You’re just about to stop working for the day when a client calls, breathless with urgency. They’re going to need help with a big project.
It’s past your regular working hours and you have plans, but they want it done as soon as possible – tonight, preferably.
a) propose a reasonable deadline, completed within your normal business hours
b) agree to do an overnight job, for an increased hourly “rush rate”
c) grit your teeth, chirp “NO PROBLEM!” into the phone, cancel your plans, and kill yourself to get the work done
Hint: if your answer is C, you’re probably being a little too flexible.
Make no mistake, being easy-going is a virtue! Flexibility is one of the most-touted benefits of freelancing. The issue arises when that flexibility is all in the client’s favor and never in yours – when it erodes all reasonable expectations of availability and productivity.
Freelancing can be competitive, and it’s tempting to bend over backwards to please your clients. But when you’re TOO flexible, you actually make yourself appear less valuable to clients.
Hear me out: drawing reasonable boundaries about when, how, and where we will work – and the rates we require to do so – is essential to a healthy, balanced freelance life. But boundaries do double duty; they also inform clients about our value.
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Having no boundaries and being endlessly, perkily available doesn’t encourage clients to respect you or your abilities. Unfortunately, being TOO flexible sends the message that you are desperate for work and that what you do is simple. It robs you of your power.
Your boundaries teach clients how to treat you. When you work overtime to convince your clients that inconvenient, irresponsible, or underfunded requests are “NO PROBLEM”, you are hurting the perception of your contribution. You are encouraging clients to call you last-minute, to demand too much, and to pay you too little – because, after all, you said it was no problem.
So how do you differentiate between good flexibility and detrimental flexibility?
Check in with yourself early and often about client requests. How do you FEEL? Are you consistently taking on too much (for too little recompense)? Do you keep promises to yourself about working hours, rates, and commitments? Do you feel like you give, and give, and get little in return?
If your current level of flexibility is working for you, great! It’s a tool for YOU to be happy and productive. But if your “flexibility” is a thin veneer of easygoingness laid over simmering resentment, anxiety, and exploitation, start laying down some boundaries. Flexibility is good – but you can only bend so far before you snap.
Kate Shea 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.