The Effective Guide to Setting Boundaries as a Freelancer
When you’re a freelancer you own your schedule, and you have the freedom to work when you want to, and from anywhere in the world. With such great benefits comes more responsibility.
One big difference you have with 9-to-5 employees is the freedom they enjoy to disconnect from their jobs when they arrive home.
When you own a business, you know it’s entirely your responsibility to keep the business running and making an income. Sometimes it comes with a price: boundaries.
Have you ever worked on weekends or answered a call from a client at 7pm? That’s okay if you have a side hustle and can’t answer personal phone calls at your day job, but if you’re a full time freelancer why is this different from a 9-to-5 office where employees leave the company and no one answers the phone?
Everyone deserves some time off. You may not realize you need it until one day you burn out. That’s why in this post I’ll write about a few boundaries you should set in your business.
Avoid working on evenings & weekends
At some point, most of us have done it. We all had to start somewhere and if you started side hustling, your available time was on weekends and late nights to meet your deadlines.
As your business starts to grow, and you become a stable freelancer, you should decrease the amount of time you spend working on weekends and evenings.
It’s not good for you, your family or your friendships – you’ll eventually burn out.
Enjoy your vacation
I enjoy what I do. I loved writing since I was a kid and it’s great now I’m able to do it for a living.
When I was going on vacation early this year, I wanted to finish all my pending projects before I left. That way I could enjoy my free time without worries. As the date was getting closer, I started to think:
What if potential clients reached out and I missed opportunities for being out of town?
What if someone comments on my blog and I don’t respond promptly?
Isn’t working online one of the perks of being your own boss? You should be able to work from anywhere.
In the end, I decided to go with my original plan because everyone needs a break. Even 9-to-5 employees leave work for a few weeks and the world doesn’t fall apart. You deserve it. Talk to your clients and let them know you’re going to take a few days or weeks off and organize your work to finish everything before you go.
Don’t mix work time with personal time
You signed on this for freedom, right? You decide when to work and how to work. It’s awesome going to the grocery store on a Monday at 10am when it’s not crowded.
You could certainly take advantage of your flexible schedule to save some time. Nevertheless, saving an hour of grocery shopping is one thing, and procrastinating your work to pursue other activities is another. Take small breaks during the day, but avoid distractions like TV shows or playing with your pet in the middle of your tasks.
Set an office space
Granted, not everyone has the luxury of owning a home office. Your house is full. You have your bedroom, you’re living with more people and you can’t afford to rent an office outside your house.
However, small desks aren’t that expensive. Be creative and find places where you can work, like nearby libraries, coffee shops or parks.
You don’t want your client calling to your house and your roommate answering the phone with an informal tone or your kid screaming. If you don’t have a different phone for clients, at least you can establish a schedule for business calls. This way you make sure you’re available when a client calls you.
Have two bank accounts and credit cards
Nothing is more frustrating than mixing your personal finances with your business expenses. Things are simple at first. Until you have a huge workload and you start to forget which expense was yours and which expense was for clients or your own business.
Avoid the headache and separate them from the very beginning.
Limit the amount of personal information you share
Just as with your finances, the same goes for your branding. Keep your personal social media accounts separated from your business accounts. Your client may not need to know your kid learned how to spell your pet’s name on your business Twitter account.
It’s great to have a friendly relationship with your clients, but it’s a good idea to keep certain things private as well.
Set a schedule for checking your emails
We tend to answer clients’ emails right away. We think we might lose a job opportunity if we don’t give a prompt response. This might sound right, but unless you’re a doctor dealing with a medical emergency, it doesn’t make a big difference if you answer the email now or in 1 hour.
If you provide a remarkable customer service, a great attitude, referrals and a reasonable price, not answering an email in the first 5 minutes isn’t a deal breaker.
In fact, you might be filtering needy and pushy clients. These type of clients usually need an answer NOW and it’s ALWAYS an emergency.
Let’s say you’re a web developer. Of course you’re not going to ignore an ecommerce client whose website has been down for 5 hours. But it’s important to set limits. Is it really necessary to answer every email immediately? If not, let your client know your usual response hours and stick to that schedule.
You may want to try checking your emails twice a day: Once at mid-morning and once before you leave your workday behind. You can start your day with an important task and then go through your inbox. And once you’re finished with your work at the end of the day, answer the rest of your emails. You can experiment a little with the schedule to see what works best for you.
Try to not sync your work emails on your phone, so you don’t have the pressure in the palm of your hand every two minutes.
Set client expectations for project deliveries
You receive a new job inquiry by email. The prospective client tells you he or she needs your copywriting services for the company’s website. You’d need to write the about page, landing page, home page, services description page, you’d also have to write some copy for the Facebook and Twitter account. Oh, and by the way, it has to be done by tomorrow.
It’s a good thing to please your clients, but it’s another to lose your personal life. Choose wisely how you want to handle your client-freelancer relationship. Remember you can always earn more money and get more clients, but it’s very hard to change your client’s expectations if you started your relationship by being totally available all of the time.
Be friendly with your client, but not too friendly
It’s terrific when you find a client you truly respect and enjoy working with. It’s a gem hidden between your average clients. You feel a great chemistry and you start to get involved in each others life. How are the kids? How was your moving last week? And that’s awesome.
The real problem begins when you start doing your “friend” favors. The client asks you to start working on a project without the usual upfront payment. After all, you’re friends, right?
Your client asks for a friend’s discount. Suddenly, your new friend represents a bad business relationship.
Be polite and stick to your initial agreement. If the client is worth it, he or she will understand.
What do you think? Do you have any other tip to set effective boundaries? Do you usually follow any of these ideas?