Setting Boundaries Within Your Design Business

Setting Boundaries for your Design Business

Setting boundaries and following through on those boundaries can be extremely difficult in such a competitive industry.

It’s difficult to find clients, so when you do it can be challenging to say “no” to their requests and demands—regardless of how disrespectful they might be.

It’s hard to say “no” to, “I need this NOW and I need it at this price.” Especially when it is a price that completely undervalues your craft and the time that it takes to create something of quality.

Even after all these years, and in my (thankfully) stable business, I have a difficult time saying “no” to client demands that cross my boundaries. The thought of it immediately triggers fears of scarcity – and even worse — letting someone down (gasp!) The horror of it all.

If I say no will…

  • The client replace me with another designer?
  • The client, who I love and care for, be put in a difficult situation with her boss, factory, partner, etc.?
  • This client no longer like me?

Here’s a thought to consider. Maybe it is not just about saying “no.” Maybe it’s about standing up for your boundaries and coming to agreements that feel fair for both parties.

For example, my friend Lacy Boggs recently had a client request a rush project that they needed by the next day. This request was going to be a major disruption to Lacy’s work schedule and she couldn’t find anyone else to cover the project. She told the client, “I can get this done for you by tomorrow, but I will have to charge my rush rate. Happy to do it! But I don’t know if the investment is worth it to you…”

Business-BoundariesThe client initially declined the offer, but Lacy left the exchange feeling proud of herself for what she had done. She had respected her boundaries and felt good about her decision. But you know what??? The next day the client got back to her saying they were happy to pay her rush rate. The agreement was fair. The client got the high quality work that they needed – in the amount of time that they needed it – and Lacy was fairly compensated for whatever she was giving up in order to rush the project.

At the heart of the matter, each time we cross our boundaries and choose our clients well-being over our own we give something up.

My friend Breanne Dyck posed this question: “What would you be doing instead?” It’s a question to ponder and what she was getting at was…

  • What would you be doing if you weren’t spending your night on that rush project?
  • What would you be doing if you didn’t have to work sixty hours a week because your prices are too low?
  • What are you losing each time you disrespect your boundaries?
  • What dreams are you giving up on when you let your boundaries slide?
  • What important, business growing, soul enriching projects are you pushing aside each time you accept a project at bottom rate price or give up your personal time to rush a project?

These are the questions that I am currently asking myself , and that I want you to ask yourself as well.  What would you be doing instead?

  • Would you design a collection for that product line that you have always dreamed of launching?
  • Would you update your website so that you can reach more clients?
  • Would you paint that series of paintings that you have been thinking about for years?

These are examples of the things that you are giving up when you let your boundaries slip.

Now, I am no expert on boundaries–this concept is new to my business and I am currently devouring Randi Buckley’s beautiful content to learn more. She’s brilliant and authentic and her work will delight and empower.

In my quest to continually respect my boundaries I am trying to trust my instincts and listen to my initial reaction to proposals.

If my response is “Ugh..” or “What in the world???”, a boundary has probably been crossed.

Boundaries are not a one-size-fits-all solution. We are each going to have different boundaries and business standards, but when you feel as if a boundary has been crossed return to that question, “What am I giving up when taking on this project…and is it worth it?



  1. I love that you brought up this issue of boundaries!
    For the last few month I have been working very hard to create a set of rules for myself and my interaction with my clients, in order for the boundaries thing not to become a problem.
    After a 2 and a half years of trying to work with any client I can find, I have grown my textile design business enough,to make sure neither I, not my clients cross boundaries. (When I mean myself, I mean not working 20 hours on a project which is supposed to take 5).
    In order to held prevent this problem, I have written down a contract, which describes in details the collaboration terms between myself and my clients.
    I was surprised, but this helped a lot!
    Also, I try to be very upfront, and warn the client before approaching the boundaries, and not allowing them to cross them.
    Even the smallest thing, as clients trying to communicate via Whatsapp, can be a huge waste of time! However if all communication is via email and scheduled calls, there’s much less chance for misconduct.

    FROM THE OTHER HAND, I do try to take as much projects as I can. I don’t mind working twice the hours. I do love the feeling of working on something meaningful for my clients, and later seeing my work. In order to prevent burnout, I take a lot of vacations.So it’s a bit black or white situation for me at the moment.

  2. Thanks so much Michelle for this post! It’s so useful and necessary! It helps to remind the great value of our knowledge, experience, expertise, time… and life! 🙂

  3. Thanks so much for this post Michelle – you have helped me open my eyes to my value and how to communicate mutual respect for boundaries during all business relations!

  4. Thanks so much, this resonates because I am working with a client who is pushing boundaries. Very helpful link to Randi too. I will use your ideas with future clients, thanks again.

    1. Randi is the best! I recommend following her on social media so you can read her daily reminders and comments.They are so inspiring and help to stay on track

  5. Thanks for the topic, it’s right on time (:

    Also, a question for you and anyone else who feels like answering – would you sell your patterns to someone who wants to resell them? They don’t want to buy exclusively, just a license to sell them. I don’t want to say no, but I don’t want to regret it later either.

    1. Hmmm…that’s interesting. So they want to pay you a flat fee to license them? I have never heard of that. I guess it depends on how much they are offering! I am interested in hearing more about this Kadri!

  6. Thank you. I’m just thinking about starting so this was very informative for me. I recently retired so need something new to do. I’ve always created and want to take it to the next level.

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