Freelance Clients: The Difference Between Friends & Friendly


Things have changed so much for the freelance writing world, even in the last five years or so. Advances in technology naturally led to advances in communication. This is especially apparent in how we deal with our clients. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t even consider talking to a client after regular “business hours.” Now, everyone is online all the time. Freelancers wouldn’t even think of contacting clients at home, now we have all sorts of avenues in which to contact clients during their off hours. What I find most interesting is how many relationships have crossed from freelancer/client to a sort of friendship.

The difference between “friend” and “friendly”

Friendly means pleasant and we should always be friendly with our clients. Even when we need to be firm or put our feet down, we can still do so while being friendly. A friendship implies more. A friendship is a bond. It means you and your client passed beyond that client/freelancer relationship and now want to take it to a new level of going out for drinks, talking about the kids, and sharing pumpkin pie recipes. Now, this isn’t a bad thing. Many wonderful relationships come out of client/freelance relationships, but it also presents many challenges.

Is this a good idea?

I always think it’s a good idea to have a pleasant, friendly relationship with clients, but when it crosses the line into full-fledged friendships it can cross the lines in other areas as well. For example:

  • When we allow our clients access to social media profiles, such as our Facebook pages, they now know what we’re doing all weekend. They’re looking at pictures of our family and videos from karaoke night. Do you really want that? I once received a distressed message from a freelancer whose client keeps contacting her on weekends because he can see from her Facebook page that she’s not busy.
  • Client friends may expect friendship type privileges.  They may want discounts, freebies and rush jobs. Saying no might put a strain on the relationship.
  • Clients who have your home phone number and cell phone may feel as if they can call anytime.
  • Clients may take things personally rather than professionally. Problems with a friendship will eventually spill over into the professional relationship.

How to not cross that line

Whether you’re a friend or a friendly, you’ll have to establish boundaries so lines aren’t crossed.

  • Establish business hours: Whether a client is a friend or someone with whom you’re friendly, it’s important to establish boundaries. Don’t allow calls after business hours or during weekends or family times. If a client is a friend, make sure he knows  business stuff is out during certain times.
  • Don’t release privileged information: Though a client may be a friend, he shouldn’t be privy to information regarding other clients. Never violate another client’s trust.
  • Don’t allow a client/friend to come between other business relationships: You would never let your friends dictate how you do business and your client friends shouldn’t get in the way either. Don’t allow client friends to influence how your business decisions or which clients and projects you choose to take on.
  • Set some ground rules: Let the client know if he’s going to be your friend, you have to establish boundaries such as those laid out above… and he can’t cross the line.

There’s a different between being friendly and having a genuine friendship with a client. If you’re going to be good friends, be prepared for all can come with it. Also, be prepared to possibly lose your client if the friendship ends.

Do you enter into friendships with certain clients? If so, how do you establish boundaries?






5 responses
  1. Sharon Hurley Hall Avatar

    This is a good reason to segment friends lists on Facebook and use different privacy settings for each of them. I only share family photos with a few people. I’m also thinking of creating a client list which can see more than my limited profile but less than my friends.

  2. Laura Spencer Avatar

    I actually took my first Facebook account private (friends and family only). I did this primarily because all of my young relatives were friending me and I was uncomfortable having clients, many of whom were acquaintances, see the kids’ images on my wall.

    I do have another “business” Facebook for clients. It is still in the beginning stages, though.

    Good post!

  3. Jennifer L Avatar

    I am friends with two clients on Facebook. However, both of them are longtime friends–one a family friend and one a college friend–for whom I just recently started doing some freelance work. It would be weird to unfriend them, so I haven’t, and I don’t plan to.

    That being said, I would not accept a friend request or send a friend request to any other clients. For all the reasons that you cited!

  4. Jodee Avatar

    I have a different take on the friendly vs. friend concept. When I worked in the brick and mortar world, I could never figure out how much personal information was “safe” to share with people at work. So I was friendly but never revealed too much about myself.

    I have a few clients who are also friends, and those relationships started off as professional first and evolved over time. It hasn’t been a problem for our working relationship, because I think we are all grown up enough to appreciate the difference between “work” time and “social” time. And none of them have ever expected “extras” because we are friends, too.

  5. Michelle Kulas Avatar

    I think that it can be a tough line to draw, and that it varies depending on the client. For example, I have a couple of longterm clients who do know how old my kids are, what grades they’re in, etc… and I know the same about their kids. I’ve been working with them for a few years now, and these things get discussed at some point. I will also tell them why I’ll be unavailable one week… we’re going to Disney World, or I have family visiting from overseas. I have other clients, though, who have no idea whether or not I even have children, because it simply has never come up. I typically follow their lead; if they want to share personal(ish) info, then I will, too, to a point. It’s all about balance.

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