Those Jobs You Don’t Want

I'm well beyond the point in my career where I'll take whatever comes. I'm to the point, in fact, where I won't take a gig if it isn't ideal.

Here's my top criteria for even talking to a client about a gig:

  • It has to appeal to me
  • The pay has to be ideal
  • The job can't suck up most of my time
  • The client has to be respectful

There are other factors too, such as a gig that challenges me in a good way or a new area of concentration I've been wanting to try. Each opportunity that comes along has its own set of requirements, and they have to mesh with what I'm okay with.

Yet there I was recently, having been shoved into a conversation about a job I didn't want, have turned down twice, and will not be talked into. The guy is nice, but nice doesn't make the gig any less appealing. I've told him in email -- twice -- that not only am I not interested, but I don't think I'm going to fit the bill.

I cancelled a call I didn't want in the first place and told him -- one last time -- that this just wasn't going to work. I know he was under the gun as he'd lost someone he relied on heavily (full-time work beckoned). Not my fire, not my emergency.

It brings up a good point about writers and our resolve. We see each client as a person, yet when it comes to negotiations, we need to be turning that side of our brains off. Emotion has no place in negotiations, nor does it have any place in decision-making other than the criteria I listed above (I have to love it). Yet we cave unnecessarily. We give in because a friend asked, a client who's sweet is in need, or we reason that it can't be all that bad. We turn off our instincts long enough to screw up and resent ourselves for it.

So how many times has this happened to you? When was your A-ha moment, that point in your career where you stopped letting emotion rule? How often does it come up these days, and how do you handle it?

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Professional writer and editor with over 15 years of experience in trade and business writing. Specialties in risk management and insurance.

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4 thoughts on “Those Jobs You Don’t Want”

  1. This hasn’t happened to me often thankfully, but when it has it’s always been with previous clients — folks I’d already built a relationship with. In those cases I can be a bit more attached (I’m quite friendly with a few clients who have been around for the better part of a decade now). But I’ve gotten pretty good at avoiding emotional decisions. If they want something I can’t offer, or don’t want to, I refer them to someone who’s a better fit. In most cases they leave it at that, trust my judgement, and contact my colleague. Once in a while they push back and insist it has to be me. I used to cave once in a while, but now I just don’t have time for it. They get the referral and I’m hands-off from there. I have the same policy for new prospects — if I’m not interested, they get a referral (if I know someone specializing in what they want), and then I stay out of it.

    I refer projects out all the time and for a variety of reasons. In most cases the client simply can’t afford me (including older clients who could in the past and can’t anymore for whatever reason — they get referred to newer, cheaper writers). The majority of other referrals happen because the project doesn’t interest me, the client has a short deadline that I’m not willing or able to squeeze into my schedule, or I know from their project brief that I’m not going to be a good fit for their project. In each case I try to match them with a writer who could do the project justice. Emotion rarely comes into play when dealing with new prospects thankfully, but that wasn’t always the case so I can understand how newer folks might struggle with that. If you’re the emotional type in business, I suppose it just takes time and experience to work past it.

  2. Great topic. I often see freelancer advice posts warning about avoiding “red flag” prospects or dumping bad clients, but what if they’re an objectively good client that’s just not a good fit for you? I always struggle in those instances to decide whether to give it a try, or turn it down & refer. I’m also just starting my 3rd year in full-time business, so I’m still figuring out what IS a good fit for me.

    As far as talking with prospects & emotions getting involved, I don’t really have an issue. I used to agonize over wording my rejection emails exactly right, but I quickly realized I was probably spending WAY more time thinking about it than they did, and that it was a waste of my time. Now I write quickly, keep it polite, firm, & straight to-the-point, and hit send! If they try to argue, I keep my reply even shorter. More words = more points for them to argue with.

    BUT when it’s an existing long-time client, I do find it tough to negotiate, because I like them and care about their reactions, and want to continue our relationship on good terms. I tend to worry too much about possibly offending people or making them angry, when logically I know that won’t happen.

  3. The emotion factor is more of a thing with old clients who’ve been there since whenever. With new clients, I’ve got very good at deciding what’s a good fit for me and I make a lot of referrals to writing friends.

  4. That’s so true! It’s very rare for me to give a flat no to anyone if they’re happy to pay my full hourly rate. But a few months ago I got approached by a friend of a friend who speaks all the time in non sequiturs to a point of pure nonsense. Before he even mentioned anything about his project, I knew I had to say no. Being able to communicate well with the client is crucial to good work, but talking with him was excruciating. I agonised over how to say no politely but firmly.. I thought of giving all sorts of reasons for it, but each of those would give him something to argue with. The only honest reason would have been “I just don’t want to talk to you”, but that’s hardly very nice. In the end, I just emailed through “Sorry, this is not the kind of work I want to take on.”

    Normally though, if I have objections then I’ll voice them – if they can adequately address them then I might want to take on the work after all.


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