Do you like the sound of being taken advantage of? Perhaps having people devalue your work?
NO. OF COURSE YOU DONT.
One of the most important lessons I have learnt since starting to freelance is the importance of setting boundaries for your business.
These boundaries apply to you, your clients and even your family and friends. When you are clear on these boundaries it makes a huge difference to your productivity and reduces unnecessary stress.
Put bluntly, I will not be taken advantage of. I will not be made to feel like my time is not worth the same as the time of others. And neither should you!
Starting out, it happened time and time again. I would bend my policies, work outside of business hours and accept unrealistic requests and timeframes for fear of losing the account. No account is worth that kind of stress. This resulted in me being taken advantage of, which of course is a terrible feeling.
Those same clients then started to expect bent policies, that I would be available at all hours of the day and night and that I could drop everything to meet last minute deadlines. Simply put, without boundaries, you are setting yourself up to be taken advantage of and at the end of the day, that's not healthy.
You are worth more than that!
It's never too late to set boundaries, in fact, it's a good idea to review this aspect of your business often! There's no harm in changing these policies, updating them to serve you better! Ultimately, having boundaries makes the experience better for everyone!
THREE WAYS TO SET FIRM, BUT FAIR BOUNDARIES:
1. Decide on realistic work hours and stick to them. Make sure you include your business hours on your website and in the initial work agreement/contract. Don't reply to emails outside of business hours, don't even answer the phone or reply to messages. Bending the rules because it's convenient at the time will give other's permission to bend the rules too. Rather, if it's convenient to reply outside of business hours and save the draft until work hours to send it. The message will arrive during business hours and this will establish the status quo.
2. Don't accept jobs that give you less than 48 hours notice. I know! It's tempting to grab anything, especially when you are starting out. But accepting last minute jobs sets a precedent. Clients need to respect that you have a schedule and you need to plan time accordingly to maximise your productivity. Of course it's different if you're engaged in a retainer agreement, but generally I suggest not being a 'last minute' option.
3. Be clear on your policies. Have work agreements/contracts and process outlines pre-written. Consistency is the key, so it's the same policy for all clients. Ensure you know (and your clients know) what is expected. You need to ensure all parties are on the same page when it comes to scheduling, communication and payment. Thorough policies and documents prevents confusion and unwanted surprises for everyone involved!
There's always the niggling "what if..?" in the back of your mind when it comes to setting and enforcing these kinds of business boundaries. If you do lose a client or perhaps if you are having a quiet period, it's so easy to start questioning your self with "what if I was more relaxed with my payment policy... maybe they would have signed on for more work?" or "what if I wrote back at 3 am when that potential client emailed me last night... maybe they would have signed on today!".
The truth is, clients that have you jumping through hoops, that have you questioning yourself and making you feel like you are not worth what you are asking - they aren't the type of clients you should want anyway.
The trick is to be comfortable in your policies and boundaries that you have put in place and the right clients will sign on and respect you!
(Photo Credit: Alex Lv)