Your sandbox. Your rules. Period.
“Of course”, you say. “Everyone knows that if it’s your sandbox, you get to say what the rules are!”
So you say, but when it comes time to put your big girl panties on and get tough with your boundaries, you get all apologetic and bend the rules instead of simply saying what you REALLY want to say which is “If you don’t like the rules, go home and play in your own dang sandbox!”
Trust me. Every single time a situation turned ugly and the relationships soured, it’s because I wasn’t wearing my big girl panties and making the rules of engagement abundantly clear. It doesn’t matter who you are or what type of relationship you are talking about, making your expectations clear benefits everyone involved.
So how can I possibly blame the confused client who doesn’t understand why I won’t take his calls on the weekend to handle an emergency, one that he knew about for a week and forgot to mention? Or the friend who programmed my cell number into autodial so she can always reach me when I neglected to tell her I use it for emergencies only?
I can’t because I didn’t make the rules clear.
Defining the Rules of Engagement for your Business
So what are the rules that you prefer to live, work and play by? Are people allowed to bring their toys or should they leave their toys at home? Is throwing sand allowed or would you prefer that everyone play nicely? Can sandbox guests bring a friend (or two) to sandbox events or is it by invitation only?
A few ideas on how to start defining your rules of engagement…
Who – Don’t be shy about saying exactly who you want to work with. If you only want to work with people who love pink jellybeans, that’s your business (because it’s YOUR business). Put it right on your web site in bold letters: We only work with pink jellybean fans. If you are not a fan of pink jellybeans, please do not waste our time by calling us.
What – Draw a clear line in the sand about what projects you will take on (and what you consider outside your scope of supply). It’s tempting to take on projects that aren’t the fit perfect because you either need the work or a client asks it as a favor. Don’t – those are the projects that always turn out bad. Build your business network so you can refer those types of projects to someone else.
When – Define when you want to work. This applies to both weekly office hours and extended holidays. For example, if you only want to work 10 months of the year and take the summers off to hang out with your family at the lake, make that a part of your rules. That way only the people who understand and respect your choice will want to work with you.
Where – Make it clear where you will do the work. Will you work onsite, or do you prefer offsite only? Are you willing to travel, or do you handle all projects on virtual basis? How do you prefer to meet – conference call or face-to-face? It’s important to let clients know where you prefer to work (because trust me, they have preferences of their own so you need to make sure they are in alignment).
How – Figure out your work style so you can communicate that to potential clients. Are you okay keeping it loose and groovy or do you need things to be orderly and structured? If you need clear structure, watch out for warning signs that your potential client is a disorganized, chaos-creator (and vice-versa). There needs to be a similarity of styles for you to work well together.
And let’s not forget all that other stuff like you prefer to get paid for your ideas and expertise. To avoid brain suckers and tire kickers, make that clear from the get-go so potential clients know that before anything happens on your end, there has to be a financial transaction.