“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” — Dr. Brené Brown
Before I worked in PR, I was a hostess at a popular restaurant in Nashville, TN. One of the first things they taught me in the restaurant industry is that the customer is always right. I used this philosophy when I jumped into the Atlanta PR agency world and joined Media Frenzy Global and was introduced to my first client. I wanted to do everything they wanted to do and tend to their every need, even if it went against agency processes. I thought it was my job to fulfill every wish and demand the client had regardless of the hour. Sometimes, I agreed to so much that it began affecting other client work because I was adamant I wanted to make the client happy. It wasn’t until my manager came to me and made me understand that while we want to do our very best for our clients, it has to align to our proven agency processes that are in place to generate client success. Being accountable is one of our agency values, but not at the risk of dismantling all other activity.
This being said, how can you go about setting expectations with a client and not be perceived as not addressing their immediate needs? Also, how do you ensure they realize that you are still 100% focused on their business and working hard to fulfill all deliverables? It’s hard for people to say no generally and even harder to say no to someone you don’t want to disappoint.
It took some time, but I finally felt that I had learned how to set my own professional boundaries. These are a few ways to do so:
- Make it a habit to be honest. Saying no doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad PR professional. I was always worried that saying “I can’t finish that in time but I can do it by X ” made me look like I couldn’t do my job or manage my time. Rather, it shows the client that you know your limits – what is possible and what isn’t – and it shows that you are organized and willing to give adequate time to each project.
- Communicate clearly and often. Communication is a key aspect in all relationships, whether it be a friendship, personal relationship, or professional. Over-communication with a client helps them to have an understanding of what you are working on and the time spent on providing them with what they need,
- Take time off. When you are out of the office, BE out of the office. Don’t check emails or other messages. If you respond to emails while you are OOO, then the client will assume that you will always be available to them. There is a reason for PTO and vacation time, and work is not included in those times. There is one crucial component to this, however, which is ensuring the client knows you are away and there are other team members to support them. After all, we never run any account with just one person on the team.
I am still learning every day how to maintain my boundaries in the Atlanta PR agency world, but so far it has led to positive results with the client. Another important aspect to consider is that we are the PR experts, and what the client wants may not be the best course of action. It is hard, but it is important to sustain a happy work-life balance.