When to Say "No" to a Client - Potential or Otherwise
by Chris King

As free agents, independent professionals, and freelancers, we all experience the panic brought on by lean times. It is when we don’t have a current project with the income rolling in that we are tempted to say “yes” to almost any offer that comes our way, whether it is to our liking or interests or not. I suggest that we take our time to consider the pros and cons of all offers and have the gumption to say "no" when it is in our best interest to do so.

First ask yourself, "Is this a project that I will enjoy working on?" Tempting as it may be - especially if the money offer is generous - you should still turn down any project that promises to be a drag or a threat to your artistic integrity. I am not referring to projects that don't use all of your creative ability - many good, solid projects don't. I am referring to projects that you would have to force yourself to work on and complete. It wouldn't be fair to you or your client. I believe that if we aren't enjoying what we are doing, the work will reflect our attitude. Even the simplest and most straight-forward project can be enjoyable and will carry a touch of our enthusiasm if we have enjoyed producing it.

Next ask yourself, "Is this a project that I'll be proud to tell others I produced?" Even if you rationalize that you would never add a sample of this work to your portfolio, you will know that you produced it, and just knowing that can eat away at your self esteem. For example, I was called in to talk with a realtor about doing a website for his company. One of the first questions I ask before suggesting the scope of a site and making any proposal is what other sites the potential client likes and what he or she likes the most about those sites. This particular man just loves animation. Using a butterfly as part of his logo, he wanted a butterfly that continually flew all over the pages of his site. He also talked of a background of butterflies. This just isn't my style or an approach that I would be proud of incorporating into my work. I turned it down.

Now ask yourself, "What will I learn and how will I grow from completing this project?" I don't know if learning and growing are as important to you as they are to me, but the perfect project in my mind is the one that challenges me in new ways. It pushes me to try new approaches, learn new ways of accomplishing outcomes, and helps me achieve a higher level of expertise than what I had when I began the project. I know that it is impossible to always be offered the perfect project, and sometimes it is a relief to work on a project that is comfortable and familiar. If, however, I can honestly say upon completion of a project that I learned at least one new technique or fact, I am satisfied.

It's time to be completely honest with yourself and ask, "Is this a project that I am capable of doing well, professionally, and within the designated timeline?" I know that I just finished suggesting tackling projects that are challenging and that force us to grow, but we do need to honestly consider the other side of the story. If completing a project will take up so much of your time learning new techniques that you can’t possibly complete it in a timely manner, it is probably better to be up front and say that at this time the work is not within your realm. If the potential client still wants you to do it, and is in no rush, you have been honest and professional, and you may just surprise both of you by finishing more quickly and easily than you ever imagined you could.

And the final question, and perhaps one of the trickiest and hardest to answer is, "Do I want to work with this particular client?" We all know that there are "clients" and there are other "clients" both good and bad, both easy and difficult. Some are so delighted to work with a professional that they give minimal direction, value our suggestions, give us all of the information we need when we need it, and reimburse us quickly for completed work. Most clients are not this wonderful, but are still bearable if we do our part as a professional. Unfortunately, there are clients who border on the impossible. They are demanding, unpleasant, rude, and hard to please. They "know it all" and will tell you that immediately. Personally, I avoid working for these people, even when I desperately need the money. Because often these same people who are so difficult throughout a project are the ones who also have difficulty when it comes to paying their bills. I don't need the stress or the hassle and neither do you. In this case, the customer is not always right.

Remember to take your time accepting when offered a project. Be sure to ask yourself all the questions, and even more than I have highlighted. You will be glad you did, and so will the future of your career as a free agent, independent professional, and freelancer.


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