Ask any experienced writer and I’m sure they’ll be able to tell you a tale from their newbie days, where they succumbed to the temptation to keep income flowing by taking every writing job offered. That’s a mistake, but it’s something writers often learn the hard way.
Here’s a short story from my early days of freelancing, when I was working regularly for a UK copywriting agency. I never knew what article topics would land in my inbox. I had my specialties (consumer finance, home and lifestyle topics and web and social media) but there were no guarantees. And sometimes I’d be assigned a client who was running a number of different websites. One of those taught me a lesson.
A Lesson from My Freelancing Past
The writing job seemed pretty innocuous – five general articles on sewing bundled into a much bigger home and lifestyle job. It wasn’t a topic I’d have chosen, but I felt I couldn’t say no in order to protect the rest of the work that I was doing for them. I tried to turn it down, but the agency insisted and in the end, I caved.
That was the big mistake. The articles turned out to be more technical than general, which meant I had to dig deep to do the research and get to grips with the topic. In the end the articles took double the research time and double the writing time. They also felt like a chore because I had no interest in the topic. In the end, I delivered a competent job (that was why they paid me the small bucks) but I learned never to take that kind of job again. It’s something that is guided my writing career ever since.
So what happens when clients ask me to do something I don’t know enough about? One thing’s for sure; I don’t pretend to have expertise I can’t back up. Instead, I am honest with my clients both about what I can do – and what I can’t. I am honest about the results they can expect when they work with me and those that are completely out of both our hands. And I’m honest enough to say when someone else would be a better choice for a particular job than I would.
What to Say When Turning Down Clients
It may seem strange to turn down work, but that honesty pays off. When current clients ask me to do something that’s outside my expertise, I refer them to someone else. I know a lot of writers and other creative professionals who can handle just about anything clients want. When potential new clients give me a shopping list of potential jobs, I will happily refer them on if it’s beyond the scope of my services. Sure, it takes a certain steely nerve to tell a client “no” but here are some examples of things that I’ve actually said:
- I’m not an expert in this business, but if you’re willing to brief me then I can do a competent job of writing about it. (I use this one if it’s a topic I know about but for a new business sector.)
- I’m not an expert in this topic, but I know someone who is and I can introduce you.
- I no longer provide the service, but I know an excellent service provider who will do a great job for you.
The Payoff In Turning Down Writing Work
In the long run, avoiding work that I am not expert in works better because:
- I don’t spend hours trying to get creative blood from a stone.
- I get to help another freelancer or service provider.
- My client gets an excellent service.
- I have better relationships with my clients.
And there are even more benefits. I run my business with integrity, I avoid doing things that don’t make me happy and I help my clients and other service providers at the same time. Most clients just want to get the job done right. If you can help by referring another expert, that works for them.
And let’s face it; it’s good karma, too. You may not get the cash this time round, but you definitely get the brownie points. I’ve had people I referred on come back to me years later when they are ready for a service in which I AM an expert.
What do you think?
This post is part of the Word Carnival, a monthly business blog carnival featuring some of the smartest people I know. Read other posts on this month’s topic: Being an Expert Doesn’t Mean You Know Everything.
Book image: Public Domain Pictures