Get Going

How to Set Boundaries with Clients Before You Start Working Together

Sara @ Wingspan
May 15, 2020

Making sure that you and your client are on the same page is one of the first things you should do when you start a new project, says Erin Reid Ph.D., A.M., M.Sc., B.Comm, associate professor at McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business. “It is best to be as clear as you can be, as early on in the relationship as you can,” she says.

Be explicit about the time and energy you have to spend on this project and make sure that the client is, in turn, upfront about the resources they can allocate to your work. Hashing out these details can feel daunting, especially if you’re still getting to know your client and don’t have a rapport with them yet. But getting these conversations out of the way early will help you avoid awkwardness down the line. Here's how to set boundaries with clients—and how to do it gracefully.


Don’t commit to a project before discussing payment. If your client doesn’t bring it up, you should feel empowered to broach the subject on your own. And when you do, be clear about your needs, Dr. Reid says. Name your normal rate (or rate range) and be prepared to make a case for it. “You might explain to the client what the going rate is in general in the marketplaces for the services that you provide, as well as provide more information about the work and expertise that underlies the products or services you are offering,” Dr. Reid says. Once you settle on your rate, your next conversation should be about terms of payment: Do they offer direct deposit? How many days do they net upon receiving your invoice? (And if the idea of invoicing on top of negotiating your fee sounds daunting, Wingspan makes it easy — with Wingspan, you can even send an invoicing via text. Sign up here.)

Try saying:

Given the time, energy, and resources required for this kind of work, I normally charge [rate or range]. Happy to discuss what’s doable on your end, but [bottom of your range] is about as low as I can go. Thank you!


Before you start a project, it’s important for your client to understand how you work. Do you tend to go off by yourself and submit your work once you have it polished, or do you prefer to collaborate from the get-go? How far out do you like to set deadlines? Explain your usual workflow to them, so that they know what to expect, Dr. Reid says. Keep in mind, however, that your client likely has their own expectations around cadence and collaboration, too. Give them a chance to share their preferences with you and, if they’re radically different from your own, put some time aside to determine a system that’s satisfying for both of you. You may need to compromise in order to move forward, but aligning on how work should flow early on “will go a long way towards setting up your working relationship for success,” Dr. Reid says.

Try saying:

I’m so excited to get started on this project! Normally, I prefer to work [independently/closely with my manager/with the rest of the team] with a lead-time of [number of days/weeks]. Does that work for you? Let me know if you’d like to discuss further.


It’s easy for clients to assume that you’re “always on,” and can be reached by email, text, or phone at any time. Give your client clear time parameters when you’re free. And don’t feel obligated to justify your availability. “If you are clear that, in order to focus on your work, you only check email at certain times of the day, most clients will respect that,” Dr. Reid says. This also an opportunity to let your client know that you prefer emailing to chatting over the phone, for example. (Related: 4 Ways to Stop Scope Creep)

Try saying:

If you need to check-in or would like to brainstorm further, you can reach me via email between 9 a.m and 5 p.m Monday through Friday. If it’s an emergency and I’m not responding, please text my cell. Looking forward to working together!

You Might Also Like:

How to Start an Awkward (But Necessary) Conversation with a Client

3 Steps Every Self-Employed Worker Should Take Right Now to Outsmart the Recession

These 7 Freelancer Newbie Mistakes Will Cost You. Here’s How to Avoid Them

Share this post