Is there ever a time when you should refuse a job? All freelancers are eventually faced with this dilemma. In my view, there are some situations when saying no to a piece of work is a viable option.
1. You can’t satisfy the client
If a client comes to you and offers a piece of work and you don’t think you can deliver what they’re after you should politely refuse the job. Remember, your Number One priority is to solve problems for clients – not become a problem yourself.
Late in 2009, I was offered a story by a publisher. I knew the people involved and really wanted to help them. Another writer was scheduled to write a feature but they pulled out at short notice. I was asked to do the story but had to give it a lot of thought. The deadline was short and the Christmas/New Year break was in the middle of the time I had available. That made lining up the six interviews I needed really tricky.
I asked the editor if I could have a few hours to think about it. In that time, I made a few calls, did some research and worked out that, if I could negotiate an extra couple of days with the editor, I could take the job.
As it turned out, I was able to negotiate a slightly extended deadline and I took the work.
That turned out to be the start of an ongoing working partnership and I’ve since written several features for that publication.
However, if at the end of my short research phase I felt that I wasn’t going to solve my editor’s problem I’d have said no to the job and passed on the names of a couple of other journalists that might have been able to help. That way, even if I didn’t directly solve the problem, I could provide an alternative solution.
2 – Ethics
Although I have posted some advice on work ethics, I’ve not previously discussed personal ethics.
A while ago, a prospective client called me (he found my details in the freelance register maintained by my union) and asked if I could help him write a business plan for a venture he was embarking upon. I asked him a for a few details and he explained what he was planning to do in this venture.
Without going into specifics about the prospective client, I felt that the set of beliefs he wanted to promote in his venture was completely in opposition to mine. Although the pay cheque would have been nice I could not, in good conscience, be involved in promoting what this client was into.
I refused the job politely letting the client know why I was unable to work with him.
3 – The payment is not worth it
Freelancers often don’t know where their next pay packet is coming from. That leads to the temptation to take any job, no matter how poorly it pays. Here’s a great example from a friend of mine.
The publisher wanted a local journo for the local paper to file up to 18 stories a week + photographs and captions. The pay? $250/week flat.
Now, let’s do the maths here. Let’s say that the 18 stories were about 300 words each. That’s 5400 words per week. I’d say that with travelling, interviews and transcription and then sorting thorough photo, cropping and making other adjustments that there was easily a week’s work.
So this publisher, who has a readership in the hundreds of thousands, wanted to pay someone less that a week’s rent for all that.
When you’re desperate for work, it’s easy to say that you’ll take anything but jobs like that just aren’t worthwhile. The pay is below what’s needed to survive in a western city and the amount of work is so great that you’ll not have the time or energy to pursue more lucrative opportunities.
Don’t let a potential client exploit you.
So, have you ever said no to a job? When is it OK to just say no? What advice would you give a new freelancer, making a start? Share your experience by adding a comment.