Business Boundaries and Non-Negotiables

Five Steps to Creating a ‘Tight as a Tiger’ List of Business Non-Negotiables

Emma Bowdler | The Women's Accountant

Emma Bowdler

I’m a cheerleader for women and an accountant bursting with personality. 

In business, as in life, we all have non-negotiables. They are the ‘no-gos’, the ‘sacred cows’, the deal breakers, and the ‘nuh-uh, no way, not gonna happens’ that we simply cannot cop, either for our clients or for ourselves.

For business coach Jen Gitomer, “no one should be running their business without them — they’re that important.” 

She defines non-negotiables as essentially boundaries that you put in place to protect your time and energy, so you can show up at your highest vibe and attract your ideal clients. And that’s what we’re all after, right?

Your business boundaries are unique to you, your business and your situation and only you can determine what they are and how you will keep them in place. And we all have them, it’s just a matter of how conscious of them we are.

Yet time and again we hear from strung out business owners who keep on finding that their non-negotiables have been, well, negotiated — either by themselves or by their clients.

When it comes to your list of non-negotiables — not only do we need to know exactly what they are (and the difference between ‘nice to haves’ and absolute deal breakers), but we need to know what happens when they’re broken, we need to communicate them, and we need to review them on the regular.

To keep your sanity intact and set yourself up for roaring success, it’s time to get crystal freaking clear on what your business non-negotiables are in just five easy-to-remember steps, so those lines don’t get crossed or blurred again!

Step 1: IDENTIFY —
Why Are You Doing This in the First Place?

    When we are developing our list of business non-negotiables, often the easiest place to start is by thinking of the reasons we went into business for ourselves in the first place. 

    • ‘I want to be my own boss and not wait for approval anymore.’
    • ‘I want to make my own money instead of making someone else richer.’
    • ‘I want to have more flexibility and freedom to be creative.’
    • ‘I want to earn more and work less.’
    • ‘I never want to put my fate in someone else’s hands again.’

    These were all reasons for going into business that members of our community shared in a recent Biz Booster Masterclass on kicking off the new financial year in style.

    For our Founder, Emma Bowdler, it was because she worked for a bully of a boss who made her effectively choose between her job and her kids. Umm, it’s the 21st century, ain’t no woman gotta choose! Never wanting to be backed into a corner again, and knowing that she could run a show where women could achieve the balance that they’re after, no matter what that looks like for them — she went into business for herself. 

    Step 1: Identify — Why Are You Doing This in the First Place?

    But what about you? Did you go into business for yourself because you wanted to:

    • Make more money than you could in a salaried position
    • Be more present with your kids and be able to pick them up from school
    • Build wealth and long-term financial security by creating a saleable ‘asset’
    • Live out a lifelong dream and just ‘give it a go’
    • Fill a gap in the market that only you could fill


    There are so many reasons why women go into business for themselves. For CEO and Founder of jobs marketplace Freelancing Gems, Fleur Madden, one of the top reasons that women turn to freelancing and entrepreneurship is because: it is an opportunity for women to take control of their finances. That, and they can achieve more flexibility and freedom, often by working less hours.

    While going out on your own is no walk in the park, and sometimes it takes years of hard work to get your business into a position where you can work less for more money, the stats don’t lie: women now make up a whopping 40% of new entrepreneurs.

    Having clarity around ‘why’ you went into business for yourself is not only a good grounding exercise for times of stress and uncertainty, but it also provides the foundation for your list of business non-negotiables. 

    Step 2: DEFINE —
    What Are Those Things You Simply Cannot Cop?

    This is the bit where we figure out how business life is stacking up against what we wanted it to be, in order to help us determine whether (or not) we need to make some changes.

    Grab a pen and paper, or a new Google doc, and start to jot down a list of all the things you simply will not stand for. It can also be really useful to consider and incorporate your personal and business values here.

    Step 2: Define — What Are Those Things You Simply Cannot Cop?

    Some examples of values-based business non-negotiables we love:

    • Not working weekends or turning notifications off after a certain time
    • Never giving a client or customer your mobile or home address
    • Not starting a project until a contract has been signed and a deposit has landed in the bank
    • Profit-first, always, and paying yourself a salary from day one
    • Using only local or ethical suppliers, even if it costs more
    • Taking a break in the middle of each day for a meditation practice, exercise class or midday dance party
    • Regular ‘CEO’ days dedicated to ‘on the business’ not just ‘in the business’ work
    • Being there every afternoon to pick the kids up
    • Four long weekends a year or a quarterly ‘RDO’
    • A weekly practice to honour your wins

    Start to define specifically what your non-negotiables are. Some helpful prompts for getting started:

    • What are some things I see in my industry that I would *never ever* do and why?
    • Do I have any ‘rules’ for how I do (and don’t do) business?
    • What would make all of this ‘worth’ it? If I could…

    Bonus points if you can articulate exactly why that’s a boundary for you (it will help when it comes to the next step), e.g. ‘I do not give clients my phone number because I no longer want to be on call 24/7.’

    Step 3: REFINE —
    Are They Truly Deal Breakers or Just ‘Nice To Haves’?

    According to Carole Bozkurt, when we are designing our business non-negotiables, it helps to be crystal clear on the difference between the ‘nice to haves’ and the absolute deal breakers. For example, not working weekends — deal breaker; being home by 5pm every night — nice to have.

    She suggests taking your list (from above) and asking yourself whether you could ever see yourself breaking your own rules:

    • How would you feel if you had to break them? 
    • What would be the consequences? 
    • When will I know that a non-negotiable has been negotiated?
    • Is someone depending on you and if you let them down what would it mean for them (and for you)?

    Adding this extra ‘refine’ layer can help you whittle down your list to the true deal breakers (the things we will never negotiate on) and the ‘nice to haves’ where we have a little wiggle room.

    Step 3: REFINE — Are They Truly Deal Breakers or Just ‘Nice To Haves’?

    Step 4: COMMUNICATE —
    Who Needs To Know So They Don’t Cross You?

    If a boundary is created in a business, but nobody knows about it — did it really happen? It’s important, once you’ve made your non-negotiables list, that you decide what external factors will inevitably ‘pop up’ to challenge those boundaries. Or, to borrow another phrase from Jen Gitomer, what are your boundary-pushers?

    A list of common boundary-pushers we see:

    • Clients who want to ‘pick your brain’ before signing a contract
    • Clients who set out of hours deadlines or send things through on Friday afternoon that they need for first thing Monday
    • Constant notifications popping up on your phone or computer
    • Major announcements or news headlines that derail your entire day
    • Caring responsibilities and obligations (e.g. a sick kiddo)

    But what does this have to do with communication? Well, we cannot expect people to understand our needs without verbalising them. 

    So, once you have your list of non-negotiables, and you know what happens if you break them, and you also know what external factors can influence them — it’s time to communicate them with your clients, customers, team, and even with yourself (in the mirror each morning if you have to!).

    In order for them to be effective, your list of non-negotiables needs to be communicated out loud and in writing so that everyone knows what is expected of them, where the boundaries are and the consequences for crossing them. 

    Don’t worry — it’s not like a naughty corner for clients! It’s simply a respectful and clear way to communicate what you need to do your best work and deliver value for them. Having your boundaries crossed breeds resentment, and it’s hard to do your best work from a place of resentment, anger and frustration, let alone run a thriving and profitable business.

    Step 4: Communicate — Who Needs To Know So They Don’t Cross You?

    Whether it’s a ‘How to work with me’ manual, a ‘Terms and Conditions’ page on your website or even some little updates to your email signature and auto-responder, there are plenty of innovative, kind and effective ways of sharing your non-negotiables with others and keeping yourself accountable.

    We know that ‘saying no’ and communicating a boundary can be a vulnerable feeling, especially for women who have been socialised to please people since the crib. While setting firm boundaries may push some of your insecurity buttons in the beginning, you will gain strength and confidence as you start to enforce them. 

    As business owners, it’s up to us to set the rules and educate our clients (and staff) on what they are. To help you do that, HerBusiness suggests creating a list of the following, and continuing to evolve them on the regular:

    • Contact boundaries
    • Time boundaries
    • Service boundaries (including cancellations and refunds)
    • Task boundaries
    • Alignment boundaries
    • Personal, work-life boundaries

    What are yours? We’d love to know and help keep you accountable. Share in the Kick Arse Women Doing Business Facebook Group!

    Step 5: REWARD —
    How Will You Celebrate And Acknowledge Your Good Boundary Work?

      Holding and communicating boundaries takes time, effort and practice. And it can be seriously hard sometimes. So, there’s gotta be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, right?

      The final step to creating a list of airtight non-negotiables is to figure out exactly what ‘success’ will look like if you manage to keep them in place and how you might give yourself a cheeky reward for all your boss ass boundary keeping.

      Step 5: Reward — How Will You Celebrate And Acknowledge Your Good Boundary Work?

      Successfully keeping boundaries in place could look like:

      • No (scope) creepy clients and projects that run smoothly, on-time and on budget
      • More freedom and happiness, or energy left in the tank at the end of the week
      • Pressing ‘reject’ or sending a client call straight to voicemail
      • More focus because you don’t have notifications pinging off every two seconds
      • More refreshing and rejuvenating time away from the desk
      • More time with the people you love and care for
      • Not having to feel like you’re juggling all the balls and doing a poor job of it
      • More money for less work

      What would it look like for you if you managed to keep all those boundaries in place and respect your boundaries? And lastly, how will you celebrate?

      • Every time a project runs smoothly — you give yourself a bonus of 5%?
      • Every time you turn your phone off — you get a pedicure?
      • Every time you have a whole weekend to yourself — you finish an hour or two earlier on the following Friday?
      • Every month you earn more than you would in a salaried position — you buy yourself a small item for your home office?

      Just like your non-negotiables, the way you choose to celebrate will be completely unique to you! But you do need to take the time to acknowledge and honour the boundaries you’re putting in place, and how much better it feels as a result.

      Are You Ready To Level Up Your Business Non-Negotiables?

      As the proverb goes, the best time to get cracking on your business non-negotiables was yesterday. The second best time is now. Pop some time in the diary right now to identify, define, refine, communicate and reward your business (and life!) non-negotiables.

      And if you want a little support figuring out what those boundaries are or how to keep them in place — book an obligation-free growth strategy session with The Women’s Accountant today!

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