Setting Non Negotiables with Your Freelance Clients

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Setting clear boundaries as a new freelancer can be incredibly difficult because as a service provider, you are taught to be there for the customer. What's more - if you started your career in a traditional nine-to-five, there's also the employee mindset to deal with. But this latest YouTube video goes into why setting non-negotiables is so important to your own care and the care of your other clients. I also offer examples of what a boundary might look like and how to handle a situation where the boundary is pushed.


Full Transcript:

Hi there! Laura here from Better Biz Academy and Six Figure Writing Secrets. Today, I want to chat with you about setting non-negotiables with your freelance writing clients and this really goes for any of your freelance clients. Non-negotiables mean the boundaries that you're setting as the freelancer.

All too often I see freelancers who are burned out, frustrated and not making as much money as they could because they're not putting any boundaries in place. They're letting the client call all of the shots. Now if that's you, it's not entirely your fault because if you started out as an employee, you usually have the mindset that the boss is always right, and when making that transition from working a day job to being a freelancer, whether that's part time or full time, it's really easy to slip into those bad habits and assume that the client is like your boss.

However, for tax and legal and many other reasons, your client is only your boss in a sense that you're working on a project together. They shouldn't be calling the shots about your working hours and exactly how you do things all the time. You get to determine the working conditions and working hours for the most part. 

Now they may have specifics about how they want you to do things and you have to make the call about when a situation is right for you or not right for you based on that particular situation. But I think putting in some ground rules at the beginning of your relationship, or what I like to call non-negotiables, really helps. Here's an example of a non-negotiable that I had to learn about the hard way. When I first started my freelance writing business, it was very common to have clients request to have a phone call before we started working together. That meant that my clients then had my phone number. At the time, I only had one cell phone that was my personal line. Sometimes I would get texts, phone calls, voice mails after hours or someone would text me as a client and expect an instant response. And especially since that was my personal cell phone, there were so many elements of that that just felt wrong and it felt super disruptive that they actually thought I would drop whatever I was doing and answer or I would even read a text message that came in at 9.30 at night. 


I learned very early on, first of all, I needed to separate my personal and my business lines and I would tell my clients up front that I have a business cell phone and that it gets turned off or put on airplane mode at 5 o'clock and that I'll respond to them on the next business day. It's much like an email account that I would close down at the end of the workday and not answer until the following day. So as things kind of evolved with phone calls, I realized that even having this business line, I still had problems from time to time with my freelance writing clients where they'd want to have three, four, or five phone calls a week or they'd send me a message in the morning and say, 'hey can you jump on a call, it'll be quick -- only 10 minutes'. But here's the thing- when you're fully booked as a freelancer, you probably have time carved out for marketing, for working on client things, for delivering client work, for admin etc. Your schedule is most likely already set up and if you allow people to start going down that path of scheduling meetings with you at the last second and carving out portions of your day, it's really disruptive. 

Say I'm working on another client's project, I get an email from client B saying can you get on the phone for 5 minutes. So I stop client A's project, I get on the phone for 10 minutes, then I'm horribly distracted and disrupted because I've lost my train of thought and I've lost that flow state and focus working on my first client's project -- so it's super disruptive. Usually, you'll encounter this with people who work a traditional nine-to-five job. So if you're working with a digital agency or a client that owns a traditional business where their hours are nine to five, it may be easier for them to jump on a call real quickly or to schedule appointments with very little notice.

But it's really hard to do that when you're a freelancer and, say you've got two or three hours blocked in your schedule to do something for a client. It's actually rude to that other client for you to allow yourself to be disrupted by an email, text or phone call and jump off that project. And that's extremely true when you're working on an hourly basis because your other clients should not have to be paying for you to be distracted. So that's something that I want you to keep in mind as you move forward. 

Non-negotiables can be whatever you decide it is. For me, I've clarified when my business phone line would be available and then going forward, I would provide to my VIP clients only -- those are my clients who are paying a specific monthly retainer of a minimum amount every single month -- they would get 60-minute phone call free if they needed it. My 'still good but not meeting VIP status' clients would get a 30-minute phone call once a month. That worked super well because it encouraged them to ask all their questions in that one phone call rather than 10 different five-minute phone calls that were unproductive, disruptive and distracting to both of us. It also clarifies that that's a non-negotiable and I would put in my contract that anything beyond that would have to be scheduled a week in advance and that it would be charged at blah blah blah hourly rate. 

Your non-negotiables will be different for you -- and sometimes it's trial and error. It's having a bad client experience, it's having something where your boundaries get pushed a little bit and then you say, I'm not doing this again. I'm not going to have a client who expects me to answer at 9.30 at night and you can put that in your future contracts. You can also clarify that with your existing clients by just gently reinforcing that boundary. It's something that comes up often, and it still comes up. I have a client. This is their first time ever working with a freelancer so it's not like they're doing any of it maliciously but sometimes they just need a little bit of guidance as far as what I can and am willing to do when I'm working on somebody else's project. So they kind of started down the path of 'Are you available?' I was actually at a doctor's appointment when I got this request for a last-minute meeting and I just said, "It's 3 o'clock, I'm at a doctor's appointment for the rest of the day and I won't be available." 100% true but kind of also gently reinforced, "Hey I'm not available for these last-minute meetings all the time. If you're a VIP client, I will try to accommodate you as much as possible but it's not always going to work specifically with my schedule."

So the best way to do it is just to do it in general sense, to include it in the contract and not to do it maliciously like I'm not going to put in my contract "you cannot call me at any time unless you've made an appointment." I might put in something like "scheduled phone calls need to be requested with three business days' notice and I'll do everything possible to accommodate you." That's a much friendlier tone that comes across to the client while still reinforcing that last-minute things are not OK. Remember, you own your business; you decide who you work with and how you will work with them. It's really hard to break out of that employee mindset because so many of us are used to that about coming into the freelance world. But you call a lot more of the shots. You're not just a freelancer to a client. You are CEO and owner of your own business and that means you get to decide what some of those boundaries and non-negotiables are and nine times out ten, clients don't even realize they're doing it but you can help reinforce those boundaries by just being clear and upfront. 

Check out more tips about growing your freelance business on my YouTube channel or at betterbizacademy.com.