In the early days of your business, you took pretty much anything that came your way because you had to pay the bills. I get that. But now that you have a more mature business, you should think about when to turn down work. Yes, there are some jobs you should not take. Why would you ever turn down money that someone is offering you? For a number of good reasons.
First, you now need to be more deliberate about where you spend your time. If you spend time doing a job that isn’t really what you want to do and isn’t building your future business, you can’t take a job that is the ideal one. By taking a less than ideal job, you end up having to turn down the ideal job. And before you say you can manage them both, you and I both know that trying to do so will cause suffering: of both jobs and of your balance between work and family. In the end, all three get done poorly. And a poor effort on an ideal job does not bring repeat and referral work. In the past week I turned down seven workshops because they wouldn’t build my business and would reserve dates in my calendar that would be unavailable for the right work.
The second reason to turn down work is that it really isn’t work that is future focused, it is past focused. I faced this in the 2002-2006 timeframe. I was transitioning from doing project management training for another company to doing my presentation work. An opportunity to do a project management workshop would come up and it would be tempting to take it. But by focusing energy and effort on the past, I wouldn’t have the focus on building the future business. This is hard because it is easy to do what you’ve done before. But it won’t get you where you want to go.
A third reason to say no to a job is because it has warning flags. During the discussions of the job and the negotiations, watch for flags such as constantly trying to get you to reduce your price, wanting to add to the scope without a corresponding increase in what they are willing to pay, or a difficult or condescending attitude. Check with your gut on this one. If you feel like this could be a nightmare job, walk away before you even start. Nothing drains you more than suffering through a job from hell. The rest of your business and your family suffers along during that time.
A fourth reason to walk away from work is when the prospect doesn’t value what you do. I remember one call with a manager of a training department after I had submitted a proposal to someone who worked for him. I thought he wanted to discuss some details of the workshop content. No, he wanted to express outrage at my rate. He thought it should be one-third of what I charged at the time. There is no sense arguing about the value of what you do. Some prospects will never understand. Wish them luck and move on. Now I always ask in the initial call what the budget range is for the workshop we are discussing. I can sometimes disqualify the prospect right then when there is a huge gulf between what they want to pay and what I charge. I love it when I hear that my quoted rate is what they were expecting. That way I know they value what I do.
The last reason I will share in this article is that you should turn down work when it isn’t what you do best. It is tempting to take work that is related to what you do. You can do an OK job, but you know an expert in that area could do a better job. I have found that being honest with a prospect and referring them to someone else is the best approach. When I get an inquiry to create or upgrade someone’s slides, I say that I don’t do that type of work and give them two or three names that they can contact who do that type of work. The prospect is always amazed that I don’t try to take their money and they are grateful that they now have trusted names they can call. It also helps build your relationships with other experts in related fields. Referring business to them is always appreciated.