Business Writing Copywriting 2021-02-10 00:00

5 Valid Reasons to Turn Down Clients as a Freelance Writer

"Just Say No" engraved into tree bark

Do you have any idea how much money there is in porn?

That seems like a weird opening question for an article about writing, but stick with me here. I’m not going to look up the statistics on porn, but there is absolutely a lot of money in it.

Regardless of your particular opinions on that form of entertainment, millions and millions of Internet users consume it on a regular basis. And any place online where you attract millions of eyeballs is a place that is going to pay for copywriting.

Advertisements, in particular, will be in high demand. Even if you think those ads are ridiculous whenever you come across them, they need a copywriter to produce them.

What am I trying to say here? Am I trying to convince you to start writing for the porn industry?

No I’m not. I have a feeling that ProWritingAid wouldn’t let me publish something like that. And I have no interest in covering that topic anyway.

However, in my 13 years of copywriting professionally, I have been approached by companies who wanted to hire me to write for their adult websites. And unfortunately, I’ve had to tell them “no.”

I say “unfortunately” not because I really wanted the job. I say that because those offers came in during times when I really needed a few dollars.

One time in particular, I was approached in the year 2011. I was still newly married and hadn’t even been back to full-time freelancing for a year. I was still rebuilding my business and I wanted to take any jobs that I could.

But I couldn’t convince myself to take a job writing for an adult website.

There was plenty of work available for them. I have a feeling that the client would have kept me busy and paid. But, my personal beliefs prevented me from taking that job.

I’m not here to tell you that that was the right decision from a moral standpoint. Everyone has to make those decisions for themselves. The reason I tell you this story is because you are going to find situations where you should say “no” to writing work.

  1. Are You Crazy?
  2. Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
  3. Reason 1: The Job Conflicts with Your Beliefs
  4. Reason 2: You Are Close to Burnout
  5. Reason 3: The Pay Is Too Low
  6. Reason 4: The Client Doesn’t Value Your Time
  7. Reason 5: You Just Have a Gut Feeling

Are You Crazy?

No, I’m not. I understand that many writers are starving. I myself have gone through several seasons of famine in my freelance writing career.

That doesn’t mean that we should set aside our morals and beliefs just to get a paycheck. Regardless of what your personal morals and beliefs are, you need to stand up for them and act in a way that is consistent with them.

It’s not the only reason to say “no” to writing work. There are plenty of others, and we’re going to talk about them right now.

But before we get into it, I want to talk about one of the benefits of saying “no” to writing work that comes across your desk.

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Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

If you can’t make rent at the end of the month, you may be tempted to think that the best possible decision for your time is to take on any writing work that you can.

Many writers, however, make this mistake not knowing that they are actually damaging their careers.

By taking on any work that you can get your hands on, you may be hindering your career by not freeing yourself up to chase the work that actually would be a better fit for you.

Whether the project requires more time than you have available, too much energy, or it simply pays too little, you are not allowing yourself the ability to go after the bigger paying projects or the better clients.

It’s a balancing act. Obviously, if you are just starting out, you might have to take some lower-paying gigs to get going. Everybody has to make that decision for themselves.

Just understand that every time you take a lower-paying gig, you are dedicating time to that gig that you could be using to pursue better ones. I’m not saying that’s the wrong decision all the time. Sometimes you have to.

With that in mind, let’s look at the different reasons why you might need to say “no” to a particular writing gig.

Let’s start with the one we’ve already touched on.

Reason 1: The Job Conflicts with Your Beliefs

Maybe you don’t have particularly strong beliefs. If that’s the case, you’re going to have more flexibility in the work that you do.

For me, and for many others I’m sure, I have a strong belief system that guides my life. The morals and values that I subscribe to limit the kinds of work that I can do.

I’m not just talking about porn. Yes, I turned down that adult website. But there have been others over the years.

Another opportunity that came to me early in my career was to write blog posts for a client regarding certain aspects of spirituality. There was a very popular form of spirituality that was getting a lot of press at that time. Certain influencers had really pushed them and more people were curious than ever.

I didn’t blame the particular client for embracing that. They believed in it and it made a lot of business sense to do so. The problem was, I couldn’t promote that particular brand of spirituality in good conscience because I didn’t believe in it.

This is a gray area. You may believe that what you write for a client is not necessarily an endorsement of those ideas. And you wouldn’t be wrong in thinking that. If you can allow for that level of separation between yourself and your work, which I do believe is healthy to an extent, then you can make your own decisions regarding this type of situation.

For me, I couldn’t. I didn’t want to be a part of promoting that brand of spirituality. So I told him I wouldn’t do it. I sure needed the money at the time, but I chose to take the time that I would have spent on that job and put it towards getting different clients that were more in line with what I believe.

Reason 2: You Are Close to Burnout

I’ve told this story in other blog posts, so I’ll be brief.

In the year 2018, I discovered ghostwriting. It came at a very opportune time, when I needed to rebuild my writing career once again.

Ghostwriting was a great opportunity for me. I learned about telling stories at a rapid pace, and I collected a pretty decent paycheck to boot.

At the time, my financial life was in ruins. My goal was to take on as much ghostwriting work as I could because the opportunity was plentiful and the pay was good. I believed that the pay could scale because I was getting paid a very healthy rate per word.

Knowing how quickly I type, I felt that I could produce two or three books per month for my ghostwriting clients, in addition to the books that I was publishing under my own name. I can write very fast, and I could do it in only a few hours a day.

What I didn’t account for was energy. I knew that I had the time to write that many words per day, but I didn’t understand what a drain that would be on my energy levels and brain power.

As a result, I overcommitted myself, worked all hours of the night, had no energy for my family, and my health rapidly deteriorated.

Even though I needed the money to clean up my finances, I should have said “no” to some of these opportunities. There was no good reason for me to extend myself by that much.

As a writer, you need to recognize and understand how your energy levels affect your work. If you push yourself past the state of burnout, you will find that your work is going to suffer, and you will lose clients as you move forward.

And in case you need to be reminded of this truth, no job is worth sacrificing your health or your family. Just say “no.”

Reason 3: The Pay Is Too Low

You know what successful people do? They value their time.

When starting out, the value of the work that you do really comes down to what it adds to your portfolio. You take whatever job you can get, regardless of pay, so that you can build up a healthy portfolio of experience that you can use to get better paying gigs.

But once you get a few pieces in your portfolio, it’s time to sacrifice less and start pushing yourself to land bigger and better clients.

Writing work is everywhere. The demand is huge. So huge that there are entire job boards just dedicated to compiling all of these different opportunities into one place.

But just because there’s a lot of work doesn’t mean it all pays the same. Many writers are happy to bid on these jobs and lower their rates considerably just in hopes of getting the job.

This will also lead to burnout. Because your job pays so little, you have to take on more work to make more money. You’ll have less time, and less money, and your health will suffer.

Instead of doing this, try to target better paying jobs. Learn how to promote yourself to bigger clients, and value your time better.

And along with that...

Reason 4: The Client Doesn’t Value Your Time

In my early days of copywriting, I had one particular client that paid reasonably well. I was getting a lot of experience in the marketing arena, and my portfolio was growing.

Unfortunately, the client didn’t value my time.

It wasn’t uncommon during to get long, rambling phone calls from this guy. He wanted to talk business ideas, he wanted to go over copy, or he just wanted to talk about new clients that were coming up for us.

Unfortunately, he was calling during times when I was trying to write copy. I would spend hours sitting on the phone with him, letting him ramble, while I was unable to get the work done.

Eventually, I had to walk away from him. He was taking up too much of my time for the amount of money he was paying me.

That happened again a couple years ago. I found a local client that was great for me. The work was fun, and he was a very energetic and motivated guy. It was a great fit.

But then he would start calling me at all hours of the day. We would have hour-long phone calls at night. He would text me questions when I was in the middle of eating dinner with my family (and I told him this). I told him repeatedly to stick to business hours, and he was unwilling to do so.

When a client starts encroaching on my family time with my wife and kids, that’s a problem.

Remember as a freelancer that you’re going to do a certain amount of unpaid work. And you do need to invest some of your time in handling your clients with phone calls and emails.

But when that client starts demanding more than you’re comfortable giving up, you need to walk away. There are plenty of clients out there that do respect your time and you need to be working with them.

man holds his head in his hands, looking frustratedly at a screen

Reason 5: You Just Have a Gut Feeling

This is the final reason why you might say “no” to writing work, and it’s also the weirdest and least clear.

What happens when you just have a gut feeling about a client?

It might be the way that they talk about the work. It might be the tone of voice they use when they describe the opportunity. They might overhype the opportunity to you. You might just think that they’re sleazy.

You don’t have to work with these people.

If you have a bad feeling about a client, don’t work for them. That’s the beauty of being a freelance writer. You get to pick and choose the clients that you work for.

If you don’t listen to your gut, at best you’re going to find yourself working in an uncomfortable situation. And at worst, your gut feeling may turn out to be right and you could find yourself in a lot of trouble or stress.

Your gut is telling you something for a reason. It may be right, it may be wrong.

Regardless, listen to it. If you have a bad feeling, walk away. There are so many other writing clients out there that you don’t need to work through a bad feeling.

The good thing, too, is that over time your gut will start to get better at figuring out what is a good and bad client. Listen to it at all times, and have confidence that you’re doing the right thing.

There are plenty of fish in the sea. There are plenty of clients available for you to write for where you don’t have to compromise your time, your values, or your well-being.

Final Thoughts

No matter how desperate you are for work, figure out where you want to draw a line in the sand and stick to it. Respect yourself, and you will be able to find the success that you are shooting for.

And you won’t have to compromise yourself to do so.

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