Setting professional boundaries as a freelancer

How to Set Freelancing Boundaries

So you’re freelancing right now, working mostly remote or maybe hybrid for clients, and you’re noticing that you’re either burnt out, wading through overwhelm, or all of the above. Sounds like you can benefit from setting a few boundaries, friends! From what we’re hearing, a lot of people haven’t thought about what boundaries are important in the workplace because the workplace was traditionally an in-person, open-air, always-on place. There was no separation between who you are and the work that you do. Add technology and there’s a false assumption that workers (especially freelancers) are available 24/7. Plus, with freelancing ever more in demand, creating and standing firm in your boundaries is a must for your work/life balance and mental health. TBH, positive examples of professional boundaries can be few and far between. But we’re here to help you wade through those murky waters with a few tips.

  • Name your Boundaries

Your boundaries are a line that you set and are personal to only you. Boundaries can be limits on your rates, set times you work (and don’t work), flexibility with location, allotted time for vacation, contracts, and so much more! Ask yourself questions, especially around what annoys you and stresses you out the most during your daily workday. Then, be real with yourself and your habits. Wish people would Slack instead of email or vice versa? Want more time to exercise or meditate? Start carving your boundaries around what matters most in (1) improving your mental health and (2) improving productivity

Bonus tip: If your pain points seem to be circling around how a specific person interacts with you, think about how you’ve allowed their boundary-crossing behaviors to continue. Now start setting clear expectations around what you will and will no longer allow. (Hate to say it but it might even be time to consider quitting this job.)

  • Communicate and Model your Boundaries

You’ve figured out what your boundaries are (great!). Now find the time to either communicate these boundaries in an email or a virtual meeting, depending on which method is more effective for your team. Don’t worry about what people will think! As long as you’re being respectful to yourself and others, remember you’re doing the right thing for your health. Next, modeling those boundaries is your half of the deal—you show that you mean what you say while refusing to let anything slide. Who knows? Your confidence and strength in your own boundary-setting might even inspire your coworkers and clients to create their own healthy boundaries. And friends, that helps maintain professional relationships for everyone!

Bonus tip: Writing your boundaries down helps make them to be super concrete in your own brain while doubling as a future reference manual to help you maintain those boundaries. 

  • Reevaluate your Boundaries Daily

No, you’re not being fickle. Boundaries are a process, which means you might have allowed a behavior yesterday that you realize isn’t working today. Repeat after us: this is normal! So don’t beat yourself up as though you screwed something up. You’re learning and so are your clients and coworkers—just follow up with them! After addressing external boundaries, reevaluating your boundaries can also mean taking a look at your own internal boundaries. Do you tend to get extremely defensive after valid feedback? Do you internally shut down when a challenge comes your way, even though it excites you? You might be getting in your own way. Instead of running, spend time with your fears. Journal, meditate, go outside and have a think—it’s strangely where new information can pop up!

Bonus tip: Mental and emotional boundaries can be really hard to identify, especially while working remotely with others. Take notes on how you feel after interactions, performing certain duties, receiving criticism, etc., and evaluate what works and what doesn’t. Then be vocal about finding a middle ground with your work partners.

  • Address Toxicity and Move On

Sometimes a boundary is crossed by accident: you are in a meeting, but your coworker wasn’t aware and Slacked you; an emergency meeting was thrown on your calendar for a time you forgot to block off. It happens! But toxicity is when someone intentionally crosses a line repeatedly, knowing full well what they’re doing. These are the qualities that unpleasant, sometimes hostile work environments are made of. Sometimes that client who ignores your contract for a limit of 3 revisions, demands a complete deviation from the brief, and threatens not to pay if they don’t get their final draft within 24 hours is probably not worth working for again. After you get your payment, address their unrealistic demands (whether internally or in a respectful email) and decide your boundary on whether to ever work for them again

Bonus tip: Sometimes the written boundary you set (aka your SOW or contract) wasn’t as clear as you’d originally thought. Update your templates as often as needed before working with new clients to prevent any nightmare situations from reoccurring. 

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