As a freelancer, you are self-employed. So you have great flexibility in how you work. You get to set your price. You can choose the hours you work.

But that very same flexibility can become a double-edged sword.

You might not have considered the boundaries of what you would and would not do. Especially if you are new and trying to establish yourself in a certain field.

You might think that since it’s hard to win new clients, you need to treat every client that comes to you well. Which you should, and you must.

Your values tell you that the purpose of doing business is not solely to make money but to make a difference in the world too. So you listen to your client and say yes to whatever requests they have. Nevermind that sometimes, they are just trying to take advantage of you, knowing that you can be bullied.

But don’t forget that your responsibilities are not to just one client alone.

1) You have other clients too

Would saying yes to a request by one client make you have less time to do the work for the other clients? Would it reduce the quality of work you can give to other clients?

2) You need to source for future clients

Whether you work alone, with partners, or have a few employees, looking for new clients is one of the ways to keep your business going. Would satisfying the requests of one client, especially when it’s unreasonable, give you less time and energy to look for new clients?

3) There are other aspects of life

Work already consumes a huge part of our lives. One-third (or more) of our 24-hour day is spent at work. When you keep saying yes to unreasonable requests, it’s dangerous because it’s hard to know when to stop.

The requests not only take up more time but also increases your business expenses to the point where it’s no longer worth it to perform your work at the rates you are charging. So do you continue, knowing that you will have less time and money left for you and your family?

Set your boundaries first

One extra request might not take up too much additional time, money and energy. But it’s a slippery slope if we keep thinking that way. Because multiple small requests can and will eventually add up. How are you going to know when to start saying no?

It’s important to start by setting your boundaries first. Some boundaries that you might want to consider are:

  1. Pricing. Under-promise and over-deliver – that’s a good principle. But you also need to price for extra requests and services. And consider things like cancellation penalties. For example, it doesn’t make financial sense for a tutor to keep allowing students to cancel at a short notice. Also, it doesn’t make sense to price it so low that you barely cover your costs. You don’t have to be the lowest bidder around in your industry.
  2. Time. It’s a cliché, but time is a non-renewable resource. Once spent, you are never going to get it back. Guard your time well. And consider how you spend your time on the macro-level – for work, family, personal, social, and spiritual. Use more time for one aspect, and you’ll have less time for another.
  3. Energy. You are not a robot and you can’t work forever. Even machines need to beware of overheating. The less energy you have, the lower the quality of work you can do. Manage your energy well. And don’t keep saying yes at the expense of always running on low energy. Think about the longer-term impacts of running on low energy all the time.

I think it’s a good idea to think about the boundaries that you would not cross even before you start to look for more clients. When those boundaries are clear to you, you can safely know when to say yes and when to say no.

Being nice to people doesn’t mean you agree to everything. It is about respecting each other’s boundaries. And looking to create win-win situations as well. Winning at the expense of clients might not be a good idea to create a long-term relationship. But creating winning situations for your clients at the expense of your business doesn’t help you to survive and thrive in the long run either.

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