By Miles Burke

Set Boundaries: It’s OK to Say “No” to Clients

By Miles Burke

I recently enjoyed a coffee with a freelancer friend on a weekend, who took a client call during his time off. When he got off the phone, he started to lament about clients calling him at all hours of the weekend and evening.

Whilst I was sympathetic, it was obviously his fault as well. Why? Because it was evident that he didn’t set boundaries. By not setting any boundaries, his personal life was suffering from these constant interruptions, and so were his other clients – he often slept in or had haphazard hours as the result of late-night callers or unnecessary midnight coding sessions.

So how do you claw back your personal life and set some boundaries? Here’s a few tips on how you can avoid similar interruptions in your personal time.

Have a Separate “Office” Number

Sure, it may be just you, but that doesn’t mean you should give out your home and personal cell numbers to everyone. It’s quite cheap and easy to get a second number or even a second phone to use for client calls.

Switch your Phone(s) to Voicemail Outside Hours

If you use an office number and cell number, divert your one to the other on weekends and outside hours, and encourage your clients to leave a message.

Only Return Urgent Calls

Sure, if the server is down, that’s pretty important. But that new graphic or form validation script can probably wait until the next working day. As suppliers, it’s part of our job to be able to prioritize requests based on actual urgency, not the whims of a client.


Block your Outgoing Number

If you use a different number to call out from, most carriers allow you to block caller ID. That way, you won’t be broadcasting your number to everyone to use.

Have Separate Email Addresses

This is easy; I have a work email address that I avoid checking on weekends, and a personal one which I check when I’m not at my office. Even if the second is an alias, it’s fairly simple to set up a few rules in your email program to filter emails to different folders.

Can it wait?

If you do get caught off-guard, make a point to ask your caller if you can return the call during business hours. Do it politely, and you’ll be rewarded with the luxury of being left alone in the future by that caller.

Don’t use your Personal Address

If you work from home, use a postal box, co-working space or serviced office as your address on stationery and your website. This reduces the chance of unannounced drop-ins on a Sunday morning.

By following these tips, and setting some boundaries, you’ll have more quality after-hours time, and you’ll be training your clients to treat you as a fellow professional, not as a late-night or weekend always-on help desk. I can guarantee they don’t spend their weekends and evenings answering calls from their customers – and nor should you be expected to.

Good luck setting boundaries, and I’d love to hear about some of your experiences. Have any other great suggestions? Let us know in the comments below!

  • I ‘did’ have one client who demanded all kinds of attention. They would almost always follow up emails with a phone call and they’d never stop demanding things. These demands got worse and worse originally fuelled by my goodwill, they demands were later ruled by greed. In the end I just had to let the client go, which ideally was not the best solution.

    Now I work differently, I let clients know I work on weekdays only, till around 5pm. They can call me any time however, but they cannot demand work NOW, if the now is a Sunday morning. Emails are answered even on weekends, however, a big however, if a client demands text-book answers I will not reply to the following Monday, and if they constantly do this I will deduct it from their support plan hours.

    It’s all about having procedure to combat greed, as this little green monster always appears when the thought of getting something for nothing, or somebody to slave away for free.

  • xolani

    Thanks for such wonderful article

  • I completely agree with this! I think ever since the invention of cell phones, people, sadly clients included have lost the understanding and respect of office hours. They are just used to being able to get a hold on anyone at any time. I think that you need to be the one to set up that boundary with your customers.

  • My advice is you need to give all of your clients plenty of time and attention. If you are getting an inordinate amount of after work calls, your clients can leave a message and you can call them back. You need to have time for your family and other parts of your life. If you are in a creative business you need time to think and step back to be creative.

Get the latest in Entrepreneur, once a week, for free.