The art of saying no…

When you’re just getting started in the world of freelancing, it’s not unlikely that you’ll pick up projects or clients that aren’t exactly the dream. It’s inevitable. Thankfully, saying no is something I’ve never really struggled with, which definitely helps. Of course, when I first got started a few years ago, I was working on projects that were so mundane and badly paid it was a joke. But it’s was a sacrifice I made to build my portfolio and skill set that has allowed me to bag my ‘dream clients’ pretty early on since going fulltime freelance in September.

That being said, even though anyone that knows me would tell you that speaking my mind isn’t exactly something I struggle with, saying no to clients wasn’t always on the agenda for me. Why? Because I was afraid to rock the boat, worried I wouldn’t be able to find a replacement or holding out for the promises they never fulfilled.

Now, I’m saying no to bad clients, no to boring projects, no to long calls that are totally unnecessary, no to badly paid gigs, and no to replying to a ridiculous amount of WhatsApp messages at midnight.

The purpose of this blog post isn’t to boast about my wonderful clients and exciting projects, but to tell you how I got here. I often get told that I’m lucky, to work from home, to choose my hours and to work with the brands that I do. But, is it luck? Is it fuck! Projects for some of the worlds leading travel & fashion brands and clients that are a far cry from the type of companies I was working with when I started out haven’t just fallen into my lap, I went out and got them. When I tell my friends what I’m working on, they don’t see the hundreds of rejected proposals, the bad clients, the unpaid invoices and the hours of calls that have resulted in sweet FA.

Previously, when work would dry up, I would find myself on platforms like PPH submitting proposals for jobs I didn’t even want to do, and that was a problem from the offset. One bad client can have a domino effect on my whole approach to work, and when I’m working from home, that’s the last thing someone with the attention span of a fish needs. For me, that’s when I knew something needed to change, my other clients were suffering because I had one bad client that was taking up far too much of my time and energy. I used to make up excuses to drop clients I didn’t enjoy working with, but they were lies. Straight up lies. Earlier this month, I waved goodbye to four clients that were no longer right for me, no excuses, no lies, just the truth. Guess what? They took the news just fine, and even if they didn’t, it wouldn’t have made too much difference to me because my mind was made up.

I’m thankful that quite early on, I’ve been able to recognise the effect of saying yes to everything can have on my work and more importantly, my mindset and mental health. I truly understand the value of saying no, not only for me but my clients too. Even when it means walking away from what I would have seen as ‘easy money’ previously.

If you’re just starting out, here are a few tips that will help you through:

  • Vet your clients
  • Have a watertight contract in place
  • Manage your working hours
  • Set boundaries and realistic expectations from the offset
  • Be consistent, authentic and honest

And most importantly, do not be afraid to say no when necessary. It’s easy to fall into a trap of saying yes to everything, particularly when the world of freelance is so uncertain, but it will come back to bite you in the long run. Whether you end up working with clients that aren’t suited to you, they take the absolute piss, or it affects your entire productivity and you burn out, it’s just not worth it.

Why I have found myself working with start-up and small businesses over the years

My first big freelance project was with a start-up, and I went on to work with the same team for a second project later that year. For both projects, I was able to take the creative lead when it came to content, social strategy and outreach programs. This often meant I’d be given a very basic brief along with the freedom to make key decisions without too much discussion.

After going full-time freelance in September last year, I picked up a lot more projects; it didn’t take me too long to realise that I wasn’t really cut out for following specific briefs and at times, strategies. I work best when I am able to create and implement strategies, question decisions, make suggestions and avoid all the red tape/back and forth you have to go through with some clients.

Of course, I’ve worked with clients that already have a strategy in place, and I’ve written content following super specific briefs, and I didn’t hate it. However, I definitely prefer it when I’m given an opportunity to play a more active role when it comes to a brands overall strategy. Sometimes these ideas are welcomed, other times they are shut down, but in my opinion, it’s always good to share them. My brutal honesty is both a blessing and a curse in every aspect of my life.

I’ve worked with start-ups that have failed and many that have flourished, each and every project has taught me invaluable lessons and skills that I am able to carry forward. With new brands and small businesses, you often find the team are more open to change, and with a shorter chain of authority, these changes can be implemented quickly and efficiently to keep up with the ever-changing world of digital marketing.

When it comes to marketing, every business should be more receptible to change, and that’s usually the beauty of the start-up/SME industry. For me, marketing is about pushing the boundaries, trying new things, taking risks and having opinions that actually count. I can be a little impatient, and I don’t really like to be micromanaged. That being said, I’m a team player and will happily go above and beyond for a brand I genuinely believe in. So, that’s why I’ve quickly found that start-ups and SME’s are the perfect fit for me.