How to Establish Better Boundaries with Clients

Ah, entrepreneur life. For many, it seems like the ultimate lifestyle choice. You get to chose who to do business with, what you want to do, how to go about it, which hours to work, where to go… (Insert visions of working from your laptop while lounging next to the sunny Mediterranean. #lifegoals)

Except we all know it doesn’t work out that way, right?

How to Push Back When Clients Ask for More:

How many times have you found yourself shooting Red Bull at 1 a.m. on a Saturday (and I don’t mean Jaeger Bombs at the bar), all to make a deadline becausethat client needed their deliverables by Monday morning… and didn’t send you the deets until Friday at five?

Oh yes, you know which client I’m talking about. The one that missed the “independent contractor” part of your contract, and sends you emails (or calls!) at all hours and wants an answer no matter what time of day. Or who needs justone more tiny little thing on this that will only take five minutes, right? Or who needed those graphics posted like, yesterday, but forgot to send you the copy and account log in information.

The worst thing is you probably really like this client. They have an amazing mission that you wholeheartedly support. You cansee how busy they are, and so you know it’s tough for them to get you stuff on time. And it’s just this one time… oh, whoops, no, three times… uh… sh&t, it’sall the time…

Do you have another shot of Jaegermeister handy? Good. Because I’m going to tell you the hard truth of the matter:

Not setting solid boundaries with clients is a disservice to you, to them, and to any other independent contractors that they work with down the road.

You can’t do your best work — for the client in question, or any other clients —  if you’re running yourself ragged keeping up with client demands.

Your client willnot magically learn where those boundaries are and will keep pushing (can you blame them?) until you finally snap — potentially ruining what was an otherwise good client relationship.

Not only are you making things harder for yourself, but you’re training your client to expect that freelancers are available all. the. time, or that compliance with their scope-creep requests isn’t a problem. So be kind to your sister or brother-in-entrepreneurism down the line, and help educate your client now so that no one gets burned later.

So, how do you go about setting reasonable boundaries with your client? Well, hold on to your drink, ‘cause here we go.

1. Set project expectations before starting work — with a solid contract

This should really be covered in the Freelancing 101 Handbook, but even seasoned professionals miss this one. Before you start any kind of project… a photoshoot, a website design, replanting your neighbor’s garden… I don’t care what it is, get specific.

  • Make the services or deliverables you’re providing clear-cut and measurable. For example: “I will write, upload, and publish three blog posts each calendar month,” not “I will update your blog each month.” Or, “I will provide photography services from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and will upload a gallery of 500 edited images [side note, always underpromise if you do this, or you may find yourself paying $$ back if you deliver 490 images] by 14 days after your wedding day,” not “I’ll be the photographer on your wedding day and will upload the images to a gallery afterward.”
  • Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines. You’ll want to set an overall project timeline and deadlines for each stage of the project, but also dates for whenthey need to have information to you. Prevent those late-night Red Bull binges by giving your client a deadline too, and stating clearly what happens with their project if they miss it.
  • Consider stating not onlywhen they need to provide something, butwhat they need to give you. For example: “Client will email current brand colors, high-resolution logo file, and website copy to service provider by July 2.”

2. Share when you are/are not available 

Part of the allure of running your own business is being able to do work when it works for you, right? Do you take weekends off to detox, start work later in the day, or spend every Monday volunteering with a local non-profit?

Make sure you tell your clients which hours and days of the week you work (and don’t work). How soon can they expect a response to their emails? When do you sit down at your desk and when do you leave?

And don’t assume that just including this information in your contract is enough. State your hours of operation and communication times wherever you can… on your website, in your proposal and/or contract documents, even in your email signature!

Remember, there’s a difference between “office hours” when you’re publicly available and working hours which can be whenever you want.

3. Speak up early and often

Don’t wait to say something until after the tenth time you get a late night request for “just one more thing.” First of all, your client won’t understand why they’re suddenly not getting the service they’ve been getting all along. And secondly, your frustration will build each time — making it harder to communicate professionally and dispassionately.

Trust me, I know how hard it is to tell a client that no, you cannot just edit 10 more photos. Make it easier on yourself by having an airtight contract that statesexactly what is included and what is not, so you can respond without indecision or guilt.

It’s a whole lot easier to point to a contract than it is to say, “remember when we talked about xyz back on that discovery call 7 months ago?”

4. Have the money conversation before starting extra work

My favorite way to respond to additional requests is with “Yes, I’d be happy to do that for you! That service is $$$ dollars, and I’ll send you an invoice at the end of the month for it.”

By responding this way, it’s a win for you and the client… they’re still hearing yes, you’ll do the work, andyou aren’t doing work that you should really be paid for. Win win!

Okay, are you ready to permanently banish scope-creep from your business?Check out this post for3 ways to prevent nightmare client situations orget the skinny on the 3 essentials every contract needs to be effective.

Do you already have a contract, but you’re not sure if it will cover your butt?Take a look at theClient Contract Checklist to make sure it covers everything you need for maximum protection.

How to Establish Better Boundaries with Clients

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