Setting Client Boundaries as a Freelancer

Set these boundaries in place early on to have a great client relationship.

It’s time to have the talk. No, not that talk. Hopefully you got that one from your parents a long time ago. This time we’re talking about boundaries, and the ones you want to set in place to get off on the right foot with your clients. As a VBO, without boundaries it’s easy to find yourself working around the clock, responding to client requests at all hours of the day and night, and that’s no good for your work-life balance. So today, I’m giving you some boundaries that you’ll want to set up front in your client on-boarding process to ensure that you have a happy, healthy working relationship with your clients. 

  1. Set your working hours.

One of the best perks of being a virtual business owner is that you have the freedom to set your own hours and work when you want to. You might not want to be beholden to the traditional 9 to 5 grind, but it’s still good to have some set working hours so that clients know when they can reach you. Defining your prime time is integral to your success as a VBO, so find hours that suit you — and you want to choose hours that will suit your clients as well; if you work best at night, try to include some day hours in your week so that clients can reach you. The key is, once you’ve set your working hours, stick to them. Don’t respond to emails after hours or on weekends, unless, of course, you’ve built weekends into your schedule. Otherwise, clients will get used to hearing from you outside of your working hours, and they’ll get comfortable reaching out to you around the clock, which is not what you want. 

  1. Establish a method of communication.

If email works best for you, great. Alternatively, you may want to handle all correspondence via  a project management system. You may also want to schedule daily or weekly calls with your clients to provide updates on projects. However you choose to go about it, be consistent and communicate it to your clients upfront, so that they know when and how to reach you. 

  1. Ensure that the scope is clear.

Detail everything that’s included in a project and list it in your client service agreement. Include a line in the contract stating that anything outside the scope of work listed in the CSA will be billed at an hourly rate. When clients start tagging on extra things to the project, refer them back to the contract, and let them know that they will be billed for those extras at your hourly rate. If you say yes to extras without getting paid, you’ll dilute your own rate and we don’t want that. VBOs deserve to get paid every bit of what they’re worth for every piece of work they do. 

  1. Set deadlines for projects.

If you’ve been a VBO for a while, you’ve probably had your fair share of projects that have gone on way longer than they should have. Setting deadlines is a good way to prevent this from happening. Deadlines are good not only for you, but they’re good for the client as well. You can ensure that you get the things that you need from a client to complete a project by giving them a deadline, and then you can give yourself a deadline to complete the project. Deadlines help keep everyone involved accountable so that projects are completed, and billed in a timely manner. It’s also a good idea to set guidelines or fees for what happens when a client doesn’t meet deadlines. You need to get paid, and your finances shouldn’t take a hit whenever a client fails to deliver. You can mitigate delays by establishing upfront any associated fees that will follow when deadlines aren’t met. It’ll definitely help keep clients on time. 

  1. Set a fixed number of revisions.

Clients often get carried away with revisions, and you shouldn’t have to do extra work for free. Include a set number of revisions in your client service agreement, so that clients know exactly how many revisions they can send the project back to you for without having to pay more. And if they request extra revisions, bill them accordingly. 

  1. Set a fee for rush projects

Every now and then, you’ll have a client with a really tight deadline who needs a quick turnaround on a project. This kind of work requires a premium fee since you’re taking time away from your other projects to focus on this one client. It comes down to respect. When you’re putting in more hours in a short span of time for a client, they should have to pay a little more for the rush job. 

  1. Communicate about status updates

Your clients will expect updates about the status of their project. We recommend that you compile a weekly report and send that out regularly, so that clients can have that warm and fuzzy feeling about their project. It’s a good way to mitigate requests for updates on the part of your client. 

Now that you know what boundaries to establish, here are a couple extra tips. Set your boundaries early. During the client onboarding process is the best time to do it. That way, everyone is clear from the jump on exactly what to expect from the working relationship. The other thing to keep in mind is to be consistent. Don’t give anyone special treatment. Set your boundaries and keep them consistent across all of your clients. If  everyone is being managed in the same way, it will help reduce the stress and demand on your part. So, be firm, be brave, set your boundaries and watch your working relationship with your clients improve! 

Matt Ford

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