How to Set Client Boundaries So You Don't Get Taken Advantage Of

Jan 31, 2022

All of us have worked with a disorganized client at one point or another and have dealt with last-minute asks from them. Figuring out what exactly you should do in these situations can cause some serious headaches! There’s a delicate line between setting client boundaries, keeping your clients happy, and, of course, protecting your time and business. 

Why is It So Important to Set Boundaries with Your Clients?

You created this business for yourself, right? That means YOU can make it look however you want for yourself…which includes client boundaries! 

When you have boundaries in place, clients will always respect your availability as long as you’re getting the work done. They’ll see you crushing it during your available hours and will trust that if anything comes up after hours, you’ll get back to them right away the next morning.

If you allow clients to message you after hours and on the weekends, then you’ll never have any downtime and will always be working. You can’t be present in your personal life without setting those healthy boundaries with clients. 

Setting boundaries is how you create a business that supports the kind of life you want to have.  

How Do You Set Client Boundaries?

I know from experience that it can be tough to set boundaries with your clients, especially after you’ve already worked with them for a while. Here are 3 major tips to get you started on setting solid boundaries no matter where you are with your clients. 

Set a Precedent Right at the Start

YOU are the one who gets to set expectations with your clients. It’s so important to have good habits in place from the very first interaction you have with a potential new client. If they message you at night or on a weekend, know that it’s reasonable to not get back to them until the next morning. 

How you respond to their behavior matters. You’re the one setting the precedent here! 

If you find some free time outside of your usual work hours to reply to emails or work on a proposal, that’s okay. (Hint: With Gmail, you can schedule an email to send later.) 

But do not send a proposal after hours! Doing so sets the expectation that you’re working and accessible at all hours of the day, and clients can easily take advantage of that. 

Related: How to Be More Selective and Start Saying No to Clients

Shift Your Mindset on Your Availability

I feel like so many PR professionals take pride in being super responsive and being completely on top of the news, no matter when stories break. It’s almost like a badge of honor to be one of the first to respond to breaking news! 

But you don’t need to be available at all times or constantly checking the news to be an amazing PR pro! It’s easy to go overboard and think that you have to work work work, but that’s not the way to build a sustainable business. Honestly, boundaries are essential to your success

Break that mindset of needing to always be available and allow yourself to have client boundaries and be present during your personal time. Your clients aren’t going to feel like you’re giving them bad service if you wait to respond to them during normal working hours. 

Related: How to Avoid Burnout When You're a Busy PR Professional

Allow Yourself to Take Time Off

Taking time off is always okay. As long as the work gets done, it should not matter (barring the rare work emergency, of course!). 

Make sure you convey your available hours to your client. You should clearly communicate your available hours, both in what you say and what you do.

It’s all about the follow-through here. You have to exemplify your boundaries, not just have them in your head or mention them to your clients. 

What Should You Do if a Client Sends You a Last-Minute Ask? 

If a client comes to you with a last-minute ask, it’s up to you to determine how reasonable the request is and if you can make an exception for it. This is a major part of maintaining your client boundaries. 

Always analyze the nature of the request. Is it something that could’ve been prevented? Is it something you’ve asked the client for several times and they keep getting to it at the last minute? 

Sometimes, you just have to make it happen with a super quick turnaround. But other times, with your professional expertise, you may deem it not to be a priority and decide to execute on it at a later time (or not at all).

What if the Last-Minute Asks Just Keep Coming?

If this happens repeatedly, though, that’s another issue. You may want to charge a rush fee, since that sends a message to your client that their behavior is disrupting your workflow. Or, you could add a rush fee clause to your contracts to protect yourself. We don’t always recommend that, but it’s certainly an option! 

But the heart of the matter is that a client who is constantly sending last-minute asks is a client who does not respect your time. And honestly, that’s not the type of partnership that should exist between clients and PR pros. 

Related: ​​How to Charge a Rush Fee for Your Services

Be Ready to Speak Up for Yourself

If you can course-correct through all the last-minute asks, then do so! But if it’s not getting better when you work on it, know that it’ll probably never get better…and you might need to part ways with the client. 

Don’t be intimidated to say something to your client when the last-minute asks are becoming too much and your client boundaries are being crossed. Your relationship with them should be mutually respectful: you’re running a business just like they are. 

Always explain to the client what you both are sacrificing with these last-minute asks. YOU know that it’s to the detriment of the other initiatives you all have in the works, but make sure they know that as well. You’ll need to decide together if a last-minute request is important enough to put the brakes on everything else. 

Client boundaries can be tough to enforce when it comes to PR, but they’re absolutely essential to your success. You have to be intentional about your hours, your time, and how accessible you are. When you do that, you can build the life and business you want to be leading!