Why establishing boundaries at the BEGINNING of client contracts is a must

I've learnt the hard way that it's very hard to establish boundaries in the middle of something, especially a coach-client relationship. 

This is why it's imperative to have boundaries established before you begin working with a client so that you can rest assured that your time among other things will be respected, and that your client will feel safe knowing what they can expect and what is expected from them. 

Here are some concepts you'd benefit having boundaries around: 

1) Payments. Have boundaries around what happens if a payment is late for example. I charge a 50.00 USD fee if payment is not due on time and I have this written in my coach client contracts. 

2) Cancellation policy. Do you want to have a 24 hour cancellation policy with emergency exceptions? Or are you more flexible? Make this clear. 

3) Time. How long are your sessions? My sessions run 60 or 90-minutes. If my client is late then the session will still end when it was meant to. If I am running late, I will make sure that they get their full 60 or 90-minutes and that's on me to reorganize. I ask that we both make the best effort to be on time, so we don't mess up the scheduling for the rest of the day on both our ends. When 90 to 90 % of the session has passed, I wrap it up clearly by putting a pause on what we are exploring, summing up what we covered in the session, and asking if there are any comments before we hop off. As the practitioner, it's your job to keep time and to have proper structure and boundaries around it to keep things on the professional side of things. Let your client know what to expect and follow the guidelines yourself, so there is no way to get confused here.  

4) Emailing. When can clients reach you? Meaning when are your business hours? When they've emailed you, when can they typically expect a response? Perhaps something within 24 hours suits your business model, while others will prefer a 48 or 72 hour guideline. What do you find suitable to discuss in email format? I let my clients email me with brief questions on subjects we've talked about in session. I do not reply to new concepts outside of the next session time. Some coaches have a 24/7 Voxer option, where their clients can Vox them whenever they would like.

5) Disclaimers. Clients need to be aware of your limitations as a practitioner and what happens should you not be able to assist them with an issue they are facing. Let’s take me as an example, as a life coach, I need to make it very clear that my sessions with clients are NOT a substitute for medical or psychological care, and that they are responsible for their own health, physical/ mental/etc before, during and after any of our sessions. If a client ever brings something to the table that is outside what I think is my scope of practice (like if they share with me they are struggling with severe depression in session), I immediately need to ask them to have psychological support and ask them to provide receipts of such service if I am to continue to work with them. In some cases, it’s best that we stop our work altogether because it’s not what they need and I can’t provide the service they do need.

Overall, the key is to find what works best for you, but you have to highlight it BEFORE the work starts, so that everything is understood from the get-go, and your client doesn't feel confused on what is acceptable or not, assuring you don't feel burnt out and overdrawn at the end of the day. I like to send out an email highlighting my policies before I start working with someone. A lot of the guidelines, they will have read and agreed to in my coach-client agreement with them, but I find it useful to write it in an email before their first session too, so that we're both on the same page in a more personable way. 

If you're confused on how "strict" to get with boundaries, I say stay a little more on the strict side than on the lax side, so that if you do need to compromise a bit, you're not ending up completely fried and over giving to the point of resentment. 

WorkEmily Aube