Setting hard boundaries with potential or current clients

Ever get so close to quitting a project because no amount of money is worth the distress your client is putting you through?

I have been an entrepreneur since 2009 -- for ten years and I have dealt with people from all walks of life. I have worked with millionaires to newbies. But the most grief I have been caused is by clients who want to pay the least and expect the most. Yep, you know exactly the type I am talking about if you’re a creative like me.

Usually goes something like this “need a person who can update my wordpress, create my content for me, answer my emails 24/7, post 12 times a day and my budget is $200”. GTFO!

These kinds are in search for a fucking unicorn that doesn’t exist. 

So in order to avoid troublesome clients, I set hard boundaries that are non-negotiable:

  1. I have a tight screening process: My first step is a questionnaire where I assess potential client needs. My very first question before even getting on a free call with me is,  I ask for a budget. If they select less than $500, I cancel the consult. Because 1) I have nothing to offer for that amount 2) it’s a waste of my time 3) it’s a waste of their time 
  2. Always have a contract in place: The biggest mistake entrepreneurs make is not having a solid agreement in place. Always highlight what work will be done in the contract and make sure you put somewhere, if project goes over expectations or agreed upon terms, you WILL charge for it. 
  3. Stop doing work for FREE: Being nice will not pay your bills. If a project has been wrapped up and client is still asking you to do things, make it clear that you will bill them for any work as your contract is complete. This will either go two ways 1) they will be happy to pay you, or 2) they’ll take care of it themselves. This “free” also includes giving free consulting or marketing advice. It’s simple: if people want access to you, they best be willing to pay for it.
  4. Communication: DO NOT. I repeat, DO NOT respond to messages after office hours. Just because you are online and a client is blowing up your messenger, inbox or texts -- doesn’t mean you are obligated to respond right then and there. If this problem persists, ask them to direct communication to email only and you will respond in the standard 1-3 business days that all of the world operates by. Remind them, they are not your only client and they should respect your boundaries. This was hard for me and then every time I saw a certain message pop up, I’d get anxiety! So I reminded myself that I am a human and not a robot -- I’ll respond when it’s appropriate.
  5. You are NOT obligated to be friends with them: I have a bitchin’ personality and sometimes my clients become my friends. I usually know when I want to keep in touch with someone and most of the time I don’t. I don’t respond to that “friend request”, or follow them back on social media because I have the choice in choosing not to! You can too. Think of it has an invading of your personal space or when coworkers ask to hang out after work and you’re like “ewwwww, I’d rather not!” same thing applies here. (I have unfriended some eventually because I didn’t know how to say no)

Anyways, these are some hard boundaries I enforce in my business and it’s kept peace in my personal life too! 

Do you have any tips for me? Feel free to share them in the comments below. 

4 comments

  • So necessary!!! Love this 💖🥰

    Lyndsay
  • I really enjoyed reading this blog post, and I very much resonate with your experience. I 100% agree that boundaries have to be put in place in advance to avoid unreal expectations from both client and designer.

    In my previous I.T. career as a Microsoft Deployment Engineer, a Scope of Work was always in place to follow. Services rendered to the client were laid out clear in advance with little leeway to veer off that scope. Side-tracking off the agreed upon Scope, providing services beyond what is agreed upon up front, is called “scope creep”, and is every service professional’s worst nightmare. I think client’s seeking services acquire a mindset to impose “Scope Creep” when the provider does not fully lay out the Scope Of Work (SOW) and get client buy-in on those specific services to be rendered.

    I have also had to learn this lesson the hard way in my past I.T. career, in past Web Design projects I moon-lighted on the side, and even in my current soap making career performing custom orders.

    I remember one difficult customer in particular I had dealt with back in 2013. It was a web design “deal” between two mutual I.T. “friends” (we had helped eachother on past I.T. scenarios regarding servers and networks, but I was more talented in web design than he was). He was my client, I was the service provider. Using this past experience as a base for my reply here, this is my personal input to your blog post.

    1. & 2.) Screening: While not my strongest trait to-date, I think I have derived good contract examples from different sources (WP Elevation, Divi professionals, and a lot of business-minded Facebook groups I belong to). But putting it all together into a checklist and creating a repository to draw upon is both necessary and hair-pulling. Glad you have those down pat! Setting up a budget and SOW that needs to be met by both parties is high-priority, and the costs to provide those services needs to meet goals + profit margins in order to stay in business.

    3.) I find doing work for “free” when you are first starting out as a service provider is perfectly acceptable, but within specific limits. After all, portfolio of work and client-satisfaction reviews takes time to curate. The limits need imposed right from the beginning, even with that “free” work (which is still costing your time, hence not entirely “free”). This means performing X, Y, OR Z services specific to building the needed portfolio, and providing XYZ as a “package” should fairly reflect the price for each of those 3 services individually or slightly discounted price that still covers all costs as a package deal. And this is where I refer to that client I had in 2013. I agreed to do “X” work for him. No contract was ever signed, and so projects “Y” and “Z” crept into my “X” project timeline without that client paying me fairly for those additional services he imposed.

    4.) Imposing Client Communications: I designed that site for that “friend”/client. I published that site. That guy I did it for is still on my friends list, though now restricted. He had texted me at all hours of the day. I worked 16-hr days for him. I went through several trainings and got complimented by Yahoo Stores for my creative efforts in getting around his basic plan ecommerce obstacles. Yet I was paid only $900 for 2 months of work. AND he told me he had to “pawn” things in order to pay me for my time and effort, asking me to be compassionate to his situation while disrespecting my time and efforts. While I am compassionate, and have been in plenty situations where bills were hard to meet, I like to pay my bills and have a family life outside of work too. The stress he put on me because I ALLOWED him to contact me any time he wanted (as opposed to regular operating business hours) to was excruciating! But again, I had allowed that imposition. And it turned into my 1st lesson as an entrepreneur in just how invasive that can be on a relationship. PS: He shut down his business only 3 months after the website was live. :-/

    5.) I, too, love to talk and RELATE to people I feel a mutual connection with. Keeping clients at arm’s length, not necessarily letting the friendship grow during the transactional period, is a very hard lesson to learn as an entrepreneur. As well as doing business with “friends”. My biggest takeaway from that lesson with that 2013 client is that while you CAN do business with friends, friends need to respect that you do what you do to make a living, not socialize at all hours of the day on social media while marketing your services. I actually see this behavior MOST VIOLATED in my current career as a soap maker. Soap Makers have a tendency to easily create fast bonds very quickly. And that’s ok. But at some point a person wants to have a little ‘family time’ and not talk about “work”. But when you are connected both professionally AND socially, sometimes the lines get blurred. At least this has happened to me on several occasions.

    I have a different strategy now in my business where I use different social media accounts to avoid repeating some of the problems mentioned in your blog. You are more than welcome to adapt the ideas, or not. I do hope they help someone.
    A.) Develop a single “repository” for clients only to store signed agreements, meeting notes, documents, files, products, etc., and their communications.
    B,) If you don’t have a Virtual Assistant (and you ARE wearing all the hats), create a “customer service” persona for your business to manage social media and email communications. This creates a “barrier” between prospects and you prior to consultations and Scope of Work is agreed upon. THEN, when you contact the people you want to work with for a discovery call, you go off of the pre-screen your alternate persona did for you. If you already have a VA on stand-by who will do these tasks for you, then great!
    C.) Whether it is a Google Voice or other VOIP phone service, get a second number solely for your business and only communicate through that specific number for calls, texts, online chats, and emails. After all, when you purchase a product or service, it is RARE that you get someone’s home phone or cell phone when you place that order. You get the ‘business’ number. So why make your personal number open for anyone to call? And do not have friends/family communicate with you on that business number unless it is an emergency or they are working for you.

    Thank you for posting this blog entry. This subject really hit home for me.

    Lisa
  • omg! who on earth would ask to post 12x a day? Hope you’re just being sarcastic 😂

    Mel
  • Working for free is something I need to stop doing for sure. I always feel bad because they’re coming to me for help!

    Melanie

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