Boundaries and Lines In The Sand
Working for yourself comes with positives and negatives. Setting boundaries is essential to keep your personal life separate from your work life. I’ve touched on the quickly vanishing line between the two aspects of one’s life before, and the rules apply to the freelance worker as well as the non-freelancer. But how do you tell your client they are infringing on your off-time without coming across as nothing but annoyed and frustrated?
Be Proactive: Set A Schedule
If you have specific times you’re actively working, let them know. On what days and times you’re reachable is when it’s OK for them to call you directly. You get the responsibility of telling them that and sticking to it. If you don’t tell your clients you don’t answer your phone related to work after 5pm, they might call you whenever it’s convenient for them. Like when you’re about to hit the gym for a workout, or when you’re at a movie, or out with friends and you’ve had one too many at the bar. You can’t get annoyed with clients if they don’t know your off-duty time.
Be Predictable: Keep It
If you don’t work on weekends, it’s best you don’t send work related emails those days. If you do work weekends, but would rather not be bothered by clients, same suggestion. Each client and situation is unique, but sending files on weekends, responding to emails, or even taking phone calls gives your client the wrong impression. If you want weekends for yourself, you have to hold back on making contact with them. If it’s not an emergency, it can wait till Monday. Want to have days off other than weekends? Completely up to you. But if your client works the usual Monday through Friday schedule that many people do, you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage by removing one of those days from your own work rotation. Whatever you pick, stick with those days no matter what.
Be Pushy: Only When Needed
So you sent your client an email around 9am and they replied back within ten minutes. You’re not obligated to email them back just as quickly. Unless the situation calls for quick dialogue, such as they ask a question or want confirmation you got the message, it’s OK to wait. Responding too quickly gives the impression that you’re always at your computer and always reachable. If they don’t need a quick reply, don’t. If your client later calls you to make sure you got that email, you need to draw a line in the sand. Clients calling you directly to ensure you got their email is a red flag. Be careful how to approach this scenario.
When I was faced with this type of client, they often called me when I wasn’t at home, more often while driving. I never answer my phone while driving (and you shouldn’t either). I let it go to voice mail and listen to it when I park or when I get where I needed to go. The time gives distance between you and the client, and sometimes that’s a good thing. My phone doesn’t have the best connection on my end so I prefer to communicate via email. When possible, I’ll respond within an hour after I get the confirmation phone call. Your client needs to be aware that they might not be the only person you’re doing work for. The entire point of freelancing is to not work for just one person (unless you want to).
No matter what, stay professional when telling your clients your availability and hold yourself accountable for that time-on and time-off. If you don’t stick with your own rules, why should anyone else?