How to Set Healthy Boundaries with Clients

July 11, 2019

How to Set Healthy Boundaries with Clients

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As freelancers, it’s in our DNA to be client-focused. We want to create projects that wow and meet every expectation. We all have visions of long, fruitful relationships with clients where we repeatedly deliver results. 

The problems begin when we go too far to help the client. Unlimited edits to a project, answering calls or texts around the clock, and generally compromising the way we do our best work are symptoms of boundary breakdown.

When you set boundaries with your clients, you create the headspace to do your best work–and your phone doesn’t ring at all hours of the day. Let’s learn more about drawing (and maintaining) boundaries to keep your business and personal life in balance.

Managing Client Expectations

Early in my career, a mentor called me into his office and told me that my success would come down to how I managed people. To my surprise, he wasn’t talking about having many direct reports. 

Instead, he was talking about managing client expectations. This meant helping them understand the types of reports and information our team could (and more importantly, couldn’t) provide. It also meant being clear about timelines and deliverables for projects. Managing expectations reduced pressure and led to great working relationships.

Most client conflict happens when there is a disconnect about project scope or cost. They think they’ll receive all the raw footage from a shoot, but you just send the final, edited video. Or, they expect email responses in the same hour, but you only reply to email twice a day. This is a disconnect in expectations and erodes the relationship with the client.

Expectations and boundaries go hand-in-hand. By being clear about your expectations and then meeting those targets, clients are less likely to breach your boundaries.

Boundaries to Set With Every Client

The best time to set client boundaries is at the beginning of your first project together. This is part of the client onboarding process and ensures that the two parties can work together. Let’s look at crucial lines you should draw with your client.

“Boundaries around payments are too often eroded, leaving you with overdue invoices and a cash flow crunch.

Communication Preferences

In the process of wooing a potential client, it’s common to be super responsive. That might mean prioritizing responses to their emails, replying faster than you typically would. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it does create a future expectation from your client. Once you’re busy actually doing the work they’ve hired you for, responding to each and every email is just a distraction from the assignment.

That’s why one of the most critical boundaries to set is to clarify expectations around communication. That includes informing them of the best method (email, phone, in-person meetings) of contact and your typical turnaround time for each. It’s ok to ask a client to email instead of call because you are on set most of the day. It’s a crucial boundary that protects your sanity, freeing you to spend the majority of time on work.

Payment and Deliverables

Getting paid is the lifeblood of your freelance work. And yet, the boundaries around payments are too often eroded, leaving you with overdue invoices and a cash flow crunch.

At the beginning of the project, make sure to be clear on payment terms:

Milestones – When do you expect payment? Upon full completion? Or along with measurable milestones as you provide drafts?

Due in X days – How many days does the client have to pay from the time they receive the invoice? 

Payment methods – How can a client pay the invoice? Some companies don’t provide credit cards to employees, and you should be prepared to accept a few different forms of payment. 

Establishing these terms before you kick off work on a project will help protect your working relationship.

Edits and Revisions 

One of the most classic examples of a boundary failure is project scope creep. That means that what you think you’re delivering and what your client thinks you’re delivering are not the same.

It’s important to define your edits and revisions policies. How many times are you willing to make edits to a video, and how extensive can the changes be? Also, make sure that you’re clear about how long it will take to turnaround revisions. Communicate upfront when the client can expect to see the changes. 

Scope creep might be the costliest form of boundary breakdown. It leaves you with unbillable hours and makes it a nightmare to balance your time. Just as you think you’re wrapping up a project and taking on a new client, you’re suddenly sucked back into a job that you had already marked as complete.

Setting boundaries improves client relationships

Setting boundaries for your freelance practice doesn’t mean that you can’t be client-centric. You can still be open to their feedback and accommodate reasonable requests. Not only do boundaries protect your work-life balance, but they also help ensure you have healthy and successful relationships with your best clients. 

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Andrew Childress

Andrew is a freelance contributor to Storyblocks who writes about video production, video editing, and fittingly, the business of freelancing.