March 31, 2016

4 Keys to Healthy Client Boundaries

Boundaries are the backbone to any healthy relationship whether we’re talking about business, friendship, parenting, or romance. Over the 8 years I’ve been an entrepreneur, boundaries have often been the bane of my existence.

Most of us, if not 100%, start off charging too little and being abused by crappy clients. Sometimes the clients aren’t actually crappy. We just aren’t teaching them to respect us.

Luckily, my days of being walked over by people who don’t appreciate my work or time are over. Want to know how? I use these four keys to healthy client boundaries.

Set boundaries before you need them.

It’s been said that “a lack of boundaries invites a lack of respect.” So, in effect, you can’t complain about a poor client relationship if you don’t do the work of setting boundaries.

Establishing the parameters of your relationship is best done at the beginning of a collaboration. Here are a few things to cover:

  • Office hours
  • Means of communication (text, Skype, email, Facebook messaging, phone calls, etc.)
  • Payment plans and due dates
  • Feedback and change requests
  • Fees associated with out-of-scope work

Think back on struggles you’ve had with past clients and make policies that protect you from a repeat.

Re-inforce boundaries with positive framing.

Some people just have problems with boundaries. Maybe they’re used to getting their way or they think freelancers work 24/7.

In cases like this, use positive framing to respond whenever possible. Affirm that it’s important to you that your client feels supported. And that the best way for you to provide exceptional service is within your established guidelines.

  • Example: I don’t work after 5:00 pm so don’t call me in the evenings.
  • Better option: Being able to support you is important to me so I want to make sure you understand when and how to reach me. Feel free to call/text (whatever you’re comfortable with) during my office hours. If you should need me after 5:00 pm, feel free to email and I’ll respond within one business day.

Figure out what works for you and stick by it.

Don’t take responsibility for other people’s emergencies.

This was a parenting principle I learned when my kids were tiny. There’s a difference between empathizing over a problem and taking responsibility for it.

Running a business is hard but no one can do the work for you or me. We’ve got to buckle down and wade through taxes, and payroll, and all the other junk. Sometimes the best answer to someone’s problem is, “That really sucks. I’m sorry you’re dealing with that.”

And then keep on trucking.

Be clear about your work processes and milestones.

Draft a flow chart for how you work through a project. Clearly mark significant milestones and what you need from your client at each step. Now that you have this handy document, use it. Share it with your client. Put reminders in your calendar and invite anyone involved to the event.

Getting clear on how you work and significant milestones creates a strong foundation. Remind clients ahead of time when a milestone is approaching, what is due, and what happens if they miss it.

These four keys have helped me in the last few years to really simplify my client relationships and ensure they’re satisfied. Even more importantly, I’m much happier making my contribution now that I feel respected.

Need help getting clarity around boundaries in your business? Let’s chat. Maybe all you need is a fresh perspective.