Setting Expectations & Boundaries with Your Freelance Clients

In an ideal world, most people would have common sense to understand the standard "work place rules", but often times we need to gently remind them how you like to work in order to produce. If you set some firm expectations upfront with your client, usually the project goes a lot smoother and you'll be able to keep your sanity in the end. 

Start from the beginning

You can't really half-ass setting expectations with your clients because if you are lax with your own set of rules, your clients will take over the trajectory of the project. If you don't want clients to be e-mailing you on weekends, give them the same respect. Non-verbal cues can be very powerful in helping them understand how you work best.

Here are a few of my ground rules I like to follow:

  • Absolutely no communication with me through my personal cell phone. 
  • I use Skype occasionally, but only for face-to-face calls if necessary. 
  • I prefer e-mail as my main communication line. 
  • I don't like to respond to e-mails past 6pm or on weekends.
  • Time differences will be respected.

I use a tool called Boomerang to schedule my e-mails. Even though I work on the weekends, my clients don't need to know that. Instead of sending on Saturday, I'll wait until Monday @ 9 am to schedule the message. It's also great for following up if you don't receive a response. 

Start with a smaller project to see how things go

This is one of the reasons why I charge per the hour. Things may seem rainbows and sparkles in the beginning, but things don't always turn out how they seem. It's much easier to fire a client if you're charging hourly, than if they already paid upfront for a project.

If they need that daily check-in phone call or are constantly pinging you on e-mail, it probably won't work out...

How clients can suck you in

  • "It's just this one time"  → This one is trying to make you feel guilty for not putting in that one little extra weekend of work. It's OK sometimes, but don't let them bully you into working over-time more than you want or need to. "Sorry, but I am unable to do that for you as I have no working hours available this week. Let's try to schedule this work for next week?"
  • "Something came up" → If a client can't figure out their deadlines, or something does actually just come up (which happens), it's not your fault and you shouldn't have to suffer for their possible mistake. "I understand, but we had agreed upon a mutual deadline for this work. All I can do for you right now is get as much done as I can."

How do you set boundaries and expectations with your clients?