Over the holiday weekend, I received an urgent email from a client asking about the status of a newsletter that needed to be sent out before the end of the month. The only problem was, I hadn’t gotten the original email. Thanks to autofill, she’d accidentally sent it to another Jake in her address book. My decision was easy: She’s a fantastic long-term client who’d made an honest mistake, so I took a break from repairing the deck and completed her job. This event coincided with several discussions I saw on Facebook with freelancers talking (and some complaining) about having to work over the holiday weekend, which brings me to today’s topic: setting freelance client boundaries.
I realize that more than a few freelance pundits recommend that you enforce strict business hours, only respond to email twice a day, or don’t do phone calls or face-to-face meetings. That may work for some, but I personally tend toward being proscriptive rather than prescriptive. The fact is, we all draw the line in slightly different places. You need to figure out what works best for you and, yes, for your clients. (For additional thoughts on client communications, see my recent Writers Worth Month post about the freelancer’s platinum rule.)
5 Keys to Freelance Client Boundaries
- Cultivate freelance clients who intuitively understand and work within your boundaries, rather than trying to cajole troublemakers into compliance with your system. Succeed on this front, and almost everything takes care of itself.
- Recognize that you are actively choosing what to do and when to do it. I am not advising that you should be working all the time, because that’s not the point—and you will burn out if you keep at it long enough. Trust me, I’m an outstanding hooky player if I’ve had a couple of long days in a row.
- Whether you have boundaries in your mind or on paper, know when you need to bend: Great clients deserve VIP treatment.
- If a client chronically abuses your boundaries, you need to take remedial action up to and including severing ties.
- If you violate your own boundaries—working on a weekend you promised to keep clear or bringing your laptop on vacation—don’t feel guilty or foolish. Anyone who would judge you or think that’s a sign of weakness has issues of their own.
I felt no guilt at all about working on a holiday weekend, just as I’ve never felt guilt about occasionally sending in projects while on vacation. Frankly, I think it’s pretty swingin’ that we live in an age when I can effortlessly submit a document from a different state, country, or continent. Above all, I can think of worse ways to kill time in an airport or airplane than paying for the trip.