Why Setting Client Boundaries Is So Important and How To Do It Respectfully
When you’re running your own business, it’s easy and tempting to bend the rules you worked hard to create and say “just this once” in the name of accommodating your clients.
Maybe they ask to pay later or add more scope to the project or want to jump on a quick call outside of your office hours.
In the moment, you may view these accommodations as a way to make your client happy and keep them around. But over time, these things start to add up in a big way and can lead to major overwhelm and even burnout in your business.
All because you didn’t stick to your client boundaries… or worse, you didn’t create them in the first place.
Setting client boundaries can feel extremely hard for a lot of people, especially if you identify as a people pleaser.
It can be hard to say no, communicate clear expectations or tell a client when you can’t do something. As a business owner myself, I completely understand this and I’ve definitely experienced this tension. But after 13+ years of running my own businesses, I’ve learned one thing for sure: client boundaries are non-negotiable.
Because at the end of the day, setting boundaries isn’t about restricting what you can or can’t do for your clients. It's about making sure you have the bandwidth to bring your A-game for every single one of them while also building a life and business that you love.
And the only way you can do that is if you have clear “rules” and expectations for your working relationships.
Can it feel awkward to put your foot down? Sure. But it doesn't have to be if you have the right approach.
Why Setting Client Boundaries Is So Important
Before I get into HOW to set client boundaries, I want to make sure you understand WHY setting client boundaries is so important.
As mentioned above, it goes far beyond simply restricting what you can or can’t do for clients. It’s not about being a stickler for “rules.”
Instead, it has far more to do with the way you interact with your clients, how you live your personal life and how you’re able to build your business.
Clear Communication and Expectations
Establishing boundaries with clients allows for clear and effective communication, which is really the key to any relationship. 🔑
When you define your boundaries BEFORE you start working with a client, you can clearly communicate what they can expect while working with you.
When clients have a clear understanding of what services will be provided, the timeline of the project and any limitations, including your office hours, vacation days, communication methods, etc., it reduces the likelihood of misunderstandings and potential conflicts.
Whether you believe in the concept of work-life balance or not, the point is this: setting clear client boundaries helps you have a healthy personal life.
Instead of feeling obligated to respond to emails or Slack messages with client requests as soon as they come in or spending hours at night working on projects, setting boundaries allows you to log off of your computer at the end of your work day and leave the emails until tomorrow.
Without establishing clear boundaries around your availability, response times, and communication channels, and communicating them to your clients before working with them, you run the risk of clients encroaching upon your personal time on weekends, holidays, vacations, etc. which can lead to client resentment and full on burnout in your business.
Preventing Scope Creep
This one is HUGE! Boundaries act as a safeguard against scope creep, which refers to the gradual expansion of a project's scope beyond its initial agreement.
By clearly defining the limits of the work, you can prevent clients from continually requesting additional services or expecting work outside the agreed-upon scope.
Repeat after me: professional does NOT equal boring. And neither do boundaries.
Ultimately, clear boundaries help establish and maintain a professional relationship between you, as a service provider, and your client and ensure that both parties understand their roles and responsibilities.
Regardless of what you do, what type of business you run or what type of personality you have, professionalism is a key part of business and your client will actually respect you MORE when you have clear boundaries in place because it shows that you take what you do seriously.
Now, that’s not to say that you have to show up to your clients with a rulebook like you were presented in elementary school.
While it *is* that serious, there is a way you can set boundaries respectfully and communicate them in a way that doesn't come off as scary or hardcore.
How To Set Client Boundaries Respectfully
A lot of times when people hear the word “boundaries” their mind immediately jumps to scary or awkward conversations. 🥴
And while sometimes setting boundaries does involve tricky client conversations (we’ll get to those in a minute), more often than not, setting boundaries is actually very simple and it can all be done before you ever actually communicate with a client 1:1.
Here are a few of my favorite ways that I’ve set client boundaries in my businesses. These are exactly what I would encourage you to do as well.
Define Your Services
First and foremost, define your services! Sounds simple, I know, but clearly outlining every single detail of your services is key to setting clear expectations from the very start.
This includes the specific deliverables, pricing, timelines and any limitations that may apply.
When you clearly define your services, you can communicate with potential clients easier and there’s never a question about what they can expect to receive.
As a service provider, it may be tempting to adjust your services based on a client’s needs, but the more you do that, the more overwhelmed you can become and that’s a path straight to business burnout.
Establish Communication Channels
Next, determine the preferred communication channels you’d like to use for client interactions.
Don’t leave this in the hands of the client. If you do, you’re more likely to end up with multiple communication channels, making your working processes more chaotic and confusing.
Instead, establish one or two channels that YOU prefer, such as email or Slack, and then allow them to pick what works best for them.
Additionally, make sure your clients are well aware of your response times, office hours, etc. from the very beginning and ALWAYS set vacation auto-responders when you’ll be out for an extended amount of time.
This helps your clients know when you’re available and when you’re not and when they can expect a response from you.
Define Revisions and Changes
If you typically work on projects that require client revisions or feedback, establish how all of those things can be handled and make sure you clearly communicate your policies when you’re sending off deliverables.
This includes specifying the number of revisions they can make, when client feedback is due and other specifics regarding their project.
By doing so, you can prevent scope creep and continue to manage client expectations respectfully.
Financial Processes and Policies
As a business owner, you know the importance of getting paid and getting paid ON. TIME. 💸
But the reality is that your bank account isn’t top of mind for all of your clients. They’re busy too, so if your payment process isn’t simple for them, you run the risk of late payments and all the things that no business owner has the time for.
To avoid any payment confusion, make sure you have simple and clear processes set up for your clients AND make sure proper policies are in place, including the detailed payment terms, late fees and any other relevant financial agreements.
This ensures that both parties understand the financial aspects of the professional relationship.
As a lawyer, you knowww I’m all about getting things in writing. Without written agreements, you don’t have much to stand on which is why I encourage business owners and service providers to include ALL of the information discussed above in your client contracts.
Here’s the thing that I want you to recognize: contracts are NORMAL!
Not having a contract is considered a red flag in my book and I can almost bet that your clients would think so too. 🚩
If you’re unsure of what to include in your client contracts, I recommend:
✔️ Scope of Services – includes the detailed service you will provide, deliverables, timelines and any limitations applicable
✔️ Fees and Payment Terms – outlines all of the financial aspects, including their specific payment terms, payment schedule, payment method accepted and any late payment penalties
✔️ Intellectual Property – identify ownership and usage rights of the work created during the engagement and whether your client has the right to use it exclusively or non-exclusively
✔️ Confidentiality and Non-Disclosure – include a clause that protects the confidentiality of sensitive information exchanged during the course of the working relationship
✔️ Term and Termination – define the duration of the agreement and any conditions for termination, such as notice periods or breach of contract
✔️ Liability and Indemnification – address the limitations of liability for both parties and outline any indemnification clauses
✔️ Dispute Resolution – include a clause that outlines the process for resolving disputes, such as through negotiation, mediation or arbitration
✔️ Governing Law and Jurisdiction – specify the jurisdiction and governing law that will apply to the contract
✔️ Miscellaneous Provisions – include any additional clauses or provisions relevant to your specific industry or the nature of the services provided
If the thought of crafting your own contracts sends you into an absolute spiral, I get it! That’s why at The Boutique Lawyer, I help business owners and service providers craft contracts that help you sell with confidence while also protecting you legally.
Whether you need custom contracts or simply need an industry-specific template, I’ve got you covered. Click here for all contract needs!
How To Communicate Tricky Client Conversations
Even when you take all of the necessary steps to set client boundaries and make expectations clear, there’s still room for tricky situations – it’s just how business works and honestly, there’s no full way around it.
From scope creep issues, unhappy clients, past-due bills and clients who ghost you entirely, sometimes you’re going to have to have tricky conversations.
And the thought of sending an email with, “hey, you owe me money!” probably makes you panic a little, which is why I’ve created a few email templates to save you the stress.
If that sounds like something you need in your life, CLICK HERE to grab 7 FREE email templates for tricky situations, including:
- When a client owes you money (pay me, please)
- When a client STILL owes you money after you’ve reminded them (let’s set up autopay)
- When a client wants to expand the Scope of Work (pay me more, please)
- When a client pays & then ghosts (I need stuff from you to finish up)
- When a client isn’t happy with you (let’s resolve this)
- When a client wants to cancel early (but your contract says “not yet!”)
- When you need to fire a client (it’s not me, it’s you)
Each email is easily customizable, with notes and guidance on what information you need to relay to your client.
Here’s to setting clear client boundaries and living your best life. 👏🏼