If your boss asked you to work during your vacation, you might consider walking out. But for many freelancers, common workplace boundaries end up going out the door instead.
The pressure to keep clients happy often has us bending over backward. It’s no longer your boss asking you to do a little extra; it’s your direct source of income doing the talking. And unlike your boss, who has legal ramifications for wrongful termination, your clients can walk away pretty easily.
As a freelancer, it’s your responsibility to set and enforce boundaries. Doing so is not only good for you; it’s good for your clients, too. Here’s how:
Be clear from the beginning about what you will and won’t do
I do media relations, so that means I reach out to the media and secure opportunities. I don’t do social media, marketing or any of that other stuff. I make what I do very clear from the beginning so there aren’t any surprises and they will know if I’ll be a good fit.
If people ask me for services I don’t normally offer, I don’t make exceptions. If (or more likely, when) this happens to you, just explain that this isn’t your area of expertise, and you don’t feel comfortable doing this. Ultimately, they’ll benefit more if they hire an expert on that subject.
Another way you can enforce this boundary is by keeping a network of professionals you can recommend. This way, you are still serving your client and keeping them happy. You just happen to not be the one doing the work.
Don’t be a “yes” person
A client is hiring you for your expertise and guidance. If they have ideas that aren’t good or you don’t think will work, tell them that! If you don’t, you will always end up with unhappy clients. Offer them ways to reach their goal that you think will work out better. Don’t be afraid to speak up. You are the professional and they are paying you for your expertise, not your affirmation.
You don’t have to be available all the time
If you always answer clients the second they email you, especially on weekends or late at night, then that is what they will come to expect. If you set their expectations this high, you’re setting them up to be disappointed when you leave your phone behind to do something like enjoy your sister’s wedding.
I don’t know about you, but I didn’t choose to work for myself to have less freedom. I don’t have my email on my phone because I don’t want to be tied to it.
Of course, answer things in a timely manner during your working hours, but if you train people to expect you to be available all of the time, then they will.
Give realistic deadlines
Give yourself time to do a good job. When someone sends you a project, make sure you are coming back with a deadline that makes sense; you generally don’t have to get everything to the client ASAP.
When you provide deadlines, make sure you are actually turning things in at the deadline. This goes beyond keeping your clients happy; this is how you build trust. Be reliable and hit your deadlines when you say you will.
Schedule your communication
You don’t want to get in the habit of constantly dropping everything to do status calls or send over status reports. This can really upset your workflow. Create a schedule for sending those things over and make sure they know when to expect it. Maybe every Friday you will send an email outlining what you are working on and what the status is, or every other Tuesday you schedule a phone call. This will save you so much time and energy and make you more efficient throughout the week, and the client will likely feel more comfortable knowing when they can expect regular updates from you.
Be clear about what is working and what isn’t
Inevitably, you’ll take on a project, get to the middle of it and find that you are really struggling to get it done. If this goes on to compromise the quality of the project, the best thing you can do is openly communicate what is and is not working.
Sometimes people are afraid to admit something isn’t working, but it’s important to do so. This way, the client can help you come up with something that will work! They are the experts at their business and can provide valuable feedback. And as with most things, they want to feel like they are involved in the process. If it’s not going to work, keeping quiet about it won’t fix anything.
Clients want to know what is going on and will much happier helping you solve inherent issues than being left in the dark or disappointed. Keep them in the loop. You owe it to your client to let them help you solve an issue or find someone who can.