A Guide to Setting Business Boundaries


Business BoundariesAre you scared to say no? A Guide to Setting Business Boundaries We hear about this in our Facebook Groups all the time. New and seasoned birth biz owners are often worried about saying ‘no’ to an opportunity just in case that might be the ONE chance that creates the tipping point that opens the doors to endless possibilities and success!

And we totally get it! Heck, we still do it sometimes. Saying ‘no’ is effin’ hard! 

It is hard as a business owner juggling all the many hats we need to wear. When you are first starting out, the hats are a little different. You are setting up your website, designing informational postcards, scrambling to get clients ANYWHERE, and figuring out what you say at consultations. Typically, you are asking for more favours during the startup window. As your business grows and matures, things that once took a lot of thinking and creating, like your contracts and your invoicing procedure, become easier and automatic in some respects. Regardless of where you are at, there are some challenges that are the same at all stages of entrepreneurship. Saying ‘no’.

As I mentioned before, when you are in startup you are typically doing a lot of favour asking. Barter is a currency that is common for brand new entrepreneurs. As your business grows, you then become the person that other entrepreneurs ask for favours – it is a great cycle to get in on, however, it can be hard to meet the needs of your life and business when you are doing lots of favours for people in the startup window.

It is great to do what you can to keep that cycle going and it is ok to say ‘NO’ to the rest. Saying ‘NO’ can be so challenging. Sometimes we can feel like we need to justify our ‘NO’. We feel guilty. Or mean. Or selfish. Or think we are going to miss out on an opportunity.

The flip side to this – by saying ‘YES’ all the time – you will burn yourself out. You will feel resentful. You are not putting the oxygen mask on yourself first. This can lead to you giving up on your doula business, and that means all those awesome clients you could have served will not get to experience your gifts and the difference that they make.

The other issue that doulas run into regularly is that they seem to have a lot of time to help and to do favours. Disclaimer: this is not to fuel the mommy wars – and a work from home/self-employed mom doesn’t have the same schedule as a stay-at-home mom, even if parts of it overlap, like school pick up and drop off. One is not better than the other, they are both super HARD and I know there were a lot of shaming faces when Alana and I would drop our daughter Gray at school while we were in sweats and hoodies and when asked to help out with a classroom activity/field trip we had to decline because we were ‘off to work’. More than a few parents and teachers gave us the ‘ya, sure’ face and moved on to the next parent standing by the gate.

The next bucket of pressured ‘YES'(es) to loom at are from clients. There can be pressure to change prices, policies, and practices. Some of the requests may feel totally doable for you like having prenatal appointments over Skype so that an overseas spouse can login. Or to pay via PayPal when you typically only accept cheques or email money transfers. Or to have a friend sit in on the prenatals as they will be part of the birth support team on the big day.

Things that may feel less easy to bend on or that jumpstart your excuse & apology machine would be things like asking for a reduction of price for any reason. Or shortening/lengthening your minimum/maximum postpartum work shifts. Or asking for extra prenatal sessions without an increase in payment. Or too many follow up phone call/text questions. Sound familiar?


Ultimately, we need to be choosey with what we agree to from an emotional, time and financial perspective. This can be really hard. ‘NO’ is one of the hardest things to say for most people. So, the #bebobabes are here to rescue you from over YES-ing in your life.

And, of course, we have put together the top 5 tips for saying ‘NO’ so you can save your sanity, your ego, your time, your relationships and your business boundaries. AND we added a bonus tip to make the other 5 more palatable. Plus, y’all should know by now, we love a good bonus! 

1, Don’t apologize for your ‘NO’.

2. Offer a solution with your ‘NO’.

3. Don’t make excuses for why you are saying ‘NO’.

4. Don’t be unkind with your ‘NO’.

5. Invest wisely with your ‘YES'(es).

BONUS: Be kind to yourself!

Now let’s look at how we can apply our top tips.

#1. Don’t apologize for your ‘NO’.

When you are saying ‘NO’ to an ask, you do not need to say sorry. You didn’t do anything wrong, you are simply stating that their ask doesn’t work for your life.

#2. Offer a solution or counter offer with your ‘NO’.

If you are working up to the clear ‘NO’ because this process still leaves you feeling uncomfortable, you can come up with a counter-offer that doesn’t spread you too thin or create resentment. For example, you may be asked to volunteer at your little one’s school to be a parent supervisor for the next field trip. If you cannot afford to give up a hands-free work day, you can instead say, ‘No, I am unable to volunteer on Thursday and I am happy to sign up to help with the Fall Fair set up team.’ Or ‘I cannot volunteer for this field trip and I can drop off snack for next Wednesday’s snack circle.’

#3. Don’t make excuses for why you are saying ‘NO’!

If a client is asking for a price reduction, you do not need to explain your value or why your prices are what they are. That is your price. It is safe to say that you have set your prices based on your living wage and expenses. You don’t need to justify this, own it with pride. When asked to lower your rate or to make your package smaller (i.e. how much is it if we only have 1 prenatal appointment? Am I right?!) you can simply respond with ‘My rate is $1379 and I can keep my August spot open for you for the next 48 hours if you would like to think about it. I can also put you in touch with some clients of mine that can speak to how invaluable my services were.’

Anything else can make you seem insecure about your worth and value. You know how awesome you and your services are, so don’t let anyone cause you to take pause and doubt this.

#4. Be kind with your ‘NO’.

Sometimes in the interest of being strong and clear and respecting personal boundaries, the pendulum can swing too far the other direction. It is never ok to belittle someone, or make them feel stupid for asking for support. Asking can be really hard as well, so the response needs to keep everyone’s feelings intact. For example, you may have a new doula that would like to meet with you to talk about how you grew your doula business in your city. If you do not have time to meet them you can say ‘Thank you so much for thinking of me, good for you for starting your new practice, it can be so scary and exciting starting a business. I cannot meet for lunch and I have an awesome blog post (insert hyperlink here) about my first year of business if you want to read that. There is also a doula meet up the last Wednesday of the month at John’s Coffee Shop and I will be there if you would like to chat then’.

#5. Invest wisely with your YES(es).

If you can start thinking of your time like any other resource you will invest it wisely. Your time is a finite resource and if you give it all away, then you will not have enough for you. That is not to say that you cannot be generous. Just as you make a donation to a charity or a cause you find important, you should do that with your time as well. How do you figure out what you have to give?

Well, list all the things you need to do in the week. Don’t forget self-care time. That doesn’t have to be manicures and massages (although it can be). It can also include you watching Netflix or reading a parenting book. Be really thorough with your list. Include responding to emails and staying active on your social media channels. Updating your website, ordering new TENS pads, organizing your free info sessions and grocery shopping for the week. Everything needs to be on that list.

Once you have a time budget for the month, you will know what is left over to give back to your communities (school, friends, mentorship, volunteer work, etc.). This will also help you navigate through the ‘bright & shiny’ work opportunities. It can be hard to say ‘NO’ to something that may seem like it will boost your biz. You have to see if you can do it. If you only have x hours for the month then you cannot ‘overspend’ with your time. Trust me, opportunities are never ending. You will have new offers every month, so don’t panic and spread yourself too thin out of fear.

Also, you do not help people because you get something out of it. AND at the same time, say YES to the people that show up for you. If you have a friend that never RSVPs yes to events you invite them to, rarely reaches out, doesn’t ‘share’ your work stuff on Facebook or doesn’t do much outside of occasional text messages or likes your Instagram photos yet they ask you to help them move… well, you may think twice. Save your time for people that do show up. Friends who call you to see what you need when they hear your grandma died. That come and sit in the cold rink with you when your kid’s hockey team is in the peewee tournament finals. That brings you food when you are sick. That RSVPs YES to your baby shower. Those are the people that you help move.

Now, let’s look at our bonus tip!

#6. Be kind to yourself.

In short, flip the ‘NO’ on its head. Rather than focusing on the fact that you are saying ‘NO’ to someone, see it that you are saying ‘YES’ to you! Taking care of you needs to be first and foremost. Your life cannot run without you, your family cannot run without you and your business cannot run without you. You are the most important person in your life equation. When you are saying ‘YES’ to you regularly, you then will find that you can say ‘YES’ to the people that deserve your time and care.

It can be hard asking for help and it can be hard saying ‘NO’. Both the ask and the answer need to be handled with care, generosity and kindness. Kindness for yourself and your time and kindness to the person asking for support or favours or requests.

No time like the present – What are some things you can start saying ‘NO’ to today?!

Bianca Sprague is a birth doula, lactation educator, childbirth educator and business consultant. She and her partner, Alana, are the moms to their 10 year old daughter, Gray. Bianca is the CEO and co-founder of bebo mia inc. and CEO of Baby & Me Fitness. When she’s not nerding out on all the books related to business and/or birth she is cross-stitching while Netflixing or adventuring around Toronto (and the world!) with Alana.

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