Getting better at saying no

Since I began talking about setting up on my own, people have been telling not to turn any work away: “Accept everything!”.  “No, no” I insist, time and again, “It’s important that I only take on good work for good clients – anything less would undermine my positioning.”

I’ve had a couple of good reminders this week of the need to say no.

First, a voluntary organization that’s very close to my heart. I share the vision of the team and have given them some good foundations for this year, but decided to step down before getting entangled in the next stages. I’ve made a high value contribution that will help them grow but my time is limited and I can’t give much more – they now need a different kind of volunteer and I’ve stepped out of the way. I’ve said no in the right way and at the right moment, and it’s truly the best thing for both of us.

Second, a client. A company I really enjoy working with called me:

“Hi Lucy. Wonder if you can help me out with something. I need a piece of promotional material – capability statement type thing – that I can send out to a few clients next week and I’m too busy to write it myself. Can you just take a look at what we’ve got it and make it better? Quick and dirty, you know…”

I like this firm and was able to help – so why not? Two alarm bells ring loud in that sentence and I didn’t hear them: “can you just” and “quick and dirty” (phrases I’ll talk about in a later post). I took the work and thought I’d managed my client’s expectations. However, “quick and dirty” wasn’t what he wanted at all – it’s not what anyone ever wants. I should have pointed him in the direction of a full service agency with designers and copywriters and encouraged him to invest the time and money needed to create a good piece of work.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

There’s a third instance on the horizon: a potential client has been procrastinating for nearly six months. Many meetings, proposals and favours later, I’m no longer sure this would be a good client and am about to say thank you, but no.  Deep breath…

I need to follow the guidance that I give to my clients. Any good professional advisor only takes on high quality work for great clients; work that is well considered and likely to produce results; that balances the time and money available. Great clients understand that you can rarely achieve good, cheap and fast all at once – and don’t ask you to do so. Only taking on good work for good clients protects your brand and ensures you are able to do more great work and don’t need to compromise.

The focus on good work for good clients is so important I’ve stuck it on the wall in front of my desk to keep it front of mind – it’s the main reason I leapt into the freelance world. So, if I say no to you, it’s for the right reasons. And I’ll be doing it more often.

inspiration wallSaying no to one thing makes room for something else.

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