.

37:48 – How do you respond to questions? You might experience this particular scenario, especially as your business grows and you become known as an expert.

43:09 – Having clear, upfront boundaries saves you so much time and energy when dealing with sticky clients situations such as these.

48:24 – Feel free to do this with clients when necessary. But make sure it’s in your contract/client agreement.

52:02 – To wrap up the show, I give a quick recap of the three boundaries.

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It’s not by working harder… it’s by working SMARTER. Join the Fired Up & Focused Challenge and I’ll share with you my favorite strategies to help you start working smarter, not harder, in your business! 

Here’s a taste of what you’ll learn: 

➳ How to avoid the biggest time wasters all entrepreneurs struggle with (and where you, dear CEO, should be investing your time for the greatest ROI in your business). 

➳ The best way to eliminate procrastination and accomplish more in a single day that most people do all week. 

➳ My favorite way to live more and work less, so you can create more white space each week for the things that matter most, to you! … and so much more! 

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When you're first getting started in your business, yes is our go-to answer for nearly any question. Hey, can we meet up for coffee? Yes. Are you available to meet at eight o'clock in the evening? Yeah. Can we add this and this and this to our project? Sure. Suddenly, you're saying yes to so many things that it starts to get a bit out of control.

As your business starts to grow, and you're taking on more and more clients, you have more team behind the scenes, you just have more going on, all of these yeses actually start to mean no to doing the CEO-level work that you really need to be focused on. In this episode, we're talking about boundaries, a CEO’s best friend, so that you can be more confident and comfortable saying no.

Are you ready to grow from stressed-out solopreneur to competent CEO? You're in the right place. I'm your host, Racheal Cook, and I've spent more than 15 years helping women entrepreneurs sustainably scale their businesses. If you're serious about building a sustainable business, it's time to put the strategy, systems, and support in place to make it happen. Join me each week for candid conversations about stepping into your role as CEO, the hard lessons learned along the way, and practical profitable strategies to grow a sustainable business without the hustle and burnout.

Hey there, CEO. Welcome to today's episode, all about boundaries, the CEO's best friend. This is part of a series, we're doing all about productivity and profitability to help you, as the CEO of your business, truly step into your role as the CEO. A huge part of that is maintaining strong boundaries.

In the last 15-plus years of working with women entrepreneurs, I have seen over and over again that whenever I get a group of women together, especially when we're doing brainstorming, masterminding, and we're coming up with their plans, they get so excited at first and then reality hits them.

They realize, “How am I going to stick to this plan? This plan only works if I don't get pulled in a million directions by everyone who is asking for my time, energy, and attention. How do I handle this when I have clients who are canceling, missing appointments, or asking me to adjust and they're not fitting into my ideal calendar? What do I do when I have all these unexpected demands pop up? Because that is what keeps me from following through with my plan and that is what keeps me from getting momentum. How can I make sure week after week that I'm doing the CEO-level work I need to do? How can I make sure that my time and energy are protected?”

If this sounds familiar, if you've had the experience of feeling like your week was completely thrown off because of other people's demands of your time, energy, and attention, then we need to have a talk about boundaries. This is something that is kind of an unsaid part of running a business.

We all talk about how you need to have a marketing strategy, a sales strategy, a customer experience strategy, a strategy to manage your team, a strategy to grow your business but a huge part of being the CEO is having clear boundaries in place so you know in advance how you will handle certain situations.

Especially if they are situations that come up time and time again, we want to have clear boundaries around them. Because this is what helps you to prevent a lot of problems before they occur.

Now, if you're thinking, “Okay, Racheal, I hear boundaries thrown around all the time, but I just don't understand how I enforce them in my own business,” then I get it. I totally get it. As women, we were raised and conditioned to be “the good girl.” We were raised and conditioned to put everyone else's needs above ours, to be flexible and adjust our schedules to handle everybody else's needs.

Just think about the fact that women have been traditionally the caregivers, the default parent even when there are two working parents, we're always considered to be the person who is the more flexible, more adjustable schedule.

When we are entrepreneurs, when we are business owners, when we are constantly being asked to adjust to accommodate everybody else, to just constantly bend over backwards for everybody else, to put everybody else above ourselves, our business, or our lives, it becomes a problem because those people-pleasing tendencies will burn you out.

We are saying yes when we really need to be saying no. Usually, it's because we aren't 100% clear of the trade-off. We aren't clear of the trade-off and there is a trade-off. Whenever you say yes to something or no to something, there's always a trade-off.

If you say yes to a client who is asking if you can meet them at eight o'clock at night, then the trade-off is you don't get to say goodnight to your kids and read them the bedtime story. It's a trade-off. Believe it or not, that is something that has happened to me.

I have clients all around the world and early on in my career as a new business owner, I said yes to staying up and having those later calls because I had clients in Australia or New Zealand, completely the other side of the world, the other side of the world has 12 hours ahead of us and I was so unsure on how to say no to that, that I would put myself in that position.

Really, it wasn't okay. It wasn't okay for me because it violated my own values of having a life-first business. Boundaries are about having clarity on what is acceptable and what is not acceptable for you. This is what works for me. This is what does not work for me.

When you have those clear boundaries in place, it's not about controlling other people, it's about saying what you will do and what you will not do. When you have that much clarity, you can set clear expectations to your clients and your community, it will make your life so much easier. But that doesn't mean it's easy to set boundaries. It takes time, it takes intention and clarity, and it takes practice.

Today I want to talk about the three different types of boundaries that come up and these are three different types of boundaries I think every business owner needs to sit down and think about for themselves. What do these boundaries need to look like for you, for your life, for your family, for your health, for your personal desires, for your business? Because all of our boundaries are going to look different.

We're all completely different types of people. Some of us are able to be more flexible in some areas than others. I know there are some areas where I've been stricter in these boundaries than I am in some other boundaries. But it's because I've gone through phases of my life and my business where I know exactly which boundaries I need to be firmer with, I need to be more clear, I need to set better expectations with those specific boundaries.

The three types of boundaries that I feel like we all need to examine are our calendar, our communication, and our clients. If you can identify the clear boundaries and write an SOP, your standard operating procedures for your calendar, your communication, and your clients, your business will run so much smoother, and honestly, your team will be able to help you enforce these boundaries even easier because they now have a framework for decision making and your clients will be happier because they know what to expect.

You'll be happier because you won't constantly be feeling like you're being pushed too far. We're going to talk about these boundaries. First up, let's talk about your calendar. This is probably the biggest challenge I hear from women entrepreneurs. They hear me talk about creating a model calendar where you look at your week as a whole and you block out specific times in your calendar for recurring tasks that you are responsible for every single week.

This could include your CEO date, your team meeting. You block out time on your calendar for your core CEO tasks, again, according to your CEO job description that we talked about in a previous episode. Maybe you need to block out certain time for working with clients, doing sales and marketing, or doing some new business development. You block out those times on your calendar.

I'm going to link up the episode I did on a model calendar, the episode I did on your role as CEO because those two things are incredibly important to structuring your week so that you run your week and your week doesn't run you.

But the biggest part of this is how do I actually stick to it? The exercise of creating the model calendar is actually the easy part. It's the sticking to it that's the hard part. It takes practice, it takes practice to stick to it.

First, you've got to stick to it personally. You've got to be committed to really following through with your model calendar. You've also got to make sure that other things don't distract you from your model calendar.

The first thing I think that is important for you to put in your calendar SOP, again, your operating procedures for how you're managing your calendar, first, you put your model calendar in place. What are your working hours? If you go into nearly any business, you walk into the front of Target and they have their hours that they are open and closed right there on the glass door, you wouldn't expect them to be open at two in the morning unless you lived by a 24-hour Target.

But I know that there are times Target is closed and I can't just show up and expect that they're going to be open for me. I know that. It's a boundary in my mind. I don't expect that it's going to magically open for me. But somehow, even though having established business hours is a very common practice, for many of us, we feel like we need to be accessible 24/7.

This is a massive issue because suddenly, you're out on a date night with your significant other, and instead of paying attention to them, instead of holding their hand and talking about things you want to do together, planning your next vacation, or sharing a meal together, instead, you feel compelled to pick up the phone, check your email because you got the notification that somebody messaged you at 10 o'clock at night and you feel like you have to respond right away.

Or you're trying to spend time with your family on the weekend and you're out doing some family activity, maybe you're out at the park playing with your kids, then suddenly your team starts Slacking you and you feel like you have to just sit on the bench and respond back right away instead of being present with your kids.

That is not feel-good. It doesn't feel good to anybody to feel like you're on call 24/7. You do not need to be on call 24/7. First things first, let's get some work hours in place and communicate them. Communicate the hours that you are available. This is both available for communication, but also available for appointments.

This is very, very important. I look at a lot of my clients and they feel so drained and when I look at their calendar, I can tell exactly why they're drained. It's so haphazard. They have appointments spread all over the week. Because of that, they're not able to get in any sort of flow state.

They might have a client appointment one morning, an hour available to squeeze in some work after that, and then another client appointment and then talking to their team. The next day, they're trying to fit in work in these 15 or 30-minute increments between calls, clients, everything going on.

Because of that, they are exhausted and it makes sense because they are literally asking their brain to switch all the time instead of getting into flow state. It takes a tremendous amount of energy for your brain to refocus on different types of tasks, and it's physically exhausting. This is why you feel mentally drained because your brain is not able to get into a flow state.

Now if you don't know what flow state is, there's a lot of great research, just Google it. You will learn all about it. But I just want to give you the gist here, which is when you group like with like tasks together, you're able to get in a zone where you're more focused, you have more clarity on what you're doing, your brain is 100% in the zone, and you do better work.

All of your attention is on one area. If you're working with clients, if you have clients in one day, like I have a client-facing day Tuesdays, where I take my one on one calls with clients from The CEO Collective who can book one on one sessions with me for different reasons, I have my Tuesdays structured in such a way that all I'm doing on Tuesdays is talking to people and because I know that, I'm prepared for that, I've practiced that, my brain can stay in the zone.

In fact, I've got this so refined at this point in my calendar SOP that when people come to book with me on Tuesdays, they know they can book in at 9 o'clock, at 10:30, at 12:00, and at 1:30 for a 15-minute appointment. That gives me about a 10-minute buffer if I need to go over a little bit for a client and it gives me 30 minutes in between appointments to take care of myself and to give myself a little brain break.

I purposefully do not go into Tuesdays with things I'm trying to squeeze in that half hour. Instead, I take that half hour to finish up my notes so I can feel complete with that particular client. I go get a snack. I drink some water. I will often do a quick walk around the block just to move myself a little bit and move my body a little bit. Then I sit back down and I'm still in the zone because I didn't try to squeeze a bunch of little things in between each client call.

As an introvert, as a highly sensitive person, this has been imperative for me to learn how to do because if I didn't do this, there's no way I could work with as many clients as we work with inside of The CEO Collective and offer them this high level of service.

If you are feeling exhausted, then you might want to consider managing your calendar more clearly and creating an SOP around your calendar, including how you're going to take appointments. If you don't manage your calendar, and you're letting people just book into your calendar, whenever it looks like there's something available, what you're really doing is sabotaging yourself and cannibalizing your attention, your energy, and your flow state.

You’re cannibalizing your creative zone where you can get into that state where it's really easy, you get into the flow of creating new content, creating new marketing, doing any of your higher level CEO work, you're cannibalizing it because you're allowing for constant interruptions. Each time there's an interruption, it becomes harder and harder to get back into that flow state.

When I look at my model calendar, the most important thing is my work hours. I generally work from nine to three. It’s a long day for me. Usually, it's closer to 10 to 2:30. Then I group like with like. Like activities with like activities. I have theme days. This could also be just like time blocking for specific tasks that you're responsible for. But I have themed days.

Mondays are my CEO days. I start with my CEO date and then I have team meeting. I have clients on Tuesdays if I have any one on one calls I have to manage. Wednesdays are no-call days. Those are days that I'm dedicated to doing content creation and again, flow state, there's nothing else allowed on my calendar. Then Thursdays are The CEO Collective days. I'm making sure I'm focused just on things related to that.

Because I have these specific days, and I have these themes for my days, I'm more clearly able to keep like with like. If I have an extra call, I know that there's actually, in my calendar SOP for example, I often get requests to do interviews on other people's podcasts, I have in there exactly what days I prefer and what times I prefer to do interviews for someone else's show.

But if there's no way that that works for the other person, I will make an exception but we know what to go for first, what to ask for first. It's all in my calendar SOP. We do our best to keep to these things. We're not 100% perfect but I would say probably 90% of the time, we stick to the plan.

Because we have the standard operating procedure because I actually have documented it as my calendar SOP, I know what needs to happen, my team knows what needs to happen, and it's easier for me to communicate to my clients what is available and what is not available. I find that this really makes it so much easier to have clear containers around how we manage our calendar.

A couple of final things I want to mention about managing clients when you are trying to have this level of specificity for your calendar: One is when you take on a new client, communicate this to them right up front, communicate to them that this is the day and these are the times you are available for their sessions and have a policy around how you're going to manage that with them.

Because inevitably, somebody will get sick or something will come up so you need to have a game plan in advance because it shouldn't be a surprise that people have to cancel appointments sometimes or they have to reschedule things. Plan in advance.

One of the ways we stick to this process with our clients is one, we communicate it, we over-communicate it. These are the times we're available. They know the expectations when they start working with us.

If they're working with me one on one for a long period of time, then once they sign up with me on that very first call, I say, “Okay, the time I have available to work with you is going to be Tuesdays at 10:30. Does that work for your calendar? I want to go ahead and schedule it out for the next however many sessions you have,” and we will get them scheduled their entire program so that there's no confusion. That becomes their standing appointment.

When that becomes their standing appointment, they know that if they miss it, because everybody else has a standing appointment, if they miss it, it's going to be really hard to make it up because of how clearly I run my calendar.

They know that if they miss that appointment, if it's a last-minute reschedule, they have to put it on the very end because in that week, that couple of weeks, or month even, there's likely no other times available to talk to me. This actually incentivizes them to keep their appointment and to make sure that they're showing up because they know that if they miss it, they're going to have to wait until the end of their program to do a catch-up session.

If they just don't show or I don't have at least 24 hours notice for a reasonable reason, then they forfeit it and they know that. We very clearly articulate that. You might also be thinking what if someone has an emergency and they need in-the-moment coaching, they can't wait till the next appointment?

This is where things can get messy for a lot of people. You have to decide what an emergency actually is. But because of the nature of the work that I do, I will have clients who, let's say they're in the middle of a launch, they're really freaked out or stressed about one particular thing, and they need somebody to just talk them through it, or they have a sticky client situation they have to address right then or a sticky team situation, I have clarity on exactly how we navigate that as well.

People who are working with me one on one, I will give them what we call back-pocket emergency coaching sessions. They know when we start working together that, “Hey, you have access to me in this way and this way but if you have an emergency, you need my attention right away, all you have to do is either jump in our Voxer and I will respond to you within 12 hours, Monday through Friday, or you can book a quick 15-minute back-pocket emergency call.”

We often see that people don't even use those. They don't use them because one, I'm helping them to create a business where they don't have last-minute emergencies all the time, but they don't need them because we're teaching them how to have better boundaries by putting these types of structure in their business. They feel a huge amount of relief knowing that if they need it, they can get access to me. But if they don't need it, because the work we're doing is working, it all works out for both of us.

I think that's something you need to keep in mind. Again, it's clear containers, its boundaries, setting expectations. It's deciding in advance what you're going to do in certain scenarios knowing that if you are helping your clients to improve in that certain area, there really shouldn't be emergencies.

We make sure that we have a process for everything and that everything is documented in our calendar SOP. You might be thinking about, “Well, what if you decide to have lunch with somebody or coffee with somebody?” because that's often something that people ask all the time, I'm careful about this because it does take time and energy.

I realized a long time ago that I'm really quick to say yes to this because I love connecting with people, I really do. But sometimes in the middle of let's say going to a local networking event and connecting with other people, I'd have somebody say, “Oh, let's have coffee together. Let's find time,” and I would literally be scheduling it right there while we were at an event and then I realized this was actually sabotaging myself because I wasn't looking at it from what needs to happen that week. I was just trying to squeeze people in.

I had to have a different process. I had to create a new process for myself and practice it. Now if I'm in person, I'm connecting with people, I'm at an event, I'm out networking or whatever, when people ask about that, I say, “Hey, that sounds great. I would love to connect with you on that. Can you email me or can I email you so that we can find a time together?”

I don't book it at the moment. I tell them either they can email me or I can email them, it doesn't really matter. Then that way, I have a little bit of buffer and my team is in the inbox so they're going to be able to handle that for me. They're going to be able to help me out and get that scheduled.

Honestly, my team knows who I'm talking to on a regular basis. If they're like, “Hey, I don't know who this is. They want to have lunch with you. Is someone you want to have lunch with and where do you want to meet?” my team will help me there. They become like the bouncer that is making sure I'm getting where I need to go but I'm not overextending myself.

I'm saying that this type of boundary will help you so very much. This type of SOP will help you so very much. It starts with your model calendar, your work hours, your theme days, but also situations that come up on a regular basis. You want to sit down and think about, maybe even review your calendar anytime when you have run into challenges.

Sticking to your calendar or following through with the things that are on your calendar means you might need to get more strict for a while on how you're running your calendar and say no to anything that is pulling you off course.

You might even need to put something, and I've had a lot of clients put an auto-responder on their email, or have a canned response for their emails just saying, “Hey, the next couple of months, I'm not taking any extra [fill in the blank]. I'm not taking any extra get-to-know-you calls, coffee dates, lunch dates, or whatever. I'm focused on completing some projects, etc.” It's okay for you to tell people no.

The next area that I want to talk about is communication. So many of us struggle with constant communication because we have all of these channels where we are everywhere all the time, where people can message us anywhere, anytime. This becomes a real challenge because if you start setting the precedent of being available 24/7, then people start to expect that you're available 24/7.

You have to decide what are your boundaries around communication. There are a few here to think about, first, what channels are you available for? This is key because we have email, we have social media, maybe even multiple social media accounts. We might have apps like Voxer or other sorts of messaging apps. Maybe you even have clients who have your phone number, maybe you have multiple email addresses.

I find it so important to have clarity on the channels of communication for your business, and who has access to which channels. If we were to actually make a tier of channels here, like a hierarchy of channels, my preferred channel for pretty much everything is going to be email. Email is my preferred channel. Do I have an assistant managing my inbox? Absolutely.

I miss stuff all the time. I forget stuff all the time. One of the biggest reasons I have so many systems in place is because otherwise, I know things would fall through the cracks. We have a primary email for the business, hello@theceocollective.com or hello@rachealcook.com, they both go to our inbox.

This is the primary place that I want most people to go to, especially people who are interested in working with us or just trying to communicate with me for any reason that's not a client. If you email us there, my assistant is going to review the email and decide whether they can answer it on my behalf, and they answer a lot of emails on my behalf. They know how to handle things because I have a calendar SOP.

They can handle scheduling things. They do all the admin and billing for my clients so they can handle all those questions. They can handle a lot of stuff. They tag me if there's something that I need to handle or I need to respond to. Because we use a tool called Help Scout, it really helps us to manage our inbox and for my assistant to tag me and leave me notes.

They can even draft a response on my behalf so that I can review it, zhoosh it, and then send it out. It just makes my life so much easier knowing that we have a clear channel email, that we have a process in place, that we have canned responses or templates that we can quickly use. My team knows how to escalate things to me if I need it or if they need to escalate things to another member of the team.

I don't even answer most things. Sometimes there are other things related to technology or access to something. I can't help them with that so they're going to send it to the right place. Email is my primary channel. If you want something from me, and you want 100% sure to know that someone on my team got it, send us an email.

Now that said, we have a clear SOP, again, standard operating procedures, for how we manage our inbox. We aren’t sitting here with our inbox open all day long. That's just not the business that we're running. I don't expect anyone on my team to have our inbox open or our Slack open all day long. They have other things they're trying to do as well.

We do not have the expectation of a five-minute turnaround time on email. I think that is unreasonable for the type of business that we are running. It doesn't feel in alignment with our values. The values in your business can't just be about you and your lifestyle. They need to be congruent with what you want for your team. We have to make sure if your values are having a life-first business and having flexibility, then your team should have that too.

For me, we feel like it's reasonable to have a 12 to 24-hour turnaround time response time in our emails. That's pretty much what we aim for. In our SOP, my assistant checks the inbox at least twice a day first thing in the morning and in the early afternoon. That's really as many times as I feel they need to check-in. Because we don't get thousands of emails a day, but that way we can stay on top of things.

My assistant can answer most of the questions that hit the inbox, usually about 80%. The things that need to be passed off to me are only the things that truly require my response. This makes it so much easier to just make sure everything is in the right place and to keep everything easy for us to track and to see. We have an entire document of responses to frequently asked questions, people email in asking about different programs.

We have clients emailing in asking, “Where do I find this?” My assistant can find all that information because we have a standard operating procedure with templated emails so that they can quickly answer those questions. Honestly, it makes it so that they can answer a lot of them more quickly and faster than I can. We're very, very clear that email is our primary channel and people know that when they email us, you're not going to get a five-minute response time. This is not a chat. This is not a direct message. It's an email.

You'll hear from us within one, maybe two business days max. We also communicate that we don't work on the weekends. If you email us on a Friday afternoon, you're probably not going to hear from us until Monday. Again, if you set the precedent, then people are like, “Oh, yeah, they value freedom, flexibility, and having family time so of course, they're not responding to emails at 10 at night or Sunday morning when they should be having brunch with their family in their pajamas.”

This is so important to us. Our frequency is we check it twice a day. Things are processed within 12 to 24 hours and we keep it manageable. The other channels we had, we had to start thinking about and for me, this is especially important because there are so many channels that people can reach me and I realized that if people had access to me in too many different ways, I was getting overwhelmed and dropping balls all over the place. This is one of the reasons I default people to email because I have a backup there. I have help there.

They can make sure that if there's something that needs to get handled that they can handle, the team can handle it. If it needs to be added to the project management system, it gets added. But if I'm getting an email, a text message, and a DM, it's going to fall through the cracks.

On social media, DMS and social media were a huge, huge problem for me and I love connecting with people in the DMs, but often I am not where I can sit down and have a link ready for you or something so I keep a copy and paste response, a couple of them in my notes app on my phone so that if people are asking me questions about a program or they want to have a call with me, then I have a response that tells them to email me or a response that sends them to my scheduler.

This helps me make sure that I'm directing people to the right channels instead of trying to do the whole conversation in DM, because that's where things get lost. I tell people all the time, I love using DMS to connect and to chat with you. But once we get to the point where we're asking specific questions or you're needing to actually just jump on a call with me, I'm going to direct you in that area. I'm going to try to get you into my inbox as quickly as possible.

If you're stressed out with social media, if you're stressed out with all the DMS on all the different platforms, then I encourage you to keep a little template in your text app, your notes app that you can copy and paste. Mine says literally, “Hey, I'd love to connect with you about that. Can you email me at hello@theceocollective.com or can you jump on my calendar here?” and I just pop in my calendar link.

That alleviates so many problems because if they're asking a question that's more than a line than a sentence, that needs to get to the inbox because I can't do business over text messages at that point. Other channels that I found challenging that I've had to limit is my phone. I don't give out my personal phone number to everyone. If you go to our different business pages, you'll see a phone number and it goes to a different number than my personal phone number.

It goes to a voicemail that we check twice a day so we don't even pick up the phone for that phone number. “Leave us a voicemail at this number.” That is simply because again, we are trying to keep it simple. We're trying to put everything in an ecosystem where the voicemail actually goes to our inbox. Then someone on the team can email, respond to you, call you back, or what have you. But I learned that I had to do this because I just didn't want to be giving out my personal phone number.

I learned this the hard way when I had a couple of clients who completely abused having access to my personal phone number. There were times when they didn't understand boundaries and they would be texting me nonstop, a total stream of consciousness like wanting me to engage back and forth when it could have been an email or wait until our call.

I felt like I needed to have a boundary there that my personal phone number is off limits. If you need a phone number for your business, it needs to be a separate number. There are a lot of online tools you can use to create a separate number. You don't even need to get a second phone, you can just create a second number. But I have a second number, it goes to voicemail which goes to our email, and then we manage it from there.

If you do need an actual phone number, please decide very carefully who gets access to that. I do not give all my clients access to my phone number because it gets super overwhelming to me. Honestly, most of them know, respect, and appreciate the fact that I'm very clear that email is our dominant channel of communication because I have a backup there. I have support there and I can make sure things don't get dropped.

The final thing about boundaries around communication, and you will probably start to experience this, especially as your business is growing and more people are seeing you as an expert as an authority in your topic area, is people are going to start emailing you questions when they should be paying for answers.

These are the people who just want to pick your brain. They just want to run a quick question by you. They just want to get some quick feedback. They just want some quick insight. Honestly, at the beginning, it's easy to think that just responding to that will turn into a client. But more often than not, it doesn't. We have to have clear boundaries in place for how we're going to handle those things.

If you're in a situation where you're taking on clients, and you have availability for those types of conversations, if you're getting those brain-picking questions, I highly recommend having a template, an email that's kind of pre-drafted saying, “Hey, this is such a great question. I would love to explore this with you. The best way to do that is to,” and then you tell them what the next step is.

Do they book a free consult? Do they need to pay for a consult? Is it the work you do in a specific program? Do you send them to a piece of content that you've already created?

I find that having this already drafted is really helpful and telling people, “Hey, this is a great question. I'd love to explore that with you. It sounds like there are a lot of layers in here we need to dig into to get to the right answer for you so I recommend booking a consult with me. Here's the link to do that. You'll find all of the questions in the intake form to make sure that when we do talk, I can help you get to the bottom of it.”

Tell people what the next step is. It doesn't mean you need to respond to them a full answer in the inbox. You are not obligated to give free information to anybody, especially when this is your area of expertise. I will promise you, the majority of people are going to be like, “Great, thank you so much. I love that I can just jump on your calendar, book a call,” and then you walk them through your normal sales process to take them on as a client.

But now you've got them engaged in the sales process instead of back and forth, back and forth brain picking hoping that they will figure out how to work with you. For me, it does not make sense for me to offer coaching for free, to offer consulting for free when people pay money to get access to me.

I feel like it's disrespectful to my existing clients who have invested time, energy, and money to work with me and my team if I'm just allowing other people to pick my brain for free. What I do now, and this is kind of our default response is, “Hey, thanks so much for this question. I've actually already talked about this in depth over at,” and then I point them to a piece of content because we have literally hundreds of episodes on the show.

Usually, I've answered the question somewhere, and I'll point them to those specific episodes, to a masterclass, to a free resource that I've created. Again, my team knows the content so they can easily point them in the right direction without me even getting involved.

If it's a question I haven't addressed yet, then I'll say, “Hey, this is a great question. I really prefer to answer these over on Instagram, on the podcast, or on my TikToks.” I'll add it to the list of topics I'll bring up. I'm really trying to point it towards being a response that more people can benefit from.

I'm not just going to answer people individually, but if it's a question that I think is a great question to explore as a piece of content that lots of people can benefit from, then I'll add it. But I don't do one on one coaching in the inbox or in DM. It's not valuable. I think it’s trying to take advantage of the fact that this is what I do for a living. This is what I do to support my family so no, I'm not just going to give free advice away or free consulting away.

If somebody has a question for a group program, this is another challenge we have run into a few times. People who get into our group program need to know exactly what the preferred communication channel is.

If we are in our group, and they have a specific question, but let's say they're emailing us a question instead of posting it in our community, then we will turn them around and say, “Hey, this is a great question. Can you please post it in the community? Or can you please add it to the list of questions for Racheal's call this week?”

We're just constantly redirecting people to the right place to ask their questions for the container that they have signed up for. Unless they're a one-on-one client, they shouldn't be emailing me all their questions. They should be posting them in the group community or on the intake form for all the questions I'll take that week during my call with the community.

Because I want to make sure that any question that has been posted in our paid community is going to help a lot of people in that community. I want to make sure that that response isn't just being held captive by one person because lots of people can benefit from it.

So far we've talked about calendar boundaries, we've talked about communication boundaries, now let's wrap up and talk about some client boundaries. This is where things can get a little sticky. We've all had sticky client situations. Honestly, this is where having clear boundaries upfront and setting expectations upfront will save you so much time and energy.

Where I see people getting frustrated and overwhelmed is when, one, their clients don't respect their appointments and their clients cancel on them, they simply don't show up, or they're constantly rescheduling at the last minute. Nope, you've got to let people know upfront what happens if they don't show up, what happens if they cancel, what happens if they reschedule, and what those policies are.

This should be in your client agreements. If you're not having people sign a contract or an agreement, you need to get this in place right away. It doesn't have to be the most complicated thing in the world but you need to have a section in your contract saying, “Here's our scheduling policy. Here's what happens if you don't follow this policy.”

We tell people that we need a 24-hour heads-up before they cancel or reschedule an appointment. If you don't give us 24-hour notice, then this session is considered forfeit, which means you don't get to make it up. We don't have to reschedule.

We also have the rescheduling problem, if you do give us a heads up and something's going on, no problem, but if you do have to reschedule with us, we have to accommodate you now in our schedule that has been laid out well in advance, which means you will have to wait until the end of your program in order to make up that session.

A lot of times, because we have this in our agreement, we also have it in our onboarding policies, if somebody has an instance where they need to cancel, reschedule, or they don't show up, we also remind them of this policy and what's going to happen because of whatever just happened pretty much right away.

They know exactly what's going to happen. It's not a surprise to them. This encourages our clients not to reschedule, not to cancel on us because they know it's not going to get rescheduled anytime soon, it has to fit within my calendar, not just in their calendar that we have a process, it is very mapped out.

This encourages our clients to stick to their appointments. We have very few cancellations or reschedules. I don't think I've ever had a no-show in years and years and years. The one time I can remember that I did have a no-show was because of a timezone difference and they happen to be in an area of the country that doesn't do daylight savings time. That was it.

You want to make sure all of this is laid out. You also want to have considered whether you are going to have a fee associated with cancellations or reschedules. I know that when I book an appointment at the salon to get my hair done, I have to give them a credit card number. If I don't show up for the hair appointment, they're going to charge me a cancellation fee of $25.

It's perfectly acceptable for my hairstylist to do that, for my dentist to do that, for my doctor to do that. A lot of professionals will charge a cancellation fee if you don't show up for that appointment. Make sure people know that if you simply do not tell us and you do not show up, you will be charged a fee and have to have a credit card on file for our lost time and energy.

Again, these are standard business practices. I know it can feel like you're being mean, pushy, or harsh but really what you're doing is saying, “Hey, my time is valuable. I need you to respect me as the professional I am. This is the consequence of not communicating correctly that something needs to change in the calendar.”

Put them up front in your agreement and your onboarding, address it immediately in the first situation where somebody is trying to cancel last minute or change last minute. Address it immediately because if you let it slide the first time, then they'll feel like it's not a big deal. They will have tested the boundary and now know that that boundary is not strong.

Now, if you let it slide the first time, they're going to do it again. They're going to do it again until you finally say, “I can't do this anymore.” Nip it in the bud up front. Have an email template that says, “Hey, you didn't show up for our appointment today. We sent you a reminder. You confirm the appointment in the salon. I wanted to give you a heads-up that I know emergencies happen but we do require a 24-hour cancellation notice. Because you missed this one, I want to let you know this will not count as a rescheduled appointment. It will count as a forfeit appointment.”

You just have to have that kind of email ready to go so that you're not emotional about it. You can write it more casually than I just said but you have to make sure that it's crystal clear. The biggest headache I see entrepreneurs put up with is people who treat them badly and who just don't respect their time, their energy, or their calendar. We just want to nip that in the bud.

The final thing is it's okay to fire people as clients. It's okay to say, “Hey, this is not working for me. I have booked this appointment X number of times for you and you have not been showing up consistently. You've been no-showing, etc. This is no longer working for me.”

I literally had a client once who, out of a six-month one-on-one program with me, missed half the sessions and then wanted me to make them up with her. I was like, “Nope, this is not the agreement. This is not what is going to happen. I showed up for every single appointment, you did not. I'm sorry this is not a fit. I'm sorry to see you go. But honestly, I just can't. I can't work with people who don't respect me enough to respect my time and my energy.”

It is okay to let people go. Also, this is something you need to have in your contract or your agreement. What happens if you have to part ways? I think it's really, really important especially if you have run into a situation where people do not treat you well and you need to let go of them. A lot of people will have clauses in their contracts saying that you can stop the agreement at any point.

It needs to also really detail out will there be a refund or will there be a no-refund. What will happen to any of the work that's happened up until that point, etc. This is just such a struggle when people don't respect your time and your energy.

The next client boundary I feel like can be challenging is scope creep. This happens a lot for my clients who are service providers who are really good at lots of things. They want to make their clients happy so they just keep saying yes. The problem is they say yes to the first small thing, but suddenly it's like you give a mouse a cookie, they just want everything then.

We have to be really clear about what we are saying yes to with our clients. When we look at everything that you're offering to your clients, you have to be really, really crystal clear what is in that package or that service versus what is not. Because if you've had scope creep, and you really look at all that you deliver to that client, you have likely really undercharged yourself.

You've added all this extra value, but the amount that you're walking away with is so little because of how much more you've given them. This is a huge problem. It goes back into the people pleasing. People hire us to do one thing, and then suddenly they're like, “Well, I hired you to build this website. I know it was supposed to be five pages, but I really need 20 pages. Could you also format this blog and create a newsletter template and social media templates?”

Suddenly, you've just said yes so many times, what they paid should have been like two or three times what they actually did. I'm serious. This happens all the time. I'm just like, “You need to really get clarity on what is included in this offer and what is not, and then put in place a process for when people want to add things to that package.”

We want to make sure, one, clarity, what the package, the program, the service is. Lay it all out exactly what they're going to be delivered, even down to how many revisions you get. Otherwise, it will just be unending.

Then finally, you need to make sure you have clarity on if you are going to add something to their program, what does the process look like for that? Using a website designer as an example, let's say you started with a website and now they want to add more pages than what was in the original agreement.

Great. I'd love to do that for you. That is going to be an additional fee of XYZ and it will extend our timeline by XYZ. Is that okay with you? I'm going to send you a quick addendum to our contract. You can sign off on it so that we're both clear and on the same page that this now changes the timeline and the number of deliverables and there's a fee for it.

You really just want to make sure it's crystal clear. It's crystal clear what is going to happen when people are asking for more than what they signed up for.

We have covered a lot of ground here. This is a longer episode here on boundaries. We talked about calendar boundaries. We talked about having an SOP around your calendar and thinking about all the different scenarios that people are asking you to be available for and how you're going to handle them. Handling your communication, the different channels, what's your primary channel, who communicates where.

Primary channels, email, the team communicates in Slack, and clients communicate in their group. Making sure it's crystal clear where all the communication channels are for and making sure you have a process around how you're managing those communication channels and SOP for common situations, FAQs for handling the brain pickers, and all that type of stuff. If it's happened a few times, just create a process around it. Now it's easier to manage without getting hooked into it.

Then finally, clients. It really is all about expectations. It's about the first time that it seems like somebody's kind of testing a boundary or pushing a boundary, clearly and kindly letting them know, do not let it wait, do not let it slide. Do not allow people to just push up against your boundaries constantly. Let the fear of being seen as mean hold you back from standing your ground.

We need to have these boundaries in place to protect ourselves, to protect our businesses, to protect our team. Honestly, your clients will learn a lot watching you hold strong boundaries. They really will. They'll either respect you for it and learn that this is what strong healthy boundaries look like because you're modeling for them, or they're going to run away because they are not interested in respecting anybody else's boundaries.

In that case, they're probably not a great client. I wouldn't stress about them. Remember that people will naturally push against boundaries. When you set up your calendar for the first time and you're starting to have these types of conversations, especially with people who've been working with you for a while and you haven't had to do this before or you haven't tried, are they going to push against them or they may be going to question it? Yeah.

You do not have to defend yourself for putting a boundary in place. You do not have to over-explain yourself for putting a boundary in place. You simply can say, “Nope, these are the only times I'm available.” If they push against a boundary or they ask for an exception, it doesn't mean the boundary isn't working, it just means you need to reinforce the boundary, communicate the boundary until they understand what is okay and what is not okay when it comes to doing business with you.

I hope this was helpful, deep dive into boundaries. If you love today's episode, please take a screenshot and share it on Instagram. As you know by now, Instagram is one of the best channels to communicate with me in DM. I love hearing from you about the podcast. Take a quick screenshot, share it on your Instagram, and tag me @racheal.cook.

I want to hear from you what boundary are you going to work on enforcing this week? Do you need to rein in your calendar? Do you need to rein in your communication channels, rein in some of your client boundaries? What do you need support around? Let me know. I look forward to hearing from you.

For full show notes, head over to theceocollective.com/podcast. If you don't want to miss any future episodes of Promote Yourself to CEO, make sure you are subscribed to the show. Thanks so much for listening. I'll talk to you soon.