Freelancers have unpredictable schedules and workloads, which makes it hard to know when to pass on a project, when to take a break, or how to say no to a client. But setting firm boundaries in your professional life ensures you get the down time you need to recharge and shows clients you value your own time.
Feast, famine, and fear
Some days freelancers feel bombarded with must-dos: Get on social media! Answer panicked client calls! Stay actively marketing to bring in new work! Meanwhile, they’re buried in client work seven days a week, because they have taken on far too much out of fear they will face a client downturn soon.
The key to successful freelancing is setting boundaries, but before setting boundaries, first acknowledge one important fact: as a freelancer, you are your business’s greatest asset. Fear keeps freelancers stuck in practices that harm themselves and their business interests. But maintaining boundaries is empowering: it demonstrates to colleagues and clients that your contribution is of value.
“My work hours are…”
Separating work life from personal life will keep you sane and centered. You are not your client’s employee. You are not required to answer emails at midnight. You do not need to work eighteen hours a day to succeed at freelancing. Establish hours during which you will take calls and handle client concerns, and let all other business wait until the following morning. Worktime boundaries will allow you to regenerate for the next day’s challenges.
Worried that a client may be upset if you don’t take their call at eleven o’clock at night? The better question would be whether working with a client who does not respect your boundaries is draining your energy and keeping you from connecting with clients who value you for your skills.
Schedule around life
Freelancing is all about flexibility — so give your schedule room to breathe.
It is tempting to pack the days as full as possible in an effort to be accommodating to clients, but few freelancers regret building wiggle room into their project timelines. Illness, car trouble, and broken appliances happen. Planning for it allows you to get your work done on time, and with full attention and creativity, no matter what life throws at you.
Market and network your way
Many freelancers say they hate marketing and networking, and no wonder: the internet is full of claims that ultimate success awaits those who just try “this otherway.” But boundaries are important here too. You alone get to decide the best way to market your services to clients or network with colleagues. There is no single right way, but you will find more success at both if you’re fully engaged.
If you loathe social media and don’t see yourself having meaningful interactions there with colleagues or potential clients, put your energies elsewhere. Perhaps you prefer to network locally and enjoy getting involved in the local community. Maybe you’ve found that speaking and teaching connects you to clients and colleagues, and in a way that it is fulfilling to you. When you spend time on marketing and networking routes you enjoy, you will put more energy and creativity into it, and it will show.
Take a pause
Finally, and most importantly, plan on time to recharge, both during the week and for a longer stretch once a year, whether or not you have a formal vacation planned. Worried about the cost of lost income if you step away from the desk for a week? Calculate how much you would lose, then factor it into your rates for 2020.
You are your business
Setting boundaries, whether for clients or for yourself, is good business. Protecting your most important asset — you — empowers you to see the future of your freelance career with creativity and vision. You owe that to yourself and to your business.