If you’ve been working with people for any amount of time, a few names may come to mind when you hear the phrase, “red flag client.”
(It’s unfortunate, but this is real life, people!)
Maybe the difficult client experience you’re thinking of is due to clashing personalities, indecisiveness, or other factors completely out of your control.
But more often than not, challenging, draining, or unpleasant work experiences come down to the boundaries you’ve set—or the ones you forgot to implement from the get-go.
Here’s the thing: Boundaries exist to protect EVERYBODY involved.
They can make or break the rapport you have with a client and affect how your work is received.
They can dictate how a client treats you for the remainder of your time working together.
They can determine whether or not you actually *like* the project you’re (figuratively) pouring your blood, sweat, and tears into.
In short, a LOT rests on the boundaries you establish early on in your client relationships.
Maintaining healthy boundaries is how you prevent burnout, keep morale high, and stay head-over-heels in love with what you get to do on a daily basis!
Because it’s much easier to avoid a tricky or compromising work situation than it is to extract yourself from one, here are our top tips to make setting boundaries painless and easy peasy.
(Even IF you struggle with people-pleasing. Trust us, we see you.)
If you don’t know which boundaries you need to maintain to protect your peace (and creative energy!), ask yourself the following questions:
From there, you can start to figure out which boundaries need to be prioritized and how you can start communicating that with the people that are oh, so lucky to work with you!
If you want to go a little deeper, you can also make a list of whatever obstacles cause you to let go of your boundaries so you can create a system to work around those pesky distractions ahead of time.
Knowing where you need to draw the line is half the battle.
The next is communicating and maintaining the boundaries you’ve set so you can *actually* benefit from them.
Here’s how you can make sure you and your clients are on the same page when it comes to your working relationship:
• Establish your boundaries early on with proactive—instead of reactive—conversations. You should make it clear upfront what is and is not acceptable in terms of how you communicate, receive feedback, and address any conflict moving forward.
• Put them in writing! Include your policies and expectations in your contract and your welcome guide to show them you’re serious about the parameters you’ve set. Clarity is key and if you’ve put everything on paper, you can point clients back to what they agreed to in the first place… You know, in case they forgot.
• Remind your clients about your boundaries as many times as you need to get them to take you seriously. Don’t worry about repeating yourself or coming across too strong! Your time and energy are SO important. They are worth protecting. In our experience, most people could use a friendly reminder that they are dealing with a human, not a machine.
Now, onto the good stuff!
To get the most out of the boundaries you’ve created, you HAVE to maintain them.
Follow these to a T and you’ll be prepared to dodge sticky situations from the start:
• Don’t answer emails, calls, or texts outside of office hours. Though it’s easier said than done, you should maintain your own boundaries to show clients that the parameters you’ve set should be taken seriously. Remember, YOU set the tone for your working relationships. It starts and stops with you!
• Create a “container” for your boundaries. Your offers can include built-in boundaries so clients know exactly what to expect when they pay the first invoice. For example:
• You can bill a flat fee upfront that caps the number of meetings to prevent them from eating up your entire day
• You can have a set amount of revisions *before* tacking on an extra charge for additional meetings
• You can provide a Welcome Guide as a resource to avoid lengthy email chains that are chock-full of questions you could’ve answered with said Welcome Guide
• Use automations and systems to your advantage. If you can leverage the business tools you use on a daily basis to stay organized, it will be 5x easier to maintain the boundaries you’ve set. Automated emails will inform clients of when they can expect a reply and keep you from staying chained to your inbox all day. Sharing your project timelines and systems will show your clients what to expect and help them feel more secure while they wait for the next step. There are many ways to use automations and systems to your advantage, so don’t shy away from your tech! It’s there to support you in every area of daily operations.
Sometimes, it isn’t an outside factor that keeps you from maintaining the parameters you need to do your best work.
Much of the time, it’s your brain tricking you into thinking:
• “Being available 24/7 is providing great service.”
• “Overstepping is normal.”
• “This is what I signed up for when I started my design business.”
We’re here to remind you that you deserve to have some sort of work-life balance—even as the head honcho of your biz!
You deserve to have time to yourself when you *aren’t* focused on someone else’s needs.
Being a business owner doesn’t mean you forfeit that. But it does mean you have to do the external and internal work to make that happen.
When you consider how you speak to yourself, making moves to protect your time off gets much easier from there.
Side note: If you need help with the strategy portion of boundary setting, we’re an email away! Let’s talk operations, workflow, systems, and anything else you need to make your processes and expectations crystal clear.