How to Set Professional Boundaries With Clients

March 18, 2024

Just like all good relationships, partnerships with clients require clear boundaries. 

We all strive to go above and beyond. But, when we put our professional boundaries and work-life balance on the back burner to exceed our client's expectations, that behavior becomes standard rather than a bonus. 

Repeating this cycle can be detrimental; it can lead to unhappiness, discontent, and even burnout amongst your team

That’s why maintaining professional boundaries is imperative.

Setting clear professional boundaries between you and your clients will create a healthy balance that allows your team members to exceed expectations in a manner that is just as fair to them as it is to the client.

Respect You and Your Team’s Time Boundaries

Bending over backward for your clients should not be a regular occurrence. 

Yes, sometimes we have to start our days a little earlier or work a little later to get stuff done, but doing it repeatedly should not be an expectation.

If your client’s requests cause your team to work outside their allotted time boundaries, it may be putting unwarranted pressure on your team, which is one of the leading causes of burnout among employees.

If that’s the case, it may be time to communicate boundaries and start managing client expectations.

Here are some of our tips for setting clear time boundaries with clients:

Set Clear Communication Channels

To help distinguish urgent matters and tasks that can wait until the morning, be clear about what type of client communication should go where. 

For example, use emails or Slack for non-urgent queries. Use project management tools for more pressing task-related discussions. Be sure to communicate these channels to your clients and encourage them to adhere to the expectations you set. It can reduce the likelihood of interruptions outside designated work hours.

Establish Response Time Expectations

Be transparent about your team's time boundaries and availability for response 

There shouldn’t be an expectation that every problem will be taken care of immediately, especially today when everyone works at different times

Be reasonable to yourself, your team, and your client. The time it takes to resolve feedback from a client truly depends on the urgency of the task, your relationship with them, and the client’s temperament. 

Create a Consistent Schedule

Consistency is key when setting professional boundaries with a client. Make sure to establish regular working hours and set bi-weekly or weekly meetings to check in with them.

By adhering to consistent time boundaries, you’re setting the tone for the relationship and making it clear that work-related discussions should occur within specified time frames.

Utilize Calendar Blocking 

For your team, it can be good to advise them to use calendar-blocking techniques.

This is especially true for creative teams. Blocking out focus time for intense, concentrated, deep work can improve productivity and produce better results.

So, give your team the power to set aside time for themselves where no meetings or coworkers can distract them. It’ll help them create better work in the long run. 

Communicate Boundaries and Immediately and Uphold Them

When you begin any partnership with your client, you should begin setting boundaries from the jump. Here’s how:

Explain the Work You’ll Be Doing Exactly

We set scopes with clients for a reason. Use them.

Be proactive when you get a project. Start by outlining the specific tasks, deliverables, and timelines involved throughout.

By providing a detailed breakdown of the work you'll be undertaking, you set clear expectations and mitigate the risk of scope creep or misunderstandings down the line. Here are some strategies you can use from the get to explain the work you’ll be doing:

  • Reiterate objectives, deliverables, timelines, and any other relevant details outlined in the scope. 
  • Define specific tasks and deliverables that fall under your purview and any contributions or approvals expected from the client.
  • Establish milestones and checkpoints throughout the project so you and your client stick to agreed-upon deadlines.
  • Address potential limitations or constraints that may impact the scope or timeline of the project. This can be because of resources, external dependencies, or unforeseen risks.

Provide Details on the Process

Let the client in on your team’s process for completing projects and tasks—especially who is responsible for what deliverables and approvals. Here's how you can do it:

  • Begin by outlining the initiation and planning phase. Here, you’ll define project objectives and identify stakeholders. It’s also critical to agree on who will be the main point of contact for approving tasks.
  • In the execution and monitoring phase, share insights into your team's workflow, including task allocation, progress tracking, and quality assurance measures. 
  • Highlight the channels and tools your team utilizes for seamless communication, collaboration, and feedback exchange. You should encourage your client to actively participate in discussions, provide input, and address any concerns or questions promptly.

Always remember: be diligent in upholding your end of the deal. Don’t hesitate to remind clients of the agreed-upon terms if requests become problematic.

Managing Client Expectations: Remain in Control

Because you are forming a partnership with your client, the control of the relationship should never be one-sided. 

You’re collaborating, meaning both sets of hands—yours and the client's—should guide the car (your project) forward. If you feel the client is attempting to take the reins (even if they are unaware), be calm and assertive. 

Being too overbearing or confrontational can leave a bad taste in your client’s mouth and lead to a lack of chemistry in the relationship, which is one of the leading causes of losing clients

To prevent that, here are some strategies for approaching your client if they are trying to take too much control during a project:

  • Create an open dialogue to address any concerns about their level of control. You should approach the discussion with empathy and understanding, acknowledging their perspective while explaining the need for a balanced partnership.
  • Support your recommendations with data and insights. Clients understand numbers, metrics, and analytics more than feelings (in our experience). If the numbers are compelling enough, it could convince them to hand back over control.
  • Be willing to compromise, whether through adjustments to timelines, scope, or deliverables. Think about how you can find mutually beneficial solutions to maintain control on both sides.

Setting Boundaries With Clients: Say “No”

Pushing back on client requests is extremely difficult to do. We know. But it is one of the keys to setting boundaries with clients.

Of course, you want to first try and find solutions that lead to compromise before you have to say no. But, if you’ve tried everything for a client and nothing seems to satisfy their requests, it may be time to put your foot down. 

If the request will require too much time or energy or does not fall within the agreed-upon terms and services, saying no is a must. However, there are ways to say “no” to a client that doesn’t forfeit your professional boundaries:

  • Bring alternative solutions that accommodate both parties' interests to the table. This can show your commitment to finding mutually beneficial solutions while keeping professional boundaries intact.
  • Be transparent about which project constraints, resource limitations, or strategic considerations are compelling you to say no. This shows the client you didn’t decide to push back haphazardly; it was well thought out.

Don’t Let Guilt Get To You

Once you have clearly expressed and agreed upon your professional boundaries, there is no reason to feel guilty for pushing back on the client.

If a client is attempting to manipulate or change your boundaries constantly, the partnership just may not be a great fit. Hold you and your team to a certain standard of treatment and ensure you only work with clients that align with your professional boundaries.

Overall, keep in mind that the term “boundaries” is not a negative one. In reality, professional boundaries are a healthy way to communicate expectations and create a safety net for your team. 

Setting boundaries is necessary for relationships of all types; they will help establish you as a leader, team member, and understanding person. While a lack of boundaries can lead to issues, setting up guidelines from the start will preserve your partnerships and lay the foundation for a positive future.

Communicate Effectively With Punchlist

All that being said, there is no chance for professional boundaries to last without effective communication.

The best way to do that is with a project collaboration platform like Punchlist that makes leaving feedback, updating deliverables, managing client expectations, and communicating about the status of projects with clients incredibly easy.

To get your first month of Punchlist for free, get started here. As soon as you sign up, you’ll have access to our complete library of creative collaboration and feedback management features. Trust us, your team and your clients will think it’s a knockout.

Frequently Asked Questions About Professional Boundaries

How Do You Set Boundaries With Clients?

Here’s how you can effectively set boundaries with clients (without losing them):

  1. Communicate you and your team’s time boundaries
  2. Set clear communication channels
  3. Establish response time expectations
  4. Create a consistent schedule
  5. Remain in control
  6. Don’t be scared to use the word “no”
  7. Don’t feel guilty about pushing back

How Do You Set Boundaries Politely?

Being nice about setting professional boundaries is a challenge, but it can be done. Here are some tips:

  • Create an open dialogue with the client
  • Come with empathy and understanding
  • Be willing to compromise
  • Be transparent about project constraints
  • Reiterate how much you value your relationship

How Do You Maintain Professional Boundaries?

Maintaining professional boundaries with clients involves setting clear expectations, maintaining confidentiality, and avoiding conflicts of interest. Communicate openly, but don’t share personal information unrelated to the business relationship. Boundaries help establish mutual respect and professionalism in client interactions.

How Do You Communicate Boundaries?

To communicate boundaries, you should be direct yet professional. Clearly outline your working hours, response times, and scope of services the first time you meet with your point of contact. We recommend going over these boundaries during project updates to ensure both sides are always on the same page.