Use Work Boundaries to Build a Sustainable Business

Georgina Laidlaw

Many freelancers struggle to say “no” to clients.

Do you?

I’ve found that freelancing full-time has demanded clearer boundaries — and a stronger commitment to saying “no” — than did freelancing on the side.

Here are the main things I say “no” to.

Working weird hours

Recently I was taking a brief from a client who had a really tight deadline. “We’ll get the information to you as soon as we can,” she said. Then, she smiled knowingly. “But you’re a freelancer, so I imagine you arrange your time” — she waved her hand — “to suit.”

No, I told her, I don’t. I run a freelance business, and I work business hours. I make this clear to clients who think that freelance means “always on.” Otherwise, I’d be working day and night, at the whim of clients.

Working for less

When I started freelancing full-time I took any job I could get my hands on, but I soon realized this was unsustainable. I needed to focus on better-paid work, which, coincidentally, was the kind of work I enjoyed the most.

Sometimes clients will ask for a discount; sometimes they’ll just tell you they don’t have the budget you’re quoting; sometimes they’ll try to squeeze more into the job once its started. Sometimes I can negotiate these issues, but I prefer not to work for less. I just haven’t found it helpful in developing a sustainable business.

Working against the agreement

When I start a job, I discuss up-front with the client exactly how the workflow will function — who can expect what, when, how much time everyone will have to do their bits, and so on.

Often, these arrangements slip and change as the job progresses. That’s fine, so long as those changeable clients don’t expect me to hold up my end of that initial agreement.

If the client works in a way that goes against that initial agreement, I consider all best to be off, and work negotiate more appropriate terms instead. For me, this applies particularly to the timely provision of client-supplied items, approvals and amendments. If the client’s late on these things, then I need to renegotiate the turnaround time with them.

These three “rules” may seem modest, but I use them every single day to keep my business not just on track, but growing.

What do you say “no” to? Tell us in the comments.

Image courtesy stock.xchng user Ambrozjo.