Setting and maintaining boundaries as a freelancer

If we’re full time freelance and work from home, it can easily take over our lives if we’re not careful. This can eat into our free time and headspace, damage relationships and eventually lead to burnout. Read on for some tips on how to set and maintain healthy boundaries as a freelancer.

Why Have Boundaries?

There are two main reasons to have boundaries – your mental health, and the quality of work you offer to your freelance clients.

Mental Health

Working long hours, damaging your relationships and feeling like someone’s servant are not good for our mental health long term. Having good boundaries improves our quality of life by separating work and home life and maintaining our self esteem. Now we’ve escaped the workplace, people can only treat us badly if we allow them too. Sometimes they might just be disorganised, push out of habit to get a good deal and sometimes they might be ‘bad actors’ who play hardball. In any case, setting and maintaining boundaries is good for out mental health.

Quality of Work

If we’re overworked, rushing around trying to please everyone and constantly stressed, we’re probably not doing our best work. By having good boundaries we can preserve our creativity and time so that we can offer the best service.

More subtly, if we feel we are getting screwed over we may sandbag or get passive aggressive with our clients. If we get this way after we haven’t set or maintained boundaries then this is unfair and will be highly confusing for the client!

Scope Boundaries

By this, I mean what you can help with and what you can’t. I design websites and often get asked to fix computers, set up email programs and all kinds of other stuff that isn’t my job and I don’t know much about. Saying yes to these kinds of things often means people will then ring you when they have IT issues, and I’ve just created myself a distracting responsibility outside of my core services. Be clear about what you can offer and what you can’t – extra points for having referral schemes in place so you can recommend people to help with those things and make a small referral fee each time. Everyone’s a winner that way.

This also covers what’s in scope of a project and what is a chargeable extra – scope can creep easily and you might end up doing way more than you bargained for. Extra work is great – but it needs to be paid for and will probably affect the timescale of the project. Let the client know the cost and time implications and they can choose whether to go ahead or leave it until later.

Time boundaries

Track it and bill for all the work you do, or at least be aware of the time you’re spending if you’re on fixed cost. If you don’t track your time, it can rapidly disappear. Let your clients know if you’re going to run over before it happens, and see what they want to do. Most are OK with extra budget if they know beforehand – springing a larger bill on them doesn’t tend to go so well.

I’d also advise that you don’t do ‘spec work’ – this devalues your trade and will often only lead to doing more free work for people. More info on this at

Contact Times/Methods

When I first started my web design business alongside my day job, I was working evenings and weekends. Once I went full time with FCS, people carried on contacting me at all hours as that’s what I had allowed previously. Over time I decided to work weekdays 10-6, so I published these hours on my site and in my proposals, got a new phone number for personal use and stuck to the contact hours.

Separate social media for personal and business is also a good idea – do you want your clients knowing all about your personal life and messaging you about work stuff on your personal profiles?

Some people will try to get around your working hours or methods – so ignore those Sunday 9am texts with ‘urgent’ things. The more you allow this, the more some people will do it. The only way is to say no and stick to it. I remember getting an email from one particularly blunt design client on a Saturday morning just saying “WHY AM I NOT NUMBER ONE ON GOOGLE FOR <INSET RANDOM PHRASE HERE>” and it ruining my weekend. Without even going into how much is wrong with that question, I couldn’t stop thinking about how to respond.

It might be tempting to relax this in the current climate, but be aware that the behaviours you allow now will continue once things improve.

Behaviour Boundaries

While you’re freelancing for people and getting paid, you don’t have to accept poor behaviour from anyone. You don’t have to accept rudeness, constant late materials or payments while expecting you to do things right now, or expecting to crash into your schedule with their ‘urgent’ requests.

I’ve fired clients for being massively racist and sexist – I don’t want to work with and help people with those beliefs and attitudes.

Undermining your skills and experience is another thing you don’t have to put up with – if people tell you how long it ‘should’ take or constantly say things like “it’s only a small job, can you just fit me in” then that’s a sign they don’t respect you and will be trouble down the line.

Setting Boundaries

While it might be a new thing, setting boundaries doesn’t have to be complex or confrontational. The earlier you address working hours, costs and contact methods, the easier it is. A quick email saying how you work is usually enough, with a reminder if that doesn’t stick. It can be collaborative, where you discover and agree what’s going to work best for you both. I prefer online project management systems to emailing for example, but some clients get stressed out with them so I will use email for their projects.

I find having separate phone number and email for work and personal makes it a lot easier to just close it down and walk away, so I’m not seeing people’s emails etc outside of work hours. I have a tech support email for genuinely urgent issues that I receive 24/7.

Dealing With Yourself Afterwards

Setting boundaries has been a gradual process, and years down the line I still feel bad for setting and sticking to boundaries. Whether it’s declining a job with a ridiculous deadline or refusing to continue work without a due payment, I can set them but often feel bad afterwards.

If you’re struggling it can be of benefit to get help here – whether it’s a mastermind group, freelance colleague or even a therapist if boundaries really push your buttons.


We’ve discussed how boundaries are important, areas that they are appropriate, how to set them and how to manage yourself afterwards. Setting and maintaining your boundaries is essential for our mental health and quality of our work so I hope this has been useful. Please comment below if there’s anything you’d add, or you’ve had any relevant experiences lately!

More info on boundaries and PDF worksheets here

Photo by Wyron A on Unsplash

The UK’s Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) now open

If you’re self-employed or a member of a partnership and have been adversely affected by coronavirus (COVID-19) you may be eligible for funds from the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS)

The scheme will allow you to claim a taxable grant of 80% of your average monthly trading profits, paid out in a single instalment covering 3 months, and capped at £7,500 altogether. This is a temporary scheme, but it may be extended.

If you receive the grant you can continue to work, start a new trade or take on other employment including voluntary work, or duties as an armed forces reservist.

The grant does not need to be repaid but will be subject to Income Tax and self-employed National Insurance.

There is other support available if you’re not eligible for the grant.

HMRC will work out if you’re eligible and how much grant you may get. But you can follow these steps to help you understand how we will do this and what you can do now.

HRMC website

Find out more and make a claim at

Freelancing In Uncertain Times

Well my last blog hasn’t aged well, with the UK now all confined to our houses aside from essential shopping and a short daily exercise. So much has happened so fast. I hope you’re all safe and healthy.

Same Same..

In some ways, nothing has changed for my freelancing. Working from home 99% of the time means I’m set up for it and used to spending time home alone. As a web designer, my work is online so I’ve not been forced to close like many face to face businesses. I’m very grateful for these things right now.

It seems to be easier to get food and supplies now after the initial stockpiling panic and while I don’t stand a chance of getting a supermarket delivery, it’s been great to support some local businesses who deliver groceries:

.. but Different

I’ve noticed a dip in enquiries for new projects since Xmas, probably due to Brexit uncertainty. I’ve got a couple of projects on the go but like many other freelancers I was worried about running out of work and then running out of money.

The UK government have come through with 3 months of income support for sole traders based on our previous 3 years of profits, so this is a huge relief if it does go quiet. This possibly doesn’t help some other freelancers I’ve been speaking to, if they are only part time freelance and have lost their main job, or are registered as a Limited Company. Some who do face to face work have lost their entire income within a week.

I was trying to get out and co-work more often but that’s been stopped in its tracks. I wonder whether many co-working spaces will make it through this time.

Adapt and Survive

While there are obviously worries around future client work and finances, this is a good time to work on ourselves and learn some new skills. PluralSight are offering their courses for free for April so I’m learning some new coding skills to improve my potential work streams.

With many ‘bricks and mortar’ companies pivoting to selling online there are also opportunities around that for freelance designers, developers, marketers and other related skills.

Organisations are also stepping up to offer help and support during the pandemic with online chat, support groups and resources. Leapers, who we featured a few months back, have some great content to support freelancers and I’ve also joined the Slack to chat with local tech people.

Who knows how long this is going to last, but hopefully we can stay positive and well and come out of the other side soon.

This week in freelance: Pandemic and business as usual

It’s been a strange year so far: Brexit, Australia on fire and now a global pandemic. While this is unheard of, life just goes on for most of us in a weird kind of way.

I’m working on new & existing website projects as normal, despite widespread concerns about Coronavirus and off-peak scavenging trips to Lidl.

Remote Working

Since starting the business, I’ve always had a ‘virtual office’ and worked from home or co-working spaces whether I’m in the UK or elsewhere. The freelancers that I work with often do the same. One of the benefits of remote working is that the risk of us picking up any bugs is lower as we’re not commuting or sharing an office. We’re all set up to be productive remotely, and easily able to self isolate if necessary too. So despite concerns about Coronavirus and people starting to work from home, we’re able to carry on with new and existing web design projects as normal.

I’m hearing about digital nomad friends coming/going back to their home countries as flights might be cut back and being isolated in a far flung country sucks. Being sick with fever and alone in Thailand was utterly horrible.

Self Isolating

As an introvert and working from home, self isolating isn’t too hard. I’ve been trying to go to the gym more, get out more and do more coworking. Covid-19 has pretty much stopped that in its tracks however. I’ve had a sore throat and headache so have largely kept myself to myself to avoid getting scowled at. To stop myself going nuts I’ve been playing co-op games online with friends (not abusive strangers…) and seeing friends one to one or in small groups. I’ve got a pile of books to read, some new skills to learn (VueJS, what a hot mess) and a knackered old bike to get some cardio.

Self Development

A friend gave me a talking to the other day and I’ve got some new books to read and am revisiting my morning routine to get the day started right. Exercise, reading, meditation and journalling set me up to be focused and productive. As mentioned I’m also learning some new Javascript skills to level up my WordPress development and keep up with the cool kids.

So What Next?

I’m doing a part time college course and I think that will be postponed soon. I’ll be getting food delivered and trying to make the most of the enforced downtime. Work wise, some clients in the online and information industries are carrying on as normal, but some that have face to face businesses are struggling already. It’s going to be an interesting year.

Shameless Advert

If you’re a business needing a new website or an agency needing an extra pair of hands to help during these strange times, drop me a line.

Best VPN For Freelancers

A ‘virtual private network’ (VPN) is essential while working from home, coffee shops and when working remotely (Read more tech tips for freelancers). A VPN can stop the wifi owner snooping on what you’re doing and other people seeing what you’re up to online. While I’m sure none of us are up to no good, online security is increasingly vital and we need to keep all our work data and browsing private.

Choosing A VPN

Searching for the best VPN for freelancers is difficult when most VPN providers have affiliate websites recommending them because they get a kickback, not necessarily because the service is great.

A provider with lots of servers to choose from and that preferably don’t store browsing history logs is a good choice.

Danger Of Free VPNS

Using a free VPN is probably worse than not using one at all – remember if the thing is free, your data is the product. Do you want your VPN provider inserting ads, selling your browsing history to advertisers or watching what you are doing? You’re responsible for keeping not only your own data safe, but also that of your clients. £5 a month for a proper VPN is well worth the investment.

Mullvad has easy to use apps for Mac and PC, and runs on OpenVPN on mobile

So Which VPN To Use?

I used to use Private Internet Access until they were bought out by a company with a dubious history. For such a privacy focused app, I wasn’t comfortable with the new owners so moved to Mullvad. They Mac/PC apps, are much more privacy focused and don’t have affiliates. The app is quick and easy to set up and they have VPN servers all around the world to choose from.

The mobile app has a few steps to set up via OpenVPN, but still only takes a few minutes. Mullvad doesn’t seem to limit speeds, is pay monthly and hasn’t caused me any grief with mailservers or FTP like other providers have.


Security is important if you’re working remotely or from coffee shops, but choosing the best VPN for freelancers can be tricky. We recommend you swerve the free ones and use Mullvad.