Too Early to Say “No”?

Since I finally made the decision to pursue freelance writing seriously with the intention to make it my career once I leave my current job at the end of May, people needing writing and content have come out of the woodwork.

I guess it helps that I have a lot of young and creative friends who always “know someone” who needs a website or a mission statement or an article, and are more than happy to recommend me since they know my skills. A few conversations have turned into a myriad of opportunities, to the point that I had to think about becoming a little more selective about what I agree to do.

“No,” my husband (aka professional consultant by day / my personal life-consultant the rest of the time) objected yesterday when I came home with two more potential client requests, “don’t turn anything down when you’re just getting started! It’s still to early to say no.”

I try to make him see reason as I enumerated the issues, “I am already working a fulltime job that takes about 40-60 hrs/week, I’ve taken on 3 clients already in the past two weeks and am still learning how to do this, I teach an online course, and I have youth mentorship volunteer work every week. I don’t want to agree to more work than I can actually deliver!”

“Just talk to them,” he says encouragingly, “you can work out the timelines with them. If you win them over, they’ll wait for you, or they’ll be okay if you have to renegotiate a deadline.”

Ah, the consultant – always a way to talk through anything. But he has a point – it does seem a bit early to say no to jobs when I am trying to build experience, a portfolio, and a network of clients and contacts.

But at the same time the fear of failure at this early stage is a very real thing – do I even know at this point how much work each client will require? Will taking on dozens of hours of extra work outside of my current job affect how well I do in my other commitments when I want to end on a high note? Might I risk damaging relationships with clients if I can’t deliver what they want and when they want it?

I guess these are all things I have to learn at this beginning stage, but at least I have a lot to work with.

So what do you think – is it too early to say no at this early stage? Or should I be firm and realistic with the amount of work I can comfortably manage?

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5 thoughts on “Too Early to Say “No”?

  1. Hi…your fears are well founded….its a road I traveled a few months back. As suggested by your husband try to work the time frames with prospective clients. If you can’t meet the expectations, then gracefully back out. As a freelancer there will always be that chance of being overloaded with work, especially if you are good and reasonably priced. But one of the main perks of freelancing is being able to choose whom you work with and how much you want to work. Its all up to you….the work will never stop!

    • Thank you…this advice turned out to be so helpful as one client that I thought would be a big contract ended up being difficult to work with and ultimately not working out, and the one that I almost turned down is turning out to be a really exciting project.

  2. Interesting questions you’re dealing with. Too many clients too early on is a great problem to have. I didn’t have that starting out, but I am having to turn down projects now that I’m more established. The question for me was, where do I want focus my energies and how do I want to be of service. And the narrower my focus became, the more people who needed that focus would find me. Of course, having a diversity of experience early on allowed me to discover what I liked and didn’t like in the first place. Now I tend to decine most projects that don’t fall into my “niche,” as hard as it is to say no. The advantage, though, is that I feel I can be of real value to people who need these particular services, and the client is getting someone who really knows this field. (In conclusion,) you could consider getting diverse experience early on and then gradually narrowing to what you feel you do best.

    • Thanks Andrew, great advice. Would love to hear more over coffee sometime in the near future — or even better, at writers’ group!

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