4 Tips on How to Set Contract Boundaries With Your Clients

By Tim Beyers, Contributor, on February 13, 2018

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Freelance clients: Sometimes they’re wonderful, and sometimes they drive you a bit crazy. Either way, it’s important to establish healthy contract boundaries so you can have a life away from your desk. By setting these boundaries at the beginning of a new client relationship, you can start off on the right foot and determine how to best maximize your time.

Ready to get started? Try these four tips:

Determine Your Hours — and Stick to Them

Oftentimes, the best freelancers are those who treat their work like a W-2 employee approaches their full-time job. Try to create a detailed schedule for yourself, and then communicate your plan to clients. If you decide to work from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. most days (with weekends off), make this clear to your clients and service partners from the get-go. When they know your hours, it will be easier for you to stay focused and do your work in the time you’ve got. The opposite of that is also true: If you don’t set proper boundaries, your freelance life can spin so far out of control that you totally lose sight of your work-life balance.

Make Your Calendar Public

So, what exactly do I mean by ‘public’ calendar? I’m talking about a calendar that your friends and family members can see. That way, you’ll be accountable to a specific, preset schedule — and your loved ones can call you out if you stray. It’s easy to do this with almost any calendar program. In fact, usually all it takes is adding a handful of email addresses to your calendar’s viewing settings. When you give your friends and family members this type of access, there will always be someone who knows if you’re working when you should actually be off the clock. And let’s be honest: We all need help getting away from our desks every once in a while. Having someone else to answer to is a really good motivator to get things done during the time you originally allotted.

Keep Good Company

Every freelancer should have a team of fellow indys to turn to for advice, inspiration and more. Maybe you all meet up in the same coffee shop or you gather at a coworking space. If you want to be able to set good boundaries, surround yourself with people who actually establish these types of limits themselves. Find fellow freelancers who have learned how to stop work at a certain hour, take time during the day to de-stress and so on. The more you surround yourself with people who share your values, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to protect your boundaries — and help others do the same.

Track Your Workload

As freelancers, we nearly always default to ‘yes’ when a project offer comes in. There’s a good reason for that: New business can be tough and expensive to earn, and you don’t always know when the next project is coming down the pipeline. But if you’re always saying yes, then you’ll always be over-committed, which all but guarantees that you’ll let down at least one of your clients. Try to take a step back and analyze your workload on a weekly basis: How much free time would you really have if new work came in? When calculating your committed hours, you can use pen and paper, a spreadsheet or a forecasting tool like Cushion.

Freelancing comes with a unique set of challenges. Don’t make it any harder by failing to set good contract boundaries that you’ll actually stick to. Remember: No project will ever be worth feeling like your freelance career means giving up the rest of your life. After all, the beauty of freelancing is that it’s supposed to set you free.

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