How to Set Work Hours and Boundaries as a Freelancer

freelancer boundaries

When you’re a freelancer, it’s easy to let work bleed into every moment of your life. There’s always another pitch to send out to get more business. It’s still a good idea to check your email to see if a client reached out, or if you have new contacts looking for your services. When you are a freelancer — you can always pop onto social media to see who may need your services — or who is contacting you via social. But, should you?

Do you have boundaries? Are you always on the clock?

The problem with always being on the clock is that you set a precedent with clients that you will, in fact, always be on the clock. The problem with still being on the clock occurs in traditional businesses, as well.

If you land a client and begin your relationship with them by answering emails at 11 pm — they’ll expect you to always answer at 11 pm. Do you want to be on call every night for the duration of your work together? Will you be available at 10 pm, 11 pm — and later? Think about it.

Setting firm work hours and boundaries — with yourself — is the first step. Of course, an entrepreneur always has to hustle — and that is what you are. In a startup freelance business, you are an entrepreneur. But to maintain your mental and physical health, you will want to determine your at home “office hours.”

Client work is an essential task for any business — and especially for a freelancer. Your client-gathering-work and contacts allow you to take a real break from work, protect your creative energy, and ensure that work doesn’t consume your whole world.

How to Set Work Hours and Boundaries as a Freelancer

Set “office” hours.

Set actual work hours and stick to them. It’s helped me to call them “office hours” even though I work from a home office — Starbucks — or the park. You can let clients know upfront when they can get ahold of you and when they can’t. It helps the client if you use the words, office hours, too.

If you tell someone that you’ll be unavailable after 6 pm, but answer tests until 10 pm, you’re breaking your own rules. At this time of COVID — I have allowed a small amount of flexibility — but not much.

Set fees for late-payments or additional work.

There’s probably not a freelancer alive who hasn’t been paid late. When you get paid late, it has a domino effect, and you can’t afford that as a professional. You’ll want to build in fees for late-payments — it’s crucial in your invoicing.

Write your professional, straightforward, clearly defined terms and conditions as part of your invoicing. Make sure that you charge a fee for late or partial payments. Gathering late payment fees was difficult for me when I first started freelancing. But late fees are part of the professional working world. As a freelancer, you are part of the expert working world — and don’t forget it.

Also, make sure that any additional work outside the original scope of your agreement comes with additional charges. Additional work added to a pre-agreement can really steal your time, and place your business in jeopardy. The only way to avoid the “additional work outside of the original agreement” is to have the client and customer work defined in writing.

Nowadays — everything can be done quickly by email. Back and forth — quickly define what you are agreeing to — and get it signed. You will get braver at saying, “that was not in the original paperwork. Or, that was not on the original work order.”

Seriously, clients and customer don’t know what they’re asking for many times — and they don’t know how long the project will take, nor the difficulty. You have to cover your backside. Sure, you give away some hours — when you are on a learning-curve yourself. But when you know each part of a project, you should know how long the project will take.

Time yourself on these projects, so you are sure. Remember that every-single-project will take longer than you think. You know this. Take that into account when you are giving a quote for work. And remember — if you zip through work in half the time — you are an honest professional, and you can provide credit toward the next project if you wish.

If you agree to do logo work and the client wants you to do social media graphics as well, they need to pay for the additional work.

Be clear on the number of revisions.

Some clients will ask for endless revisions to your work. If you don’t have a set number of edits you’re willing to do — you’ll end up spending more time on the project than it’s worth. Have a specific amount of revisions that you’ll do, and (you must) add in more money for going over that limit. It seems to me that business owners are getting more reasonable nowadays, and getting work done is essential.

But — the newbie business owners — and brand-spanking-new (inexperienced) entrepreneurs are often unreasonable. Protect yourself and your time by having an exact number of revisions for these people.

Have limited means of communication.

Today there are almost endless ways for people to get in touch with you. They can DM you on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat. I get many that hunt me down on LinkedIn. Some people email, text or call. Fewer calls come from “unknown” to my phone now, because I don’t answer them any more.

For your clients, be clear about how they can reach you. If you don’t want to deal with Facebook messages, don’t respond to people who reach out to you there- unless it’s to ask them to send their message along by email.

As a freelancer, when you set work hours and define clear and concrete boundaries — life becomes much more manageable. Even though you have a demanding work schedule — clear boundaries give you back your free time and helps you concentrate on the work that actually needs to be done.

Last but not least, realize that all business owners have to make these choices. It’s part of all business life — even freelancers.