Freelance-Writing Business Boundaries for Sanity

5 minute read

Ironic as it sounds, to experience freedom in your freelance-writing business, you need boundaries. You left a full-time job (or never went for one) and became a freelance writer to bask in that sweet freedom you heard so much about.

However, if you’re not careful, a freelance-writing business can morph into another desk job.

Perhaps you’ve been on autopilot so far. You said yes more than no… even to projects that weren’t a good fit for your goals, interests, or skills. You onboarded clients that came along, even if they were a bit difficult. You never thought about the need for boundaries in your business.

If this describes you, you’re not alone. Lots of freelancers realize they need boundaries only after they’ve been in business for a while and start to notice they’re busier than they want to be, and their projects aren’t quite what they’d hoped for.

When you approach your business without boundaries, you end up working with clients who aren’t the right fit. You struggle and even fail to get clients to pay you on time. You work long hours, maybe even more than a full-time job. You say yes to time-intensive meetings with clients that may have been better handled through an email thread.

If you wonder why freelancing hasn’t brought you the freedom you were hoping for, a lack of boundaries may be the culprit.

So, let’s see what you can do about it.

Boundaries to set in your business

Boundaries help maintain your power and authority in business. When a client walks in, you get to dictate what you charge, when you get paid, and how you enforce those policies.

Boundary #1:  Upfront payment and legal contract

Most clients are good, decent people. But even good, decent people can be forgetful or fall prey to misunderstandings. Clear payment terms and contracts can help you avoid that.

You define your payment terms, not the client. Clearly stating them in a legally binding contract helps avoid misunderstandings, delayed payments, and scope creep. As a thumb rule, I start working with a new client only with a deposit, which can be 30%-100% of the project cost. Again, you decide.

Getting paid at least part of your fee upfront saves you a lot of hassle later and establishes commitment from both parties. A legal contract ensures both parties are on the same page and legally bound to act a certain way.

Boundary #2:  A limited number of revisions

MacBook Pro, white ceramic mug,and black smartphone on table
Photo by Andrew Neel

Limiting the number of revisions you’ll provide is another way to prevent scope creep and delayed payments. Working with organizations taught me that the more people involved in decision-making, the messier it can get.

So, I use this language in my contracts:  “I offer two rounds of revisions, where one email or phone call is one round.” Not only do I offer two revision rounds, but I also expect my clients to consolidate revision requests to prevent the dreaded back-and-forth. You can also set a deadline for the revisions to be complete, like within 30 days after the first draft is turned in.

Offering unlimited revisions or not making this policy explicit can lead to clients changing their mind about the approach to the project, dragging their feet getting back to you, or putting your copy through conflicting rounds of revisions, where different decisions makers undo the changes other decisions makers asked you to make.

Boundary #3:  Preferred mode of communication

As a new freelance writer, you might want to dance to the client’s beat, as you’re still figuring things out. However, as you and your business grow, you’ll discover your own tune. One of the things that becomes clear is your preferred mode of communication with clients.

Some freelance writers work well with weekly calls and instant messaging, while others prefer email over calling. Laying down communication boundaries in your business eliminates the need to be constantly available, which can be stressful and unnecessarily demanding.

You dictate your preferred mode of communication, response time, availability, and frequency of communication. It’s good to share this information during the onboarding process with new clients.

Boundary #4:  Working days and turnaround times

As your freelance business grows, pay attention to the most productive times of the day and days of the week. Then, fiercely protect those times. If you schedule calls with clients, schedule them on the least productive days and during the least productive hours.

Keeping track of your productivity helps ensure healthy turnaround times and that you get enough rest and prevent overworking yourself.

Boundary #5:  Personal boundaries and your work ethic

This is a new one for me, so I’m in the process of implementing these kinds of boundaries. Putting personal boundaries in place is critical when your business is all on you.

In a traditional job, your team holds you accountable for your responsibilities, because they depend on you. If you work all by yourself, developing the needed discipline can get tricky.

You might find yourself doing non-work things when you had planned on working. That can lead to your falling behind and then stressing out over making deadlines later.

You might find yourself at the other end. You work too much and don’t rest and play enough.

I oscillate between the two. When I get exhausted from the daily hustle, I don’t work as efficiently. Something that would usually take me an hour takes four. When I get too lax about my business, I don’t work for days and then have to hustle when the deadline nears. Both are unhealthy behaviors for a business.

So, I’ve begun to place personal boundaries on myself. For instance, if it’s working hours, I will leave my phone in another room, so I don’t feel the urge to look at it.

I give myself the weekend off and don’t even think about my business on those two days. That way, when I get back to work, I’m well-rested and nourished.

We can make it only so far by running our business on autopilot, reacting to clients’ whims, and failing to understand our own needs. Take some time, maybe spend an hour today and journal about your business.

What about your business do you enjoy? What do you wish were different? Which client interactions make you feel good about yourself? Which clients make you feel anxious or stressed? What does your schedule look like? Do you feel at ease running your business or messy and chaotic?

Based on what you learn about yourself, determine the boundaries you can draw with your clients and yourself to invite more calmness and freedom. Then you can enjoy doing what you do best and enjoy your time away from work, too.