Rules, Boundaries, and Limitations with Clients

The number reason a project flops is because proper boundaries were not established.

This is not to say there are not other factors. From experience, any project going south typically comes down to a few things. For us, it is usually not making it clear what the scope covers and what it does not. This stems from a lack of proper communication with the client, which is the stem for almost all issues we have faced.

A key to making sure a client relationship is a positive one is to set rules, boundaries, and limitations. Although these may seem restrictive they provide a base for every client interaction. Make sure the client is aware of the scope and what the deliverable is. Make sure the client knows when they can expect to hear from you next. Make sure the client knows what you can and can’t do for them. Make sure the client knows how you handle certain situations which may arise. Setting these ground rules will make the client trust you more and know exactly what they hired you for.

When you have set your boundaries and the client is aware of them it allows you to handle the project in a more professional way. The client knows what you agreed to do, the completion date, and how to approach the next steps.

Being direct with a client can seem scary at first. It requires you to tell them, with no added fluff, what they should expect. Setting these expectations early is a major part of the project’s success. When you and your client share the same expectations the relationship can be a well-oiled machine. When the client has different expectations than you set out for them to have, problems arise.

Managing any client relationship can be a task within itself. Emails come in at all times throughout the day. Responding to them right away seems like the professional thing to do. At the same time, replying right away might draw you away from your work more often affecting your productivity. Since your client does not know what the best time to email you is, they send the email whenever is convenient. Instead, try outlining early on with the client when are acceptable times for them to expect replies to their emails. This way, they are not waiting around for your response. They know exactly when you reply to your emails each day. This frees you up to not have the constant urge to check your inbox. This also sets boundaries with the client. No longer can they call or email you and be upset you did not answer them right away. They know that you have carved out certain times to handle your email.

Now that the client knows when to expect a response, and you have more productivity time you will be less stressed. You will not feel as if you are a coding slave to your client’s every whim. You will feel the relationship develop in the way a professional relationship should.

A good client will respect the rules, boundaries, and limitation you set early on. A good client understands they hiring you as a professional for the skills you have. This makes establishing these boundaries easy. A good client will respect your process as long as it is a reasonable process.

A bad client is a bad client. No amount of rule setting or boundaries will change that. The best thing to do here is to find the nicest way to jump ship. You can not change a current relationship if it has already gotten out of hand. You are being underpaid, over-worked, and not respected as a professional. There is little recovery room here. The best thing to do is to end a toxic relationship. The client most often will be receptive to this and you standing up for yourself. It can be scary, but avoiding these problem clients is key to making sure your rules, boundaries, and limitations get respected.

Do some early client vetting. Can you tell this client will handle the process professionally? Can you tell they might be a jerk? Ask yourself some basic questions. Evaluate what the relationship might look like a year down the road. The easiest way to remove the stress of dealing with bad clients is to not work with them in the first place. Instead, choose to work with those who respect your process and respect your skill set. This early vetting goes a long way.

Establish your rules, boundaries, and limitations with your clients. Your clients should respect these, and if they do not they are not a good client for you. Establishing this early in the relationship is key to long term success with a client. Making sure that the relationship is a good fit for you both is huge. Making sure the client’s expectations are in line with what you are delivering, can save a lot of headaches. Client’s want professionalism. The more you make your process known to them, they more they will respect your boundaries.