In the wild wild west of freelance, small business and entrepreneurship, boundaries can feel like an afterthought. But the ability to set boundaries is one of the most important tools in your toolkit. Boundaries help you protect your reputation, champion your values, give you the freedom to say yes and the peace of mind to say no.
Setting boundaries is hard. Boundaries can change. Sometimes they can be broken. And sometimes they never should be. In this episode, Jenn and Doug give real-world examples from their lives as a photographer and a musician, of boundaries they’ve set for themselves, boundaries they’ve broken (and why) and where they draw the line.
THE SHOW NOTES:
Doug Gay: Hello. Today’s podcast topic is boundaries. We are going to identify them, we’re going to analyze them. We’re gonna set them, and very possibly, we may break them. What you think about that, Jenn Ocken?
Jenn Ocken: I gotta tell you, it’s one of my favorite things in the world is to go into a space where you have an idea of what you want to do and it comes out being completely different.
Doug Gay: I love that. Let’s talk about identifying boundaries. Step one: I think they’ll show themselves to you. What do you think?
Jenn Ocken: Well, I teach a lot in the Thriv Series for creatives that you have to set boundaries. You have to understand what it is that you can do as far as … maybe it’s your profitability margin, or your idea that this is the only thing that I can give. I can’t go and do that because that’s not within my skill set, or it’s not something that really inspires me so that if you can outline and define those boundaries before you go into a negotiation, before you set yourself up to present yourself in front of somebody.
It also gives you a space of flexibility, so when they ask something you may or may not be able to accomplish, or that does not feel right, or is not within your craft, then you have kind of a protective set of boundaries.
Doug Gay: Right. Let’s just think about the listener right now who is just forming their business, thinking about how to establish some relationships with people, and thinking about taking on opportunities to forward their business. It’s hard to know where to set boundaries because you’re in the wild west of your own business, you don’t now exactly … sometimes of what you’re even doing in a way. You understand what I’m trying to say about that?
Jenn Ocken: I do. I do.
Doug Gay: For me, when I set boundaries show themselves to you, in my experience as a young entrepreneur 15 years ago, I often said no to very little. There were no boundaries until they presented themselves to me.
Jenn Ocken: I can get behind that, Doug, because I understood the value of diversifying your craft, and that’s one thing that you can do when you don’t have a strong boundaries as what you might have as you lead into your creative career path, and you lay down some kind of regulations and your values start to really define themselves and show up for your craft and where you’re going to lead.
Doug Gay: That’s right. Yeah. That’s my thinking, but once you get to a point where you’ve been doing what you’re doing for a while, you establish a brand, you establish a reputation, at some point, like you said, you’re going to have to define those boundaries.
Jenn Ocken: Absolutely.
Doug Gay: Can you talk to me about analyzing those boundaries? For example, is it a true boundary or is it a challenge that you may be fearful of? Do you know what I’m saying?
Jenn Ocken: Oh! I totally do. You got to sit back with something that comes and presents you with an opportunity. I can remember coming into a new market, and getting presented an opportunity that I was, “My God, there’s no way I would ever do that as a photographer.” But there was an instinct inside of me that said, “Say yes to this because this is your target market.” I defined my target market, and I understood what that was, and even though I wasn’t going to be doing what I defined as my craft, I was actually going to be reaching my target market and so I said yes to it.
Doug Gay: I love that. Exactly. I’ve gone through that same thing myself where sometimes what you define as what you do can set this boundary that might prevent you from opportunity, and so when something presents itself to you where you say, “I’m going to step outside of the box of my own thing,” you’re crossing over this boundary-
Jenn Ocken: Into opportunity and not necessarily a different thing-
Doug Gay: Into opportunity-
Jenn Ocken: Just into different opportunity.
Doug Gay: Into opportunity. That’s right, and I guess we should probably give some examples because we’re kind of-
Jenn Ocken: We’re pretty obscure-
Doug Gay: We’re saying some heady stuff that doesn’t really … Can you give me an example of … here’s what I want. I want an example of a boundary you set and said, “I’m not doing this. I’m not doing this for this client, I’m not doing this in this realm of my business.” Whatever it maybe, I want a) example, and then I want b) example of something you said, “You know what? I’m just going to do it.”
Jenn Ocken: Yeah. I’ve turned down school pictures. I’m a photographer, I turned down school pictures before. But a country club asked me to do Santa pictures.
Doug Gay: Okay.
Jenn Ocken: And I said, “All right.” Because I knew that every single one of those hundred families that were going to come through, and I was going to get their email address from one day, I knew that those were the people that were going to be able to show up for my craft, if I could educate them on the why I take photographs. I have this opportunity because I have their email address, and I have … I can now generate content that will be directed exactly to them, because I know who they are, where they came from. Then I just spent a day doing something I said I would never do, but it was worth. It was a marketing. It was a advertising.
Doug Gay: It was a marketing opportunity within the demographic that you had defined, that is your demographic-
Jenn Ocken: And I have done it for now ten years.
Doug Gay: There you go.
Jenn Ocken: Because now I have a relationship with those people, some of those people are not my clients, some of those people will eventually be my clients. Who knows what’s going to happen? But I have a relationship with them, and they do buy the pictures, yes. I make some value on the pictures that I have to do, but I also have a great team.
There’s a lot of other things that go along with it as well, like I love working for this certain country club. It’s my target market. They were part of my defined niche market, and that’s where I saw was an opportunity. That’s where my boundary of, “that’s what I’ll never do,” ended up being something I’ve done for ten years.
Doug Gay: Because you analyze the whole picture.
Jenn Ocken: I did. I said I saw the bigger picture.
Doug Gay: No pun intended. The whole picture.
Jenn Ocken: The whole picture. Take your picture.
Doug Gay: Can you give me an example where you set a boundary and you felt right about it? Till this day you still feel right about setting those boundaries. Because you did say school pictures.
Jenn Ocken: Yeah, I did say school pictures. You know, I’m kind of blessed in the fact that I was very [foresaw 00:07:42] in educating myself, and what I needed to do to put myself out there as a documentary, to define my craft. That is a big thing that I teach in the Thriv Community. Actually, you know Doug, you were telling me about some really good say-yes-and-figure-it-out-later examples that I think would be better here, because that whole school picture thing, and Santa thing, that’s about where I go. Everything in there … I’ve done some editorial stuff but it’s all been … they’ve all loved my documentary. I’ve just been really good about keeping that in the forefront of what I needed to do.
Doug Gay: Right. I think in terms of opportunity, saying yes and figuring it out later, I do know that the next episode we’re going to be touching on is going to be that, so I think what I’d like to say, what we were just talking about the other day was how my boundaries shifted over time.
Jenn Ocken: That’s … Yes.
Doug Gay: Right. I mentioned in our pilot that I was a band director for many years, as I have also been a professional musician for many years and a business small business owner. Where in the realm of professional musician, I never … there are very few … there’s a handful of times I can count of when I’ve done a music job just for the money. It’s always been for the journey, but you learn how to set your boundaries. I’ve learned how to set my boundaries over time by saying yes over, and over, and over again. Okay?
Jenn Ocken: Yes.
Doug Gay: So it did two things for me. One, by saying yes to every gig and playing under the bridge like for no one-
Jenn Ocken: Under the bridge …
Doug Gay: No, no, no. Playing the smallest just jivey places and then getting to play at much larger places, I made it a point to say yes because I thought that being in the moment, being in each situation and almost like hedging my bets, I could create a successful career just by always being everywhere, because by always being everywhere, you’re going to be in the right place at the right time at some point.
Jenn Ocken: You know last week you said, “By being able to say yes to everybody it opened up to a community of people that would further my craft.”
Doug Gay: That’s right. Yeah.
Jenn Ocken: And I really loved that.
Doug Gay: I learned a lot of hard lessons by saying yes too much, but had I not gone through that process I wouldn’t have learned how to say no at the right time. Does that makes sense?
Jenn Ocken: Yes. So tell … You’ve got to bring out that story about saying no with the kids and the dress rehearsal.
Doug Gay: Oh sure.
Jenn Ocken: That’s a great story, Doug.
Doug Gay: Yeah, so I’m sitting in a theater, and as I said I own Baton Rouge Music Studios and Music Academy, we had probably 60 kids in this program, and I was called by a manager of an artist I work for who needed me to fly to Atlanta immediately, and would pay me a certain amount of money to take the red eye, sleep, get up, play a gig, come right back home, no harm no foul, right?
I’m home on Sunday. The show’s on Saturday, so I have to think to myself, “What are my standards? What are my values? What’s my value system? My value system is to teach these kids how to stand by their word. Stand up to people. If I were to have bailed out of the situation, what lesson am I teaching them? Maybe none of them would have noticed. I’m the director, but I’m not in on everything, so they might not even notice I was gone, but I made the decision to be there.
Jenn Ocken: They were expecting you to be there too.
Doug Gay: I would imagine there were.
Jenn Ocken: No, and not that they would ever say if they would have missed you or not, but there was an expectation there as a leader, and as a mentor, and as a person of the creative.
Doug Gay: There was an expectation for myself, and so what I was telling you was that the guy kept calling me back with higher and higher prices, “I can pay you more. I can pay you more. I can pay more.” And I stuck to my guns and did not do that, and stayed there for my kids, and a part of me was really worried that I wouldn’t get a call back, because it was a pretty lucrative manager who … he-
Jenn Ocken: He booked you on a lot of gigs
Doug Gay: Yeah, but, I got a call the next month. It was no biggie. No big deal.
Jenn Ocken: No harm no foul.
Doug Gay: That’s right, and I stuck to my guns. I guess the reason we’re saying this is because you have to set boundaries.
Jenn Ocken: You have to set boundaries, and what did you say? You said, “I had fear that he would never call me back, but it was me sticking to my values that gave him the respect that he needed to know that I was going to be accountable. That I was going to show up where I needed to be, so he called me back because he respected that.”
Doug Gay: Exactly. That’s right. Because I felt like he had more respect for me for sticking to my guns.
Jenn Ocken: He earned your trust. It was his notification.
Doug Gay: Whatever our creatives are, whether they make jewelry, or paintings, or whatever-
Jenn Ocken: Commercials.
Doug Gay: You have to be … you have to stick to your-
Jenn Ocken: Your values, your boundaries, your space where you are going to be able to wake up the next day and say, “I made the right decision for me.”
Doug Gay: That’s right.
Jenn Ocken: And for the people that are most important in my life.
Doug Gay: Absolutely.
Jenn Ocken: Okay, so now the flip story to that, which is really exciting for me is, you going and hanging out with your buddies playing a gig at the Spanish Moon, right? The Spanish Moon gig, and you were ready to go all in and then all of a sudden, you saw how packed the place was.
Doug Gay: Yeah. Yeah. Playing a gig at the Spanish Moon, the place is packed, and I knew my paycheck would be a standard paycheck for me, for my lot in where I am now.
Jenn Ocken: For playing with a buddy.
Doug Gay: Yeah, and I decided it was so packed that I’d rather just not get paid, and have my buddy just buy me drinks all night.
Jenn Ocken: Love it. I love it.
Doug Gay: It’s like I didn’t need it. I’m not there. I’m not there with that. As a business person who runs an academy and makes a certain living there, it changed my values. Before I only made a living playing music, so to think, “I don’t want my paycheck, I just want you to stand in line for me because I don’t want to …”
Jenn Ocken: I don’t have to wait.
Doug Gay: I don’t want to deal with it.
Jenn Ocken: I don’t want to wait.
Doug Gay: You think about it, it’s just a change in perception. It’s a different paradigm.
Jenn Ocken: It’s totally, and the thing I wanted to talk about with these two stories, and where they really hit me was, it was a value system that you placed for that moment, and it changes. The value system for creatives is they flow through their creative career path. They’re going to understand that something’s going to make them want to create more, and some things … they’re just gonna want to be able to live sustainably with. You get it as a creative, as a business owner, as somebody taking control of what you have to give, and living within your purpose. You get to make those decisions, and nobody else can make those for you.
Doug Gay: That’s right. That’s right. Can you talk about setting boundaries as a tool in negotiation?
Jenn Ocken: Oh! I love it. My idea, I have to spend a lot of one on one time with my clients. I have to express what it is that I’m going to give them, and the reasons behind my creative craft as a photographer, the story I can tell, the experiences, the joy that it’s going to be, the interaction between us. I have to sell all of that, and that is a lot of my value that I have placed on my price point.
I have placed my price point to a space where if somebody comes to me and says, “I really can’t, but I really want you. What is it going to take?” I get to evaluate the timing of it, I get to evaluate where I’m at, what my needs are. I have all of that laid out as a creative, and so I can say, “Yes.” Or “No.” And that’s important to me because I don’t want to go into an assignment, into a project, into a project that’s going to be something that I’m going to be disgruntled about.
Nobody wins when you’re in that position, so setting those boundaries, understanding if you set yourself a little higher and then you bring it back down, and to be able to work with your client, it creates two things. It gives you a sense of flexibility that you are then giving to the client, and the client feels like you are then compromising into their benefit. Then that makes them feel good as a client, because as a craft, as a creative, they are investing in you and your craft.
Doug Gay: You know, you just said some very important. I think I’m reminded of rules were made to be broken-
Jenn Ocken: Absolutely.
Doug Gay: So you set these boundaries but … and we have them in our policies and procedures at Baton Rouge Music Studios. Every client that comes in, receives a contract that you read through and sign. Do we … we honor everything positive in that contract. Everything. Everything that says we are going to do what we say we’re going to do, we honor. And everything that says, “If you don’t do this, you might not get it,” we generally give it to them, but at least they have an idea of what the rules are, and then you get to be the hero in a way.
Jenn Ocken: Absolutely.
Doug Gay: Not as a self-serving thing, but just as a … we’re-
Jenn Ocken: Its a fantastic business tactic. It’s something that you are able to show up in a space where you’re both giving value, and keeping your own power, but also allowing the consumer, your buyer, your collector, your business partner, somebody that is going to show up for you, it gives them a space of relief, and that you’re in it for them as well.
Doug Gay: Absolutely. Absolutely. And you have to be authentic in the fact that you are in it for them.
Jenn Ocken: Absolutely.
Doug Gay: But you want to set those boundaries, just so that …
Jenn Ocken: You can flow into a well negotiated partnership that’s going to be beneficial for all parties involved.
Doug Gay: I love it, and that’s a way that we break our boundaries. But also, boundaries can be a perception of your limitations, so when are you ready to break some boundaries, and how do you go about doing it? We’re talking about breaking the rules that we’ve already set, but also if you think about boundaries as a block in how far you think you can go, so we’ve talked about boundaries in regard to the client, but boundaries in regard to you and your business. Are you not wanting to do this because you’re fearful that you’ll fail and something you don’t … you might not be …
Jenn Ocken: Well that’s when they become blocks.
Doug Gay: Right. Exactly. There are examples of breaking boundaries within your own company, for example, we had an organization asked to do a workshop with us, and we decided that we could do it, and we didn’t know how we were going to do it, and this is leading into the next podcast of next month which is, ‘Say Yes Now And Figure It Out Later’.
Jenn Ocken: Right, as opposed to doing the whole … ‘The Art Of Saying No’.
Doug Gay: That’s right, and I’ve got a couple of different stories and I know you do as well, about how to ‘Say Yes Now, Make It Happen Later’ that we’re going to hit on the next podcast, and I’m super excited about that, but we can’t give everything away.
Jenn Ocken: No we can’t and you can always check into our free Facebook group Thriv Stars to see what’s going on in the Thriv Community, get a little taste of it, and then you can always go back to Starving Artist Myth, sign up if you’re not a member. If you are a member we’re going to be sending you guys some great stuff throughout the whole month about setting boundaries, understanding where you can be flexible, where you need to be like, “Hey, this is my limit. I’m sorry.” And being able to even take that opportunity to say no to somebody, but using it as a educational tool for them, and then you actually end up being of more value, and of more service, because you’re saying no, but you’re giving him the reasons to say no so they can show up for what it is that you have to say yes to.
Doug Gay: Absolutely, and that’s what I’m excited about the next podcast, because we’re going to be talking about how to say ‘No’ and when to say ‘No’. It’s wonderful. I love it and one of the things I love so much about having this opportunity to be on the microphone with you, is we just get to organically talk about the things that we’re dealing with. Hopefully people are identifying with that as well and saying, “Oh, I deal with that problem too.” Even if they’re completely different discipline than we are.
Jenn Ocken: Right. Creatives are Creatives.
Doug Gay: But, the supplemental material you are providing where it’s like this podcast is the session where we can just bullshit.
Jenn Ocken: We good at that Doug.
Doug Gay: But once you give that call to action, you have played things in place for people to really dig in and goal set, get organized, get in the right frame of mind for this stuff.
Jenn Ocken: Do those action steps that are going to take you into building a foundation that’s going to just flow right into a creative career path.
Doug Gay: That’s right. That’s right. Starving artist myth-
Jenn Ocken: Dot com.
Doug Gay: Dot com.
Well, Jenn, we’re wrapping up our time. Anything else you want to say as far as a call to action for our listeners?
Jenn Ocken: Well, okay, so go to thrivcommunity.com, check it out, see if being a member of the Thriv Community is for you. I’m pretty sure if you’ve been listening to this, that you’re one of us. You’re one of our peoples. We’re here to … It’s a place to be inspired and to inspire others.
But if I was going to leave anything from this podcast, I want you to know that what you have is valuable. It’s valuable enough to set boundaries, and it’s valuable enough for you to hold your power, and be able to say yes or no in any situation, as long as it reflects back on your values.
Doug Gay: Love it. That is a perfect way to end this podcast I love Jenn.
Jenn Ocken: Love you too, Doug.