Setting Boundaries: How to Keep Clients Happy Without Working 24/7
Let’s clear something up right now:
Setting boundaries for yourself in your business is okay.
And in fact, boundaries are good. They’re healthy. And they’re expected.
Still, clients don’t seem to have a problem pushing them – especially when it comes to working with freelancers or anyone who is self-employed. There appears to be a false expectation that when you’re self-employed, you’re constantly on-the-clock and ready to take on more work (sometimes, for free).
Although the hunger for new business is healthy, burn out is not. When your boundaries are pushed once, it can create tension and that tension can lead to fear in business. It can also lead to unhealthy working relationships and lower pay for you.
I’ve got your back. Things don’t have to be this way, and I know because I’ve been there. I’ve been the person on the receiving end of a 9 p.m. text message. I’ve had work demanded of me over major holidays (Thanksgiving, anyone?) and weekends. It doesn’t feel right, and it’s not why you chose this career.
Before you get too buried in unrealistic client expectations, let’s talk boundaries. They’re hard to set, but they’re critical – especially if you want to stay profitable and productive. I’ve made all of the mistakes before, and I don’t want to see you do the same.
Here’s what I’ve learned over the years and what I’ve seen work the best for keeping clients happy and keeping yourself happy.
Create Assignments For Your Clients
There’s a common misconception out there in business – especially for people who are just getting started on their own. It’s that if someone is hired for something, the customer doesn’t have a role to play.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
When you drop your car off, it’s up to you to tell the mechanic about any issues with the car, or what type of oil you want in your vehicle. When you get a haircut, it’s up to you to tell the stylist (or barber) how you want your hair trimmed.
You’re not a mind reader, but neither is your client.
You need information from your customer so that you can do your job well too. Too often, clients neglect this part of the working relationship, so it’s up to you to remind them of what’s needed, so you’re not spinning your wheels wasting more time than is necessary.
As soon as you’re contracted to perform some work for a client, make your expectations of input clear up front.
Setting yourself up for success: Make it standard practice to assign tasks and deadlines to your client in your project management system. This way, your client will know what information you need to do your job well and when you expect it. The timelines for your workday and all your other projects depend on their response. Don’t let them dilly dally because they’re not sure what information you need and when.
Have a Script Ready to Go for Add-Ons
It’s inevitable. Clients will want to squeeze as much out of every dollar they spend with your organization as they possibly can. When this happens, you’re put in an awkward position of needing to ask for more money.
Although justified, these types of conversations can be challenging to have.
Make things easier on yourself by creating scripts, so you can be direct in your ask. Nothing says you’re not sure of your boundaries more than fumbling through an email or phone call. With a script in place, you can confidently communicate where you’re drawing the line in the sand on the project and where the client needs to pay more if you’re going to complete the work.
Remember, you’re running a business; not a hobby. Your time is valuable. Your work is valuable. If a client demands more without compensation, you have every right to request payment for what you produce.
Set yourself up for success: Create a handful of scripts now for standard project add-ons. Put them in a Google document that you can quickly pull up when you need them. Or, write them on a post-it note and attach it to your computer, so when a client makes a request on a phone call, you can quickly and confidently answer.
Create a Personal Calendar
You know which expression makes me cringe the most? Pick your brain.
It seems everyone wants to pick your brain about your expertise when you’re in business. Although these conversations can turn into business once in a blue moon, most of the time, they’re dead end roads that steal your time.
And when you’re self-employed, time is your biggest asset. Your time is also the thing that people demand the most – especially in the beginning of your working relationship.
Unpaid consultations to land more work can steal hours of your time away. Sessions where a prospect “picks your brain” can drain you of energy and leave you feeling like you were taken for granted without any compensation. Note: Friends are the biggest culprits of these types of requests, so tread lightly with the people closest to you.
One of the best ways to put a cap on your time is to set the expectation up front about when you’re available and (more importantly) how long you’re available. To do this, set up a personal calendar where the client can request a conversation with you.
A personal calendar lets you block out chunks of your time. The duration of those chunks says a lot about your boundaries. If you’re offering 15-minute conversations to “pick your brain,” your client will know that they cannot talk your ear off and drain you of all your expertise for hours on end. Or, if they try to push the limits (which many will do), you have justification to cut them off and say that the conversation is broaching on a longer consultation, which will be $X fee.
I recommend creating a calendar with the following time slots:
- 15-minute increments for those conversations you want to keep brief and to the point.
- 30-minute increments for onboarding new clients who have already signed a contract.
- 60-minute (or longer) increments for paid coaching or consultation calls.
Note that the only FREE time available on there comes in 15-minute increments. That’s enough time to answer a quick question and get a feel for whether you’re a good fit without stealing you away for too long from income-producing work. Boundaries.
Set yourself up for success: Set up your personalized calendar now. An easy way to do this is to track your appointments in your email client. Then, anytime someone requests a moment of your time, you can send them an invite, which will immediately send a signal about when you’re available and for how long.
Go With Your Gut
Sometimes, you’ll want to help out. Sometimes, you won’t mind pushing the boundaries to benefit your client. Sometimes, going above and beyond will feel right. In those instances, do it.
Yes, it’s important to have boundaries, but what’s more important is listening to what your gut tells you. If it’s telling you that a little extra free work could yield a stronger relationship (and more work in the future), go with what feels right.
You don’t have to be married to your boundaries. In fact, going above and beyond your scope of work is often appreciated. The key here is to not make a habit of it.
Communicate with your client when you’re going above and beyond and clarify that the gesture is a one-time thing. If your client starts to assume your boundaries don’t matter to you, they’ll push them every time.
Give a reason for why you pushed your limits, and make your client feel good about the gesture. Then, the next time they try to extend their relationship with you beyond what you’re comfortable with, put a stop to it nicely and professionally with that script I talked about earlier.
Set yourself up for success: Create another script that you can use every time you decide to push your boundaries for a client explaining what you’re doing and why. Using this will avoid miscommunications about what’s in the scope of work and let your client know that the one-time gesture shouldn’t become the norm.
Boundaries aren’t optional in business; they’re essential. By setting clear expectations up front for how you’ll communicate and what you need, and by putting your foot down each time a boundary is about to be breached, you’ll have a happier, more successful path to business ownership.
Looking for a place to organize these communications and set your boundaries? We’ve got you covered. Sign up for your free trial of Munkly and see the difference it can make in managing your time.
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