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Have You Set Boundaries With Your Clients?

boundaries“If I hadn’t set boundaries with this client,” a forum member said, “I’d be working all through my vacation!”

We all applauded because setting boundaries is one of the marks of a true professional writer.

Some clients expect the moon

There are some clients who seem to have no understanding that the freelance writer they hire has a life. They expect everything from unlimited rewrites regardless of the writing quality to limitless access to you, the writer 24/7 or at least 12/7. They assume you’re at your desk and are willing to talk calls or instant messaging any time and it never ever occurs to them you might have another client or a family or…

They have new ‘brilliant” ideas that totally change the direction of the project you’re working on and expect you to rewrite everything for no additional fee. Or they may drop out of sight, failing to provide necessary feedback, answer calls and emails only to reappear weeks later expecting you to pick up the project where they left off immediately.

You get the idea and if you’ve been in the business for a bit you’ve already dealt with such a client.

Why do they expect so much?

Who knows why the are like that is the real answer. I do, however also know that many of the people who hire me have absolutely no idea what’s involved in getting words on paper… none. The darn computer which has made it easier for us makes writing look super easy to those who don’t write.

Of course there are folks out there who feel they are special and are so surprised when someone points out that they are being unreasonable and demanding too much.

Fortunately most clients aren’t like this. It is, however, up to you to set the boundaries, and enforce them.

Boundaries start with written agreements

Just like the saying ‘good fences make good neighbors’ holds more than a bit of truth, it’s also true that good contracts make good clients. A written agreement, which can be as simple as an email that spells out the details of the gig, or as formal as a contract or letter of agreement, is the first step in setting boundaries. Properly written, the agreement will spell out the duties and responsibilities for both you and the client.

For example, if you know in advance the client tends to want to talk to you every five minutes, you can spell out a limit – “writer will talk with the client about this project every Wednesday at 2 pm” brings total clarity and allows you to legitimately not answer on Tuesdays. In fact, you could make that a clause in every agreement if you want. I don’t, but I do let them know I turn off the phone during writing times.

How to set boundaries

Probably the biggest secret to setting boundaries with clients is to remember that “no” is a complete sentence. You don’t need to explain or apologize.

Don’t confuse the idea of giving excellent customer service with taking abuse. They are not the same thing. The client who even asks if you will be available during your vacation is pushing the envelope. It doesn’t matter that their lack of planning has created an emergency for them – it’s not your job to fix that sort of problem.

Are there times when you will bend over backwards? Of course, but don’t make it a habit. And consider charging for the extra mile, particularly when it becomes two miles or ten.

Sometimes I think clients are sort of like kids – they push the limits and are usually grateful when you set limits even if they protest. After all, the absolute worst that can happen is the client will never hire you again – which could be a real blessing.

Setting boundaries is good for you and for your business, I promise!

Are you good at setting boundaries? Tell us about it one way or another.

Write well and often,



Hat tip to Lori Widmer.

{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Hi Anne,

    Post reading this article, I feel glad to have someone sharing the same thoughts as I do. A gap is really necessary between a freelancer and a client. Sometimes the clients take the freelancer for granted (handling work at the last moment and expecting quick turnaround, asking for more than what was decided, etc.) and it just isn’t good

    Saksham Talwar recently posted..15 Snapchat Tricks and Hidden Features that You Need to Try TodayMy Profile

  • Even the best of cliens are bound to slip one way or the other.

    While I was recently negotiating a lit translation project and working out the details for a written agreement, the client (who initially wanted me to start on 07/28) had to change the date due to unexpected obligations (which is perfectly understandable) and postpone the start date to 08/28. The thing is, he only notified my after **I** sent him an email about a week before the 28th, asking him whether we were still on for said date.

    Freelancers have to block out time in order to accommodate projects, and few people seem to understand this. No need to add (although I *will*) I worked a relevant clause into the translation agreement: at least 14 days prior notification for a change of dates.

    • Our clients continually teach us how to run our business don’t they? Thanks Helene, great example.

  • Hi Anne,
    This is something new, Setting boundaries for clients. Heard about this topic for the first time.
    Robin Khokhar recently posted..WordPress Vs. Blogspot – Which one should you choose?My Profile

    • Robin, real pros have been saying no to clients for a long time… maybe applying the term, boundaries, to the issue is slightly new.

  • This was not with a client, but something I heard about that I thought was a great idea. It had to do with child care. If the child was not picked up on time, it cost $1 for each tardy minute.
    Cheryl recently posted..What is Moral Money?My Profile

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