Setting Boundaries 101

RyanFor DevelopersLeave a Comment

Have you ever had a client call you at 11pm on Sunday night because they’re locked out of their AOL email account? And before you even have time to fathom the fact that someone is still using AOL mail, you realize that they sent you 14 text messages after you hadn’t returned an email that they sent you 7 minutes ago?

aol-logoFirst off, if you’re reading this, you’re probably a designer or a developer. You’re not an IT guy. I assume you never signed up to try and help a client remember the password to their email. Just like you didn’t sign up to be their personal trainer when they’re trying to work an iPhone for the first time.

These are all real things that have happened to me when I was hired to build a website. Why was I getting these crazy requests that literally have nothing to do with my job description?

Let’s add fuel to the fire.

You know what I did in many of these scenarios? I helped the client. And you know what I shouldn’t have done? Helped the client. You might say “hey, that sounds pretty jaded and bitter” and while I’m not necessarily saying that I’m not those things, I am saying that it doesn’t apply here.

In fact, most of the time it’s not the business owner’s fault.

Did you previously help the client with an issue like this? It seemed innocent enough and it was “super easy” – no big deal, right? Still, you’re essentially telling the client that it’s okay to call you to fix issues that have nothing to do with the website you were hired to build. If you’re cool with that, more power to ya, but I find it’s a distraction from what I’m actually good at and a serious strain on my time.

Most of the time the problem stems from not setting realistic expectations with the client. Is there a contract detailing the in’s and out’s of the project? While these things will never prevent 100% of the cringe-worthy inquiries you’re going to receive as a developer, they’ll certainly give you a nice out when you say the word “no”.

When you go to the doctor, would you ask “hey doc, while you’re at it, can you get me a quick x-ray of this cavity?” …after all, their name-tag has one of those fancy abbreviations following their last name, surely they’re qualified…

The Bottom Line:

Can I borrow a toolbar?

These toolbar add-ons really enhance my browsing experience.

Even if it’s a problem that you can solve fairly quickly – which most of the time it probably will be – you’re opening a can of worms.

I don’t enjoy watching anyone struggle with an issue that I know that I can easily solve. It actually pains me at times. The fact is, there’s a time and a place.

When my old man has 14 malware toolbars in his browser, and is asking me why innocent Google links are hijacked and taking him to weird ecommerce sites, I’ll clean it up for him. This post isn’t about that. With your clients, expectations are critical. You don’t want to be the first one on-call when an issue is taking place that has nothing to do with your business model.

Now please excuse me while I go read the news on

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