When to Turn Down Work

In 1 on December 3, 2009 at 8:33 pm

“No” is a word not often found in a freelancer’s vocabulary. In a world without a steady paycheck or a guarantee of the next round of work, (and yes, “in this economy”) why on earth would we ever turn down work? Well, I’m here to give you a few good reasons to save you trouble, waste and hassle so that you can continue to make room for the good work.

Top 5 Reasons for Freelancers to Turn Down Work (not in order of importance!).

1. Unreasonable Time Constraints. Recently I had to turn down a copy-edit for a client who had contacted me over the summer wanting an edit for his dissertation. He said he would “get back to me” with a total word count “soon.”  6 months later he was back. And he wanted his edit done in 10 days. No amount of money was going to make it work without the kind of stressful squeeze. The stress of that kind of rush job can also make for sloppy mistakes!

2. Dubious Origin. If you have no way to verify the identity of the person who has contacted you–all you get is an email inquiry, they haven’t come by referral, don’t have a website or give a phone number, don’t trust they’ll pay you! Better to pass. (P.S. It’s also good to get some kind of a deposit up front in this case).

3. Unwillingness to Sign a Contract. No matter whether I edit or write, I get the details of every project in writing. For my own clients I put together an agreement. When I work for others, I ask for one if it isn’t offered. Any person, organization or publication unwilling to put together a contract is a risk you don’t need to take.

4.  Over-promising. This is certainly related to time constraints, but this time they’re yours. It’s never a good idea to say yes to a project you really aren’t sure you can complete in the time the client needs it. The money might be tempting, but the risk of upsetting a client is worse–they can spread bad word of mouth! Better to trust that by turning away something you can’t do, you make room for the next good thing.

5.  Doing Favors. If I ever were to be a lawyer, I’d want to take on pro-bono cases. And the same thing goes for us editors and writers. We inevitably befriend a lot of people who need the very services we offer. I like to help people, but sometimes, when you’re the “go to” writer/editor for your friends, you’re going to have to turn down helping them for free, or at that time, in favor of your paycheck. It’s painful. But if they’re really friends, they won’t make you choose between their friendship and your livelihood!

So remember, sometimes saying “no” is really saying “yes” to better options.


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