Advice from a novice freelancer: When to turn down a project?

Life as a freelancer is funny. Not funny “ha ha”. Funny because that sought-after flexibility needs careful management; days are way shorter than you ever thought possible; the temptation to sleep in, stay up late (or both) is super strong; and wine is only ever a cupboard away. Funny because life as a freelancer is nothing but a balancing act between home and work life; falling into a rut is a very real possibility; and working from home means that you often have to remind yourself to stay healthy.

Manage your workload

A big part of staying healthy may also mean managing your workload. According to Forbes, the number of American freelancers is currently 57.3 million; of these, a little more than half freelance part-time, meaning that freelancing is not their sole income. Whatever their reasons for pursuing their particular gig – be it writing, selling artisan items or even pet-sitting – that little extra income undoubtedly comes in very handy. It also means that most of your waking hours will be taken up by one or other of your jobs. Knowing when to refuse an assignment is therefore key to keeping your health – and sanity – a priority.

Learning to say ‘no’

Whether you’re a content writer looking to put aside a little nest egg or a photographer doing what you love, you’ve probably gone to a lot of trouble amassing your portfolio, tracking down potential clients and finally procuring a few regulars that ensure a steady stream of projects. But life has a habit of constantly shifting; there might be stretches where you can be less flexible or available, or when deadlines happen to be too close together. In that case, you need to learn to say ‘no’, even if the prospect of losing money makes you shudder. Here are 5 scenarios where we highly recommend turning down a project.

1) The deadline is unrealistic

You may have perfected working on the go to a tee, but that certainly doesn’t mean you can do the impossible. If for some reason you think you will be unable to meet your client’s deadline, ask for an extension; if that is not forthcoming, it’s best to refuse the assignment than risk your reputation. Hurried work is always of poorer quality.

2) You’ve already taken up another project with the same deadline

Once you are a successful freelancer, you won’t need to chase up clients with the same urgency as before. Advertising your services is a great way to attract business, but, if your plate is already full, you’ll find yourself in a bit of a quandary. It’s unrealistic to put too much pressure on yourself and accept assignments with the same deadlines unless they don’t require much work. Adopt a system that works for you – perhaps you prefer a first come, first served basis. Or maybe you plan your workload depending on the time each job requires. Either way, it’s unwise to accept two or more projects with the same deadline – if neither can be extended, it’s better for both you and your client.

3) You are uncertain about your qualifications for a particular project

Say you’re an English content writer, and are asked to translate an article from English to Finnish. Would you take it? Not unless you are able to speak and write fluent Finnish. The scenario seems preposterous, but you’ll be surprised to hear how many freelancers make the mistake of accepting gigs they are not quite qualified for, either through over-confidence in their own abilities or because they are not getting enough projects to earn a steady income.

If work is a little quiet at the moment – worry not. Keep advertising your services (social media is absolutely free), continue adding to your portfolio and, in the meantime, why not brush up on your skills? There are tons of online courses that can be done from the comfort of your own home, which you will certainly find very useful until things pick up again.

4) You know this is a difficult client

Whether freelancing is your full-time pursuit or simply a way of earning a bit of cash on the side, it’s important to remember that you have the right to pick and choose your clients (even if you’re desperate for a gig). A leopard doesn’t change its spots, and nor do difficult clients. If you’ve had the misfortune to deal with a client who made your life hell (and believe me, there are countless ways they can do it), once you’ve collected your fee, count your blessings and save their name as TROUBLE on your phone directory.

5) You’re not feeling well

Remember the convenience of sick days? When the smallest of ticklish throats had you calling in sick, voice suitably hoarse? Once you’re a freelancer, you can kiss sick leave goodbye, baby. The fact that you’re lucky enough to work from home means you have to see your pending projects through even from your deathbed.

Your pending projects, yes. But, if you’re sick, don’t be foolish. Apologise, but don’t accept any new assignments until you’re a 100% better.

Bonus tip!

Now that you know when to turn down a project, what about finding new ones to take up? Sign up with our team of freelancers today.