If you run a business from home, or are a freelancer you have probably encountered more than one client who doesn’t seem to recognise your working hours vs your personal hours. It is also pretty common for small business owners and freelancers to have a single email address and phone number for both personal and business matters.

In some cases, it might not be so bad, but for the most part, keeping your business and personal communications separated to give you real downtime and time off when you need it.

Communication boundaries are one of the most important things that you can do to ensure you have space from your work. If you are early in your freelancing career, you might’ve agreed to accept a few clients you weren’t really sure about.

And after a short while, you notice that they don’t respect your boundaries properly. So it is important that you never make that mistake again. Here are a few tips to help you set boundaries and keep your communications separate too.

Clients

Spotting bad clients, or clients that won’t respect your boundaries can be tricky. It is a skill that you will grow over time. However, here are some red flags to look out for when it comes to clients who (no matter how much they’re paying) aren’t worth the stress.

  • If you find yourself putting off responding to emails, calls or messages after only a few short interactions
  • If the client or potential client emails, calls or messages at times that would be outside of typical office hours – and expects a response
  • When you find yourself rewording emails, texts or considering each word carefully before you speak because they are usually picker than other clients
  • You are asked to revise your work repeatedly, even though they have provided a brief that you adhered to
  • The client has not provided a brief, asked you to do the work, and then repeatedly revised the work.
  • Your expertise and style are questioned continuously, even though you were hired because of it.
  • When you send an email, you wait days for a response
  • The person you are working with gets in the way of the work itself
  • Payment dates have been missed, or they haggled after agreeing to the price

There are other warning signs, but they may vary by industry. If you feel that your work is not valued because you are a freelancer, that can also be a sign.

Setting Boundaries

Even though you might feel your boundaries are clear, your clients might feel differently. Most of the time, when they work with another company, they will have everything outlined in a contract. The contract will set the expectations for both sides and ensure that everyone understands what is acceptable regarding the business relationship.

Unfortunately, one of the things that freelancers and small business owners aren’t good at is setting and keeping their boundaries. Often this is because they don’t want to lose the client or are worried about their reputation.

It is better to have a reputation for being picky with your clients and producing great work than for being available 24/7.

You should implement some boundaries immediately and then live by them.

Office hours

Ah, the joy of freelance and running your own business means you can work when you want. And that is still true, but your clients shouldn’t be able to contact you and expect a response 24/7.

Think about when you would like clients to be able to contact you. Typically these hours will be between 9-5, but you can choose what works for you.

Ensure these office hours are on your website, in your email signature and everywhere else. So that it is very clearly outlined that outside of working hours, you aren’t going to respond (even if you have read it).

To further cement these office hours, you can have an automated email that outlines a time scale that people can expect a response from. Between 24-48 hours is pretty standard. This is optional, though; you don’t need to do this.

Have these office hours available in any paperwork that you send your clients.

Personal numbers

Are you still using your personal mobile phone to take business calls? Stop immediately. This is one of the biggest boundaries that clients often cross – without knowing. It means that your personal means of communication is no longer personal.

Get another mobile phone and a cheap sim card that is dedicated to clients, and outside of work hours – switch it off.

This simple action will make sure that you keep that strong boundary between what is your personal number and what is your business number.

Carefully go through everything that may have your personal number on and remove it – including your website, your email signature and social streams.

Revisions

There are clients that will expect hundreds of revisions – even when the work is great. And others that won’t expect a single change without paying for it.

You need to figure out what is the amount of reworking and revisions you are willing to do within the price that you charge your client – or if it should cost extra.

And always keep in mind that there is a big difference between a minor adjustment and you need to redo the whole piece of work.

Clearly outline what is acceptable ahead of time. It can also be worth having this conversation early in the process.

Feedback is an essential part of getting the work up to the standard that is needed, so it is vital that you know when to kill your darlings and when to push for the work. We don’t always get it right, and there should be space for conversation.

Project scope

Remember that you are the expert in what you do – which is why they are considering hiring you/ hired you. What does this mean? It means that you can give them a firmer idea of the project scope than they have. It is essential that you give them a clear set of expectations to work with.

What a client thinks is a small job could be very time consuming and one of the biggest. It is essential that you always keep your estimations and even confirmed timings clean.

Part of the project scope will include a deadline, and you need to make sure that the deadline is reasonable. If a client wants an entire SEO eCommerce store in two days – is that reasonable? If not, why isn’t it, and how long will it take? Don’t let a client disrupt the work schedule once set, and don’t allow them to implement unreasonable deadlines.

Keeping The Boundaries

No matter how many times you have your office hours visible, or how many times you explain to come, client, you aren’t available on the weekend – they are going to try, and they will usually complain about it too.

There are several ways that you can go about reaffirming your boundaries.

If a client has called multiple times outside of working hours – ensure that you do not respond. In your voicemail recording, give an email address they can use if it is urgent. You can then read the email and decide if it is urgent enough to return the call – it usually isn’t.

When a client sends multiple emails outside of working hours and mentions that they were expecting a reply, politely mention that you work between X and X times and not before or after.

The best way to format this email is to:

  1. Confirm your office hours
  2. Acknowledge their issue
  3. Offer a solution (that works within your boundaries)
  4. Sign off the email politely

If the client still requires an immediate response, you should look for the best way to end that working relationship.

Communication boundaries are essential for you to be able to work. Not only on their project but the other projects that you have on your books at the moment. If a client is not respectful of the communication boundaries and office hours, they do not respect your time. This means that the relationship is not as healthy as it should be.

It is also worth keeping in mind that if they don’t respect this simple boundary, there might be many others that they do not respect either. And, while that has not become obvious yet – it will over time.

Many freelancers and small businesses don’t know their boundaries until they have clients who are purposefully pushing them. Suddenly they understand how and when they don’t want to work. Use your past experiences to create a set of boundaries for your business that protects both you and your work—allowing you always to give your clients your best work while keeping the sanctity of how you work best.

Clients never need to know WHEN you work; all they need to know is when they can get in touch with you.

The rest is really up to you.

It can be very helpful to have someone to talk to, in many cases a business mentor is ideal: Why It Is Important To Have A Business Mentor – Eleven Magazine