As a freelance writer, it can be tempting to take every gig that comes your way.
Turning down a freelance gig can sometimes feel like you’re tempting fate to take away all future opportunities because you said no to one. When you think about how hard you work marketing yourself and making connections and inquiries, something about turning down a viable gig feels wrong. Just know that you’re not alone. I did the same thing when I first started out, and I still get tempted to do it now. But along the way, I’ve learned that it’s OK to say no sometimes. In fact, you should. Not every gig is worth your time or effort. The trick is to differentiate between one that has value and one that’s more trouble than it’s worth.
Here are six questions to ask yourself before you say yes to a freelance gig.
1. Is it worth the money?
Think about the time required to complete a project. Is it worth the money they’re offering?
Money isn’t everything, especially when freelancing, but it can go a long way to helping you decide if the gig is right for you.
Remember that your time has value, and the time you put into something that doesn’t pay well can mean less time for those opportunities that do.
2. Will it give you solid exposure?
Sometimes the gigs that give you the best exposure are the ones that don’t pay as well.
Like I said, money isn’t everything. If you can get your name out there by doing a project or writing an article for free or next to nothing, it might be worth it.
Then, you can move onto higher paying gigs once you’re more established in your niche market.
I once had a column where I wrote five articles a week for over a year because it was great exposure. It didn’t pay well, but it helped to get my name out there and increase my credibility as a freelance writer. That was invaluable.
In fact, because of this column, some of my work was featured on the New York Times blog.
3. Will it be the perfect addition to your portfolio?
The plain and simple truth is that to get high quality freelance gigs, a strong portfolio is an asset.
So, maybe the gig you’re considering doesn’t pay well, and it doesn’t give you a ton of exposure, but the piece will be a strong addition to your writing portfolio.
If so, it just might be yes-worthy.
4. Are you comfortable being associated with the company/website?
Perhaps the gig pays well and it will give you some exposure, but you’re uncomfortable with the site or the company itself.
Remember that your reputation is more important than money you can make.
I recently turned down a gig as a regular contributor for a relatively well-known site. I was tempted to take it, and I tried over and over to convince myself that it would be fine, that I would make it work, but I had to be honest with myself.
Their website’s new focus was all about shock and fear. They wanted clicks instead of interesting or helpful content. I decided that I didn’t want my name associated with that sort of site.
As soon as I turned it down, I felt relief. I had made the right choice.
5. Will the client be too difficult to work with?
If the freelance job pays well and it would be great exposure, it still might not be worth it if the client is difficult to work with.
The problem with this one is that it’s difficult to spot in the beginning. It comes down to looking for red flags. If you see some red flags, consider if it’s worth the time, the money and the stress.
If not, move on and leave your schedule open for an even better opportunity. But if it’s the best opportunity you’ve had, the difficult client may well be worth the money and the exposure.
When I wrote that column for a year (for the exposure), I was approached by one of the readers. He wanted me to write content for him, too. I was on board and ecstatic. Then I started noticing some red flags. For example, I hadn’t even signed the contract yet, and he wouldn’t stop calling me and emailing me. I soon learned that he needed a lot of personal attention, and that’s not something I was interested in. I just wanted to do my job in peace, so I ended up turning that opportunity down, and I’ve never regretted it.
6. Do you have the time?
Freelance writers are notorious for overloading our schedules.
Before accepting a freelance job, ask yourself if you have the appropriate amount of time to dedicate.
Again, your reputation is important, and you don’t want to sully it because you don’t have the time to devote to doing your best work.
Saying no to a freelance gig can be hard, but it’s the only way to create the presence and reputation you want. Remember that you need something out of the arrangement, too, whether that’s adequate payment, a boost in exposure or something strong to add to your portfolio. Don’t overburden yourself with opportunities that won’t meet your overall career goals.
Leave time in your schedule for the best jobs, the ones that will help you pivot and lead you to a higher plane.
You’re worth it.
What do you look for before saying yes to a freelance gig?