#45: You Need to Set Boundaries

On today’s show I talk about boundaries, both in your business and your personal life. For the most part, I have figured out how to set boundaries. But I also admit I was quite lucky that when I started my freelance business, my family and friends understood that I was actually working throughout the day and that this wasn’t some hobby. I know some of you are not so lucky and have people occasionally bugging you to help them out with things or hang out with them during the day because you “of course you can’t be working.”

Boundaries tell you and those around you what is acceptable, appropriate human behavior. They vary from person to person. Knowing what your boundaries are and setting them is critical to building healthy, respectful relationships in your life. This is important in both your personal life—setting boundaries with your partner, your family, your friends, even your neighbors—as well as in your freelance business—with clients, colleagues, subcontractors.

I want to talk about setting boundaries in your personal life first.

An article on PsychCentral.com called people who break your boundaries “emotional manipulators,” a phrase I like because if you think of them as manipulating you, maybe you’ll see how wrong and invasive they are being. The article suggests setting boundaries by first writing down the ways that people in your life are hurting you by the things they say.

Then, consider what the other person’s motivation might be and begin to write down answers to specific comments.

I think it’s important to not only know what you’ll say next time, but also know how to cut the conversation short. You shouldn’t be dragged into a 15-minute conversation in which you’re being forced to explain your life choices.

When you’re figuring out what to say, remember what their motivations might be. Then, you might say something like, “I know you only want the best for me and you’re worried that I will have trouble paying my bills, but the decision to be a freelancer is mine. I am going to work really hard at this for a while. I’ve already gained a few clients and am talking with other freelancers about how to build my business. Please don’t criticize or question my choices anymore. I would appreciate your support instead.”

And if you hear in return, “but, but, but …” I recommend you cut the conversation short. Be prepared to say, “I’m not going to discuss this with you. I’ve told you my plans and asked you not to criticize me. We’re done talking about this.”

Depending on the person’s role in your life, you could even say, “Listen, I love you, but you have to stop.”

And then stay strong. Be prepared to hang up the phone, walk away, stop texting. Stop responding and back away or the person will just keep going.

And if that same person starts in on you again later on, remind them of this conversation: “No, no, remember this is my life. I have already asked you to not criticize or question my choices. I only want your support or we’re not talking about this at all.”

The PsychCentral.com article also makes a couple more recommendations that I think are really helpful to keep in mind. It says “Remember the importance of saying ‘no’ to unreasonable requests, and reasonable ones from time to time, if they conflict with your plans.”

Yes, saying no is huge! I am actually really good at saying no in my personal life. Where I have trouble saying no is with volunteering in my industry. That’s where I am practicing saying no this year.

One more thing the PsychCentral article recommends is to challenge all insults masked as humor. 

I know all of this is really hard. I don’t expect you to get it perfect all the time, and I’m not an expert or a therapist. But I want you to succeed in your business and in your life. I think it’s really important for people—women especially—to learn how to speak up for ourselves, stand up for our own lives, tell people to stop.

Next, let’s talk about boundary setting when it comes to your freelance business. For some of you, this needs to start with a mindset shift that you are a freelance business owner. You’re not freelancing on a whim, this is not a hobby, you’re not “just” a freelancer. You own a freelance business.

I think something happens in our brains when we start to think of ourselves as business owners. I firmly believe it builds confidence. You’re not just hustling from one gig to the next. You’re not just taking whatever job you’re offered. You’re not taking whatever fee you’re offered.

Your language changes. Instead of asking, “how much do you pay?” you can say, “My rate for this type of project is XXX.” You are in charge.

When you’re setting boundaries in your business, again, make a list of what boundaries clients and colleagues are breaking. A few big ones are expecting you to reply after hours, creating scope creep in projects, and expecting you to reply on vacation.

I have news for you: Most clients are only expecting those things from you because you set that expectation. It’s the hard truth. If you are responding to emails, phone calls and texts at all hours of the day and night, well, what client wouldn’t love that?

It is up to you to set boundaries with your clients. One of the biggest boundaries you can set right now, if you haven’t already, is to create office hours for yourself. When do you want to work? Be creative! If you’re not a morning person and your peak productivity time is at night, take advantage of that.

I’ve never told my clients my schedule because it falls into the typical 9­–5 workday. But, if I had a new client who was expecting me to check email all hours of the night, I would speak up and say something like, “I wanted to let you know that my office hours are 9–5. I don’t check email after those hours unless we’re on a deadline that we’ve already agreed to.”

And then don’t check email! I know some people find this really hard and think checking email at night is particularly harmless if you’re not responding to it. But you’re still working when you told yourself you wouldn’t be. You’re still mentally pulling yourself back into work.

Once you’ve set office hours, what other boundaries do you want to set? What is annoying you, getting in the way of your work? Evaluate your days and how you work and where you work. This also means setting boundaries for yourself. We often push against our own boundaries—procrastinating or not unplugging and taking true vacations.

Another boundary you might need to set is how you want people to communicate with you (email, phone, text). Another is scope creep—when a client starts asking you to do things you didn’t think were part of the project, things that are taking more time and energy.

Biz Bite: Create templates

The Bookshelf: Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster” by Adam Higginbotham


PsychCentral.com article “The Importance of Personal Boundaries

Episode #1 of Deliberate Freelancer: Change Your Mindset: You Own a Freelance Business

Episode #36 of Deliberate Freelancer: Spotting Red Flags and Scope Creep

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