Establishing Boundaries And The Importance Of “No” For Freelancers

Being a freelancer is hard. The online business space is pretty saturated with writers and graphic designers and other creative entrepreneurs. In the pursuit of…

Establishing Boundaries & The Importance Of "No" For Freelancers | thefreewoman.com

Being a freelancer is hard.

The online business space is pretty saturated with writers and graphic designers and other creative entrepreneurs. In the pursuit of making a name for yourself and your business, it’s easy to get caught up in doing ALL.the.things. Before you know it, you can get burnt out, and start wondering why doing what you love no longer brings you joy.

For the past year or so, I’ve tried my hand at a few different freelance enterprises. Virtual assistance, copywriting, social media, transcription. And each time, I felt overwhelmed, burnt out, and unhappy.

Where was I going wrong? Why wasn’t I succeeding the way that I hoped, the way that I saw others succeeding?

The answer was in one tiny little word: Yes.

Yes, whatever you can pay me is fine. Yes, you can change your mind as many times as you want, even at the last minute. Yes, I’ll be available whenever you need me. Yes, I can do a same-day turnaround time.  

It was no wonder that I was exhausted and ready to throw in the towel. My professional self-worth was tied up in keeping my workload as busy as possible – and in not disappointing anyone. And in doing so, I made myself miserable. But fortunately, I did learn an extremely valuable lesson during this time, and I hope it’s helpful to you if you’re feeling the burn out, too.

The number one, most important lesson I learned as a freelancer was: Don’t be afraid to say no.

In the business world, “no” happens all the time. And it’s absolutely OK. Think of the boundaries that you choose for yourself as the mental cushion of your business, giving you the space to breathe and practice self-care when you need to.

You’re in business to make money by doing what you love and helping others. Not to run yourself ragged to the point of mental and physical exhaustion.

"The number one, most important lesson I learned as a freelancer was: Don't be afraid to say no." - Mia Sutton | thefreewoman.com

So, how do you institute those boundaries?  

1. Have a contract to spell out all obligations and deadlines in writing

I promise you, this will eliminate 90% of your business woes. Revisions, turnaround time, deliverables – all of these should be spelled out as much as possible to not only protect you, but to give both parties all the details of what is expected and when.

2. Charge what you’re worth

Consistently lowering your rates will only have you working harder for less reward. This was a huge factor in contributing to the burn out I experienced. I felt like I was trying to dig a hole with a toothpick.

3. Figure out who your ideal client is

This is tricky when you’re first starting out, but after a few clients, you’ll get to know how you work best and with who. Some clients just are not a right fit, and that is OK. Make sure to do your homework ahead of time with discovery calls or proposals and figure out what is being asked of you.

4. Above all else, listen to your mind and body

I said it before, and I’ll say it again: It is OK to say no. Taking care of yourself is the most important thing. All of the guilt and stress and anxiety that I felt was a direct result of trying to do too much and be all things for all people. It doesn’t work and all it did was set me up for failure.

Remember, boundaries help to keep you in your best mindset for success, which will not only benefit you, but your clients as well.

What are some ways you have established boundaries for your business? Comment below and share your tips.

Establishing Boundaries & The Importance Of "No" For Freelancers | thefreewoman.com

– image credit: Andrew Teel

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  1. Incredible advice–and so very timely for me! Just this past Sunday I was waiting for a quick turnaround project to come in… it kept getting pushed back and then I found myself working at midnight to complete what I could. I think freelancers work so hard and have to rely on so many different revenue streams that (I know for myself anyway), I always hard a hard time saying no, because I would get afraid that the work would dry out or that I’d burn a bridge, etc.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing and great stuff :)

  2. What great advice! I’m also underestimate my value and never charge enough. This is a great wake up call.

  3. Saying no is SO hard and I wish I knew why. I also think that as women we definitely underestimate our value. Need to be bold and just ask for it! And to say no when we need to!

  4. Vital lessons to protect yourself from exploitation. Insecurity affects most beginning business-people and it leaves us vulnerable to bad decisions.

  5. I get emails from companies telling me that they like my writing and that they’d like to partner with me on projects. Mostly sponsored posts for blogs and things like that. When I tell them how much I charge they’ll say “Oh no. We can’t pay you. But we will help promote your site on twitter, etc”…as if that’s fair. I say no a lot. My time and words are worth money yo!
    Bloggers I think are notorious for charging less than what they’re worth. We have a lot of power in the market – our time is very valuable.
    I love these tips Mia.

  6. It can be so difficult to say no.

    Charging what you are worth seems like the most difficult one. There are so many people out there who charge way too little, causing clients to expect similar underpricing from you. They contact you to ask for a price, and when you give it to them, there’s complete silence. That silence is effective in making you think maybe you should start charging less.

    Fear and desperation is what leads to saying yes to the pricing that’s just not enough, and doing work that will stress you to the point of stomach ulcers and nightly anxiety attacks. Fear of not getting enough work to be able to pay the bills. Desperation to get any work to pay those same bills.

    These are great tips, and everyone should really stop to read them. And not give into the fear and desperation.

  7. This is awesome! Establishing boundaries is so, so important, but so scary when you’re stepping out into freelance work. I’ve been doing more of it lately, so I’ll definitely keep these in mind!

  8. I absolutely LOVE this!!!!! I needed to see this because I have been saying “yes” to every single email and receiving guest posts on my website. Every email I have received I have said “Yes” but recently had a man ask me to publish an article on electrical contractors and I thought, how am I going to say “no”!!?? How do I put that into words? My blog is meant to be about elegance and being a lady in this world and he wants me to publish about electrical contractors!???? I have been accepting to most people but this really helped me to understand how to say “no”. Great post!

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