How to set client boundaries – and keep them set!


Today I’m going to talk about a very important aspect of keeping yourself sane & happy in your work life. Client Boundaries. We all need ’em, and we all need to enforce ’em.

During my first year as a freelancer I was very lax with client boundaries. I’d be the one firing off emails after 6pm, letting my clients push me into burning the midnight oil because of their new deadlines, and lulling myself into the false idea that this was “just how it is when you work for yourself”.

One particular client of mine who was in the USA at the time (and was well aware of the time differences), pressured me into working well into the night. I felt deflated, unproductive, and down right pushed around. My work suffered, my home life suffered, and I got sick. Yeha.. that client relationship didn’t last very long.

It shouldn’t be like this, and here is where client boundaries come into play.

Setting your client boundaries

When you start working with a new client it’s important to communicate your boundaries, or at least have them set in your own mind so you can act upon them during the course of the project. You might even want to add your boundaries into your contract.

Here’re my current client boundaries:

  • No communication or enforced work after 6pm and before 8.30am.
  • No communication or enforced work on weekends.
  • No Facebook communication regarding projects.
  • If a client comes to me with a tight deadline, I’ll tell them my schedule and when I could realistically (within work hours of 8.30am-6pm) have the project completed.

Client boundaries do not mean that you can’t occasionally play catch up on weekends and evenings, but keep that to yourself else it’ll become expected.

Enforcing your client boundaries

So, you’ve got your boundaries set-up, how do you enforce them? Here are some lines, and responses, you can expect to get from clients in order to get you to flaunt your boundaries.

  • “This is an exceptional circumstance” “I appreciate that, but please see it from my point of view – if I pushed myself with each of my clients’ exceptional circumstances, I wouldn’t have any personal time!” I’d then go on to organise an acceptable schedule for the work.
  • “Just this one time…” “Sorry, I have family and personal commitments that just won’t accommodate working out of hours… let’s get this scheduled within my working hours.”
  • “This is an important deadline for me” (if this was a deadline you knew about then unfortunately you’re gonna have to pull out all the stops to get the work delivered on time, otherwise…) “I totally understand! However, had I/we known about it in advance we could have scheduled the work to meet the deadline. Right now all we can do is get this delivered ASAP without compromising on quality.”

Without setting and enforcing your boundaries, you’ll become a slave to your clients and your work will suffer. Don’t let that happen. You need to live a happy, stress-free life in order to create awesome work. Be consistent, be brave, and be honest.


Extra Resources:

Boomerang is an effective tool for Gmail that lets you send email hour after you’ve actually hit send.

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  • Thank you for this! I really needed to read this, as I often feel I’m the *only* one who’s had/having these issues because I’ve somehow failed! I’ve had a client text me at 7.30am and 9.30pm on a Sunday! So annoying. How do you let them know your client boundaries? Do you have a frank conversation about it or is it set out in your terms and conditions?

    • Argh, on a Sunday! Awful.

      I’ve only recently added it into my contract, as it seemed to be happening more and more. Previously, however, I’ve only had to communicate it when the client expected me to be on-call outside of regular ‘office hours’, in which case I’ve just politely informed that “I don’t answer emails between 6pm-8.30am”.

  • Love this! My first year in business I was terrible about this, and even recently I’ve found myself working into the night instead of just scheduling the work for the next AM. However, I try to shut down and pause my email for the evening so I won’t even see the email and be tempted to work!

  • You might have written this post just for me! I’m really hard on myself and sometimes work at nights just to have less work for the next day. I hope to convince myself to stop!

  • Just discovered your blog – love your posts. Have really struggled with this. I am about to start maternity leave but when I return I will be enforcing strict client boundaries. I especially like the no Facebook communication one.

  • Essential advice, so much time can be wasted. Especially bad if you know your clients personally and they have access to personal email and mobile number. Advice to self: Know when to switch off!