No. One word, two letters. It’s one of the shortest words in the English language and probably one of the first we all learned as children. So why can it be so difficult to utter this single synonym when it comes to dealing with client requests? Why can’t we just say no to freelance work?
The unpredictability inherent in a freelance career can often cause a slight feeling of panic, especially when a contract is coming to an end and you’ve not yet found a replacement income source. I’m willing to bet that even the most cautious of freelancers has made a poor decision when caught in ‘desperation mode’, an experience I recently had myself. Since my recent misadventures in poor decision making I thought it prudent to come up with a way to effectively combat desperation mode and the poor decisions it can spawn.
In one of my previous job roles I held a position which required a simple yet extensive vetting process aimed at accurately assessing prospects and their suitability. If one of the criteria wasn’t met, you simply stopped the progression of that particular prospect before moving on to the next one. I thought this may be a good approach to client sourcing, and even though it’s been a short while I’ve managed to filter three low paying clients and land one who on his own provides a comfortable living wage.
Setting up your own criteria is a simple task that should take no more than 30 minutes. I’m sure that most freelancers criteria will be the same, but you want to consider if there are any extra areas specific to you, your needs and your industry.
These criteria will form the crux of your clients qualification process, if you’re ever approached by a client who doesn’t hit all of your criteria, politely say no to the work. It may sound harsh, but you don’t want to be locked into a contract with a poor client, especially if it means you don’t have the time to accommodate a dream client who then approaches you a month later.
Why You Should Say No
I’d recommend everyone come up with their own criteria as you’re the only one who fully understands your own situation and needs. That being said, I’ve provided the generic criteria I use below to help illustrate what I’m trying to communicate. I’m pretty sure that the majority of these considerations will be applicable to you and your situation.
Trust your instinct. If you’re getting a gut feeling that this client is going to be more trouble than they’re worth, you’re probably right. You may not be one of the veteran freelancers who can pick a charlatan out at a hundred paces but I bet you can still pick up on when someone is being a little shady or deceitful. If you’re getting the feeling that something isn’t right and the client isn’t doing anything to allay your fears, drop them as politely as you can.
Negotiating over rates is a fundamental aspect of any business deal. Offers and counter offers are expected, but when you’re a freelancer I’d strongly advise against any negotiations. Know your minimum acceptable rate and do not accept anything below it. If the client wants the work done for cheaper, even by $5, they can find someone else. Trust me when I say that if a client is refusing to meet your rates at the beginning, the likelihood of a raise later down the line is slim.
As a freelancer you’re probably juggling numerous deadlines on a day to day basis and will have the next week or two booked out to allow adequate time for each piece of work. If a client throws an emergency job with a very tight deadline into the mix and you accept, you may be compromising the quality of the piece and letting yourself in for extra, unnecessary stress. You’ve got three options with this, the first is to outright decline the work stating you just don’t have the time.
The second is to ask for an extension on the deadline. Be sure to outline the benefit of giving you a few extra days. The below template is a start, but will need a little customisation and addition of the benefit a few days can offer.
I understand that it’s important for you to get this project finished by [date], and whilst I can hit this deadline, if I could have [extra days] I’d be able to deliver a piece of a much higher quality.
If they’re insistent on the tight deadline you have option number three. There are plenty of freelancers out there who charge extra for rush jobs. Rush jobs are going to eat into your personal time so you should be properly compensated for your efforts. Look into adding a rate for rush jobs to your website so the client knows that it’s actually a service you offer.
When it comes to quoting your rates never, ever quote on an hourly basis. Always go with a per word or per project fee. Not only can the ambiguity of an hourly rate cause friction with a client later on, you could also be cheating yourself out of a better rate.
The client doesn’t know how long it’s going to take you to complete the project. You might think that an article will take 2 hours and you want to charge $150 for it. $150 for a completed project sounds far more agreeable than $75 per hour.
Hourly rates also pose problems as your working relationship develops. As you get more proficient and knowledgeable in the clients niche and needs, you’re going to take less time to complete a project. If you start taking half the time, you’re only getting half the pay.
If a client is pushing you to accept an hourly rate and won’t accept a per project fee, you know what to do.
This is a difficult area to properly evaluate as it will differ for everyone based on their own beliefs. I’ve joked with my friends that I’m a ‘word mercenary’, I don’t care about your cause or what you stand for. As long as the colour of your money is good, I’ll accept the job. The statement was made in fun and isn’t entirely serious, but may well hold a little more truth than I’d like to admit.
That being said all of my clients are offering a service intended to help and educate people. But what if you were approached by a meat distribution company who’d been accused of animal cruelty, if you’re an animal lover would you want to take the job?
The moral implications behind every job will come up sooner or later. Usually they’re so small as to not be noticeable, but if there’s something about the company or their practices that doesn’t sit well with you, don’t sell out and hate yourself for a couple of extra dollars in your pocket.
I’ve been burned by not doing proper background checks on a client. You’re not going to need to get a full workup but with the internet at your disposal you’ll be able to get a good idea of exactly who they are and how they operate.
Check their website, whether they’re hiring (it shows they have some spare money in the budget), the source of their income and yearly profits, cross reference any contact info they provide and check out their social proof through review sites, social media and testimonials. If there’s anything amiss, once again, it’s time to say goodbye.
How to Say No
I’m a big believer in not burning your bridges. Editors move around and you don’t want to annoy someone who could then move to a company you want to write for. There’s also the immediate implications of an editor telling their editor friends what a pain you were to work with, even if it was the editor’s fault.
I always force myself to remember that we’re both just trying to get the best deal we can. The rate offered might not be good for me, but for someone out there it could be perfect, be polite and let them know this job isn’t for you.
I’ve used variations of the below with potential clients to great effect, I actually received an update email from one around 30 minutes ago about company developments and new potential work.
I’m sorry but your rates are lower than the minimum I can accept. I would however still be interested in working with you. Should you have any work that comes on for [insert your minimum rate] I’d be very interested to receive some info.
Thanks and speak soon.
They’ve all kept me on file for work that comes in at my rate (or so they say!). I like to shoot them an email every so often just to see how things are going and to keep my name fresh in their memory.
For such a simple word it seems as though there are plenty of freelancers out there who have an aversion to saying no. It’s a word associated with negativity and a lack of progress. What you need to remember is that there’s a difference between a lack of progress and progressing in the wrong direction. I believe it’s better to sometimes halt your progression to ensure than when things do start moving forward that they are going in the way you want them to. Once you start accepting work from clients who don’t treat you as well as you deserve, it can be difficult to break free of their grasp.
No isn’t a dirty word and if you want to be earning enough to live comfortably from your freelance efforts, there are times when you’re going to have to dish it out liberally. Just remember to be polite!
Making the conscious decision to decline an offer of work is actually a positive step. It demonstrates your recognition of what you and your services are worth and that you’re only willing to work with clients who also recognise your value. Make sure you say no to freelance work where you think something is amiss, it can be an oddly liberating feeling.
What are your client pre qualification criteria? Do you use a similar method or has an absence of vetting caused you to get burned in the past like I have? I’d love to hear your input on the matter, if you’ve got anything you want to say, have a word in the comments below.
Images – sboneham