Setting Client Boundaries as a Freelancer
Freelancing is great because it offers you the flexibility and freedom to create the career and work/life balance you’ve always wanted!
But, as a freelancer, you’re constantly navigating lots of different clients.
And, setting boundaries with your clients can be a tricky subject to navigate.
Many freelancers begin to allow clients to make unreasonable demands on their time and attention because they fear losing them.
However, you need to keep in mind that you are a professional and should be treated as such.
While it’s important to please clients and maintain a healthy working relationship, there are times when you need to draw the line.
Here are my top 5 tips to help you successfully set boundaries while creating positive, long-term relationships with clients.
I often find that most problems begin with poor communication.
Instead of clearly communicating expectations, people operate with assumptions.
And, often, those assumptions are different between clients and freelancers.
Many clients assume freelancers are like hired employees, instead of independent business partners.
To a client, this means you should be available whenever they need you.
Some clients expect that you will work overtime or take on additional tasks that pop up over the course of completing a project.
So, before you agree to take on a job, be clear in communicating what your client should expect from you.
Let them know when you’ll be available, how long you need to complete the work, and what kind of communication to expect.
Clearly outline the scope and sequence of the project and what tasks you are expected to complete.
Let them know just how flexible you’ll be about taking on extra or unexpected work.
Setting clear expectations in advance of starting the work will help both you and the client to operate more as business partners and maintain a respectful working relationship.
Part of communicating effectively with your clients includes talking about scheduling.
Your client should know when you will be working on the project and when you’ll be available should they need to contact you.
This doesn’t mean that they need to know your schedule minute-by-minute, but they should have a general idea of when and how you work.
For example, do you usually take phone calls in the morning, so that’s when they should call if they have an issue?
Are you “out-of-the-office” during certain hours, so they won’t be able to contact you immediately during that time?
Are there certain days of the week you work and others when you don’t?
What is the time frame for how soon you’ll answer emails or return calls?
Let your client know when you’re available for work and stick to it.
This creates trust between you and the client. They won’t feel like you’re avoiding them or like they can’t get a hold of you when needed.
Likewise, you should know when and how to contact your client as needed.
That way, you’re not bothering them during inconvenient times or playing phone tag, trying to reach them.
If unexpected requests come up, talk with your client as soon as possible to find a reasonable compromise.
Keep in mind that sometimes pivoting as a freelancer is necessary but that doesn’t mean you have to meet every demand a client may have.
Make sure your deadlines are clear from the start, and make sure you hit those deadlines.
This could look like a project timeline or a list of goals you’ll meet and when you’ll meet them.
I’ve said this before, but always overestimate how long it will take to complete a project.
It’s way better to finish sooner rather than later.
Sticking to deadlines shows that you are reliable and the client can count on you.
With that in mind, let your client know as soon as possible if you encounter any delays.
Likewise, if there are parts of a project that depend on the client meeting certain deadlines, that should be clearly outlined in advance of starting the work.
That way, if a project is delayed due to their tardiness, you aren’t being blamed for it.
If you have a difficult time managing your time and sticking to deadlines, there are lots of tools you can use to manage your freelance business .
Lots of them are free and can help you with anything from time management to billing clients.
The trick is to find the tools that work for you and then stick with them!
The longer you stick with a consistent system, the faster you’ll be able to get organized, stick to deadlines, and accomplish work.
Effective communication and setting up expectations and deadlines in advance of starting a project will usually prevent 95% of problems, there may still be things that come up with clients.
Sometimes, you just get clients who are difficult or who constantly change their minds.
This can cause headaches and undue stress for freelancers.
I’ve talked before about ways to handle difficult clients .
Part of handling them is by setting limits so you can avoid overworking yourself.
If a client is asking too much of you, gently explain why it’s not feasible or remind them of the original agreement.
Remember that you are a professional, so be polite but firm.
It’s important to sometimes draw a line in the sand and remind clients of the boundaries you have created.
You’ll need to respectfully communicate your expectation that they will respect your boundaries.
However, there may be times when circumstances beyond your control or the client’s control come up.
Life happens, and you’ll want to show your clients that you are flexible and willing to work with them.
During these times, you may need to renegotiate your agreements - change expectations, deadlines, or the scope of a project.
And that’s ok - as long as this is done willingly and respectfully between all parties.
Feel empowered to say no when you need to!
Offer alternative arrangements that will work for you.
As a last resort, you may need to recommend that they work with a different freelancer.
As much as you want to maintain a long-term relationship with a client, it’s not worth your mental or physical health, or sacrificing your relationships with family and friends, to continue working with a client who does not respect your boundaries.
Your mental and physical health is invaluable.
You can’t replace these things, so once you begin to sacrifice them, freelancing is no longer worth it.
Make sure you take the time you need to recharge and take care of yourself.
Sometimes this means saying no to a project or to a client, even when you really want to help them.
Sometimes this means prioritizing time off rather than the next lucrative deal.
And sometimes, this means recognizing when to outsource freelance work so that you are able to complete projects and stick to deadlines without sacrificing your well-being.
Though freelancing can offer you financial freedom, it also affords you the opportunity to create a work/life balance that is healthy.
It’s not all about the money.
You aren’t a slave to the 9-to-5 office grind or to the demands of an unreasonable boss.
You are in charge of creating the life you’ve always wanted!
So, take advantage of the benefits of freelancing, including setting boundaries that work best for you.
It’s important to carve out time for yourself to pursue your non-freelancing interests and invest in your non-client relationships.
Doing so will help you become a better freelancer because you’ll have more mental and physical energy to invest in your clients and career.
Setting boundaries with your clients can be challenging, but it’s essential for maintaining healthy freelancing relationships.
As much as possible, try to communicate clearly in advance of starting any work.
This includes communicating about deadlines and expectations around how and when you will complete the work.
Also, prioritize your mental and physical health so that you are able to create the career and work/life balance you’ve always wanted.
By following these 5 tips, you can build healthy, long-term relationships with your clients who respect your time and who treat you like the professional you are.
Juan Cruz Martinez
Juan has made it his mission to help aspiring developers unlock their full potential. With over two decades of hands-on programming experience, he understands the challenges and rewards of learning to code. By providing accessible and engaging educational content, Juan has cultivated a community of learners who share their passion for coding. Leveraging his expertise and empathetic teaching approach, Juan has successfully guided countless students on their journey to becoming skilled developers, transforming lives through the power of technology.