Many people become freelancers because they want to take back control over their time. They’ve worked out what they’re best at and have discovered a way to monetise their skills - without micromanagers or demanding bosses in sight.
Yet, even with a growing network, a number of happy clients and all the signs of a booming business in sight, freelancers are still at risk of being taken advantage of.
Luckily, with solid time management and useful tools in place, conflict and confusion can be avoided.
SOLUTION ONE | PREPARATION
First, consider how you are portraying yourself. What solution are you offering in your portfolio or your pitches? Putting yourself in the shoes of your client or prospect allows you to see how impressions can be made (or misconstrued).
For example, if a client is seeking someone who they can contact at all hours with the expectation of an immediate answer - be sure to communicate if this is something you offer. If you’re willing to do so, consider charging an additional fee for the flexibility. This way, both parties can benefit.
During a discovery call (the first conversations you have with a potential client. Treat this as an opportunity to introduce yourself and to get a deeper understanding of the project at hand), you might want to ask if the prospect or client has worked with freelancers before, or if their team works remotely. This will give you valuable insights into how they function as a business and whether you're willing to move forward with them. BONUS: They might not have outsourced before, meaning it’s your time to shine! Tell them how it all works.
SOLUTION TWO | PROTECTION
Great miscommunications cause great migraines. Last-minute deadlines and late-night Slack alerts can be infuriating for freelancers. But it’s important to remember that while you might be thinking how great it is that you can switch on and off, working whenever and wherever you like, this might be interpreted by a client as you being ‘on-call’, accessible whenever they choose to contact you.
Regardless of your work schedule, by keeping clients informed from the offset you can make sure that you are both clear on where you both stand. This is where contracts come in. Often seen as annoying and unnecessary admin, contracts are fantastic tools for setting boundaries with your clients. It also acts as a reference point for both parties on what is and isn’t acceptable. If your client wants to add to your workload and you’re happy with the change, it can then be added to your contract. You then also have a reason to increase your rate!
SOLUTION 2.1 | YOUR TIME (ZONE) MATTERS
Something I still struggle with are time zone challenges. I try to switch off in the evenings, but as that’s when many of my clients are waking up and reaching out, it can be difficult to do so.
If I don’t respect my own time and carry on working outside of my set hours, it can quickly lead to working 24/7 - and working badly! It doesn’t take long for the exhaustion to kick in and I begin to feel overwhelmed and under pressure.
This is how I try to protect my time:
● Having project deadlines approved in advance so I can prepare.
● Agreeing on a time window for tasks (e.g. 24-48 hours required between receiving content approval from the client and publishing or scheduling content on my side).
● Whipping out the ‘Out of Office’. An autoresponder works on your behalf and can just be a simple reminder, such as: “I’m checking my inbox between these hours”.
● Reminding myself what the ideal workday looks like for me. Recognising the signs of burnout and making sure I don’t lose out on the perks of flexi-working by being a people-pleaser.
If you’ll rest easier by replying to a client outside of your working hours, you could send a quick note saying, ‘Thanks for sending this over, I’ll take a look when I’m next working’ or something equally simple and respectful, for both of you.
SOLUTION THREE | BOUNDARIES
Remember to keep an eye out with clients. Many red flags can be charming, but that doesn’t make them any less deadly. A client might sugarcoat their mistreatment or justify their actions by praising how ‘reliable’ you are. This praise might feel positive, but it’s actually reinforcing how they see you - as someone they can rely on - outside of what they are paying for. Going above and beyond shouldn’t mean sacrificing your peace. It’s just not worth it.
We’re all acting on assumptions. How many times have you been convinced of something, only to discover that you were way off from reality? The same applies here. Noone can respect your boundaries if they can’t see them. No client is a mindreader, and it takes self discipline to speak up, stand up and stick to what we say.
“Your job throughout your entire life is to disappoint as many people as it takes to avoid disappointing yourself” - Glennon Doyle
For me, this quote is a reminder to listen to myself and to prioritise myself, before the demands and needs of a client. While disappointing people might seem like the best way to lose clients, disappointing yourself will actually put your business (and your health) at risk. And not even in the long run! The impact of overworking can be catastrophic even after a few days, let alone a lifetime.
SOLUTION 3.1| CRISIS MANAGEMENT
If it’s too late for these three solutions and you’re trying to salvage a spiraling client relationship (or at least an untarnished testimonial), don’t rush. It might seem like the most urgent thing to solve, but if you’re worked up and stressed, it’s probably not the best time to start a difficult conversation.
Suggest a chat with the client once you’ve both cooled down. You can then iron out any confusion creases. Take the opportunity to remind them how you work and what they signed up for, and ask how you can improve! If their feedback doesn’t align with what you’re happy with, then it might be time to end things and move on.