Just Say No

As a freelancer, especially a new one, it’s extremely tempting to pitch for every proposal that comes your way. When it’s feast or famine, you should take what you can get right? Wrong. You can save yourself a lot of pain in the long term if you carefully and honestly assess whether you think it’s a right fit before you spend any time on a proposal.

Don’t forget that proposals take work! On average, I’ll spend at least half a day writing and finalising a proposal, not to mention the associated thinking time prior to writing it. I have a day rate and I try to think of any work I do (including writing this blogpost) in those terms, even if I am spending time doing something for my own business. Time is money and all that.

So how do I decide when to pitch and when to say no to work? I follow some simple rules…

Do I want to do it?

So far if my initial internal response has been no, I haven’t pitched. That may change as work dries up, who knows. For now, I like having the ability to decide what work to pitch for and what work I want to avoid.

Be gracious

If someone sends a brief my way way or I’m specifically asked to pitch for something, I am always appreciative of the opportunity and thank that person for considering me in the first place. I give a brief justification as to why I’m passing on the opportunity so they aren’t left feeling confused, blindsided, or duped, after all, I don’t want to burn any bridges. And I ask to stay connected – just because I’m saying no now, doesn’t mean I’ll always say no – so I ask them to keep in touch and bear me in mind for future projects.

Be honest

I am totally upfront about what I can and can’t do and I don’t sign up to work that I know I don’t have the skills to deliver. From experience, the client/potential client has always massively appreciated my honesty – saying no in this context saves everyone a lot of time and future headaches. And saying no doesn’t always lead to a negative outcome – three personal examples being:

  • A potential client required some work that was outside my skills set. I told them what I could do and sought approval to engage a subcontractor to deliver the elements I couldn’t, the client agreed and consequently I am delivering the bulk of the contract whilst working with an associate I know can deliver the bits I can’t.
  • Flipping the above scenario, for four contracts, I have been that subcontractor/associate engaged to deliver particular parts of a proposal that is being led by another freelancer.
  • A freelancer approached me to deliver some work in a subcontractor/associate capacity. I recognised that the work was outside my skill sets; told them as such and recommended someone I thought who could help. They appreciated my candour and I didn’t get the job; but I did get a potential lead for future work after I told them what I could do.

Know your time commitments

There’s a job that I’m not pitching for this week because I know I’m too busy with other work during the project’s timeframe. I have to consider my existing clients and ensure that any new work doesn’t detract from my commitments to them. It’s important to me that my clients are happy. In this instance, I can’t commit the necessary time that the potential project requires and therefore wouldn’t be able to produce the standard of work that I’d like, so I’ve simply not pitched.

Know your worth

Since I started freelancing, there have only been two briefs where I’ve looked at the scope of work then looked at the proposed fee and just thought no. In both instances, I didn’t pitch. I valued my time more.

Out of the work I have pitched for, only a third of the briefs have come with a defined budget. For the rest, I submitted a task analysis and cost breakdown based on my day rate to reach a final proposed fee.

When considering a brief with a defined budget, my starting point is to take the proposed fee and divide it by my day rate to establish how many days’ work it equates to. I then estimate how long it would take me to deliver what they want. Can I do it within the budgeted time? If not, am I willing to spend longer delivering the work for a lower rate?

It’s time to make a pros and cons list – what are the advantages/disadvantages of doing the work? I weigh up the reasons and then decide how flexible I can be with my day rate – something I’ll discuss more at length in a future blogpost.

Go with your gut

This is a bit vague but you all know what I mean. If you get a bad feeling about a potential job/client and can’t shake it even after asking the right questions, go with your gut, it’s probably right.

So far I’ve only experienced this once. A potential client who had asked me to pitch supplied a brief that made me think they didn’t know what they actually wanted. There were conflicting objectives within the brief and despite trying to gain clarity, I couldn’t. I decided that no matter what I delivered, it wouldn’t be right because there wasn’t a clear original common understanding, so I politely declined.

Get it in writing

If I successfully pitch for a job, I make sure that before I begin work, I have a contract in place that outlines the scope of work, objectives, deliverables, timescales, fees and agreed payment schedule. It is important that everyone is on the same page before a project begins. I typically say no to any work taking place until a contract has been exchanged. Not only does it give me better legal standing should any dispute arise, it also outlines what work I have agreed to, and if I’m asked to do more, I can then negotiate that as additional work.

Be prepared to down tools

If I have an agreed payment schedule and am delivering the work but not being paid, without good reason, I say no to undertaking any future work until the problem has been rectified and payment has been made. I’ve had to do this once.

Ooof that was a long list! Apparently I like saying no. It’s empowering.

When do you say no? Have you ever regretted saying no? Have you ever wished you’d said no? Please leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you.

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