Why Healthy Businesses Have Boundaries (And How To Set Yours)

Employees follow rules. Independent professionals make them. So try this: Create your own rules of engagement for those who would work with you.

Photo: Michael Katz, founder and Chief Penguin of Blue Penguin Development; Source: Courtesy Photo

The first concert I ever attended was on June 3, 1978 at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. Unfortunately, the performer was Bruce Springsteen. I say unfortunately, because as any number of rock ‘n’ roll enthusiasts will tell you, Bruce Springsteen just may be the best live performer on Earth.

And so after experiencing his speaker-climbing, storytelling, crowd surfing, three-plus-hour extravaganza, I simply assumed this was the norm for live concerts.

That was a big mistake.

Seeing Springsteen and then moving on to other concerts was the musical equivalent of dating Farrah Fawcett in high school and then moving on to other women (don’t judge me, it was the seventies). And so, having been disappointed over the years, when it comes to concerts I lean towards indifference.

There is one band, though, that has always caught my eye: Train. (Again with the judging?)

Not so much for their musical talent (I don’t know enough to measure that anyway), but rather for their versatility and word play. From “Hey” and “Soul Sister” to “Drops of Jupiter,” “Drive By,” and “Marry Me,” I am constantly amazed by the range of songs I hear–and like–and the inventiveness of their lyrics.


Photo: Chad Kirchoff, Pexels
Photo: Chad Kirchoff, YFS Magazine

And so when my wife Linda surprised me for Father’s Day with tickets to see the band last week, I was eager to attend. As an infrequent concert goer, and knowing that security had tightened up quite a bit in recent years, I checked the Xfinity Center website to see what they allowed people to bring in: One-gallon clear plastic freezer bag (Ziploc bag or similar), small clutch bags (approximately the size of a hand) and a small bottle of water.

That’s a pretty short list (a long way from the days when security was so lax people would literally sneak in full-size video cameras in their backpacks). But it’s their venue, and they make the rules. If I wanted to see Train, I had no choice but to follow them.

You get to set the rules too.


Business rules of engagement

You may not own and operate a stadium, but when it comes to working with clients, you too, get to decide who gets in, who doesn’t, and under what circumstances. Most solopreneurs and small business owners, however, don’t think this way.

Other than vague pronouncements like, “We don’t work with people who treat us badly,” many otherwise experienced and capable entrepreneurs set the engagement bar just slightly higher than, “They are willing to pay us.”

After all, we need clients. As long as someone is willing to hire us, our job is to do what they want, how they want it, and when. Right? Actually, no. That’s called “an employee.”

We are professionals, engaging in a mutually satisfying and productive arrangement between two parties, either one of whom has the right to set the terms by which they are willing to move forward.


Photo: Headway, Unsplash
Photo: Headway, YFS Magazine

Employees follow rules. Entrepreneurs make them. So try this: Create your own rules of engagement for those who would work with you. Things like:


  • We require a 50% deposit up front before beginning work

  • I am available between 8 AM and 6 PM weekdays

  • We don’t work without a signed contract

  • We never reduce the fee without taking something of equal value off the table

  • I require a minimum of $X if I need to travel overnight


These are just examples. I’m not suggesting you use these in particular or that you post these rules on your website. I am suggesting, though, that you take some time to develop a set of standards and write them down.

Doing so gives them power – the kind of power you’ll need when times are tight and you’re tempted to let anybody, no matter how they behave or what’s hidden in their backpack, walk past security and into your venue.


Michael Katz is a Boston-based marketing consultant and founder of Blue Penguin Development. He specializes in helping professional service firms stand out from the pack by positioning them as Likeable Experts. Get a free copy of his report, “The Professional Service Provider’s Essential Reading List – 11 Recommended Business(ish) Books,” here.


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