Please Unfriend Your Clients: Separating your personal life from your business

Because I didn’t have enough on my plate right now, in the last two weeks I have injected myself into trying to bring some sanity to my community’s HOA. The process ‘fixer’ in me just can’t help myself. As a result of this effort I have gotten at least 25 Facebook friend invites. I have declined every one of them. No, I am not the snobbiest person ever. I just believe in keeping a strong line between my personal life and work efforts, both for me and my businesses.

I have a professional career, I have a graphic design business, an executive/business/life coaching business, I show horses, I volunteer with a non-profit, I now am involved in my community and yet I keep around 60 Facebook friends (I’d like to be under 50 if possible). Why? Because neither side of my world is improved by having them mixed. For the thousands of clients I have worked with in the last two decades less than five have become Facebook friends. These five truly are friends in my daily life and belong, the rest do not. None of my current co-workers are on my social media and the one that was at my previous job has been removed since I left there. I keep a very simple rule around social media and knowing what I am up to, if I wouldn’t invite you to my home you don’t need to be on my pages.

When I broach this topic with executive/business/life coaching clients they seem puzzled by why this is a big deal. The first is you never know who you are offending (and as a result hurting your business). You harmlessly posting the steak you had for dinner last night can easily cost you that million-dollar account with the person you didn’t know was a vegan. Jokes that seem funny to you may not be read that way and you may be perceived as less than the professional you are. The second reason is the ability to turn off your work life and have personal time. It is important, especially in the age of constant technology, to be able to step away and take time from clients and work. That recharge is very hard when you have to filter out business interactions from your own life.

Tips for Separating

Have two phone numbers You need a 9-5 work number and a personal number. This allows you to set the work phone down at night, on vacations and when you are spending time with family and friends but not worry those you love can’t reach you. Doing this does not necessitate carrying two phones all the time. You can forward one number to the other phone during the work day so you can be centralized, but then turn this off when needed. A second number can be done either as a true separate line (which comes at cost), through a virtual number or a free service like Google Phone Numbers

Keep separate social media accounts for personal versus professional Each of my businesses has its own page. My horses have their own page. This allows me to segment the parts of my life I want to share but keep my personal life mine. Allow people who you only know through your business to follow you there versus adding them as friends.

Do periodic friend house cleaning There are times you have no choice but to add people to your personal sites. I went through this while trying to sell my horse. However, too many people take the ‘once there always there’ approach. At least once a year (although I would advocate more often) go through your friends, followers and contacts. If you have to struggle to remember why someone is there or they no longer fit your personal life remove them (or add them to one of your other sites and then remove them).

Know your security settings In addition to knowing who you have invited into your inner circle, also keep track of how much others might be lurking. Stay current on changes to the access in different social media platforms. Restrict who can not only see but who can share what you post to personal sites.

Control tagging You can have your sites locked down, be totally conscientious of what you post and have all your hard work undone by a well-meaning friend or family member. One picture of you drunk at a bachelor party can erase years of building a professional corporate image and your boss does not need to see you being teased for not knowing how to spell. Especially related to politics, religion and social opinions, the wrong tag can lose you clients or jobs. Turn on the ability to review tags to your personal site before they are live. While the tagged item may not impact your friends, if you have followed the other tips, friends of others tagged in the pictures or posts may be associated with your clients and unbeknownst to you seeing the posts.

Social media is a great tool. I love my Facebook because it has let me stay connected and be part of the lives of my friends and loved ones around the globe in a way I wouldn’t have otherwise, but it is important that you control your brand. If it doesn’t make you look professional, if it doesn’t make you look competent or wouldn’t bring you business it should not be put out for the masses. Keep who you are you. Separate your life and image.