When to Say No to Work

If you have a successful business, you may be too busy to accept every job. Here's how to decide which jobs to pass on.
2 min read

Q: Sometimes when extra work comes in, I feel like we're too busy to take it on--but I don't want to pass anything up. When should I turn down a project?

A: This is the time to ask that famous question, "What's in it for me?" If you're stretched to the limit and something irresistible comes in, you probably should do it. If it's irresistible, then there's probably something about the project that you're excited about, whether it's the money, a terrific opportunity down the road or the chance to align yourself with somebody you've been hoping to work with. It's when you feel a sense of dread overpowering that sense of duty that you should really listen to your inner voice.

If you're simply planning on taking a project to please a client, but you know that it's going to hurt your output on other assignments, and you know you're going to wake up every morning uneasy until the project has passed, then this is probably a very good time to say no.

After all, what you don't want is to take on an extra project that doesn't make financial sense, and then fail your client or another client. Every business has a tipping point, where they can handle so much and no more, and you obviously don't want to go over the edge. But what if you really want to take the project but simply feel there's no time? Well, maybe this is the moment to hire an additional member to your team or at least bring on a contract employee. It's your call.

But there's another reason to consider turning down a project. You may have outgrown your client or the assignment. Every successful business evolves, and sometimes part of expanding means moving into territory that is more advanced than what you were initially doing, and by taking on that dreaded project, it might actually be holding you back rather than helping you. So in the end, it really does come down to that question, "What's in it for me?" If the answer is "nothing," then you have your answer.

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