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What, Turn Down a Job?

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Recently I parted ways with a long time client.  It was an agonizing decision: my contact person had always been wonderful to work with.  The projects I worked on were always right up my alley.  So why did I ditch this seemingly perfect client?  Their payment came from a third party, and typically took up to a year to arrive. And if I didn’t put pressure on them, I’d probably never get paid at all.

I had prepped myself for this for months.  I told myself that before taking another project, I’ll explain the problem and suggest better payment terms. If no improvement could be made, I’ll pass on the job. However, I accepted ‘just one more’ assignment a few too many times before I finally bit the bullet.

It can be hard to turn down a client, especially in this still-questionable economy. But there are times when it’s better to draw your shutter than to jeopardize your sanity and work flow just to please one client. Here are five examples of when it may be time to let go of a client by firing them:

1. Unreliable Payer

As I discovered, when payment arrives on a slow boat from China, or if a client acts financially unpredictable more than once, rethink why you stick with them.

2. High Overhead

An overly demanding customer will steal time away from your other endeavors.  “I once turned down a client because the ongoing work would have consumed about 80% or more of my time,” says Rachel Lom, Corporate Writer and owner of Write Image, LLC in Appleton, Wisconsin. “I think it can be bad business practice to put all your proverbial eggs into one basket. To make this work, I would have had to turn down other work and basically devote myself to this client.”

3. Too Annoying

Some clients just have a high annoyance factor: they require too much hand-holding, insist you follow specific procedures or attend unrelated meetings, or other potential problems. These annoyances may become apparent from your previous experiences with them, from rumors mentioned by other freelancers, or just the vibe they give you. Decide what your red flags are, and stand by them.

4. Questionable Outcome

Sometimes, trusting your instinct is a smart business move. “As a professional ghostwriter, I always trust my intuition and turn down book projects that I feel are too unfocused, plagiaristic, not marketable,” says Novelist/Playwright/Ghostwriter/Script Consultant Christina Hamlett of Pasadena, California.  “In the initial consultation I do with each prospective client, I can generally glean a sense of what they’d be like by the types of questions they ask, the amount of work they’ve already done, and their knowledge of the publishing industry.”

5. Too Random

Some clients micro-manage you, others set you free like a helium balloon on a summer’s day. The latter will leave you spending too much time trying to figure out exactly what they want.  They themselves probably don’t know what they want, until you’re finished, when they’re certain that what you delivered wasn’t what they wanted.  “I’m always wary of  ’mission creep‘, that is, when the assignment expands for the same money agreed to at the outset, or some other rendition of that,” says Financial Writer Bruce W. Fraser. If a potential project seems too unspecified, get the details before going further, and be sure to clarify your terms for revisions and rework.

It can be tough to say no, but if you do end up bypassing a job, don’t beat yourself up over it. Remind yourself of your reasons, then use your energy to focus on marketing efforts.

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