There are two reasons why putting a fence around my yard quickly became a #1 priority:
The first was when we got broken into. I came home to find the house trashed and our valuables gone.
Well, except for the TV. They managed to get it halfway out the backdoor before they dropped and busted it.
Without a fence, it was way too easy for them to pull up to our garage, walk around back and bust through the backdoor.
The second was when we adopted our first dog, Atlas.
He makes me laugh, keeps me smiling and brings me peace on stressful days.
He also loves to run.
I felt bad having to leash walk him or put him on a lead, so I thought it’d be cool to let him run free. We’ve got a huge backyard that he didn’t even get to enjoy. “I’ll just let him stretch his legs,” I thought. “What could possibly go wrong?”
Lots. That’s what.
Because he had no idea where his boundaries were, he ended up running wild through the streets before I lured him to safety. (Please don’t judge my naivete.)
Anyway, I’m sure you’re wondering what any of this has to do with setting up boundaries that command respect.
In short, everything. Because …
Fences Keep the Good In and the Bad Out
They keep the robbers away and the Atlases safe.
Your client boundaries will do the same thing — if you make it a priority to build them.
If setting up healthy boundaries — or fences — in your freelancing business isn’t a priority, here’s a small glimpse of what’s going to happen:
You’re going to let in vampire clients who don’t respect you and suck you dry emotionally, mentally and financially. (The kind who call you at all hours and think everything’s an emergency.)
You’re going to feel out of control and start to resent your clients.
And instead of loving your life, you’re going to wish you’d kept your 9 to 5.
According to Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, psychologists, speakers and authors of “Boundaries: When to Say Yes How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life,” “Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me.”
Boundaries give you the freedom to take ownership and do your most creative work without anybody else sneaking in and stealing your time and energy. They keep you sane and allow you to serve better (which means more return buyers and more referrals).
But establishing boundaries in a business isn’t as cut and dry as setting up a 6-foot privacy fence in your backyard. These “fences” are invisible.
In fact, most of them are going to fall into the “emotional and intangible” category, according to Dana Gionta and Dan Guerra, authors of “From Stressed to Centered: A Practical Guide to a Healthier and Happier You.”
So, how do you even figure out where to start?
Step 1: Decide What You Want
Remember: Boundaries keep the good in and the bad out.
So, what do you want to keep in and what do you definitely want to keep out?
Before you can create and communicate boundaries your clients will respect, you’ve got to identify your sticking points.
Everyone’s boundaries will look a little different because we all have differing values.
So here are a few questions to help you define what healthy boundaries look like for you:
Delivering Your Best Work
- What do I need in order to deliver my best work to my clients? How will I communicate these needs to my clients from day one?
- Do I need peace and quiet until the project is complete?
- Do I need to break the project into chunks and get feedback along the way?
- What kind of turnaround times should my clients expect for my best work? And how will this affect the number of hours I decide to work per week?
- When do I want to get paid? In full upfront? Or in installments?
- How will I determine when an installment is due or a milestone is reached?
- How will I accept payments?
Communicating with Clients
- How do I want to communicate with clients? (Phone, text, email, Skype, etc.)
- How often do I want to communicate with clients? Do I really want them to have 24/7 access to me when I’m finishing dinner or hanging out with the kiddos?
- How soon can someone expect to hear back from me after they contact me?
- What’s my communication style? Upbeat, laid-back, to-the-point, etc.?
Guarding Your Boundaries
- What happens when a client breaks one of my boundaries?
- What attitudes, beliefs or behaviors will I not tolerate from a client?
- What sorts of things will steal my joy and creativity and keep me from serving others at my highest level?
- What happens if I don’t fulfill my own boundary of expectations and a client is unhappy?
Take the time to answer these questions because they will help you get clear on your values. This is crucial because once you know what you really want to keep in and what you want to keep out, you can set up boundaries that teach your clients to respect those values (and you).
After you’ve defined what you want in your client relationships, take the next step:
Step 2: Clearly Communicate Expectations
Once a client has decided to work with you, clearly communicate your values and expectations via a services agreement or contract of some sort.
You could do this verbally on a call, but I’d recommend putting it in writing so you have something to point back to if things get out of hand or lines get crossed.
This doesn’t have to be some long, fancy document you draw up with a lawyer. Instead, this agreement should be easy to read and understand so that you can ensure everyone is on the same page before you get into murky waters.
The ability to communicate with clarity is one of many underrated skills that can turn you into a rockstar freelancer, so take the time to do this right.
It might be a simple, light-hearted Word doc or it might be a beautifully designed fillable pdf. You can add your own voice and personality to it or keep it brief and to-the-point.
The details of your services agreement are up to you, but there are a few common things you’ll want to include based on your answers to the questions above:
Deadlines and turnaround times:
Show your client you’re going to take excellent care of them by clearly communicating when they can expect to receive your work. This will cut down on those update emails that steal your time and take you out of a flow state.
Spell out exactly what the client can expect from you while performing the agreed-upon service, as well as what you expect from the client.
Here’s an example of expectations I included in a past services agreement I had with a client:
“As my client, you agree:
- To provide me with everything I need to complete the project, when I need it. This includes all research (completed by [client’s] team) and outlines (completed together before drafting content).
- To respect my 25 hours per week limit as described in this agreement.
- To stick to the payment schedule described in this agreement.
As the writer, I agree:
- To provide you with up to 25 hours of sales copy and course creation services per week Monday through Friday.
- To carry my services out in a professional manner for as long as both parties agree.
- To respect the confidentiality of any and all information you give me.”
Tell your client how they can reach you, what times you’re available, and how soon they can expect a reply. If you don’t want to spend weekends hanging out in your inbox, be sure to let clients know that you’re unavailable on weekends. If your clients need to have phone calls with you, it might be a good idea to get a free Calendly account and ask clients to schedule any calls with you there. This cuts down on the back and forth while ensuring clients select times that fit your desired schedule.
Revisions and refunds policy:
If you don’t “knock it out of the park” the first time, how will you address a less-than-thrilled client? If you do offer a guarantee (which I highly recommend as it will increase the number of clients who agree to work with you), make sure you spell out the stipulations of this guarantee for clients.
How you will accept payments and whether they are due in full upfront (what I recommend) or by milestones?
What if a Client Breaks Your Agreement?
It’s easy to get upset when a client doesn’t respect your boundaries, and sometimes those feelings of resentment build up over time.
But as Melody Wilding, a therapist who works with young professionals and business owners, says in an interview with PsychCentral, “It’s important to reinforce and exercise your boundary in the moment or very close to it.”
If you put off telling your clients the truth, it actually loses its power.
Instead, point back to your agreement to clearly and politely tell your client what their violation is the moment it happens, and remind them of the cost if the violation occurs again.
Step 3: Say “No” More Often
First thing to say “no” to is this: Clients who don’t align with your values.
It might feel wrong to turn down a paying customer — especially when you’re just getting your freelance biz off the ground.
But the clients who don’t align with your values are the ones who are going to cross your boundaries and end up treating you like a commodity. (Here’s an awesome resource to prevent that from happening.)
Instead of accepting anyone with cash, focus your attention on clients who align with your values. Not only will it protect you from people who drain your time and energy, but it will also make you more money in the long run.
Clients who honor and align with your values are more likely to become loyal, long-term clients who happily pay you a monthly retainer, which is THE way to make more money as a freelancer.
The second thing to say “no” to is this: Unimportant tasks.
While there are many ways to increase your productivity as a freelancer, there are still only 24 hours in a day. That’s why it’s just as important to set limits on yourself as it is to set limits on your clients.
To keep the good in and do your best, most creative work, you need to realize how much time and energy you have and prioritize tasks accordingly.
Cloud and Townsend say that effective workers do two things: “They strive to do excellent work, and they spend their time on the most important things.” This means budgeting your time and setting realistic deadlines with your clients.
Just say “no” to unimportant tasks and resist the urge to give anything less than your best. When you do, you’ll reach your goals.
Step 4: Embrace the Guilt
Gionta and Guerra write in an article on Inc. that “The biggest obstacles … when considering setting a boundary, are the feelings of fear, guilt, and self-doubt–the anti-boundary musketeers–that show up.”
It’s easy for freelancers who are passionate about serving others to get sucked into the lie that sacrifice and overextension of themselves is just part of getting ahead. You might even question your right to set firm boundaries with your clients.
But Gionta and Guerra assert that you do have the right to set boundaries and you should give yourself permission to establish and protect them.
Cloud and Townsend call boundaryless individuals “slaves.” So, the next time you feel that burden of guilt creeping in, put it in its proper place and rejoice in those feelings.
You’re no longer a slave to clients and workloads. You’re moving forward and accepting nothing less than respect.
Ready to Shift from Slave to Respectable Rockstar?
Most undesirable client relationship issues arise not because people are disrespectful jerks, but because the other person is unaware of your boundaries.
But when you learn how to build and communicate your boundaries, you’ll finally have a system for keeping the good stuff in and the bad junk far, far away.
If you’re a freelancer who wants to wake up energized and excited to create amazing work, serve your clients better than ever and build a business you LOVE, just remember these 4 steps:
- Figure out what you want
- Clearly communicate it to your clients
- Learn to say “no”
- And do it all guilt free
For even more great tips on creating your dream career in your PJs, don’t miss out on this free training!