10 reasons to turn down a freelance project

Posted on: August 16th, 2011

Just because you are offered a project by a potential new client, it doesn’t mean you have to accept it. In fact, once you’ve celebrated the fact you have a brand new client, you might well find yourself saying: “Why on earth did I agree to do this?”

Here are ten reasons why I politely decline a project.

1. The potential client wants to beat me down on price.

2. They don’t agree to paying me 50% upfront. If they are unknown to me, I need to be sure they are serious about the project and serious about paying me.

3. They set unrealistic deadlines, such as phoning me on a Friday lunchtime and saying they need a brochure written for Monday morning. Actually on one such occasion, I didn’t refuse the project, instead I said: “Yes, I can do this but I charge double if you want me to work weekends.” Their response was: “I think we can wait until Thursday for it.”

4. They say: “I’ve never worked with a copywriter before – what happens if I don’t like your style?” That’s a big warning bell because they generally have no idea what tone of voice their company should be using and they also change their mind constantly about what it is they actually want.

5. They say: “I don’t actually have any budget for this, can we do a contra deal?” Contra deals don’t pay the bills and, anyway, what if the product/service they are offering is something I don’t want?

6. They say: “To save money, I’ve written the web copy myself, can you work your magic on it?” My reply to this is: “It’s like saying ‘I’ve baked a plain sponge but it’s all burnt. Can you you turn it into a delicious chocolate gateau?’ No, but I can throw away your burnt sponge and bake you a new cake from scratch.”

7. They say: “I haven’t got time to brief you – I’ve only got 45 minutes.” How can you get ‘under the skin’ of a new client in 45 minutes?

8. I don’t like the client. I need to get on with people I work with.

9. It’s not a project that interests me. I can’t do my best work when my heart isn’t in it. It also ends up being a real chore.

10. It’s a project that isn’t really ‘my bag’. I tend to write for business to business clients so I wouldn’t accept consumer writing projects that are, for example, for health/beauty/fashion products.

What are the reasons why you turn down work?

8 Responses to “10 reasons to turn down a freelance project”

  1. Elaine Swift
    August 16th, 2011

    Great post Carole.

    I too get a little alarmed when clients ask me what kind of style I write in and what if they don’t like it. It indicates they don’t really understand what a copywriter does and that our job (and skill) is to write in a style that will engage their audience.

    Unlike you though, I don’t mind editing copy that a client has done. But I always make sure they understand that my starting point will be the same as it would if I was initiating copy i.e. I need to understand their target audience profile, tone of voice, writing style, and main messages.

  2. Carole Seawert
    August 16th, 2011

    Hi Elaine

    That’s good to know. So next time someone asks if I can edit their web copy – and they don’t want me to originate it – can I point them your way?

  3. Patricia Lane
    August 17th, 2011

    Hi Carole,

    A sensible and solid list of reasons for turning town potential work! Points 8 to 10 are sometimes the toughest ones to face up to and act on for many freelancers.

    I’ll also turn down a project – even if it and the prospect are a perfect fit – if prior commitments don’t allow for enough time and mental space to deliver the level of service that I expect of *myself*.

    First impressions & first projects set the tone. I’d rather refuse graciously and leave the door open for a future opportunity, when I can build the type of rewarding relationship with clients that makes freelancing worthwhile. The short-term cost of saying “sorry, not right now” can contribute to building long-term trust.

  4. Carole Seawert
    August 17th, 2011

    Hi Patricia

    Great 11th reason! Yes, while it irks me to turn interesting projects down, there are only so many hours in the day and feeling overwhelmed isn’t conducive to great work. Being busy does send a good sign to prospective clients and, you’re right, they invariably come back.

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  6. Dottie
    October 28th, 2011

    Hello there!

    Thank you for speaking my mind! I am a budding freelance writer who has met with ALL the reasons you listed in the article. My biggest challenge has been working with non-native English clients who try to “correct” my grammar and vocabulary! I cannot even begin to tell you what a nightmare that has been!

    I hope IF and WHEN I am established, clients will have enough faith in me to let me do what I do best. I also hope that IF and WHEN I am established, I can just walk away immediately from these projects.

  7. Carole Seawert
    October 30th, 2011

    Hi Dottie

    Yes, we all seem to come up against these issues at some point or other. :( I’ve been freelance for 20 years now and, despite the challenges, I much prefer it to being a cog in a corporate wheel. Good luck with launching your freelance career!

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