For small business owners, the line between personal and professional is much harder to define than for most employees, and new research by Yell has revealed that a staggering number of business owners are potentially losing out on hundreds of pounds a week as a result.
The study, which surveyed just over 250 owners of small businesses in the UK (up to 50 employees), sought to find out more about how business owners separate the professional from the personal, and the impact this can have on their finances, particularly at a time when many small businesses may be struggling to stay afloat.
With three-quarters (75%) of small business owners stating they find it hard to set boundaries with their clients, it’s clear that many have difficulty when it comes to drawing the line. The nature of small businesses means they will often engage with the same customers on a regular basis and go on to develop closer relationships with them than the average high street brand would. According to the survey, 86% of business owners work with clients that have become friends or already were, though these numbers rise to more than 94% for those in the beauty sector, and 90% in the trades.
The vast majority (82%) of business owners admit that they take more time with ‘friendly’ clients, spending an extra 25 minutes on average with each of them, compared to their usual work time. Though working with someone you consider a friend may seem like a perk, the reality suggests that financially, this may not be the case at all.
With 85% of business owners not charging for this additional time, this results in a considerable amount of unpaid working hours. Less than ideal at a time when the cost-of-living crisis has made things increasingly difficult for the self-employed, the extra 25 minutes could amount to an average loss of £78 per appointment (based on the average hourly charge of £188.44 revealed by the study). This is a particular concern in the likes of the beauty industry, known for its high frequency of appointments and long-term clients.
Megan, a Beauty Influencer and self-employed Nail Technician commented: “My services are often a ‘treat’ for clients, who will have finished their working day, which can mean they take time restraints less seriously, and don’t mind the appointment lasting longer than it should. For them, it might just be twenty more minutes, but they don’t see how this can impact my working day. After two years of being self-employed, getting customers to see this side of the extra time spent has been one of the hardest things to navigate.”
Outside of lost earnings, the blurring of personal and professional has also been proven to take a toll on business owners’ free time; 98% of those surveyed admitted to replying to business queries within their personal time, with this number sitting at a staggering 100% for those in the beauty and trades sectors.
This is likely down to many small businessowners finding it hard to tackle the issue or having been put off from a bad experience when previously trying to enforce time boundaries or payment terms, with more than half (59%) saying they’ve received negative responses from customers when trying to do so.
How can business owners set boundaries with all customers?
Despite these difficulties, Sarah O’Rafferty at Yell has detailed four things business owners can start doing, to set boundaries more effectively and therefore get paid the fees they should and keep their free time free.
- Communication is key
“A lot of business owners can immediately be on the back foot when an appointment is overrunning, because they haven’t already communicated any extra costs that will be incurred to the customer. Having to backtrack and try to get this extra fee paid after the time has been spent, is where a lot of these negative responses can come from, as customers could feel ‘cornered’ into paying more, or that they haven’t agreed to the additional spend.
If you feel your session might overrun or are mindful that previous sessions have done so with that particular client, it’s always best to communicate before this happens of any additional fees, or that you are simply unable to spend the time due to other commitments. This way, both yourself and your customer will be in agreement, and there’s no grey area, no matter how close your relationship is.”
- Visualise these boundaries
“It’s one thing having the conversation and being in agreement, but there are ways you can make this even clearer. Detailing any policies on your website, and directing all new or existing customers to these, and any changes in them, will go a long way. You can then refer to these during appointments too, to continue to set the boundary.
Having these policies present on a website or even social media bios can be particularly useful for customers that contact you out of your working hours. Listing these clearly manages expectations of when you will and won’t respond. There’s a reason large companies have their customer service opening hours clearly displayed wherever you can find contact details for them. It should be no different for your business, no matter how big or small you are.”
- Truly separate work from your personal life
“On that note, it isn’t all up to your customers to read your website, your policies and when you are available to answer phone calls or reply to messages, you need to manage your time too. When starting up, many businesses owners opt to use the same phone number and e-mail address for the sake of ease, however ignoring calls or messages when they’re right there in front of you is easier said than done. Simply by setting up a business e-mail and purchasing a low-cost work phone that you can switch off once the working day is done, will go a long way to solving this problem, and setting those much-needed boundaries.”
- The power of saying ‘no’
“Finally, a big skill to learn in any businesses is being able to say no. There can be a tendency to want to agree to everything, please everyone and take every job on, but it simply isn’t possible. Remembering that you’re the boss and that you make the rules is key. Politely declining a request or making it clear up front that an appointment needs to finish at a particular time will help to manage expectations with your customers and, in the long run, help them to respect you and your business more.”