Setting Boundaries With Your Clients

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!

Setting up Your Maternity Leave as a Freelancer

During my first pregnancy, I was a full-time employee at a large company. They offered six weeks of paid leave (at a percentage of your salary) as well as the option to apply for a 12 week Family Medical Leave Act running in conjunction with your maternity leave. This would give a maximum of 12 weeks leave, six unpaid.

The facility I worked at had a beautiful “mother’s room” with a comfortable leather chair for pumping and a fridge for storing your milk. I only had the opportunity to use it once when I brought Norah in for a visit because I did not return after my maternity leave.

When I got the great news that I was pregnant with #2, I knew this would be a different experience. I was now a part-time freelancer and full-time mother to a 2 ½ year old. I had no childcare help. I knew I needed to get organized and I had nine months to do it.

Here are my tips for setting up a maternity leave while freelancing.

Make a budget

The most important part of freelancing while pregnant is being organized! You need to have a plan for your workload and your maternity leave.

Shortly after I found out that I was having a viable pregnancy, I started making plans.

I knew that I need to make approximately $2,000 per month to keep our budget the same. I decided early on that I wanted to take a minimum of 10 weeks off with this pregnancy. I had 10 weeks off with Norah and felt that it was the right amount of time to recover, get into a new routine, and want to start working again.

Deciding on 10 weeks gave me a monetary goal I needed to shoot for. I would need to make a minimum of $5,000 to cover the 10 weeks off. I preferred to set the goal for $6,000 so I’d have some wiggle room.

I started taking on extra work where I could. I pitched for more clients, raised my rates for current clients and requested more work from the people I subcontract for.

Here’s the breakdown of how this helped:

New clients:

First off, I vowed not take on a new client for under $30 per hour. I started with a $32 per hour rate and often didn’t dip below $35. The only exception was people purchasing virtual assistant packages.

Raising rates:

For one client, I raised the rates 32% because I had not received a pay raise in the 15 months we had been working together. For the another client, it was 20%. This brought in an additional $200 per month and only added a few more hours per month to my workload.

Subcontracting work:

Subcontracting work was where I found my biggest gains. I was able to increase my hours and go from making around $100 per week with one client to an average of $400. This alone gave me an additional $1600 per month to put towards the $6,000 goal.

Do this: Figure out how much you would need to make during your time off then add 10%. You want to make sure you’re not scrambling for work while dealing with sleep deprivation and raging hormones.

Inform clients

Because of my previous miscarriage, I wasn’t comfortable telling my clients about my pregnancy until I had confirmed that everything was normal. I waited until my 20 week anatomy ultrasound on February 15 to draft the email and set up meetings with clients.

I let my clients know how much I enjoyed working with them and that I was excited to share some personal news. I told them when I was due and that I would be working as normal up until that time. I personalized the letter to each client to address the specific tasks that I did for them.

There were clients that I was able to ask if I could batch work and complete things before going on leave, therefore leaving me some incoming money. There were others that I had to tell I wouldn’t be available in any capacity for 10 weeks. It depended on the client and the workload. I told them all that I planned to continue working together when I returned around September 15.

I decided that I would set a return date based on 10 weeks from the latest I could possibly have the baby. Should I have the baby earlier, then I would have more time to spend with him.

I didn’t want to worry about informing everyone that I’d had the baby and I would be off for 10 weeks from that point. Instead I told them to expect me to become unavailable around the last week of June/first week of July and returning September 15.

Do this: Be honest and upfront with your clients when you break the news. Tell them how much you appreciate their business and hope to continue the relationship. Then let the chips fall where they may. Some people will work with you while others may end the relationship. You have no control over your client’s reactions so try not to stress about it.

Work more

I knew that in the month leading up to my delivery, I would have to work more than usual. I did this by finding time to work when I could. This included working in the morning before Norah woke up, working in the evening while my husband fixed dinner, and forgoing some of my favorite shows to work in my office at night. This isn’t something that I would do long-term, but as a means to a (very important) end, I was motivated to keep my foot on the gas pedal.

I knew that I would have 10 weeks of doing nothing but caring for my new baby and toddler at the end of this grueling time period and that was absolutely worth it to me.

Having an end goal in place kept me sane and motivated to work.

Do this: Resist the urge to take it easy throughout your pregnancy. Even though you are tired now, you will be exhausted once the baby comes. Trust this second-time mama! Get as much done as possible before baby comes. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

Relax and enjoy your leave

After all the preparations have been made, the last thing I need to do is relax and enjoy my maternity leave. I worked hard to set everything up and want to be able to enjoy it without worrying about work. The first few weeks with a new baby are so special and they go by extremely quickly.

Preparing for maternity leave as soon as possible is the best option for a freelancer. You are in control of how much time you take off and your financial situation. Make a plan, work hard, and enjoy the time with your precious new life.

Special note: My husband was also instrumental in preparing for my maternity leave. Although I was confident I’d be able to make the goal myself, he worked hard during my pregnancy to get a raise at his job and take on some additional freelancing work to add to the pot.
Setting up your maternity leave as a freelancer

How to Use Time Blocking to Organize Your Day

As a freelancer, you must be organized. I use time blocking to manage my day and stay on track. Time blocking is the process of dividing your day into chunks of time designated for specific activities or tasks.

When you’re just starting out, you may not see the value in time blocking, but once you’re managing multiple clients and their demands, you will find it very useful.

Here are two ways that I’ve used time blocking to plan my day.

Option 1: Time blocking by client

Time blocking by client involves setting specific times each day to work on client’s projects.

Time blocking by client would look something like this:

Monday

9 – 11 am: Client A

11 – 1 pm: Client B

1 – 2 pm: Break/Lunch

2 – 4 pm: Client C

If you only had three clients, this would repeat each day. If you had more than three clients then the second day would look like this:

Tuesday

9 – 11 am: Client D

11 – 1 pm: Client E

1 – 2 pm: Break/Lunch

2 – 4 pm: Client F

Monday’s schedule would repeat on Wednesday and Friday and Tuesday’s schedule would repeat on Thursday.

You should strategically schedule your clients depending on their workload and personalities. ‘High touch’ clients that need more frequent communication should be placed on Monday’s schedule so you’ll interact with them three times per week. Clients with smaller workloads or infrequent communication could be placed on Tuesday’s schedule.

If a client did not have work for you to do on their day, you could move to the next client on your list. You could also use the time to work on a side hustle or take a break. Here are 10 things you could do for your business with 30 spare minutes.

If you think that this schedule would not work for you then you can try using shorter blocks of time each day. This way you’d interact with each client every day.

Monday

9 – 10 am: Client A

10 – 11 am: Client B

11 – 12 pm: Client C

12 – 1 pm: Client D

1 – 2 pm: Break/Lunch

2 – 3 pm: Client E

3 – 4 pm: Client F

The same idea applies, you can skip to the next client if you have no tasks from a particular client that day. With this schedule, you could potentially be finished working at 3 pm if one client had no tasks or 2 pm if two clients were not requesting anything.

Depending on how many clients you have, you can experiment with making the time blocks longer or shorter.

I would warn against scheduling less than 30 minutes per client because it will not give you enough time to start a task, make progress, or complete it.

Option 2: Time blocking by task

Another way you can time block your calendar is by task. This method involves taking similar tasks and scheduling them throughout your day. This method is similar to batching your work.

You can time block by task in two ways:

Single focus day

In this option, each day of the week would have a specific focus.

Monday – Administrative work including expenses

Tuesday – Research and writing

Wednesday – Social media work

Thursday – Phone calls, meetings and emails

Friday – Housekeeping and tying up loose ends

If you have the same types of tasks for each client, you may want to separate your days by what you are doing. That way you can get all of one type of work done on a specific day. Once you’re done with that work, you’re done for the day.

In this scenario, you would be less likely to interact with all of your clients each working day.

One possible negative of this set-up is that it could lead to some very inconsistent working days. Monday you might work for two hours and Tuesday could be 8-10 hours.

Multi-focus day

In this option, you would work on each category every day.

Monday – Friday

9 – 11 am: Administrative work and expenses

11 – 12 pm: Research and writing

12 – 1 pm: Social media work

1 – 2 pm: Break/Lunch

2 – 3 pm: Phone calls, meetings and emails

3 – 4 pm: Housekeeping

Figuring out the best way to time block your calendar is a learning process. Time blocking should make you feel more organized, not frazzled. If one method isn’t working for you, try another approach.

Ultimately, your clients should see no change in service while you decide how to best structure your day. You want to make sure you are still reliable, available, and providing high-quality services. Ideally, your client should notice an improvement in productivity and responsiveness!

How to use time blocking to organize your day

How To Choose The Right Client For You

During your freelancing career, you’ll work with many different clients. The great thing about this is you get to choose your clients! In a lot of ways, choosing a client is like choosing a friend or significant other. An ideal match should bring together two people with a shared interest in success, similar working styles, and equal amounts of trust on both sides. Ultimately, your goal should be maintaining long-term relationships with your clients. After all, good clients can be hard to find.

What Type of Client Are You Looking For?

Your working preferences should point you towards your ideal client. If you want to hold traditional 9-5 hours then working with a night owl entrepreneur may not make sense. If you want to work at any time of day then a CEO at a Fortune 500 may not be the best fit. In addition, it depends on the type of freelancing work you’re doing. If you’re a virtual assistant, you may need to have regular check-ins and be available all day on email; this may not be the case for a website designer.

Other facets to consider are a client’s communication and management styles. Some clients are hands-off while others are micromanagers. Some want to speak daily while others prefer shooting off weekly emails. Being aware of your preferences can help you find your ideal clients.

I don’t like talking on the phone. I can do it, and I have a professional and friendly demeanor that would not tip anyone off to the fact that I don’t like phone conversations, but being on the phone is my not favorite thing to do. Adding a loud toddler to the mix has only furthered my dislike. I express myself more clearly and succinctly in writing and I like having a paper trail that I can look back on and double check for accuracy and completion. Regular phone calls are not a deal breaker, but they are something I’d consider a “con” when choosing a client.

Finding Your Best Client Fit

There’s something special about finding the right client; someone who just gets you. You don’t have to worry that an email came off too brusque or that the client didn’t think your joke was funny. People that don’t make you feel like you have to be “on” are good fits for clients.

However, you are still running a business and delivering a service so you don’t want to be too casual. You’re not doing a favor for a friend, you’re being paid for your services and that deserves a certain level of professionalism.

My ideal client is tech-savvy and wants to communicate primarily over email, text, or messaging service. I prefer someone who can give me orders then trust that I’ll have the vision to carry them through. I prefer an easy-going personality and don’t like clients who try to make their urgency my emergency. I’ve found my best clients from a variety of sources.

When you’re choosing clients, two things are important to keep in mind.

Know Your Interests

If I have no interest in agriculture then I’m probably not going to look for a client who runs a family farm or sells pesticide. Although I’m confident that I could research the industry and gain a working knowledge over time, I would find absolutely no joy in it.

Time flies when you’re doing things that interest you. You should look for clients that are working in fields or industries that you feel a connection to. It’s tempting to grab whatever clients you can get when you’re just starting out, but that strategy will ultimately cost you time (and money!). If you have to do a lot of background work before you start the part of your job that you get paid to do, you’re going to make very little or even lose money. For example, if you need to research trends in industry X to write a blog post, because you have no familiarity with the industry, it may take three hours to pull together a few reputable references. A person who is already interested in the industry may be able to get their sources within 15 minutes. This could be the difference between making $100 per hour or $10.

Know Your Deal Breakers

Do you hate when people are late? Are you allergic to small talk? Knowing your deal breakers will give you a better sense of who your clients should be. Even when you work for yourself, you still have to work with and for other people. If you can’t get along or see eye-to-eye, you won’t be able to achieve your goals. Don’t waste precious time trying to force a relationship with a mismatched client. There is a client out there for everyone and you cannot be the best person for every job. If you keep your standards high, your profits will be too.

Clients are the lifeblood of your business. Although you can’t please everyone all the time, you have a much better chance of keeping clients and making them happy if you only work with people who are a good match. Take your time vetting potential clients before starting work together. You may not earn as much as someone who takes every client, but not having to work with difficult people is one of the greatest perks of being a freelancer and you can’t put a price on that.