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How to Set Boundaries as a Freelancer With Your Clients

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You’ve managed to escape the 9-5 rate race, that demanding boss, those long commutes to work, and all that crappy office gossip you realized was just pointless and annoying. So, you’re a freelancer now, which means that you’re able to choose your own working hours, choose your own ideal clients and basically be your own boss, right?

But then, it’s the middle of the night and you get a message from a client contacting you to change the color palette of their website, fix some technical issue, or even add just a small sentence to an article you’ve written for them. Ugh! This wasn’t the kind of life you were envisioning when you left that office job, right?

Well, guess what? You’ve probably let your freelance clients overstep your boundaries because you haven’t set them in the first place.

Setting healthy boundaries with clients can be challenging, especially when you’re just starting out, but it is one of the most crucial things to do if you want to make freelancing a long-term thing.

As a freelancer, you want to go the extra mile to make sure your clients are satisfied with your work, and that’s ok unless it goes at the expense of your physical and mental health.

I get it….I’ve been there myself and wanted to do everything that was in my power to make this freelancing thing work. But working this way is just not sustainable in the long term.

And what tends to happen, is that when you don’t have clear professional boundaries in place from the very beginning, your clients get used to “being spoiled” and getting what they want, even though their requests are often unreasonable.

You risk yourself getting burned out and feeling like your client is taking advantage of you.

And the bad news is… often, it only gets worse from there… Because once you agree to do an unreasonable request once, your clients will expect you to always agree on requests like this.

Setting boundaries with clients will help you produce your best work and prevent you from overworking yourself in the meantime.

This is why in today’s post, we’ll dive deep into everything you need to know about setting boundaries with your clients.

Keep on reading and we’ll find out whether or not you’re having unhealthy professional boundaries with your freelancing clients, and how to set boundaries even with those clients that are super demanding. And last but not least, how to respond when clients overstep your boundaries and how to maintain those boundaries in the long-term.

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How to Set Boundaries with Clients Respectfully as a Freelancer

What Are Signs of Unhealthy Professional Boundaries?

Sometimes unhealthy professional boundaries can be quite subtle, and difficult to notice. To give you a better idea, here are some examples of what these could look like specifically:

1. Additional Requests

If you don’t have a defined contract in place with set terms and conditions, often times clients may request work that is out of scope. They’ll like to creep in some extra work thinking it will be just a “minor addition” when in reality it can take up a lot of your time. For example, when you are paid a fixed price to finish a certain project and your client is requesting you to do some extra work, that isn’t initially agreed upon. This may include several revisions, additions, and work that are totally not relatable at all.

2. Unrealistic Deadlines

Many clients assume that if they ask you to complete a certain task beforehand, then it’s possible for you to achieve it. Even, if you’ve already made it clear to them on the set deadline, they may try to coerce you by saying it’s “very urgent” or promising you they’ll compensate you “extra” for your effort. They may go as far as asking you to finish a project the very same day.

3. Not Being Respectful of Your Time

Some freelancers find it hard to set time boundaries not only with their clients but with themselves as well. Clients may contact you at times that are out of bounds and during weekends as well. If you’ve just started freelancing, you may be tempted to respond to requests promptly even in the middle of the night. This is what happens when time is not allocated properly.

4. Clients Ghosting/Delaying

Sometimes a meeting is fixed by the client and expects you to attend. And when you do, they’re usually late or don’t attend them themselves. This is disrespectful and it makes you “be on standby”, losing hours of your time. Another great example is when they don’t respond to your queries for days, and so you can’t continue your work.

5. Complete 180 From Your Scope

Sometimes clients suddenly out of the blue change the scope of your work without your consent. For example, “From now on, you will be doing our financial admin”, without asking you whether you’re ok with this or not. This is quite common with start-ups who hire freelancers expecting them to do everything and anything.

6. Micro-managing

If a client checks what you’ve been up to, how long a certain task took you to complete, why you couldn’t accomplish the project faster, or even why you’ve been to the beach on a Monday, be careful, my friends, because this is just toxic behavior. This sort of drama is not what you need in your freelancing journey.

7. Control Freaks

Your client may want something done by a freelancer, but at the same time, they can’t let go of their ego of being in “control” of everything. Even if you provide suggestions that could potentially help the client, they think they make better decisions.

8. Expecting Every Work to be a Picasso Painting

A client may not give clear instructions or information on what is expected and yet hopes that the result delivered to be top-notch. Oftentimes, freelancers are put on the pedestal expecting them to know everything because they’re a niche “expert”

9. Looked Down Upon

Clients may not treat you as equal and look down upon you. Some clients have a superiority complex and feel if they are the ones paying, they get to call the shots all the time.

If you notice that your freelance clients are showing one or more of the above-mentioned behavior, then you probably didn’t set boundaries or you aren’t reinforcing them.

How to Set Boundaries as a Freelancer, Even if Your Client is Demanding?

Being clear and upfront about your boundaries right from the get-go before working for the client is one of the best ways to keep clients on the same page. So what sort of boundaries should you set? Let’s look at some of them:

1. Time Management

Set the time that you devote yourself only to clients’ projects and tasks. Figure out what times you feel the most productive and able to get the job done without getting distracted. Communicate with your client on the hours you’ll be available. Set your “office hours” and only respond in those hours. You can for example set an automatic email response when a client emails you during these times, informing them when they could expect a reply from you.

2. Medium of Communication

Agree on the communication method you prefer to use. For example, Slack, email, or via the freelance platform itself. If you do agree on using WhatsApp or related apps as your communication method, be prepared to receive messages during unreasonable hours. Some clients might use this appropriately, but many will abuse this to message you whenever something comes up in their minds. So make sure you include your “reply” hours in your bio.

3. Taking a Much Needed Break

Give yourself a breather sometimes. You took the leap into freelancing so you could go on that trip you always wanted to. So make sure you strike it off from your goals. The same goes for the weekends. Make the most of it and don’t be tempted to check for emails and pending work. You get to do it the next week with a clear state of mind.

4. Setting Realistic Expectations

Make sure your client is informed of when they can expect the project to be delivered. Remember, you should be the one to decide, not them! Because, if you do agree, you’ll end up neglecting other clients’ expectations. The deadlines may overlap causing you to deliver mediocre results to all.

5. Stand Up for Yourself

Declining a request from a client may seem quite intimidating to a lot of freelancers. But willing to say no is important if you want to establish boundaries with clients. There’s a fine line between giving value and being taken advantage of. Be clear with the deliverables the client will get, the prices you’ve set, and the time you’ll dedicate. If extra work is needed make sure it’s included in the contract along with conditions.

How Do You Respond When Clients Aren’t Respecting your Boundaries?

As with all things in the freelancing world, we will encounter clients’ trying to allow us to get our boundaries crossed. The influence could stem from our internal limiting beliefs (I talk about it here!) out of fear of losing the client, self-worth, and high expectations we put on ourselves.

Don’t give up and remind your client why you can’t agree to do a certain task and the reason why. Respond well to the situation, don’t just react emotionally. Have clear and open communication and most importantly, keep calm and stay professional. You can graciously refuse a request like “I’m sorry, but that is not going to work out” or “I’m sorry, but this wasn’t discussed in our contract”

And never ever feel guilty about the boundaries you set. Do not let a client manipulate or guilt-trip you into changing them.

If a client keeps on overstepping your boundaries consistently, even though you have pushed back and communicated openly why these boundaries are important to you, I would recommend you replace this freelancing client. Because it’s obvious that this client doesn’t respect you.

How Can You Maintain Boundaries as a Freelancer in the Long Term?

Once you’ve gone through the hurdle of crafting your workflow and boundaries. Here are a few tips on how you can maintain them in the long haul:

1. Time Schedule

As I mentioned above, stick to a set of start-to-finish times each day for your work. You are your own boss, so you can choose your own working hours. If a client sent you last-minute changes at odd hours, make sure they know that they just have to wait. Over time, clients will be more respectful of your time and you get to enjoy your weekends.

2. Get Paid for Extra Work

Clients may often ask for revisions from simple things like needing more content or changing the entire project completely. Agree on a fixed amount of revisions as well as on a fee for any out-of-scope additions, and include all of this information in a contract.

3. Maintain a Consistent Deadline

Be extremely clear with your clients on how long each process or milestone is going to take.

Also, stop allowing clients to send you “urgent tasks” every time they ask you. Remind them that you need at least X days’ notice, so you can organize yourself.

4. Get Paid, Always!

Make sure you get paid at the end of the project. Your client may want something to be changed or added which is fine as long as it’s agreed upon early on. Once the final product of the project is delivered, it’s time to get paid.

Remember: always say no if someone asks to pay less than what you agreed upon. As far as delay of payments, that’s your call. But make sure you set a payment deadline and remind them in a firm tone.

I hope this article helps you make better decisions when it comes to setting boundaries with your freelance clients and you can establish a long-term working relationship with them.

You might feel extremely uncomfortable with setting these boundaries in the beginning but believe me, it’s so worth it because your physical and mental health depends on it.

Related Reads:

So, how have you managed to set boundaries with clients? Share some of your tips down below!

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  1. Areil says:

    Setting boundaries is so important. I find often that if you don’t expectations are impractical.

  2. Amanda says:

    This is a great post! In today’s “customer is always right” culture we sometimes forget to guard ourselves and take care of our own needs. But if we don’t set boundaries, our clients won’t either, and burnout is a very real consequence. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Julianne says:

    Thank you so much for this. I did more freelancing a few years ago but ended up giving it up – partially because I was letting my boundaries be crossed and it just became exhausting! This advice is so important for all freelancers but for regular people too – boundaries are so important in every facet of our lives.

  4. Danika says:

    You’re right – it is so important to set these kinds of boundaries for freelance work & as a freelancer, it can be easy to overlook or avoid. This is a well-written, detailed post that I absolutely respect! Thank you for this guide & for taking care of freelancers all over.

  5. Jean says:

    well thought post

  6. Ashley says:

    This is a great post! I am thinking about doing some freelance work, and this post was incredibly helpful. Thanks for sharing.

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