Freelancing and Saying No

No. That word has been giv­en lots of impor­tance in our indus­try and right­ly so. Jason San­ta Maria spoke about it, Julie Zhuo wrote about it, and I’m sure you’ve read your fair share of arti­cles on the topic.

It’s a pow­er­ful word, and I’m glad that we’re a com­mu­ni­ty that looks out for each oth­er and is will­ing to share with new­com­ers how to avoid bad projects. There are some rela­tion­ships that will rob you of your joy, and in the end cost you more mon­ey than you’re being paid.

How­ev­er, I think it’s been giv­en a mis­lead­ing rep­u­ta­tion. Lots of peo­ple con­fuse say­ing no,with turn­ing down projects they don’t deem as fun”. In some arti­cles, I’ve seen it turn into advice that only strokes the grow­ing ego that many design­ers have. We turn some­thing great, into snob­bery and haugh­ti­ness. Con­se­quent­ly, peo­ple are giv­en the wrong impres­sion of what say­ing no actu­al­ly means.

Tim, my business is already struggling and you expect me to say no to a project?”

Of course not. I always take projects that help keep the lights on. Every­one does. If they say they don’t, they’re lying. Not every sin­gle project will meet all of your require­ments 1, and even the ones that do will have dif­fi­cul­ties and moments of frus­tra­tion. That’s just a fact of life.

Say­ing no means to turn down projects that will kill you or your busi­ness. You know exact­ly what I’m talk­ing about. The client that you’re hav­ing a pre­lim­i­nary meet­ing with, and your gut tells you that you should­n’t work with the per­son. The rea­son could be one of many. They don’t know what they want, they want to pay you con­sid­er­ably less, they’re con­de­scend­ing, what­ev­er. That’s when you say no.

It’s impor­tant to note that some­one with a low bud­get isn’t always a red flag. Learn to trust your gut. You’ll know when it’s a good idea to work for less mon­ey, and when it’s just some­one that’s try­ing to take advan­tage. If you still don’t know, ask a friend. Don’t have some­one to ask? Email me.

But I need the money!”

You think you’re poor now? Just wait till you’re work­ing an insane amount of hours on an insane bud­get. What hap­pens when you final­ly get sick of it? Do you fire the client? Will you have to issue a refund? How do you pay for that?

Trust me, some­thing else will come up. I’ve been hours away from hav­ing no mon­ey in the bank with no prospects of mon­ey, and some­thing has always come up.In all hon­esty, it’s bet­ter to pick up a shift at Star­bucks, than work in a tox­ic relationship.

I’m freelancing so I can have fun.”

Free­lanc­ing is work. There are a lot of hard­ships. Lots of anx­i­ety. Lots of stress. Maybe even play­ing cred­it card shuf­fle”. 2 Not every day is going to be fun, and that’s some­thing you have to come to terms with. How­ev­er, it’s also very reward­ing. I wake up when I want, I work when I want, I get to choose my clients,3 I can choose to col­lab­o­rate with oth­er design­ers, devel­op­ers, etc., and I can work from wher­ev­er there is internet.

You’ll land three projects one month, and have no work the next.4 Mon­ey man­age­ment becomes cru­cial when you free­lance. But, don’t wor­ry. If I can do it—and I’m lit­er­al­ly the best blow­er of money—you can def­i­nite­ly do it.

Wrapping Up

All projects aren’t going to be fun, and they won’t all be big brands or names. Learn to appre­ci­ate projects that allow you to work with peo­ple who care, make an impact on peo­ples lives, and teach you new things.

Not all clients are bad. Most are well-mean­ing peo­ple who are try­ing to do their best by their busi­ness or com­pa­ny. Say­ing no, should nev­er sat­is­fy an emo­tion­al need to rebel. Instead, it should be edu­cat­ed by the goals of your busi­ness, and that of the client.

In clos­ing, remem­ber that the objec­tive of say­ing no, will give you the oppor­tu­ni­ty to say yes.

Further Reading

Say­ing No” Effec­tive­ly — Via Mark Ron­d­i­na

A very sin­cere thank you to Hamish Macpher­son, Matt Riopelle, Mark Ron­d­i­na, and Sara Wachter-Boettch­er, for their help in edit­ing this article.

  1. You’re the one that decides what those require­ments are. For me, I have an inter­nal check­list. Is the project fun? Do I believe in the mes­sage of the project and the com­pa­ny try­ing to com­mu­ni­cate it? Does the client show respect for me, my work, and my time? Who else will I be work­ing with? What will I learn? Will I be able to dis­play the work in my port­fo­lio? Do I have time? Is the bud­get rea­son­able? 
  2. This is when you pay one card with anoth­er card. Or you’re pay­ing bills with a cred­it card. It’s scary stuff. 
  3. This is true whether you have clients are not. You’re nev­er forced to work on some­thing you don’t want to. Even if the work is hor­ri­ble, it was my choice
  4. July was killer. Sep­tem­ber was dry. Feast or famine.