In the corporate world, boundaries are set for us. Work hours, paydays, emails, availability. It’s all there. Yes, you may often get asked to do things outside of the job description, or to stay late on a busy day. But the general guidelines are already in place when we accept to work for someone else.
When we run our own show, the boundaries are ours to set. When starting out in freelancing, it’s hard not to fall in the trap of wanting to do everything a client asks, in fear of losing the client, not getting a great testimonial, or worst case scenario- the client telling everyone they know publicly that you were a horror to work with. (It’s all in your head, folks!)
Yes, we are working for our clients, but it’s our business- they are not our boss. It’s our responsibility to set the boundaries and work with people who respect them.
So here are a few ideas of areas you can (and probably should) set boundaries:
1. Set work hours and don’t respond to emails out of those hours
Even if you work outside those hours (I know I do), don’t let your client get accustomed to hearing from you during those hours. Put these hours on your site, in your welcome package, and even in your email signature if you want.
2. Set deadlines and bill by those deadlines regardless if work is complete on their side
We all experience projects that go on waaay too long. Whether you use project management software to make it easy, or not, set deadlines and make them part of your payment schedule if you can. If you’ve done the work on your side, you should be paid for it, regardless of whether the client has done the work on their side or not.
3. Require that all discussions happen in your project management, not email
After several months now using project management software, I will certainly never go back to the old school way of using only email. If you only use email, read this post where I can maybe convince you otherwise. But in order for project management software to be really productive and serve it’s purpose, everything has to happen inside. Make it clear when you start the project that all correspondence happens in project management, not by email. And if ever the client slips up (and sends you an email instead), transfer the email into your pms and respond to it there, with a polite reminder of why you do so.
4. Enforce the use of your Hire Me form rather than responding to inquiries by Facebook or email.
This one came courtesy of my biz coach. When I told her how much time I was spending writing back and forth emails on Facebook or email because of people that send inquiries directly rather than via my Hire Me form, her solution was so obvious I can’t believe I never did it another way. My first response now, is pointing them straight to my services page and my Hire Me form and asking them to fill that out first. Of course, you’ve got to have a strategic Hire Me form to make this work (which I cover in Stress Less & Impress).
5. Set fees or guidelines for what happens if a client doesn’t meet deadlines
This one goes along with #2. If a client stops responding or isn’t hitting deadlines and you don’t have a payment schedule that can help mitigate that, consider setting a restart fee if the project goes pass X date, a weekly fee past X date, or make it clear they will be put at the bottom of your project list. There is no other way to keep your work on schedule and your other clients happy if you don’t have boundaries in place to prevent lagging clients. I’ve had problems with this, and only recently added it to my T&C’s. I hope I don’t have to ever enforce it, but the fact that it is there, will likely help keep my projects moving along smoothly.
6. Set number of revisions included
Hopefully, as a freelancer you do awesome work. And if you are saying yes to projects you know are a good fit, it’s likely you can do great work from the beginning. But for those clients that just don’t seem to ever be satisfied, make sure you have a set number of revisions included in the project scope. Once they start going too far in the requests for more tweaks, refer to your contract and let them know it will be billed at your hourly rate. Having this there from the beginning will also help them to be more thorough with their feedback with each revision.
7. Make sure the project scope is clear
Make sure you detail EVERYTHING that’s included, and list it in your proposal/contract. Put a line on your contract stating that anything outside of the listed items will be billed at an hourly rate. Refer to the contract when those extra things come up. Saying yes to one small extra will almost always turn into another. And another. And another. And before you know it, you’ll be making $3/hr on the project.
8. Set a rush fee
If clients request a very tight deadline, raise your price for that. Clients should expect and respect you putting in more hours in a short period of time to help them meet their tight deadline.
9. Get everything you need before starting work
If you start the project, but are still missing vital information from the client, the project will only drag on longer. Even if technically you are not working, because you are waiting on stuff from them, you’re reserving space for their project in your brain. Space that could be spent better on doing great work for the clients that are ready.
10. Set an average email response time
I’m an email addict. I keep my inbox pretty close to zero at all times, and to do so, I often respond to emails within an hour when awake. This is not good for my sanity or personal life. So to make sure I don’t get into the habit of doing that when working with clients, and setting their expectations too high, I make my average response time clear in my email auto-responder and in my welcome email. When I know they aren’t expecting an email, I am better able to manage my email addiction. And if I do respond faster than what’s stated, it’s only a pleasant surprise for my clients. Clients like pleasant surprises.
A few tips about boundaries
Set them early
Make your boundaries clear from day 1. Your client will appreciate this, and if they don’t agree, they can choose to work with someone else. Waiting until half way through a project to surprise them with it, will only cause hard feelings and confusion.
Don’t start the project responding to every email within the hour, then realize it’s not sustainable and start taking a few days to respond. This will only give your customer the feeling that you are suddenly too busy or slacking off on their project. Also- keep it the same with every client. This will simply reduce your stress about having to remember which client you set which boundary with.
Going above and beyond
I really believe that my clients love me because I go beyond what is outlined in our project. This results in happier clients, better testimonials, and more referrals. But be conscious of where you are going above and beyond. It shouldn’t be in places where you set clear boundaries. Telling a client they have to pay by X date, and then letting that slide, is not going above and beyond. It’s being flakey about your boundaries. And if a client sees you being flakey in one area, they may assume you’ll be flakey in all areas- and then all your boundaries loose their oopmh. Find other ways to go above & beyond. A little creativity goes a long way!
So I want to hear from you!
Do you find setting boundaries difficult?
What boundaries to you have in place that I didn’t list above? I’d love to hear them and I probably need them too!
Let me know in the comments!