When Should You Pass Up A Freelance Assignment?

Article by Wendy McCance

I never thought I would be writing this article.  I still struggle with this entire topic to be quite honest.  With the economy the way it is and writing assignments equalling food on the table, how could I possibly turn down any work?  Believe it or not, it has happened more often than I expected it to.

Turning down an assignment can be painful.  I am building a business and each assignment I get is like hitting the right numbers in the lottery.  Every new client can mean the possibility of getting several projects over the course of my career.  Each time I gain a new job, I think about all of the people they know and what the possibilities are that they will pass my name along to another person looking for a freelancer.

Why in the world would I possibly turn down a job?  The answer is that in some cases, passing on an opportunity is good for the health of my business.

There are some situations where although I will mull over an offer again and again, deep down I know that by passing, I am avoiding a possible train wreck situation.  I know that for my peace of mind, declining an offer can sometimes be the right move.  Below I have listed the situations where I have decided not to work with a client and why it was a good decision for me.  Everyone is different and what boundaries one person might have could be different for someone else.  The key is to find the right balance for yourself and knowing when to walk away.

1.  The assignment is way out of my league.

This happens when a topic is too technical or complex and I have no interest or ability in trying to create a solid piece of work from something I know nothing about.

2.  Getting in touch with a potential client is nearly impossible.  

I have had initial conversations with a potential client and then, crickets for weeks. Suddenly I will receive a call or email about a proposal and then waited several more weeks for an answer.  The relationship continues in this manner.  

This is one of those tricky situations when you try to gauge if there is a reason behind the lack of connecting or if this is basic protocol with the individual.  If this pattern continues, I bow out.  I just don’t have the time to track down a client and endlessly putting projects that are getting underway on hold is just too difficult.

Any research gets blurred when you have to drop the project for weeks before getting the next approval to move on.   It’s also frustrating to know how much additional work you can take on in a particular week when the project is on and off.

I have experienced arrangements where suddenly the assignment becomes highly important and it needs to be done within a few days after weeks of hearing nothing. Getting paid at the end of this type of arrangement is just as difficult.  

Like I said, everyone’s boundaries are different.  For me, I just don’t have the patience or interest in these stop and go relationships.

3.  The client makes me feel uncomfortable or something is just off.

If I feel something is not right, I go with my gut and pass.  It took time before I trusted my gut, but now I have faith in my decisions.  I have had experiences where people would drag me along dangling the carrot while going on and on about their services. One person a while back insisted I go to several shows where they were selling their wares so I could get a feel of what their business was all about.  I am all for going to a show and viewing what they do.  I won’t go each weekend to the latest show they will be in.  Honestly, I had a potential client ask me each weekend to visit them and, oh yeah, by the way, tell your friends and family and don’t forget to buy our product when you are there.  No thanks.  

I had another person ask me to go on tour to each conference where they would be speaking and using the same speech so that I could write articles for them.  One or two conferences, fine.  A few months travelling all over the state to hear the same thing?  Why do I need to do this again?  

I even had an experience with a potential client who was making a movie.  I was to do a press release. The second meeting turned into a PR meeting.  They spoke of how I would be finding people to advertise their film and what other things I could do to promote them, all while getting people to invest in the film.  I am not a PR person and I have no idea how to get people to invest in a film.  Even after I gave them a PR person’s number, they still felt I should be doing PR work as well.  It’s just not what I do.  I have no experience or interest in the type of PR they were looking for.

4.  They offered to pay in exposure.

I had a person ask if I would speak at the launch party for their business.  They said all of the important people who had financed the project would be there.  They felt it would be good exposure for me and that I would get recognition and new contacts.  

I looked up the person and the business and found one link, a half done website with no information.  I asked for more details and found out that what they needed was people to demonstrate a system they offered.  My “speaking engagement” was actually me working with people one on one while I showed them what this business could do for them.  It had absolutely nothing to do with the business I was in.  I was glad I really researched the company and asked so many questions.  Obviously, I declined.

I had another situation where a woman who was supposedly an “expert” in her field was gathering up several people to interview for a webinar.  She liked my blog and the message I was sending out about relationships.  She was tagging me as an “expert” in my field.  The title made me really uncomfortable.  I wasn’t an expert but a person with thoughts I expressed like everyone else out there.  

I put my gut instinct on hold and had a phone call with her.  I asked for the list of questions I would be asked before I did the interview.  I received the questions and they were horrible.  They didn’t make much sense and it looked like I would be just talking about whatever I could rack my brain to come up with.  I declined doing the webinar.

No matter what the situation actually is, passing  on an opportunity always feels like failing to me (even though I know better).  I stress over losing out on what could be some amazing possibility.  These are the times I voice my concerns to my husband.  He reaffirms my doubts and it makes it easier to decline an offer.

As your career takes off, no matter what type of career you are creating for yourself, you will have moments when you will need to turn down an offer.  The questions I ask myself before I decline are:

  • Is the opportunity real or just a carrot being dangled and a waste of my time?
  • Will the assignment make me look good or will I look foolish?  You have a reputation to think about.  You don’t want to take an opportunity that you can’t be proud of.
  • Do I have the time to commit to the project?  I won’t take an assignment if I don’t have the time to do my best work.
  • Am I comfortable with the person I will be working with?  If there are red flags, I walk away.
  • Do I have the expertise to do the project or can I figure out what I need to know.  I have written technical papers where between interviews with the client and a little research, I can put together a nice piece of work.  Sell sheets are a good example of this.  Even so, if the information is too technical or way out of my area of knowledge, it’s smarter for me to decline the job.

What about you?  Have you had experiences where you have turned down work? What were the deciding factors for you?

Wendy McCance

Wendy McCance is a Michigan based freelance writer and social media consultant. Wendy has gained attention as the founder of the popular blog Searching for the Happiness which can be viewed in 9 local papers online, including the Oakland Press. The combination of writing skills and social media knowledge is what makes Wendy such a powerhouse to work with. Stay tuned for opportunities to advertise, guest post and as always, have your questions answered.

To contact Wendy McCance about a writing or social media assignment, interview or speaking engagement, please email her at: [email protected]

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2 thoughts on “When Should You Pass Up A Freelance Assignment?

  1. Wendy, though I have no struggles with this question now, I have in the past. An article of this nature is very useful for those writers who do though, thank you for such a beacon of light in a thick forest of questioning in that area. So, I have had some experiences where I have turned down work. But my philosophy is, if one opportunity closes, another one will ultimately open in line with W. Clement Stone’s “Do you have a problem? That’s good. Let’s look for what is good about this ‘bad’ situation.” Understanding that fact takes away the struggle for me, and lets me genuinely go where my “bread is productively buttered.” I know how that sounds in a way, but I not only apply this to my writing, but to many and probably all areas of my life. Sure, struggle is a working person’s part of life, but it is the workman, understanding is the genuine king, queen and knight of it all genuinely because genuine understanding will win over struggle every time, and anyone with it for real can take that to the bank and cash it.

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