With a 9 to 5 job, you have been working or worked within certain boundaries like getting in by 9 AM, eating lunch at prescribed times, paydays, availability, communication in addition to others. Yes, you may have had to make some exceptions on busy days, stayed late or even skipped lunch often.
In a recent last post, where we discussed delivering value, a value is also an outcome of proper processes, and a process will create the right boundaries. That, in essence, tells us that such boundaries are mandatory and being a freelancer, the best part is that you can set your own boundaries instead of playing a tune to others.
There would be concerns, yes, like losing out on clients, not getting a glowing testimonial or even falling into the trap of doing everything that a client wants even if it outside the specifications. Remember, it is your business to run and it is for you, only you to set such boundaries. In this piece, let us look at some boundaries you could set without undesirable results.
a. Ensure to collect all information:
Make sure that you and the client are on the same page as far as information requirements go. As a freelancer, if you are at the start date of a project and missing some vital information from the client, there is a chance that you will not be able to meet the deadline. Technically the project is not being executed, but you have that important space in the brain reserved for the same which could be used for more effective purposes. So, discuss and ensure that you have all information before the start date comes by.
b. Project Scope:
Ensure that the scope of the project is clear. Always, insert a line that says that anything outside the scope of such document will be billed extra. In case you encounter such extras, refer to the contract, speak to the client and settle the matter amicably. The moment you say “yes” to something minor, many other small things will crop up and you could end up getting paid at a reduced rate.
c. Project Management:
Emails are important but they are old school. Always use a project management tool for record or keep all discussions on the freelance platform you use. Ensure you that all conversation happens inside the tool or the site to enhance transparency with the client. The client also loves transparency and in case the client sends you an email, copy that to the tool or site you use with a polite reminder and respond accordingly.
d. Email response time:
Set an email response time for yourself. All responses through project management tool or an email should have an expiry. Though email etiquette states 48 hours as a requisite response time, for smaller or urgent projects it could be much lesser. You should ideally keep it at 12 hours or 24 hours. However, the faster you respond, the better impression you create with the client.
e. Response hours:
Ensure that you have set work hours and email or correspondence response hours and communicate the same to the client. Even if you work outside such hours, do not answer unless it is critical. You can put that time to better use of promoting your business. Once you respond outside set hours, you may start getting emails at all odd hours expecting an immediate response which, in the long run, is bad discipline.
f. Billing deadlines:
You probably have deadlines set by milestones. Follow them religiously and bill by them even if some work is pending on the client end. If you have already done your work, you have to get paid for it.
All clients are not born equal; there will be some who may not respond often. You will need to set deadlines for such clients, in fact, make it a part of your terms. You could say, the payment would be Y after X days have passed, or if justified think about a project restart fee.
P Project Deadline:
Though you are a freelancer, means you work at your will, and that does not translate to taking a break during ongoing projects. You can do so after you complete the existing projects and taking on projects. In short, you have to stick to the agreed project deadlines. In case if a client wants earlier than the agreed deadlines, as mentioned above you can ask for a rush fee as you have to sacrifice your personal time to deliver the project earlier than the agreed time.
No client is fully satisfied, especially if you are into creative work. Therefore, ensure that you have a number of revisions set, probably 2 or 3. If requested for more tweaks than agreed for, politely remind them of the revision number and clients will understand. This is more about focusing on the revisions and getting a thorough feedback than about billing extra.
j. Rush Fee:
There are clients that need something done quickly where you may have to put in more hours than normal. Enforce a rush fee on such projects. It is only when a client respects and expects you to put in more hours you gain a brownie point.
Before concluding, a few tips on the above boundaries to keep:
a. When to set them:
Set your boundaries from day 1. Do not surprise a client with boundaries later. If a client needs some changes in these, be sure to incorporate them if you feel you can adjust to those. If a client does not agree, let them go and work with someone else.
Try and keep the boundaries consistent with all clients you work with. Do not start off with responding to all communication within an hour. Give it some time and make it a consistent experience where a client does not feel that you are slacking off and starts having realistic expectations.
c. Walking the extra mile:
Go ahead and deliver more than that is expected without burning your base. Go beyond boundaries as far as deliverables go, however, enforce boundaries where required. For example, if a client does not pay by X date as specified and you do not act on it, it will seem flaky to the client. If you are flaky with one boundary, there is a risk that the client assumes you are flaky on all ends. Do not let that happen, ever.
So, set your boundaries from day 1, be consistent and walk the extra mile.