3 Ways to Uphold Your Boundaries with Clients without Feeling Like a Jerk

Once you have made a sale and have a new paying client, it is very important to make sure you are both on the same page and know what to expect from one another.

A while back, one of my colleagues was talking about a situation in which her client was pushing her boundaries.  The client had hired her to do some design work and she was requesting to make changes beyond the number of revisions they had agreed upon.  My colleague performed twice as many revisions than she had agreed to without charging for them.  Finally, after much frustration, she decided to tell the client that she would charge for any additional revisions.boundary

Generally speaking, men don’t struggle as much with telling people they actually have to PAY for extra services.  Unfortunately, situations like this are SO common for women entrepreneurs.  This is one of the ways women give up their power when it comes to money and sales. Women work themselves to the bone; busy over-delivering but not bringing in the dough they deserve. This situation only leads to burn out and resentment–and that just isn’t good for anyone.

Being natural care-takers and not wanting to upset others, service-based women entrepreneurs often unwittingly set themselves up for under-earning and overworking.

They often go over time on coaching sessions, do 10 design revisions instead of the 3 they agreed upon, barter for services when what they really need is to make the sale and be paid for their services, and the list goes on and on…

So if this is you, what can you do to stop this cycle of overworking and under-earning?

Here are 3 ways to uphold your boundaries with clients without feeling like a jerk:

  1. Create a working agreement or contract.  Make sure you list exactly what you will be delivering and the expected time frame for delivery.  Be sure your client knows exactly what is included and what things may be added on later for an additional fee. Taking the time to put things in writing ensures that everyone knows what to expect from your work together.
  2. Stick to your agreement.  Once you start working together, it’s important that everyone does exactly what they agreed upon.  If you or your client needs to adjust the terms of your agreement, have a conversation about it and amend your agreement, but don’t just start “flying by the seat of your pants” or “giving in” to each request just because you don’t want to say “no” or ask for more money.  Most of the time clients aren’t intentionally trying to test your boundaries, they usually just need a reminder about their package or an upgrade—it’s a simple as that. It’s your job to guide them through the process of working with you.
  3. Make service, profitability, and sustainability your priority.  In order to stay in business you have to collect money in exchange for your services—that is the definition of “business.”  If you aren’t doing this consistently you won’t be in business very long and you won’t be able to serve the people you are meant to serve.  Upholding your boundaries with clients is a great way to become a powerful business owner, increase your sales, plug your money leaks, and create a highly profitable and sustainable business. Remember: You can’t serve as many people if you’re not in business.

I would love to hear your thoughts on upholding boundaries with clients. Please feel free to leave your comments below.

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About Tiffany deSilva

Tiffany deSilva is the founder, CEO, and visionary leader of BrightFire Women’s Business Network, LLC.

BrightFire Women’s Business Network is the premiere sales training and coaching resource for service-based women entrepreneurs who want to increase their sales, serve more people, and change more lives.

Feedback & Comments:

  1. #2 has always been the key for me… stick to your agreement. I have no problem with over-delivering as long as I planned for it beforehand, knowing I would throw in an extra or two. But above and beyond the agreement and my intentions, must be discussed and agreed upon at that point in time before more work is done.

  2. I do think many coaches over deliver in their scheduled time. There are other ways to handle the “extras” if a client needs more time than running overtime. We train our clients to expect soft boundaries, and then we get frustrated when they do what we’ve trained them to do!

    • You’re exactly right, Sue. If ever you think you might need to go over on a session, it’s always a good practice to intentionally discuss how you’re going to handle the loose ends that still need to be addressed. Going over in time should never be a an automatic default, but, unfortunately, it is for some.

  3. Oh Tiffany – This is HUGE and designers experience this all the time! If you don’t stick to your boundaries and enforce your contracts, clients will keep asking, keep pushing, and keep demanding … and when you give it, you get resentful and feel taken advantage of … but ultimately it’s your fault for not sticking to your guns!

    I have a good friend who is also a client. In a recent project I was working on with her, she actually made 17 rounds of revisions when my contract stated three. Yes, I let it get out of hand. At first I humored her and made a few extra rounds of revisions … but then she just kept asking and kept expecting … it got totally out of control and ridiculous.

    Then when she hired me to create a new version of a logo we had designed for her, I gave her an estimate, did the work, made one round of revisions, and then didn’t hear from her for a week. Then when we connected again, she changed her mind, decided not to move forward with the project and refused to pay me for the work I had done already.

    I am so mad at her, especially after the last project got so out of control! I have busted my butt for her, bent over backwards to accommodate her, and then she balks at paying me for work I did.

    Give me a break! Ugh. While I do recognize it is my fault for not maintaining boundaries with her and not enforcing my contract, you better bet that I will never again accommodate extra requests from her, and from this point forward, she has to pay in full up front.

    • Wow! I don’t blame you for having her pay up front from now on. It is totally unprofessional for her not to pay you for work that you’ve done! This has to be very frustrating for you. Thank you so much for sharing your story because I know a lot of designers who experience this type of thing all of the time. It gets even more complicated when you believe that you have a good relationship with someone–sometimes that’s when you really need to reinforce your boundaries. Thanks so much for your insight.

  4. Tiffany, this really hits home because I recently was asked not only to do a speaking gig (common) but also to provide accreditation and certificates and bring food for 12 people (what?) I’m NOT making this up. Generally people give me gifts when I speak or train them! After reflecting a bit on this I respectfully turned that “opportunity” down. I get pad for that kind of work and don’t plan to give it away now. You are so right that we have to know our boundaries. I think this topic would make a good blog post over at MarketingMel don’t you? Thanks!

  5. OOohhh this is such a juicy and sore topic for many entrepreneurs.
    “Women work themselves to the bone; busy over-delivering but not bringing in the dough they deserve. This situation only leads to burn out and resentment–and that just isn’t good for anyone.” Ouch – I see this happening all the time. When we don’t act like a pro with a contract, terms and agreement we will always struggle to create a commercial, profitable enterprise that works!

  6. I have a program agreement all my clients sign when they start working with me and once the program is complete I move them into a maintenance program. It works really well!

  7. Right On! Also consider, being paid up front or with a deposit of size with exact payment
    terms for any balances. Add to any agreement wording what ‘extra’ time or ‘revisions’ will cost. If you do not mind doing these price it that way. If you really are not interested in giving ‘extra’ time or working on ‘revisions’ price these high enough where you become interested.

  8. Wow! You are preaching to the choir today. You should aways have a written agreement or contract and sad to say, especially with good friends. This does put it on a professional level and out of the realm of “doing a favor” for them. One way to avoid serial changers is to have a good, clear and definitive task list or statement of work and then call them on it. If you want to fudge a little and give them an extra when they ask for it, nicely let them know you are doing it as an extra. This is a good way to remind them they are at /past their limit.

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