Have you ever spent some time in creative professionals or freelancers forums or groups? If you have, then you know how insanely common complaint threads are.
Over-demanding clients, late payments, scopes that somehow became giant, and a long cringe-worthy list of things that -sadly- happen in a professional-client relationship.
Thing is that most of these issues could be easily avoided by placing some ground rules beforehand.
Defining the limits in a working relationship is key to managing expectations with clients. It helps to cement your place as a professional, and they can save you countless headaches.
But, how to set them?
First things first: Identify YOUR boundaries
Every business has its own processes and work politics, which means that not all boundaries are universal. You need to identify which ones you will enforce to make sure the project is successful.
To do this, you need to ask yourself (and answer sincerely) a few questions:
- What are your non-negotiables when working on a project?
- What makes you uncomfortable when working on a project?
- What can create the best environment for you to produce the desired results?
Coming up with the best limits for your business means that you need to take a hard look at what your working process is, and know for certain what is the best way for you to be able to deliver the expected results.
Need to meet with a client face to face? You can’t have the luxury of accepting late payments? You need participation of the client or a team to work on the project?
There are thousands of questions you can ask yourself to come up with different rules. Remember that these will dictate what type of relationship you have, and how you want your clients to that you.
That being said, here are a few common boundaries to get you started.
One of the most common complaints is that clients seem to think that they have the right to have access to you 24/7.
Calling on weekends, texting in the middle of the night; sending 3 emails in a row if you didn’t answer in 10 seconds. It can drive anyone mad!
But guess who’s fault is this? If you think it’s your client’s -who only has his best interest in mind- think again. Did you think of yourself? Then you would be right!
It’s up to the professional to set working hours, and communicate them to the client.
Does this guarantee they will stop calling you on weekends? It depends on how good you stick to your own rules. Personally, I never answer emails after 6pm on Fridays (with one exception only); and because I hate talking on the phone, I don’t even give my number to my clients.
- Set weekly working hours. (This is healthy even beyond setting boundaries)
- Set email, texts, and phone policies.
- Be sure to communicate them clearly to your clients.
A little tip: I demand all communications be in written form (email or chat). It helps to keep everyone accountable and it’s easier to access to all that information.
Describing the scope and how you are going to work is a great way to place limits early on. Be sure to write on the contract everything that’s covered in the project, including deadlines and what happens when they are missed. Remember to include revisions and deliverables as well (if applies).
Unless the client has already worked with you, chances are that he or she needs to make a leap of faith for hiring you. Mitigating fears and gaining their trust by revealing your working process can be very helpful to establish a solid professional relationship. Not to mention that it will make your life much easier!
You are bound to find clients that don’t want to pay, that take forever to respond to your invoice, or even that ask for refunds.
Having some nice solid boundaries in place can help you make the payment process a lot less stressful.
Payment specifications need to be discussed before starting the project, and should also be described in your contract (you are working with contracts, right?).
These should include:
- Payment timeline. Are you working with milestones? Are you charging a deposit, or 100% when the project is finished? Are you going to be paid per hour, weekly, monthly? Remember to think what’s best for you and your business.
- Rush fees, or working beyond your working hours. “I need it for yesterday” is a pretty common thing for clients to ask. If you hate being rushed, you can create a Rush fee policy and include it in your contract. I charge at least 100% more than my regular fee in these cases (and it’s the only exception I have on answering emails on weekends).
- Extra work. It may seem like a basic thing, but you should also state with your client that any work beyond the discussed scope is to be paid as well. Many clients are quick to ask for “extras”, and is up to you to make them understand that there is no such thing as free work when you are a business owner.
The key to successful boundaries
You can think of all the limits you want, but the real deal is that you don’t only have to explain them: you need to follow through if you need to enforce them.
Place your boundaries clearly and from day 1. Let your clients know how you work and see if you are a good match: it can happen that some of your boundaries may be deal breakers for some clients. Boundaries are not meant to be a surprise, and enforcing them half way through the project is not only hard, but can be very counterproductive.
Remember that you need to respect your own boundaries as well. If you say you won’t do something, don’t do it. If you say you’ll do something, do it. It may not seem like it but this plays an important part in how your clients perceive you in a professional level.
Limits exists to take care of both parts, and to help reach a successful outcome. Be sure to create your boundaries with the end goal in mind.
Do you place limits with your clients? What experience was the turning point before you realised you needed them?