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CLIENT SERVICE

How to set boundaries with clients and stay on good terms

We’ve all been there.

It’s 5pm on Saturday.

You’ve just jumped into your PJs (or is that just me?) and you’re settling down for some re-runs of The Block!

You decide to have a quick sticky beak on Insta and there it is… a client has sent you a sneaky DM.

‘DON’T RESPOND!!’, your inner biz boss screams.

You put down your phone. Back to Scotty Cam and Shelly telling a shocked contestant why their choice of nik-naks is so crap.

‘I’ll respond on Monday,’ you tell yourself. ‘It’s all about setting boundaries with clients, right.’

Set Boundaries With Clients

Who’s responsibility is it to set boundaries with clients?

But that’s not the end of it.

Before you have time to agonise over it anymore, or slap your little hand away from the keyboard, you’re tapping a reply.

Hit send. Done.

You feel a bit put out, but a bit smug at the same time that you’re so great at customer service.

Big mistake. HUGE.

Why? Because you haven’t set your boundaries. And now you can’t be permanently offended when your oblivious clients continue to cross them.

Someone once said to me, ‘you give a donkey strawberries and all they’ll ever want is strawberries’. I’m not suggesting for one moment that clients are donkeys. What I’m saying is, it’s ON YOU to set the boundaries.

Who’s responsibility is it to set boundaries with clients?

But that’s not the end of it.

Before you have time to agonise over it anymore, or slap your little hand away from the keyboard, you’re tapping a reply.

Hit send. Done.

You feel a bit put out, but a bit smug at the same time that you’re so great at customer service.

Big mistake. HUGE.

Why? Because you haven’t set your boundaries. And now you can’t be permanently offended when your oblivious clients continue to cross them.

Someone once said to me, ‘you give a donkey strawberries and all they’ll ever want is strawberries’. I’m not suggesting for one moment that clients are donkeys. What I’m saying is, it’s ON YOU to set the boundaries.

What does a boundary overstep look like?

You might be pondering over whether it really is a boundary overstep or if you’re completely overreacting. There are lots of ways your boundaries can be overstepped by someone else Just in case you’re unsure, here are just a few examples:

 

1. Asking personal questions you’re uncomfortable with (asking where I live when we’ve never met or had a conversation gets you a polite fuck off)

2. Contacting you outside of your work hours (8pm on a Saturday evening to ask me if they could post a picture of them with their daughter to their Instagram feed was probably a low point!)

3. Contacting you via text or DM when you only use email for business (text is a hard no for me. I see it as a place for friends and family only. Plus, there’s no paper-trail for requests which makes life difficult down the track. These days I just don’t reply and respond via email during office hours)

4. Invading your time and headspace with excessive emails or unscheduled phone calls (I once counted that I’d received 174 emails from a client in 1 month. That’s an average of 5.6 emails per day including weekends – WTAF!)

5. Asking to ‘pick your brains’ or for free advice (every freaking day!)

6. Discussing topics that you feel are inappropriate or make you uncomfortable (where do I start with some of the sexist, elitist, rankist, racist bullshit I’ve sat through in my career?)

7. Invading your personal space (I once had a male client greet me with a kiss when we’d only met once before, although that’s not really the point anyway!)

8. Making unreasonable requests e.g. unrealistic deadlines or volumes of work (one client literally almost broke me once with a mammoth and crazily ridiculous rebrand and relaunch schedule which I was too young and naïve to push back on)

9. Attempting to bypass or undermine your process or standard working practices (for me it’s when clients ask for creative concepts to be emailed rather than presented to them)

 

The point is you set the boundaries based on what you’re comfortable with. If it feels uncomfortable, whether someone else deems it as a reasonable boundary or not, you’re well within your rights to address it.

 

Why do we let our boundaries slip?

Set boundaries with clients

Why do we let our boundaries slip?

There are lots of reasons why we find it difficult to uphold our boundaries. Embarrassment, awkwardness, worry that we’ll offend or anger the other person.

In the creative industry, I believe there are some additional reasons that are very specific to the culture of the creative studio.

1. Service at all Costs

In the creative industry, and the service industry as a whole, we’re taught that the client is king. We’re here to serve them. We strive endlessly to meet their unrealistic timelines and expectations and it’s seen as the norm not the exception.

2. Live to Work

There’s a culture in the creative industry of being always on. We work long hours, stay in the studio until the work’s done. How often have you heard the phrase ‘work hard, play hard’ used? More than once or twice, I bet.

3. Little Miss Perfect

As creatives I think we have perfectionist tendencies by nature. We want things to be better than perfect. To crack the brief, to overdeliver, knock their socks off and wow our clients. Being infallible in every way extends to being available without limits.

 

So, is there a way to set boundaries with clients and still be friends at the end of it?

I think yes and I’ve done it more than a few times. Apart from one particularly stroppy, crusty old white due, I found it went very well. It actually made life and work better all round.

Try this simple way to set boundaries with clients

 

I like to use the BIFF approach to set boundaries with clients when the needs arises – sent during your preferred office hours of course.

1. Brief: Don’t go into a long apologetic missive about WHY you don’t reply out of hours.

2. Informative: Don’t skirt around it or fudge it with EXCUSES. Be specific about what is and isn’t OK.

3. Friendly: You don’t need to be RUDE or abrupt.

4. Final: Don’t leave it open or murky by making an exception ‘just this once’ or ‘I don’t USUALLY respond.’

Brief Friendly Informative Final | BIFF

And if I can offer any other advice, it’s this:

1. Don’t agonise over it, worry or put it off. As soon as you feel a client as overstepped, let them know.

2. Set your stall out from the start and set boundaries with clients during the client onboarding process.

3. Be clear on your own boundaries to begin with so there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind, especially yours.

4. Method of deliver is up to you. You can email, tag it onto the end of a meeting or make a specific phone call. Hell send it via semaphore or carrier pigeon if you like. You make the call on what feels comfortable, what’s appropriate in the context of the relationship and the magnitude of the overstep.

 

As creative business owners, we’re constantly juggling the admin, client service, marketing and more, whilst actually doing the work. So please, make space for you and draw a solid line around your personal time, professional standards and personal values.

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