When you work a traditional job, the expectations are pretty straightforward. As a freelancer? Not so much
Setting boundaries with freelance clients can feel intimidating or unnatural, but it’s totally necessary — and it doesn’t have to be scary. In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about establishing boundaries with freelance clients.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Why is it important for freelancers to set boundaries?
- What kind of boundaries should freelancers establish with clients?
- How do I set effective boundaries with freelance clients?
Ready to get started? Let’s dive in!
Why are Boundaries Important for Freelancers?
Figuring out what you should and shouldn’t do for your clients can be challenging, especially if you’re new to the freelance game.
Clients don’t always know what to expect from the freelance-client relationship. So, there may be moments where they may make an ask that crosses a boundary, whether it’s asking for work outside the original scope or expecting immediate replies to their emails.
While it may not be intentional, it can put you in a tough spot. Making sure you’re getting paid accordingly for your work and time is essential, which is why it’s crucial to set boundaries. Having boundaries in place not only establishes a healthy freelancer-client relationship but helps protect your business, time, and mental health.
7 Boundaries to Set With Freelance Clients
Freelancers may prioritize different boundaries depending on how they run their business. Figuring out what kind of boundaries you need to establish for your business may take some time. For now, consider setting boundaries for the common areas below.
The beauty of freelancing is the freedom it provides. You’re no longer tied to a traditional 9-5 schedule. That means you can set your office hours to fit your schedule and the time of day that you feel most productive. Whether you’re a morning person, night owl, or mid-day taskmaster, you’re in charge of when and where you work.
While your schedule is entirely up to you, some freelance clients expect freelancers to be available at their every beck and call. The best way to combat that is to decide when you’ll be available for meetings, calls, or answering emails during the day and telling new clients at the beginning of the relationship. That way, your clients know when they can reach you if a question or issue comes up.
What form of communication do you prefer? Is it different for various types of communication? For example, my preferred method of communication is email for everything from schedule updates to project and invoicing questions. However, I prefer to schedule a phone call for things like project discovery, brainstorming sessions, and the like.
Another thing to consider is when a client can expect your reply. Your office hours will factor into your response time, as well as how often you plan to check your email. Responding immediately to emails or phone calls may give new clients the impression that you’re always available, which can be unrealistic. It’s perfectly okay to tell clients that, although you may respond sooner, they can always expect a reply within 24 hours.
There’s nothing worse than getting feedback from multiple people about the same project. It’s even worse when feedback is conflicting because those people don’t communicate with one another. To keep this from happening, outlining proper feedback etiquette is a must.
The first step is to determine who will be the main point of contact for the project. This is especially important if multiple people are contributing to the project. Make sure the client understands that all requests should be filtered through one specific person. This will keep your inbox from blowing up and help the project run much smoother.
Next, it’s helpful to outline what constitutes good feedback.
A client’s feedback should be detailed, and to the point, so everyone is on the same page. If they just say, “I don’t like this” or “This doesn’t make sense,” it doesn’t provide any value. To understand what they meant, you have to ask follow-up questions, which wastes time. By being direct and saying what they don’t like about it or what doesn’t make sense, you can do your job a lot better.
The way you go about the revision process is entirely up to you, but setting clear boundaries from the start is essential. If you don’t, the revisions process can drag out forever and slow down your workflow.
There are a couple of places you can include details about the revisions process. One of the most important places to do so is in your contract. The revisions clause is where you’ll outline things like:
- How many revision rounds are included in the project
- When revisions requests are due
- How much additional revisions will cost
- What constitutes a “standard” revision
- How revisions should be submitted
You should also include revisions in the proposal you send to the client. You don’t have to go into as much detail, but it’s helpful to state upfront how many revisions they can expect. If you send a welcome packet during the onboarding process, be sure it also includes details about the revision process.
While the project deadline is super important, it’s not the only deadline to communicate to clients. If you need information from them, such as revision requests, be clear on when you expect to receive them.
Don’t say: “Let me know if you have any feedback.”
Do say: “Please look over these drafts and let me know by EOD on Monday if there are any revisions you’d like me to make.”
Don’t leave it up to the client to get your feedback when it’s convenient for them. You may wait for days or even weeks before they get around to it. If that happens, it can derail the entire project — and any others coming down the pipeline.
Scope of Work
One of the biggest mistakes new freelancers make is not defining the exact scope of work the client can expect them to deliver. Failing to set project limits sets clients up to ask you to complete additional work without any changes to your fee. When you leave yourself open to scope creep, there’s a good chance you’ll miss out on your opportunity to make more money.
Before you start any client project, you should outline exactly what your fee covers. Then, if the client requests additional work, you can send a new proposal detailing the request and associated fees.
Getting too friendly with clients can blur the lines of your professional relationship. Some, but not all, clients may try to take advantage of your friendship by asking for discounts, attempting to scope creep, and more. Dealing with those situations can be incredibly messy and uncomfortable.
Setting personal boundaries protects your privacy — and your sanity. Think about what you’re willing to share with clients and what you’re not. For example, what happens if they request to follow your personal Instagram account or add you as a Facebook friend?
The last thing you want is to give a client access to your personal life, only to have them use it against you because they’re wondering why you’re posting photos of an afternoon hike with friends instead of working on their project. That’s a level of drama no freelancer wants to deal with.
How to Set Effective Boundaries With Freelance Clients
Now that you know some of the most important boundaries to establish, let’s talk about how to set effective boundaries.
Knowing what boundaries to have in place is one thing, actually putting them in place is a whole other ball game. Creating boundaries can feel a little cold; you want your clients to like you and working together, after all. That said, setting boundaries upfront is vital to establishing a successful freelancer-client relationship.
There are simple rules of thumb to follow when setting effective boundaries. Check them out below.
1. Set Boundaries Early
There are three early stages in which you can start establishing boundaries with your freelance clients: the proposal, the contract, and the onboarding process.
In the Proposal
When creating a proposal for a prospective client, be detailed as far as what is included in each service and its cost.
Let’s say you’re putting together a proposal for a blogging package. Don’t just say “2 blog posts.” Be clear about the number of words, revisions, and other elements each blog post includes. Some things to consider are:
- Will you provide images or corresponding graphics?
- Is there a limit on the number of words each blog post contains? What happens if you go over that cap?
- How many rounds of revisions will you do?
- Does the article require an interview? Will the client be responsible for transcription fees?
In the Contract
You can get even more detailed about the scope of work, fees, and expectations in your contract. Include details about what services are included, deadlines, revision guidelines, payments, and any additional fees.
During the Onboarding Process
The next place to communicate boundaries and expectations is during the onboarding process. Send the client a welcome packet or email outlining:
- How you work and communicate
- When you’re available
- How to reach you and your average response time
- How to submit revisions or feedback
- A checklist of information you need from them
The proposal, contract, and onboarding documents are great resources for clients. You can easily remind them of the different boundaries you have in place and point them to a specific document for more information.
2. Be Clear
Don’t be wishy-washy on what the boundaries are. If you’re not clear, clients will be confused about what the proper procedure is. Clearly outlining different processes and expectations in an onboarding email or welcome packet will save you a lot of trouble down the road.
3. Be Consistent
Once boundaries have been communicated, you have to stick with them. Failing to follow the boundaries you worked so hard to put in place will only confuse your clients.
If you tell your clients you’re not available between certain hours, don’t respond to emails within that window. If a client’s invoice is overdue, request payment — and charge the appropriate fees as laid out in your contract.
There may be times when you’re willing to let something slide as a courtesy, such as a late payment. In that case, make it clear that it’s a one-time deal and any other instances will have consequences. In the case of an overdue invoice, it may be late fees.
For example, let’s say a client’s invoice is overdue and has accumulated a late fee. You send the client an email to request payment and let them know about the fee. In response, they offer to pay the invoice immediately but ask that the fee be removed since they’ve never paid late before.
In this situation, it’s okay to bend the rules a little bit as long as you’re clear on what will happen if they pay late again. If it does happen again, be sure to hold firm and stick to the terms outlined in your contract.
4. Be Okay With Saying No
Saying no to a freelance client can be scary, especially if you’re just starting out. The thing you have to remember is that no isn’t a dirty word. It can actually help your business.
Turning down work or telling a client that a particular service is outside of the scope of your agreement puts you in control of your business.
Notice I said “business”?
That’s because you’re a business owner. You decide what work you take on, how much it costs, and the services you offer. That means you have the freedom to say “no” — and do it without guilt.
If something doesn’t sit right with you, or you don’t have time to complete additional services, say no. It’s as simple as that.
Will the client be unhappy? Maybe, but if you explain why you are saying no, they’ll likely understand. If they throw a fit, well, that’s a big red flag and you probably won’t want to work with them much longer anyway.
Related: How to Fire a Freelance Client (The Right Way!)
What Boundaries Will You Set With Freelance Clients?
There you have it: the why, what, and how of establishing boundaries with freelance clients. Hopefully, you found this article and the tips above helpful!
You may also want to check out these guides on how to become a successful freelance writer and why zeroing in on your freelance writing niche can help you make more money.
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