“He just won’t stop texting me!” one of my students told me during one of our Skype meetings. And no, we weren’t talking about the most recent guy she swiped right on.
We were talking about a client that was contacting her around the clock. She felt pressured to respond to him immediately, no matter what time he contacted her or what she was doing. Even worse, she felt like she had to do work for him the moment he asked for it.
“I thought being a freelancer would be more… freeing,” she told me and admitted she was considering returning to the corporate world because of this situation.
She was at her wit’s end and I honestly couldn’t blame her. But I told her to put off returning to the 9-5 world until she and I had a heart to heart about client boundaries.
Why Freelancers and Virtual Assistants Need Client Boundaries
When you work in a a 9-5 job, there are built-in boundaries you benefit from. You have set hours, protocol, specific days off, and limited contact with your clients in that job. This is a great structure to have but it’s not something we really appreciate or notice. Because of this, setting and maintaining boundaries with clients can be very challenging when you’re a freelancer.
Some freelancers have no problem with setting boundaries and keeping them with their clients. And I love that, I’m so excited for you if you’re one of those people.
But if you’re not, you run the risk of burn out and being advantage of by clients. This isn’t something that’s intentionally done. But if clients don’t know what you’re okay with happening and what you aren’t, pushing your boundaries happens very easily and very quickly.
You might need to set and re-enforce boundaries with your clients if:
• They contact you at all hours of the day and expect you to respond
• You work around the clock for this client
• You find yourself dreading when that client contacts you
• You start to experience feelings of resentment when working on this client’s projects
• You feel like you never stop working
I want you to know that if you’re experiencing any of the feelings I listed above that it’s okay. So many freelancers struggle with these feelings without understanding the cause. The great news you can absolutely turn this situation around!
By setting and maintaining client boundaries, you:
• Protect your energy
• Take control of your schedule and how much time you spend focusing on this client’s work
• Will stop feeling guilty about not responding to phone calls, emails, and texts at all hours of the day
• Actually experience the free part of your freelance career
Now, I want to be absolutely clear about something. Client boundaries are a necessity, not an accessory. You’re not being demanding or ridiculous for setting up these parameters for yourself and your business. In fact, you’ll actually be healthier, happier, and more productive.
And who doesn’t want those things in their business?
I’m going to walk you through the client boundaries you need in place no matter what kind of work you do as a freelancer or virtual assistant and why you need them. Grab some coffee and a notepad because we’re going to be talking about a lot today.
5 Client Boundaries Every Freelancer and Virtual Assistant Needs in Place
So now that you know the benefits of client boundaries and why they’re so necessary to your business, let’s talk about what boundaries you actually need.
These will vary for everyone because everyone’s needs are different. But there are 5 basic client boundaries I think every freelancer needs to set and maintain. These are applicable regardless of what you do as a freelancer. Virtual assistants will need these boundaries just as much as graphic designers.
So here are the 5 client boundaries every freelancer and virtual assistant needs to establish and why.
1. Work Hours
One of the great things about being a freelancer is having control over your own schedule. But one mistake freelancers often make is not setting official work hours with their clients. It seems counterintuitive because most of us want to be readily available to our clients whenever they need us.
But the danger in this is that we end up working all the time, which can lead to burn out and not being appropriately compensated for our efforts. It can also lead to clients contacting you at all hours of the day and expecting you to not only respond but do work.
Now it may not be intentional on your client’s part but if they don’t know what you’re comfortable with or where your parameters are, they don’t know they’re doing something you’re not a fan of.
Make it clear what hours you work and when your client can expect to hear back from you. It’s okay if you want to work outside of those hours but don’t communicate with your clients outside of them. This protects your time and energy.
If you’re working as a virtual assistant, then your clients are booking packages based on the services you provide. For example, some virtual assistants will sell blog management, social media management, or email management services.
In these situations, it’s important you set the hours you'll be working and available to your client and stick to them. Let them know if there are going to changes in that availability ahead of time. This way your client isn’t left wondering why you aren’t responding when you said you would be available.
It’s also a good idea to use a time tracker that takes screenshots while you work. This way, you have proof that you’re working when you say are and your client can feel safe knowing they aren’t being taken advantage of. If you have clients through Upwork, use their TimeTracker whenever possible. If you’re working on your own, I recommend using TimeDoctor.
If you have clients in different timezones or who are overseas, make sure you have a time slot when both of you are available. It doesn’t have to be every day but least once a week. This way, you can hop on a quick call or send a message and know you’ll get answers quickly. Otherwise, work gets delayed or dragged out.
Please consider these a necessity for anything you do as a freelancer. It doesn’t matter if the client is a friend, family member, or complete stranger. You need to have a contract that protects you, your work, your client, and their requests.
Even if they seem friendly or if you know them, it’s better to have it in black and white. Doing this will keep you both on the same page about what is and isn’t expected. They also protect you from not being paid, lays out what you and the client are each responsible for, and creates a timeframe for project completion.
If you’re not sure how to write a contract or the thought of writing one makes you really nervous, Freelancers Union has a great contract creation tool you can use even if you’re a virtual assistant. There’s also this amazing open source contract for web designers and developers that’s worth reading over, or using if that’s your niche. No matter how you decide to create one, make sure you have a contract every time you freelance.
If you’re sourcing clients through Upwork, they have a built in Contract feature. It’s a good idea to review the contract with your clients and as them to put certain things in. This ensures you’re both protected and have boundaries around what you will and will not do for a certain price.
As a virtual assistant, you typically have one contract that states what your services are, how many hours your client is paying for, when the client needs to pay, and how much they’ll be paying you. Additional parts can vary depending on what setting are you working in. For example, if you are part of a VA agency, they will have their own set of rules both you and the client have to abide by.
3. The Project
When you’re setting up a contract with a client, make sure you write in everything you’ll be doing in the project. Be thorough when you do this. To give yourself extra protection, you can include a line in your contract stating that you will do things not listed in this contract at a specific hourly rate.
Because here’s the reality: as you work more with certain clients, they will start to rely on you and ask for your help in other areas of your business. This is great for you because it shows that you’re needed and can get more work. But there are clients who will file these extra projects under the contract you have without paying you extra.
This happens to so many of my students. And while it can be a compliment to you, the right clients will be happy to pay you for extra work. It can be so easy to say yes to one small task that’s outside your contract. But it’s just as easy to say yes to another and then another and then another. Before you know it, your well-meaning gesture has turned into billable hours you’re not cashing in on.
I know it sounds heartless but it’s better to protect yourself than get into a situation where you feel taken advantage of.
I recommend this for anyone working online, but especially virtual assistants, figure out a minimum and maximum time for each assignment when you receive it. This way your client will know what to expect and how much time do they have left. Your clients want to get the most for their money and by doing this, they can fill up your hours with meaningful work.
It’s also important to be realistic and honest. Until yesterday, I thought it was silly to include that in any kind of blog post. I thought something like that went without saying.
But then I received a phone call from one of my ex-clients.
She knew I couldn’t take her on, but she wanted to know how long I thought creating 16 social media posts should take. I gave my calculation based on the parameters she offered. Then, she asked a couple more VAs the same question.
It didn’t take her long to realize her VA was taking advantage of her. The virtual assistant she hired was billing her 12 hours for 16 posts. That was the last day that VA worked for her.
So, please be honest with your clients and communicate clearly with them. Otherwise, you could end up without a solid client — and a steady income — because someone assumed the best in you.
4. Payments and Deadlines
Work your payment schedule into both your contract and the boundaries you establish for your clients. By doing this, you make it clear for both you and your client when you’re expected to be paid and when the project will be completed.
There are some projects that will require work on your client’s end. Please don’t make the client completing their work a condition of you being paid for yours. You deserve to be paid for the work you do according to the schedule you set with your client.
I also recommend having late fees and a rush price that’s clearly communicated with your clients. You may not necessarily have to use them but they’re a good way to keep clients from paying you late or surprising you with late minute projects. It’s also a good idea to require 50% of the payment upfront. By doing this you ensure that the client is committed to you and this project. You’re also ensuring that if something should happen and the client mysteriously disappears, you at least received some kind of payment for your work.
Having a contract with this information also comes in very handy because if there’s ever a question about your payment, you can refer back to the contract your client agreed to.
5. Friendliness and Personal Information
When you’re a freelancer, building relationships is extremely important. Good networking relationships are the backbone of growing your business online. Because of this, you usually end up very friendly with your clients.
There’s nothing wrong with that but be mindful of not becoming too friendly with your clients. While there are clients who don’t do this, I want to share this with you because those clients can be few and far between. And there are people out there who will try to take advantage of the relationship if you become too friendly with your clients.
If you’re a naturally friendly person, make sure you stick to the guidelines in your contract or original agreement. Require payments be made upfront and on-time, no discounts for being friends, don’t take on extra projects without talking over money.
Part of establishing trust and great chemistry with a client is by sharing personal information. It’s completely normal for there to be some things shared such as family members, living situations, pets, and things like that. But when you’re first getting to know your client, be careful about how much you share with them. It’s a safety precaution more than anything else.
What’s Next For You?
Client boundaries sound uncomfortable but they’re necessary for you to succeed as a freelancer without burning out. In order for you to live your ideal Work from Wherever Lifestyle, you need to set up some structure when it comes to your client interactions. Otherwise, you could end up like my student who was working 7 days a week and starting to regret her choice to leave the 9-5 world. But now she’s having these conversations with her clients upfront and is loving the freedom it’s given her.
Before becoming a virtual assistant, I helped companies connect with quality remote workers. Since starting my own business, I've spent a lot of time hiring freelancers on Upwork. So if you've been struggling with finding clients, I have a way to help you succeed. Check out the Ultimate Upwork e-book! You’ll learn my exclusive step-by-step strategy to turn Upwork into a mini-goldmine. Click here to get your copy today.
Not sure if you’re ready to strike out on your own? Do you have everything you need to be successful on your own? I have a free training series for you to check out. You’ll learn to start and scale your own successful virtual assistant business. Interested? You can reserve your seat for it here.
Don’t forget to join the Work from Wherever Lifestyle Society on Facebook! We’re the perfect group for new virtual assistants just like you. Click here to join us today.