In the nine years I’ve been freelancing, I’ve chosen not to work with a number of potential clients. There were also a few I probably shouldn’t have worked with. I thought you might benefit from seeing why I say no to business.
To be clear, these are a small percentage of the opportunities I see. I love nearly all of my clients and the work I get to do for them.
The jobs I turned away
These are the potential clients I’ve rejected:
- The guy who argued endlessly about price, rather than focusing on content and the work. I never negotiate prices.
- A trusted colleague who wanted a me to edit his novel. I only do non-fiction; I sent him to somebody more appropriate.
- A past contact who wanted me to edit a book endorsing a point of view I completely disagree with. I’m very flexible, but if I think you’re completely wrong, I’m not the right choice for your editor.
- The very lucrative ghostwriting/book-doctoring project that had four warning signs (1) huge rush for no identifiable reason, (2) some of the content was offensive to me, (3) potential client worked in a field I find objectionable, and (4) several incompatible sets of edits to the same document, including some generated by dictation. I bailed just before starting, because my spider sense was tingling. I could have really used the money, but I sensed the project would be hellish — not worth it at any price.
- The book proposal for a book that I judged to be unpublishable.
- The woman who wanted me to ghostwrite a book about her experiences as a woman in the man’s world of business. I couldn’t realistically put myself in her shoes and write in her voice.
The jobs I might have turned away
Like all freelancers, I’ve done work that, in retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have. These jobs included:
- The pro-bono client who kept changing her mind about what she wanted. I’ve generally had bad luck with pro-bono clients. Eventually, I stopped working with her, because neither of us was getting much out of it.
- The mixed up memoir and business advice book that I edited. I took it from incomprehensible to comprehensible. That was a lot of work and paid well — and the result was a definite improvement — but I’m not sure publishing it would serve the client’s interest.
- The PowerPoint I edited. I don’t do those any more; I focus on writing, because presentations aren’t my area of expertise.
- The writing coaching job where the author was uncoachable. If you won’t listen, eventually, I have to give up on you.
- A different guy who needed endless coaching. Unlike the uncoachable client, he listened and attempted to learn, but failed to actually make much progress. That work generated plenty of revenue, but at some point, there’s no more I can do for you.
The jobs I regret turning away
There are none.
If you’re a freelancer, trust your sense of clients to stay away from. When you make mistakes — and you will — learn from them; the only real sin is to make the same mistake twice.