By Alyssa Gregory

How To Set Boundaries With Clients

By Alyssa Gregory

fenceLast week, I wrote a post about mastering the challenges of working from home, and one of the most common challenges is creating boundaries that separate work and home life. In my experience, this is an integral part of successfully working from home.

A major element of boundary setting is consistently managing your work relationships. Here are some ways you can do that.

Develop Policies


By creating policies that govern your client relationships, and being consistent with them, your boundaries will become second nature. Some areas in which you may want to create business-wide policies include:

  • Rates, pricing and discounts
  • Availability and work hours
  • Billing practices
  • General turnaround time
  • Meeting requests

You may even want to incorporate some of these areas into your contract.

Make Sure Your Clients Understand Your Policies

It’s not enough to create policies. You need to be able to convey those policies to your clients and ensure they understand the terms. If you don’t opt to include your policies in your contract, you can draft a document outlining your policies and procedures. Give this document to new clients as part of your welcome package.

You can also relay your policies on a more informal basis verbally as the need arises. This approach can be gentler to convey but it can be more challenging to keep track of who knows about which policies.

Limit Exceptions

There are always exceptions, even when you have very clear and defined boundaries. For a long-term client, for example, you may decide to be a little more lenient with your availability and turnaround time when a situation warrants.

To avoid letting your exceptions overrun you, you may want to consider building exceptions into your overall planning. This information won’t be public knowledge, but it can help you make decisions on a case-by-case basis.

Communicate Clearly

Just as effective communication is vital in other areas of your business, it is also vital in discussing and informing clients of your boundaries. It’s up to you to create the boundaries and then ensure you are not only letting your clients know, but being willing to respond to concerns that may develop from your policies. Answering questions and providing a general idea of why you have that policy (without justifying it) can make your clients more willing to accept the rules you’ve laid out.

Respect Your Clients and Their Boundaries

Just as you teach your clients how you want to be treated, you should also provide the same respect you are asking them to give you. Ask your clients their processes for the same areas where you are setting limits. If your clients have certain requests that are vital for them, be willing to consider adopting their policies in your day-to-day relationship.

Keep in mind that all relationships are based on give and take, so by clear communication and compromise, you are on your way to building healthy and reciprocal relationships with your clients.

How do you set boundaries in your work? How do you let your clients know what your boundaries are?

Image credit: Kym McLeod

  • bebopdesigner

    Thanks for the post!

  • Alan

    Anyone have some good examples they use?

  • loganathan

    Nice article… it inspires me

  • KEW Creative

    Thanks, just what I’ve been discussing in a business coaching session today! Blackberry’s are great when out and about but an infringment on personal time at weekends etc. Once a client knows you receive email anytime they expect you to reply or act because they know you’ve received the email!

  • What! so you mean the client calling me at 0h00 on Sunday night should stop?

  • ablewebs

    Setting my own boundaries and my clients’ expectations is vital for my success. Because I know what my own boundaries are, I am not tempted to take on work I’m not suited for… just for the money. It’s never worth it! Also setting my clients’ expectations from the very beginning means I avoid massive scope creep (gallop!). I can’t tell you how much smoother my business runs now that I always hold firm to my own boundaries and to the expectations I have set for a client. I now can “fire” a client when the fit isn’t there or their expectations don’t match what I can deliver for the price… and never look back.
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  • repunzel

    After reading your post and the editors article “Proposals: How Much is Too Much?” I see them as very similar. They are similar because they both question how we conduct our business and where do we draw the line. Whether it is rates, hours, billing, turnaround, proposals or spec work each designer has to be willing to listen to the little voice in their head that says I don’t like being treated this way and I want to set a boundary.

    I hope that everyone continues to talk about boundaries and not think that you are alone in your feelings. All agencies and corporations have boundaries, they just call them policies and we obey.

    As far as spec work and proposals, they won’t go away as long as designers continue to feel that is the only way to get work. Set yourself apart from the competition by doing business that demonstrates your own self respect and value.

  • Myrna

    As a consultant, I am constantly called by my clients for everything. The key is charging by THE HOUR NOT by the project. If you charge by the project, forget it. Once they pay your final invoice, the phone will ring, ring, ring and they will want to know this or that…One client actually asked me for a landscaping scheme OVER THE PHONE. It was unbelievable.

    I finally quit charging by the project and now charge BY THE HOUR. It makes a HUGE difference. I tell them I can talk briefly with quick questions but if it goes over a few minutes, they can expect an invoice from me at the end of the month. My contracts are simple but now charge by the hour and they say this, clearly. This made all the difference.

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