• Advice

Boundaries: good for you, good for clients!

Any therapist will tell you that healthy boundaries are key to a good relationship. This is certainly true personally, but it’s also true professionally – especially for freelancer/client relationships. It’s obvious why having some ground rules about hours, rates, and project limits protect freelancers. But boundaries are good for clients, too!

Clients don’t actually want you to be accessible 24/7, working way past your limits. Some may THINK they do, but they don’t. Here’s why:

Boundaries make freelancers look professional

As I have recently discovered to my dismay, my local Laundromat is closed on Wednesdays. If I showed up on a Wednesday, screaming and pounding on the doors, insisting that I MUST have my sweater or the world would end, what would happen?

… nothing. I would have to wait until Thursday, because the Laundromat is a business, and their hours are not subject to my whims.

You, freelancer, are a business. You have every right to be available when and where you choose – in fact, LEGALLY clients MUST observe your rights to choose your availability. Boundaries (including the number of hours you work on each project, and hours of availability) make you look professional – and protect you from abuse. Boundaries present you as an equal, as another business to be respected – not a subordinate.

Boundaries keep freelancers sane (and tolerant!)

Being endlessly available to clients, being unflaggingly cheerful through round after round of unfettered, uncompensated edits – these things chip away at you. If you consistently live according to the client’s needs and not your own, you will inevitably become resentful and overstressed. Eventually, you will burn out. You will lash out at your client, you will implode, or you will quit. Don’t do this.

Healthy boundaries help keep YOU, the freelancer, sane and happy – even if the work itself is stressful. Being able to step away also helps you to keep your cool when inevitable crises arrive – and you’ll be more patient with fractious clients if you know they can’t reach you after 7 PM.

Every worker deserves time off. You don’t owe any employer 24/7 availability, unless you are being OUTRAGEOUSLY compensated. Be wary even of high-paying gigs that seemingly demand round-the-clock access - that’s not sustainable. Most clients who want unfettered availability, however, aren’t willing to pay for it; draw your line in the sand.

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Boundaries actually reduce client stress

Okay, so clients might not always, uh, consciously know that they like boundaries. But hear me out.

Most clients – even the most difficult specimens – want to feel like they’re in the hands of a confident, competent professional. They want to know what is happening when, and they want to feel like their money (and time) is being spent wisely. Putting boundaries in place lets clients know that it’s not your first time at the rodeo; that you know what you’re doing. Projects become polished, well-oiled professional exchanges.

Setting concrete boundaries can also stifle clients’ urges to micro-manage, which ultimately causes LESS stress for them; that’s another big time-waster eliminated. A few ground rules make everyone feel more relaxed, and free to play.

Perhaps most importantly, boundaries are cost-effective for clients AND freelancers. Being specific about how much work you’ll do, when, and for what rate allows clients to budget effectively. It stops you from working past your limits, and stops them from thoughtlessly picking up the phone and wasting billed hours.

Simply put, boundaries benefit everyone. If your client isn’t totally depraved (and once again – don’t work for jerks), odds are they want to have a smooth working relationship with a happy, tolerant, sane freelancer. Setting limits allows you to be your best professional self… and that’s what’s best for all involved!

Kate Hamill lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily. You can catch up with her on Twitter at @katerone.