Friendly but Firm: How to Set Boundaries with Clients

Posted by Ryan Howard on Feb 16, 2018 11:05:34 AM

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When a client begins to take advantage of your patience, resentment begins to build. You know the feeling - you're giving them extra hours, dealing with scope-creep, or continuing to work even though they haven't paid your past two invoices. There's a different way to handle these sorts of clients: Boundaries. You can still be friendly with clients but also honor the hard work and effort you put into your business.

Here's how to be friendly but firm and set boundaries with clients.

What Are Your Boundaries?

Typically, the reasons your clients have overstepped is because you let them. This occurs because you didn't consider or were unaware of your own boundaries. When starting your own business, or working with clients you've known for a while, there's an inherent trust that if you do your part, your client will offer respect and reciprocate. Unfortunately, this doesn't always occur.

Consider the following questions:

What are your working hours? If you're available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, this is going to get old and fast. Set the hours that you're willing to work, even if you go over or do extra. Don't answer that email or text from a client unless you want them to expect your immediate availability at all times.

What is the scope? Scope-creep is when you've agreed to certain project obligations with your client but then find yourself working outside what you agreed to. Set the scope of your project or agreement and stick to it. Remind your client when their requests go beyond what was originally discussed, including limiting the number of edits or revisions. Let them know when they are outside of scope that you'll have to charge another rate, change the contract, or have them pay up front for more.

How will the client contact you? Again, are you going to be communicating via email, text, or calls? It may be suitable for you to set up communication via a project management application. In this manner, the client can leave messages or post requests and there is a documentation trail. If you don't want the client to have your personal cell phone number, don't give it to them.

What is expected from your client? If you can't complete a project until the client completes something or sends information, let them know. Set a deadline. Be very clear of the consequences of missing that deadline. For instance, if they don't send over needed project information, the project halts on your end. If they don't pay on time, the project again halts. Are there extra fees for late payments or project delays? Consider this option to prompt responsiveness from your client.


When Do You Set Boundaries with Clients?

It is very important to TRAIN CLIENTS EARLY. You are teaching them how to treat you. Start at the beginning of the relationship to establish clear boundaries. If they are uncomfortable with those boundaries, or are questioning your boundaries, they may simply not be the client you need. Sure, you can go ahead and work with them anyway but at what expense? Is it worth it?

How Do You Set Boundaries with Clients?

The best way to set boundaries with your clients is with a written contract or agreement. Before writing your contract, go back and consider what boundaries and consequences you will set with your clients. Instead of learning the hard way, after you've been burned, use these best practices in your contracts and have your clients sign in agreement before starting a project.

  • Be clear on scope. Write out exactly what was promised in conversations with your client. 
  • Detail extra fees or charges if the project goes out of scope or beyond the hours you said you'd work.
  • Set payment terms including when the client will be invoiced, what payment options you will accept, and what collections processes you will follow if payment isn't received on time. 

Other boundaries, such as your availability or payment collections, will be the result of your own actions. This means that you have to be consistent about avoiding answering emails or phone calls immediately and you have to follow up when they're not paying.

What if Clients Push Your Boundaries?

Clients may try to push you beyond your boundaries. Their persistence may not be out of disrespect as much as forgetfulness, getting to know how you work, or a simple misunderstanding. Stay consistent but in a friendly way. You can still maintain a good relationship but honor your own business rules and your personal life. Even when it comes to reminding clients to pay an overdue invoice, you can still be friendly but firm. (We've created a free downloadable collections letter so you'll know just what to say!)

Remember, you do have some control over how you're treated by your clients. Consistency is key. Get to know yourself better and teach your clients how to treat you better too.

Topics: Business relationships