When you’re newly self-employed it is so incredibly easy (and even advisable!) to say yes to every client and every project that comes your way. And we’re often so hungry for business we allow our clients to walk all over our deadlines, expectations, and tip toe over our boundaries.
But what if we never made those boundaries particularly clear?
In a perfect world, that client would apply a bit of Golden Rule logic when calling you on Saturday afternoon or dawdling on their invoice, but we teach people how to treat us and people frequently need to be taught in a rather blunt-if-loving way.
I do two things to establish (what I hope are) loving, mutually beneficial boundaries with clients:
1. I work on one small project with them before we commit to an on-going, on-retainer relationship
One of my secrets to a sane, sustainable, not-freaking-out-about-rent-this-month freelance life is having several clients on retainer – that way I know even if I sell zero ebooks and no ad space, my rent and bills are always covered.
But you wouldn’t jump into a Serious Business Relationship without a few dates. My clients and I might work through a few blog posts or a ghost written ebook before we dive into something big and committed. If they need more than three rounds of edits or want daily check-in phone calls, it’s probably not meant to be – for either of us.
2. I have a set of ‘collaboration guidelines’ (which you can totally copy)
A happy, healthy relationship – romantic, platonic, professional – requires open communication, knowing how your partner works best and what annoys the sweet bejesus out of them.
Enter my ‘collaboration guidelines.’ Once my client and I decide that we’re in it for the (relative) long-haul, I try to initiate a conversation about how each of us do our best work.
Verbatim, here’s the email I send them:
These will probably strike you as ‘holy crap obvious’ but they are all things that have (sadly) actually come up with previous clients. And I always feel that putting all our cards on the proverbial table from the get-go is the best policy.
So! Here are my ‘collaboration guidelines’!
* After being shorted by a client who’s a pastor (!) I ask that first time clients pay for 100% of their package up front. After we’ve worked together for three months, we can create a different payment arrangement if you’d like.
* In an attempt to have an actual life outside of work, I try not to respond to emails or phone calls after 6:00 pm CST on weekdays or on at all on weekends. And I don’t expect you to, either. If I email you on a weekend or at night, please feel free to ignore it till the morning or Monday.
* Whenever possible, I prefer email over phone calls. I work in coffee shops a lot and we all hate that person who talks loudly on their phone in coffee shops.
* I won’t call you unexpectedly if you won’t call me unexpectedly.
* My usual turn around time for writing is 2-3 business days. It’s unlikely that I can write or edit something for a client that day or the next.
* In an effort to keep my email inbox under control, I like to limit communication to one or two long, information-filled emails each day. I promise I won’t email you one-liner emails if you won’t do that to me.
* I will usually write your piece and share it with you in Google docs. You can add comments or suggest edits by clicking ‘insert’ and ‘comment.’
* I ask that all clients who have purchased a 10 hour package with me use those ten hours within three months of purchasing it.
Tell me how you work best and if these make sense!
The amazing thing? Every.single.time I’ve shared these with my clients they’ve been appreciative of my transparency and given incredibly valuable insights into how they work best.
One client likes confirmation that I received each email she sends me. Another has a list of words she doesn’t want included in the posts I ghost-write for her. A third prefers Trello comments over emails. And I’m totally happy to accommodate all of those needs now that I know!
Do you struggle establishing boundaries with clients? If you have any good tips, please share them in the comments!