Making Sure Your Professional Boundaries Aren't Crossed

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I believe I’m a good person. I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume you are, too. In fact, I believe that people are generally good.

Who out there really wants to be a monster?

That’s not something to try to become. So much of a person’s life can go downhill if they make the active choice to be terrible. Who has the time to be awful? Talk about a headache.

Plus, you’d probably get slapped a lot.

Nah, people are good. As a Squarespace web designer, my goal every day is to help give the people I work with the website they’ve always wanted to have. I strive to be present, communicative, hard working, and importantly, nice to work with.

I want to create the best designer-client relationship I possibly can every single time. Most of the time, that involves responding to emails in a timely fashion or sending thank you gifts to the people I create websites with. Projecting a pleasant atmosphere will take you pretty far in this world.

However, the other key factor in building a successful designer-client relationship is one that feels counterintuitive: being a hard-ass about the important things.

And I mean, like, annoyingly so.

Boundaries Are a Good Thing

I’m sure we’ve all been in a place, usually when we’re just starting out, where we lock down a client, we’ve got some great ideas for their new website (or whatever project it may be), and the promise of future payment has us feeling all giddy.

Everything is working out. All the hard work we’ve put into building our business is starting to pay off. The big dream of devoting our lives to working independently is finally becoming a reality. Sweet!

But then the client starts asking for things outside the project brief, misses a bunch of deadlines, is slow to answer any email, and whoa whoa whoa... We’ve got to pump the breaks now. Things are getting out of hand.

Before you know it, this is turning into a straight up predicament.

Put simply, the boundaries around a good designer-client relationship aren’t being respected anymore. It’s a great way to trash all the really nice feelings you were just having. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

Wishes, however, don’t fix issues, action does. Having to deal with a relationship that isn’t turning out the way you’d hoped can be a distressing issue. What can we do about making sure that our professional boundaries are respected?

Make sure your deadlines are known

Don’t get wishy-washy about this. You put your deadlines in place for a reason. If a boundary crosser thinks they can get away with missing a date, then they’re going to do it.

I find that mutually agreeing to a schedule before signing a contract tends to help avoid many of the missed deadlines. If your client has agreed to it, then that’s a good first step toward ensuring that it won’t be an issue.

In the unfortunate case that it does, firm reminders sent through email (or whatever form of communication you use) tends to be a good solution. Sometimes people just get overwhelmed with the other responsibilities in their lives. Making them aware again of your schedule can be all that’s needed most of the time.

Make your expectations clear from the beginning

Clear communication is the most effective way to ensure that a project progresses without any major speed bumps. If there’s any doubt about how a project will go or when things need to be done, it’s probably a safe bet that you’ll have future trouble.

Avoid the issues entirely by being clear in your explanations about your process, what you need from the client, and when you need it all. Being proactive is all the rage, my friend.

Let’s tie this into the previous point about deadlines. If you need to start a project on May 1, for example, then make sure you and the client know it’s going to start exactly on that date. Something like “Let’s get going around the beginning of May” is a good way to create confusion for everyone.

Put it in writing

Get everything down into a contract. Full stop.

Make sure the scope of the project is printed on paper. Make sure the exact deadlines are in there. Get good, protective contract language for both you and your client throughout the entire thing. Make it as resilient as possible and then make sure you and the client sign it.

Hopefully, you’ll never reach the point where you need to remind a client of the contract they signed, but it can be a major relief to know that it’s there.

Keep the relationship professional

Relationships can be tricky things to navigate. You’re dealing with another person or maybe multiple people. We’re complicated beings, each with our own desires and fears. Learning how to navigate interpersonal relationships in an effective way is a good use of your time.

But sometimes we may end up running into one of those terrible people. I hope you never will, but I can’t guarantee you won’t.

As with anything in life, you need to take care of yourself and your business first. Having to walk away from a project and a terrible person may be a necessary step to take. If they’re not just missing deadlines, but are making you feel threatened or uncomfortable, then cut them out of your life.

And don’t ever feel bad about doing that.

Your boundaries need to be respected as much as you respect the boundaries and lives of others.

Remember that money shouldn’t change the dynamic of a working relationship so much that a client thinks they can walk all over you. They may be paying you for your services or products, but you’re still doing the work they’re unable to do.

Stand up tall. Be that awesome person we both know you are. Make sure other people respect your boundaries, but also make sure that you respect them, too.

If they’re not, then be like Liz Lemon, cats...

A woman in a business suit waving her hand in the air saying, “Shut it down. Dealbreaker.”