When I started freelancing, a couple decades ago, a wise old art director counseled me: never turn down work. Even if you’re super busy, stay up all night to get it done or offload it to a fellow creative and hopefully mark up their work. After all, you never know which new client might become your bread and butter or, conversely, if your current bread-and-butter client might go belly up tomorrow.
And I do try to stay hungry. But recently I’ve been turning down a bit of work. Part of this is a hunch we are headed for good times. Freelance creative are the canaries in the coal mine, first to get laid off in a recession but also first to know when companies think they better get cracking to stay competitive. And that’s what seems to be happening right now. Buy U.S. equities, dear reader. Buy Facebook like I did last week. (Though not at the IPO price obviously.)
And, another part of my reasoning is quality of life. I’m trying to get some traction on a fiction project, which uses the same brain cells as my copywriting. At the end of the day, when I’m trying to get the attention of David Ogilvy at that great water cooler in the sky, do I want to admit I didn’t get my novel finished because I decided to take on yet another few hundred $$ project? Not to mention my kid’s in the Little League playoffs and we are looking pretty good over here.
Both my turn down projects this week had to do with budget contractions. When times are good, prices start rising all over the place (the $3.47 deck pieces I wanted at Home Depot rose to $5.94 in the space of a month, for example), and it’s natural to get aggressively defensive.
One client wanted to redefine a project to pay less for work we’ve already agreed to. There’s a line item for A, and a line item for B, but the assumption is you’ll get both and I do research and prep with that in mind before I ever type a word. Now this client wants to only pay for the “A” portion which makes it a loser for me since the prep work is the same, so I’m outta here. Have to finish current projects but asking to be excused from future ones.
The second contested budget was much, much larger… an entire website. This is always a leap of faith because you don’t know how the pages will shake out when you estimate and hopefully pick a per-page number that averages out (same with catalogs by the way). With a new client, you also don’t know how finicky they will be and how complex the revisions. So I added something I thought was pretty generous, which was an offer to write 10 pages of the client’s choice at the per-page rate, charge nothing for my startup research time, then after that we could decide if it make sense for both of us.
Client instead wants a deal of some kind, which I can’t offer because my deal was my deal. This could have occupied me late into the night for much of the summer. Instead I’ll be baking baguettes, following the capers of my protagonist (a 19th century Quaker with a terrible problem) and maybe watching Logistics One finally get the best of Staffing in the Saratoga American Little League. Maybe I’m crazy, but maybe not.