I had the pleasure of saying no to a potential project recently.
It wasn’t that hard, but it felt a little uncomfortable at first. I mean: I run a business. I should be trying really hard to bring in new projects, and working even harder to make our clients happy, right?
Through a series of emails and demands that became increasingly more unrealistic, I finally cut the cord with a diplomatic “This just isn’t a good fit for us.”
The potential client was furious. He apparently made public disparaging remarks about my business and communications to a group of others (who know me and how we operate pretty well, so luckily they knew better). It made me cringe inside even though I know I made the right decision.
I could see where this would head: we bend over backwards to get things done on his timeline, the way he wants them. We do everything we can to make him happy but still: he just raises the bar. I mean; that’s where the initial conversations were going and we didn’t even have a contract yet.
The decision to trust my instincts is one that’s been building for a few years.
When you first start a business or start freelancing, you tend to take on any projects that come your way. Difficult projects that aren’t a good fit for your skillset, difficult clients that demand more than you can ever provide for less money than you can afford to make; difficult situations in general.
Then there are the great clients and great projects that make it all worthwhile. And you start to realize that those great projects all have something in common. You start to recognize the red flags at the start of the difficult jobs.
For us, those red flags include things like unreasonable timelines or budgets (i.e. a Mercedes for the price of a Kia), unrealistic demands of the platform or technology (“I saw it somewhere so just make it happen.”), unwillingness to listen to constructive criticism and a very adamant belief that he/she “knows what she wants.”
I’ve been really, really blessed with some of the most amazing, trusting, patient and kind clients on the planet (no really!). They’ve taught me that working with negative and difficult clients just isn’t worth the stress it causes nor the little bit of money that it provides.And so I’ve learned to trust my instincts and built my business to the place where I can afford the freedom to say no. Saying no always feels gristly at first; mildly uncomfortable (what if that next contract doesn’t come through?). But it is always the right decision in the long run and makes all of us happier to do our jobs. As you build your business and make professional decisions, it’s important to learn to recognize the red flags that signal a difficult project or client. Learn to discern whether those red flags are merely situational (and thus, easily negotiated with proper communication) or indicative of a much larger issue – and whether you think they’ll permeate the relationship and end in disaster. We’ve built a few processes into our workflow that help us avoid some of our most often encountered points of contention (i.e. process documentation, clear contracts and project scopes, well-set expectations from the beginning, etc.) but we still encounter red flags that lead us to saying no from the get-go. So my advice this Monday is this: trust your instincts – even if that means making difficult decisions – and you’ll never regret it.