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Day 5 – Freelance Conflict Resolution, Step 3: Holding Boundaries


Welcome to Day 5 of the Conquering Client Conflict course!

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We both know that the occasional conflict is unavoidable in a freelancing career of any length. The good news is, there are absolutely ways of managing them effectively and preventing further misunderstandings with clients. One of the key rules we talked about in Part 1 is to communicate boundaries clearly and hold them. In doing this, realistic expectations are established, respect is maintained, and we make it clear to the client that we’re operating from a position of authority and integrity, which makes clients less likely to push in the first place. This also clarifies the role of all involved in the project, which then reduces the risk of disappointment.

We already talked about how setting boundaries – now we get to talk about holding boundaries.

This will requires a shift in your thinking, away from “order-taker” and toward “stone-badass professional”. When you practice holding boundaries, always observe the following strategies.

Holding boundaries: helpful tips

1. Establish boundaries early.  We talked about this in Part 1; sooner is always better than later. There’s nothing more awkward and disappointing for clients than sharing their big, exciting project plan with us, including all their stringent requirements, and then being informed that we can only cover certain components of the project, because boundaries. It’s difficult to go forward when one party already feels let down.

2. Prepare proper documentation.  When I say “set boundaries,” I mean in writing. Your Master Services Agreement should already cover a lot of the basics that apply to any project you take on; your Scope of Work document can cover the parts that apply specifically to this project.  Clearly written boundaries will establish in the clients what they can expect from the arrangement with you. This documentation often includes:

  • Terms and conditions (allowances and limitations to the arrangement)
  • FAQs (so any common queries that clients have no longer need to be discussed lengthily, as thorough answers and explanations are already provided for enlightenment as well as for their reference)
  • Engagement letters, and others.

3. Find ways to say “yes” when you say “no.” If your client makes a special request, that’s just fine so long as they agree to the applicable boundaries. For example:

  • More work = “yes, for an additional fee of $X
  • Faster delivery = “yes, if we reduce the scope by X%”

4. Be consistent. Consistency conquers all. If you’re not consistent in holding boundaries, the following are likely to happen:

  • Once you fall down on holding boundaries in one area, you’re bound to yield to requests for “flexibility” with the other boundaries you have set, and you can bet that this not just going to be limited to one specific client.
  • Your boundaries will not be of any value at all, particularly in serving your advantage in the arrangement.
  • You will compromise the quality of work you produce for clients and your process; you may fall short of meeting requirements or you could end up doing more than you should (without charging any more).
  • Lower quality output will have an impact on your reputation as a professional; plus, you’ll be deemed a pushover for not holding boundaries.

5. If you compromise (and sometimes you should!), do so wisely. It must never be one-sided; if you yield, the client must do something in return as well — the very heart of commerce is a value-for-value exchange between two consenting parties. Once one party to a project finds themselves doing all the giving (i.e. not holding boundaries) and the other side doing all the taking, well…that’s a nasty conflict just waiting to happen.

Homework Assignment – Post Your Work To The Comments Below!

1) Do you currently use some form of contract that outlines boundaries regarding how you run your projects/what is and is not included in a project? If not, why not?

2) Tell me about a time when a client requested an exception to your usual policy – did you agree to the request? If so, what did you get in return?

3) Do your clients make you feel more like an order-taker or an authoritative professional? What changes would make you feel more like a respected authority than you do now?

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