Four Reasons To Turn Down New Business

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As freelancers, the question "What's next?" is constantly echoing in the back of our minds. The pressure to secure our next client can sometimes be so overwhelming that when opportunity knocks, we pounce at it without stopping to consider if it's actually something that makes sense for our independent businesses. Sometimes, we need to say no. Here are the red flags to lookout for and four reasons to turn down new business.

Not Your Expertise

This is the number one reason why I turn down new business and it wasn't a lesson easily learned. While public relations is the overarching field I freelance in, I specialize in the video games and esports industries. This is my bread and butter; where I am consistently staying up-to-date on news, decision makers and have an arsenal of contacts. When a guitar company reached out seeking PR guidance for their upcoming launch recently, I knew I wasn't the best person to help them. Sure, I could have gone through the steps but I also knew that even my best effort would have delivered C+ results because this is a completely foreign field to me - and that's just not something I'm comfortable with (and you shouldn't be either). 

The only reason to take on new client work in a field you don't specialize in is if it is a field you are wanting to work in more. I knew that the guitar brand opportunity would be a one off gig and wasn't the best use of my (or the client's) time. I also never want to give a brand a reason to have a poor opinion of me or my work and have found that I gain greater respect from people when I admit to not being the best person for the opportunity. Instead, I listen to their needs and recommend any leads I may have for someone who is a better fit. If you're ever in a similar situation, use this as an opportunity to share the kind of work you are better suited for so they can recommend you in the future when the right occasion comes about.

Overloaded SOW

Ever been on a new business call with a potential client and feel your spidey senses go off because there's just no way one person could possibly complete all of this work? Listen to them! Don't let a client's unrealistic expectations create doubt in your mind for what you "should be" capable of. For example, if they're looking for a multi-tiered launch program that covers public relations for three countries, social media management and a content program to support it and it's all coming out of your SOW - that's a big no. However, if they want you to recruit and manage an agency to execute the strategy you create to support these verticals - that's a different story. Don't be afraid to ask detailed questions and even call out concerns about workload. I always try to offer solutions, like the agency scenario, when the scope of work is just too demanding.

Easy Work

There are two big problems that come with taking on easy work: One, it takes up a considerate amount of your time; two, it doesn't progress you forward. If you continue to do work that doesn't challenge you then you are doing yourself a huge disservice. In freelancing, we have to hold ourselves accountable and set our own milestones to keep advancing ourselves in a forward direction. We have to learn new tricks of the trade, become skilled in the latest technology and social media platforms. If you keep doing the same things, you will ultimately become dispensable and that is the one thing we all want to avoid. 

If you've been working with a client on work that isn't helping you advance and are afraid of losing them, don't be. Identify areas where you can offer more and schedule a time to present your ideas to them. 

Unnecessary Negotiations

You've determined your rate and shared it with your potential client and they instantly try to negotiate. Red flag! Your rate is your rate for a reason. If the client shares their budget and it's lower than you would usually work for, express that and share where you're willing (if anywhere) to compromise. However, if the client pushes for you to share your rate before sharing their budget, only to shoot you down and go in for a low ball price - these are unnecessary negotiations. You want to work with clients who understand the value of your time and also respect the risk you're equally taking by choosing to work with them.

While it may feel impossible to turn down work as a freelancer, it's important to understand the necessity of taking on opportunities that progress you and your business forward, because forward is the only direction your independent journey should take you.


AUDREY ADAIR IS A FREELANCE COMMUNICATIONS CONSULTANT AND FOUNDER OF 'THE SCOPE'. SHE'S BASED IN LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA AND SPECIALIZES IN WORKING WITH CLIENTS THROUGHOUT THE VIDEO GAME AND ESPORTS INDUSTRIES. FOLLOW AUDREY ON INSTAGRAM AND LINKEDIN.