7 Ways to Set Boundaries as a Self-Employed or Freelance Creative

Let’s talk boundaries.

It can be difficult to set boundaries as a freelancer or self-employed person, since we tend to feel like we need to be constantly “on.” However, not setting healthy boundaries can result in fatigue, reduced productivity, reduced enjoyment, or feelings of resentment, not to mention burnout.

In short: boundaries can help both your wellbeing and your business to thrive. But, where to begin?

Keep scrolling for 7 ways to set boundaries as a self-employed or freelance creative.

Set boundaries: teal living room, teal armchair and midcentury sideboard with artwork

7 ways to set boundaries as a self-employed or freelance creative

1. Say no to below-rate or unpaid work

I know, from experience, that it’s really easy to fall into the trap of accepting work out of fear. Fear that you might not earn as much as you’d like one month (and therefore convince yourself that something is surely better than nothing), or fear that the client won’t offer you work in the future.

Let’s clear something up: you never have to say yes to below-rate or unpaid work if you don’t want to – after all, exposure never paid any bills. Of course, there may be instances where a low- or unpaid project arises that you feel passionate about, in which case go for it. However, filling your time with work that doesn’t reflect your skills and experience is likely to lead to stress and feelings of resentment.

Set aside time to have a good think about your rate, and the kind of commissions you’d consider accepting a smaller fee for – if any at all. Remain firm with your rate and, during instances where clients do not have enough budget for your fee, negotiate on the deliverables (in other words: reduce the number of tasks to complete or the time commitment) – not the pay. If you aren’t sure where to start with setting your rate, sign up to my mailing list to receive 5 weeks of free advice on charging for your time as a freelance creative.

And, remember: if you’re overstretching yourself to complete below-rate projects that leave you feeling unvalued, you’re leaving yourself less time and less energy to seek more fulfilling and better-paid work. Something to think about… 

2. Try not to compare your journey to others’

You know what they say – comparison is the thief of joy.

Whilst looking to others for inspiration can be helpful, if you find yourself comparing your journey to theirs as opposed to using their achievements as reminders that you too can achieve what you set out to, then it’s time to have a talk with yourself.

Try to remember that there are no time limits and that we’re all on our own – very unique – journeys, and that someone else’s success doesn’t diminish yours.

3. Limit your time spent with people who don’t add anything positive to your life

Whether you’re a self-employed or freelance creative or not, I cannot stress enough how important it is to protect your time and your energy.

Too much time spent around negative energy or people who make you question your self-worth is draining. It can affect your work – not to mention your wellbeing.

Try to set boundaries with people who don’t add anything positive to your life. Online, this can look like unfollowing or muting certain people on social accounts. In person, it could look like reducing the frequency of meet-ups, choosing very specific locations or activities for meet-ups, or respectfully changing conversation topics if the discussion starts to become draining.

4. Prioritise rest and recovery

This one surely goes without saying, but when work gets busy it’s common for self-care to fall off the to-do list first.

Remember, though: you do your best work when you’re feeling your best, therefore, your wellbeing should be priority numero uno.

That doesn’t mean you need to dedicate hours a day to obscure self-care practices. Find a few health and wellbeing rituals that help you to feel calm, centred, and refreshed, and schedule at least one every day. My favourites are pilates, reading, meditation, and taking time to savour a good cup of coffee.

5. Agree the terms and conditions ahead of starting work on a project

Sometimes we’re so keen to hit the ground running on a project that we forget to double-check the details, but this can result in communication breakdowns.

Set boundaries and clear up all the terms and conditions from the get-go – ensure you and the client are agreed on your rate, the deliverables, time commitments, availability for catch-ups, expenses, amends, and so on, otherwise you risk burning out.

6. Outsource

If an opportunity arises to outsource some tasks to lessen your load – don’t hesitate.

Outsourcing tasks that are time-consuming (and don’t need your input), such as admin, or that someone else is better qualified or more experienced to complete will allow you to complete your jobs more efficiently. You’ll have more time and brain space to get creative, which only sounds like a win to me.

7. Take time off

Rest is extremely underrated. Resting helps to boost creativity and energy levels, meaning improved output and likely an increased feeling of fulfillment. 

Schedule regular breaks from work – evenings away from a screen, random afternoons to spoil yourself, and bigger breaks to really refresh, and make sure you honour them (that means no cancelling your you-time when last-minute commissions come in, if you can help it).

Set an out of office and schedule social posts using a tool like Later in advance to allow yourself to really switch off.