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.

Here’s what I wish I knew before I took the plunge into full-time freelance…

Six months into full time freelancing, here’s what I wish I knew from the start…

Set realistic expectations

I used to work for a company that promised clients overnight success, to become a household name within weeks or grow social media following by thousands each and every week. Guess who had to hear the constant complaints? Me. The overworked, underpaid account manager trying to achieve the impossible. It was a valuable lesson to learn.

Go outside

For a long time, I found myself in front of my laptop for a ridiculous number of hours a day, rarely taking breaks. It had a serious effect on my mental health to the point where I was ready to throw in the towel. Now, I make a conscious effort to take my dog for a long walk every day as well as taking regular breaks to actually move out of the hunchback position.

Have a separate office space

Another rookie mistake I made was working from my bedroom, it meant I was in that one room for the majority of my days, something I definitely do not recommend.

Work when you’re most productive

I know I don’t function well before 10 am, and more often than not, I produce my best work at 10 pm. That’s one of my favourite things about freelancing, if I wake up one day and decide I don’t want to work right away, I don’t have to.

Plan ahead

On that note, in order to allow the flexibility that I need to work to my full potential, I always work 48 hours ahead of deadlines. This gives plenty of time for my editor to look over my work, and for me to re-read the following day with ‘fresh eyes’.

Be honest and upfront

My brutal honesty is truly a blessing and a curse in everyday life, my clients often comment on how honest or straight talking I am. Obviously, I always remain professional but if I have a valid and informed opinion which will improve my client’s brand, I’ll let them know.

Utilise LinkedIn

The majority of my recent work has come from LinkedIn, I rarely used it last year, and when I did, I didn’t actually interact. Now, I spend a few hours each week connecting with brands and individuals I really want to work with. It’s taught me a lot and I got a lot of great connections dishing out useful advice and content every single day.

Listen to podcasts

With writing taking up the majority of my days, the last thing I want to do is sit reading articles, so I started listening to podcasts and it didn’t take me long to find my favourites. If you’re not sure where to start, I’d recommend listening to the wise words of Dan Kelsall and Steven Bartlett.

Value your time

This is always going to the most difficult for some, getting paid what you’re actually worth. It’s a daunting prospect increasing your rates or sending off a proposal with what you might think are high rates. But, if you do some research, you might find there is scope to increase your rates.

Don’t be afraid to say no

If a client offers you more work or asks you to go above and beyond, don’t be afraid to say no if you don’t have the capacity to do so.

Ask for feedback

When you’re working independently, feedback on your work might isn’t always a privilege you’ll get. So, if you want it, all you really have to do is ask. Sure, a client will be quick enough to tell you if the works not good enough, but it’s always good to encourage open and honest critique throughout a project.

Of course, every day is still a learning curve in the infancy stages of running my own business. I’d love to hear your thoughts, if you have some wise words to share, please get in touch!