One of the biggest topics associated with mental health is boundaries. When it comes to your personal and professional life, setting clear boundaries for yourself and those around you is crucial to maintaining a healthy relationship.
I've often found that in our industry of social media marketing lines are blurred and frequently crossed between the Social Media Manager and client relationship. Social media can seem like an ongoing job that requires your attention during the evening, on weekends, and even when you're on vacation. Client expectations can often feel unrealistic and yet you find yourself still trying to achieve the impossible and beating yourself up when you fall short.
After many years of being a freelance Social Media Manager, I have had my share of toxic clients. I've learned when it is time to fire a client, but more often than that I've learned that I was the problem. Yes, me.
Caution truth bomb ahead...
If you find yourself consistently dealing with difficult clients, chances are YOU are your problem.
"How could it be me?" you might ask. It's simple, you didn't set clear boundaries with your client. Your client can't possibly know when they are crossing boundaries if you're not clear on them yourself.
In this article, I'm going to cover three key boundaries I've set and enforce as a Social Media Manager for the sake of my mental health and to keep a healthy long-term relationship with my clients.
Texting with Your Clients
We all want to provide our clients with the best service we can provide and ensure they are confident in our abilities. You may go above and beyond responding to late-night texts about a post that is "URGENT" is goes out tomorrow, or your client may simply be venting to you about a negative comment on their business page. Either way both of these conversations will immediately trigger you and raise your cortisol levels eventually leaving you feeling drained and exhausted.
So, first things first, you have to take note of these triggers and TRAIN your clients to respect your boundaries. It's important to be enforced and be clear about these boundaries from the beginning. In the example, of your client texting you after business hours, ignore the text and respond to it via email the next morning during your business hours. If you don't want your clients texting you about projects altogether, then respond to any text that comes through in email to keep your tasks organized.
It's crucial you stay consistent with this no matter what the text may be. This practice may take a few times, but your client should start to get the picture fairly quickly. If after a few times of this, they continue to text you about work-related topics, you will have to address the situation. Again, respond to the text via email and then follow it up with a note that reads something like, "I would prefer to keep work-related conversations to email as it helps keep my tasks organized and allows for fewer items to be missed. I will no longer respond to work-related texts. I appreciate your understanding on this matter.".
Be Crystal Clear About Your Services
It's really easy to end up doing extra for a client even when it's not in your agreement. I am especially guilty of this! While I do believe it's important to provide your client with exceptional service, you still need to be clear about where you draw the line from the beginning.
One big one I make clear in any proposal or contract is the response time and timeframes to comments and messages on social media. It is absolutely impossible and detrimental to our mental health to feel like we need to be on social media 24/7 responding to any comment or DM that comes through. While yes, I would have to agree it important to get to these messages in a timely matter, especially since customers often expect an immediate response on social media, you still have to set guidelines to protect your mental health.
For example, depending on the package my clients choose, I outline our response time on social media starting at 24 hours during the week to within 12 hours a day. This way, in the case where a comment goes unanswered right away I can refer to this agreement. However, there are plenty of tools you can use to ensure these comments and messages are being answered right away that will save you the headache. But, you can't rely on these tools 100%, there are still times in which you will need to intervene.
Always remember, any extra work outside of your agreement equals additional fees. Just like a restaurant may charge extra for that side of guacamole, you have to charge extra no matter how small the project may be. I recommend being clear about that within your contract using some common examples of what that extra work may be. Start by pulling from previous experiences. A couple of examples of mine include taking extra photos, creating extra graphics, event coverage, and influencer management.
Don't Respond to "URGENT" Messages Right Away
Okay, you might be thinking... "Is she serious? How could you not immediately drop everything and handle an urgent message when it comes in?" And, yes I am serious. And here are a couple of reasons why...
1. If you're quick to respond to urgent messages, the more urgent messages you'll get.
By responding immediately, you don't train your client to look and plan ahead. For example, I once had a client who would frantically send me emails and text messages about her books not being full the next day and that we needed to post a "2-for-1" special that day. I would immediately drop everything, rearrange our scheduled posts to accommodate, and design a graphic to share. Despite multiple conversations with the client encouraging them to look ahead at their books and suggesting other offers and marketing campaigns, this continued to happen because I continued to accommodate.
I ended up firing this client, however, after some reflection, I realized I should have been more clear about my boundaries and enforced them from the beginning. I began enforcing these boundaries later in the relationship and by that time it was too late.
2. When something is marked "URGENT" it's usually not urgent.
Yes, you read that right. In my experience, I’ve noticed a trend where emails that are marked “urgent!” are not urgent or time-sensitive at all. While you'd assume people only send messages marked urgent when they are truly urgent, they are usually just trying to get a quick response from you or "cut the line". Don't give clients who send in these requests the idea that marking their email with a red exclamation mark will allow them to cut to the head of the line.
That about sums up my client boundaries. Unfortunately, all of these had to be learned the hard way as I suspect many of you can relate to. While everyone's boundaries may look different, it's important to be clear about what that looks like for you before taking on a client.
If you are currently dealing with difficult clients it's likely due to boundaries that you are both unclear about. Or, if you find boundaries are frequently being crossed despite enforcing them and addressing it with the client multiple times, it may be time to make the hard decision to cut that client loose. While the task of firing a client is difficult, you'll feel much lighter in the end. It may also free you up to provide your other clients with a better service that may have been lacking due to another client's "neediness".
Do you have an example of a boundary you've had to set with a client? I would love to hear it and I'm sure our readers would too! Spill the tea in the comments below.