One of the hardest things about working for yourself is setting boundaries with your clients. While there are clients who will respect your limits, there are others who will continually push or break the boundaries you set up.
Before you start working with a client, make sure you have set boundaries in your own mind. Take some time to brainstorm what your boundaries are.
Some questions to ask yourself:
- What are my hours of operation?
- How do I want my clients to get in touch with me?
- Will I answer calls or emails outside of my hours of operation?
- Will I allow for urgent or rush requests? If so, what will I charge?
If you don’t set boundaries, you can get yourself into some sticky situations.
I had a client who continuously pushed boundaries, leading to dozens of text messages at all times of the day and night. If I didn’t answer, the texts and emails would just keep coming. I ended up getting very stressed out. I felt like I didn’t have any control over my own schedule even though I did!
There was one particular instance where my husband and I had taken my daughter out of town on a Sunday adventure. While we were enjoying our time together, this client began repeatedly emailing and texting me. He vaguely threatened to end our work together if I didn’t resolve an emergency that he had. I had to explain that it was Sunday, I wasn’t working and I was two hours away from my computer. The whole incident ended up putting a damper on our plans because I was so worried about him firing me that I couldn’t enjoy my day. The client and I eventually parted ways and my stress levels decreased immensely.
Set firm boundaries from the beginning
As they say, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Once you establish what you are willing to put up with, it’s hard to backtrack. Setting firm boundaries from the beginning of your working relationship will ensure that both parties are on the same page. This also allows you to avoid the “But you answered my email at 11 pm on a Saturday last time!” comments.
You set your client’s expectations. If you set unrealistic ones, you are going to disappoint your client and drive yourself crazy.
Realize that once you break a boundary, you are inviting your client to continue breaking that boundary. Worse yet, you are telling them that your boundaries are flexible and if they push hard enough they can get you to change your stance.
Be crystal clear about your boundaries
Don’t live in the in-between. Make sure that your clients understand your boundaries. If you decide that you are not available to your clients past 5 pm, make sure you are never available to them after that time. You don’t want there to be a gray area. Gray areas cause disappointment and unmet expectations. Then you may have to deal with a client who is angry because they feel that you haven’t lived up to what you promised. Even if you never promised to be available at all times.
Stick to your boundaries
The hardest part of setting boundaries is sticking to them. Once you have clear boundaries in place, you need to make sure that you don’t waver from them…no matter what your client does. Some clients, and people in general, don’t respect boundaries. They will push beyond what you’re comfortable with, no matter what you say to them. This is where you must dig your heels in and be firm and unemotional. Don’t let someone else’s emergency or lack of planning become your problem.
No matter what you are being paid, you aren’t being paid enough to be someone’s on call assistant 24/7.
Boundaries are an important part of maintaining a small business. Without them, you lose control of your time and energy. When you start working with any new client, be sure to address their expectations and be clear with your boundaries. This will ensure you have happy clients who give positive reviews and refer you to others!