Setting Boundaries For Difficult Clients

Have you ever had a difficult situation arise with a client?

Let me give you a few examples:

– they send you all their work last minute (their lack of preparation means your emergency, doesn’t it?)- they don’t pay you on time (or without constant nudging)

– they complain about every little thing

– they ask the same questions over and over again

– they send you a million emails to communicate something simple

– they don’t change subject lines in their emails if the subject matter changes (this is a huge pet peeve of mine! – how do I ever find that thing we talked about?)

You get the picture.

Virtual working brings with it a need for steady and structured communication with clients.

And sometimes this communication isn’t ‘normal’ or ‘natural’ for your client (or you). So if not, you need to make sure that you have procedures and boundaries in place so that the client understands how to work with you.

And then you have to make sure you both follow those procedures and respect those boundaries!

I had a situation with a client recently who said she was frustrated that she couldn’t get me to answer my phone. Interesting statement, because my business has never been a ‘phone and you get me live’ business.

I schedule all of my phone calls, and only answer my phone if I know that it’s the scheduled person calling. My phone boundary is that you are welcome to leave me a voicemail, and I’ll call you back (or email you back) as my time permits. This helps me keep my tasks on schedule every day, and helps me get my work done. I prefer email communication, but voicemail is there if you need it.

Well, my client said she didn’t realize that was my rule. When she emailed me to let me know that she needed to speak with me urgently because I didn’t answer when she called, I phone her back and we ‘discussed’ it. It was not a fun conversation, I’ll tell you that.

In her defence, I have worked with her for many years. I probably didn’t have a boundary document in place when we began, or if I did it was a while ago.

She is a good client. I like to make sure I can help her when I can. So sometimes, I answer the phone when she calls. Because if I see her number, I know something’s up.

Well, shame on me because now that’s the way she thinks she should get my attention. Really not entirely her fault!

So… we had a conversation (not a nice one, it really was an argument) and we worked it out.

She knew the boundaries at one point, but she forgot them, and it was partially my fault.

After our initial ‘chat’, I emailed her some work and apologized for not articulating my position better.

What kind of boundaries do you have in place for your clients? When you have boundaries or procedures, do you hold yourself to them as well?

This is something I talk about all the time in my teaching, because it’s something I have had lots of experience with over the years.

And clearly we all need a reminder from time to time!

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