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6 Times You Should Turn Down Work

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When I left my 9-to-5 to start my freelance , I took every job that came my way. No, seriously. I wanted so badly to buck the “most businesses fail in their first year” stereotype that I was determined not to run out of cash at any cost.


I won’t say I regret it, because if I’d been too picky in those first few meager months I might not still be in the game today, two years later. I should have gotten picky a lot sooner, though.

No one told me it’s okay to turn down work. So here I am, telling you. These are six surefire signs it’s a good idea to pass on a job.

1. When the price is wrong
Set your rates and stick to them -- no exceptions. When you take less money than you feel you deserve, you end up resenting the job.

And another thing -- price-haggling clients almost always turn out to be a pain later on down the road. If you charge X dollars for this gig, they’re going to expect that same rate for their next gig. Do yourself a favor and only work with clients who can pay what you’re worth from the get-go.

2. When you’re strapped for time
This one’s easy to identify because you get a sinking feeling in your stomach as soon as the offer hits your inbox. Sure, the cash would be nice, but you definitely don’t need the added stress. Just say no, and cite the fact that you have prior commitments that will be occupying all of your attention.

3. When it’s a rush job
|“We need an site for our new product. We go live in two weeks.”

We’ve all had those inquiries.

Why put yourself in a position where you’ll be running against the clock from the very beginning? It’s up to you to educate the client on a reasonable time frame, and to turn the work down if they’re unwilling to budge.

4. When the work doesn’t fit your niche
This is probably the trickiest of all and something I still struggle with.

We all know what kind of work we’re best at -- the kind that makes us excited to walk into the office Monday morning. The kind where we feel like we know our stuff, inside and out.

My work is counseling small businesses on PR and marketing, but I’m always amazed how many potential clients want to make me into a salesman.

I’m not a salesman.

As soon as the talk begins to head in that direction, I’ve learned to pull the plug. You have to focus on your true expertise and forget the rest.

5. When it’s just not interesting
When you’re just getting your feet wet, you’re going to have to take on some jobs that don’t make your eyes glisten. It’s part of the gig.

After you’ve established yourself, though, there’s no reason to say ‘yes’ to a project that you simply find boring. Feeling bad about saying no is probably the biggest hurdle to overcome here. You can get around this by keeping a rolodex full of colleagues in your line of work that you can recommend in your place.

6. When you get that icky feeling
Ever had that client that sets off your ick-factor? I did, but the job was fairly simple and it was up my alley, so I took it on.

Guess what? I did the work, I sent the invoice and the client disappeared into thin air. It wasn’t a big enough fee to justify getting a involved, so I just had to let it go. I should have trusted my gut from the beginning when it said ‘ick’ each time this client popped into my inbox.

When you take the leap and start saying 'no' to work that's not a good fit, you open the door (and your calendar) for your next perfect opportunity!

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