Monday, December 7, 2009

Setting Limits with Clients

Last week Jennifer Williamson over at Catalyst Blogger asked her readers a very important freelance writing question we should all think about: “What are your writerly limits?” One thing I quickly learned in this business is the importance of drawing boundaries with clients. Not doing so can result in negative consequences ranging from not receiving payment as promised to resentment toward a client who expects you to be at his beck and call or charging too low for a time intensive project.

Learning about limits the hard way

I didn’t understand this starting out. I na├»vely assumed that a client who was interested in my services would automatically understand professional limits, but I was oh so wrong. Here are just a few of the experiences that quickly brought me to reality:

> Clients requesting a lower rate when they seemingly accepted my original rates.

> Clients calling me/Skyping me at odd hours, or on weekends, assuming that I should be available to them 24/7.

> Clients who balk at the idea of signing an agreement (a couple of clients actually seemed offended).

> Clients who balk at paying a 50-percent down payment to start a project.

> Clients who act as if providing me with important information about their business/product/service and target market is a big waste of their time.

I’m not entirely unreasonable. I’m even willing to negotiate under certain circumstances, especially with returning clients; but I’ve learned that just as in my personal life, you just can’t please everyone. This is my livelihood so I take it seriously. I also take customer service very seriously too.

I am professional and expect the same

I constantly strive to produce excellent writing services, meet all deadlines with no excuses and provide rewrites in a timely manner, among other things. I make myself available to my clients in the way that is most comfortable and convenient for them - whether it’s by phone, email or Skype ( phone and Skype by scheduled appointment).

Because I go to such great lengths to deliver a professional service, I must also set limits that protect me from being taken advantage of. We all have our writerly limits. You may have a different list from mine, but make no mistake it’s up to us to put our cards on the table, establish reasonable boundaries and stick to them.


Lori said...

I have had ALL of the above happen to me. And in every case, I held firm. I can't help them if they don't help me. And I'm not an employee or a serf - I'm a freelancer and dammit, there are times I'm not available.

It's why I don't give out my cell number to clients, why I don't Skype, and why I won't IM. I've had a few clients who expected the 24/7 service and freaked when I actually went to sleep at night or, God forbid, attended my daughter's graduation ceremony. I'm all for accessibility, but I'm also for drawing boundaries around my free time.

To my knowledge, writing emergencies don't exist. I'm all for giving clients top-level service, but I expect them to be reasonable in their requests. No, I can't proofread 300 pages in one day. Sorry!

Kimberly Ben said...

I wish I'd been as strong as you in the very beginning, Lori. I found myself trying to acommodate some of these client examples - at first. Then I wised up.

I had to gently explain to a steady client that although I appreciated the work he was sending my way, I was not his employee. I was a freelancer because I needed the flexibility to tend to my small children and still make a living. Just because he and his partner worked around the clock didn't mean I worked those same hours.

I even wound up "firing" a client because of his unreasonable demands. At first I thought, "Oh you've gone to far now, Kim!" But I felt so good about my decision, and it turned out to be the right one.

Devon Ellington said...

I loathe the telephone and find most calls are a waste of time. I have it in the contract that they should email me. Boundaries are vital. Freelancing means OUR schedule, as long as we meet the deadlines.

Kimberly Ben said...

"Freelancing means OUR schedule, as long as we meet the deadlines." - Devon Ellington


Lori said...

Kim, I wasn't always this strong or confident, either. But get burned a few times and the shell toughens!

Sometimes a client's confusion about your role is genuine. I try not to react too strongly unless I'm certain the client is putting too many demands on me on purpose.

Devon's words are so true - we define our work schedules. No one can legally interfere with that without paying workers' compensation coverage (they're in danger of defining you as their employee when they do that) or potentially other benefits afforded their full-time staff.

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