Learning That It's Ok To Say No

Hello and Happy New Year! It's been a while since I've had the time to write on here, but this week I made sure that writing a blog post went on my to-do list. Today's topic has been on my mind for quite some time now and I wanted to share my feelings about it.

As most of you know, in addition to freelancing, I also work as an in-house Graphic Designer full-time. And as you can probably imagine, this can often put a strain on my time, how many clients I can take on at once and which kinds of clients and businesses I can work with. I can name a few times this year when I've had to say no to potential clients because I felt like the projects didn't reflect my work or because I just didn't have the time for such large projects. I've always been the type to be extremely accommodating to everyone and I've always tried my best to make my clients feel like they're my number one priority, but lately I've been finding myself having to suck it up and say no. 

Today I'd like to share with you a blogpost written by my new designer friend, Aimee Guzman of Little Trailer Studio called: Learning to Say No. 6 Tips for Why Saying No can Actually Help Your Business. I've been through many of the same situations and it was reassuring to know she'd been there before and the ways in which she handled them. A little background: I had been following Aimee's freelance / entrepreneur journey for a while and decided one day to reach out to her regarding my freelance career troubles. We set up a Skype meeting and in short, she assured me that no two journeys are the same. She also reminded me that I shouldn't lose sight of my personal goals. I say this to say that sometimes, in the midst of hustling, working hard and often, it's easy to lose sight of your wants and needs. It's important step back every so often, take a breather and consider what it is you really want at the end of the day. After all, you should be your number one priority. Remember that it's okay to be a little selfish; the money isn't worth it if it ends up making you feel terrible in the end.  

Here are Aimee's tips:

Listen Carefully

If you listen carefully the client will tell you exactly how the client is going to act throughout the project. If the client is rude in emails they are going to be rude throughout the project. If the client is trying to get more out of you without payment then you can expect them to not pay your invoice on time. If the client does not respond to emails for 5 days this is exactly how they are going to behave when the project gets started. I had a potential client who was so confusing in her email communication that I had to turn her down. I offered several times to take the conversation to a phone conversation, thinking this would make it easier to communicate, but she ignored my request in each email. She also was not clear in answering my questions. After the first few email interactions I finally had to let her know I was not available for the project. Here’s what would have happened if I would have taken on the project. Her art direction would have been completely unclear as well as her feedback. I would have been guessing and grasping to understand what the objective of the project was. She also wasn’t good about emailing me back right away so the project would have gone on much longer than needed.

Early on in my freelancing career I would take phone calls from any potential clients. I spent a lot of time on phone calls that didn’t lead anywhere and that could have been streamlined if I had a more solid process for client inquiries or explained my services more clearly on my website. One of those phone calls lasted for an hour with a woman who needed branding and marketing help for her boutique shop. I didn’t mind giving her suggestions such as putting her shop on yelp or creating a Facebook page for her business. Almost every suggestion I had about using social media she would respond by saying that her 17 year old daughters didn’t agree and that according to them no one was on Facebook anymore. According to them people were only on Instagram and Snapchat. Sure, tell that to Mark Zuckerberg. This hour-long conversation told me the following things: Any decision that would be made would have to go through her 17 year old daughters first, she would not trust my expertise no matter what data I showed her and she wasn’t ready to make real changes in order to successfully grow her business. Needless to say I ended up saying no to the project.

The Email

I touched upon this a bit already but pay close attention to how they communicate in email. If it’s obvious that they haven’t even taken a look at your website then that should be a red flag. You want clients that have seen your work, read your services and policies, and like what they see. Just like in dating. You don’t want a partner who is willing to become anyone’s boyfriend or girlfriend without getting to know them first. If you have a potential client reaching out for web design but you don’t provide that service then clearly they didn’t do their research.

Trust Your Gut

Your gut will often tell you when something doesn’t feel right. If something feels off about a client then listen to what your gut is telling you.

Know Your Limits

It is so important to have your process clearly defined and laid out. This will give you control of how the project goes rather than the other way around. Be sure to include this in the contract. This will help you in situations such as the client wanting too many revisions. If you have it clearly stated in the contract that after 3 revisions you have to charge extra then you and the client are both on the same page and boundaries have been set ahead of time. Also know your worth. When I first started out I would accept lower rates because I thought at least it’s better than nothing. That is so not the case at all. Sure every now and then a project comes your way that really excites you and you are willing to do it for a lower rate or even pro-bono. I recently did some pro-bono work for a great non-profit that works with domestic abuse victims and it was such a great experience. But this should be your choice. If the client is trying to short-change you then it might not be a good fit.

Sometimes It’s Just Not a Good Fit and That’s Okay

Change the way you look at clients. Each project should be a good fit for you as well as the client. You should be on the same page, similar to a partnership. When a client comes along and they have a need that isn’t quite in your scope or they don’t quite have the budget, it’s okay to walk away and acknowledge that it’s simply not a good fit. When you phrase it in this way then no party is to blame and it helps take out the emotion. You have a certain type of client you want to work with and within a certain niche. Not everyone that comes your way is going to fit that. If you are up for the challenge of something new then totally go for it. But if it feels like you’re doing something inauthentic to who you are as a creative then walk away.

Saying No Frees You Up to Say Yes to Someone Else

I was approached not to long ago by a company that wanted me to do some in-house work. I recently left my job as a full-time in-house graphic designer in order to do something different. The services I provide now are brand identities for creative entrepreneurs and girls bosses like yourselves. I no longer do in-house work. I contemplated saying yes because a paycheck is a paycheck after all. But in the end I decided against it. I also had some background knowledge about the company and knew how chaotic it would be to work with them. I was a little bummed out and didn’t know if I made the right decision especially because I knew I could have made some money. But a few days after that I received an inquiry from a client who was totally in my niche. If I would have said yes to that company who knows if I would have been able to take on the other project. Maybe I could have done both but I’m glad I didn’t test it.

“I can’t afford to say no.”

I know what you’re thinking. Because I’ve thought the same thing. I’ve often thought to myself that I can’t afford to say no. Since I don’t know your personal situation I can’t straight out tell you that you can afford to say no. But this point is similar to the one above. At some point saying no is going to be more beneficial to your business. At some point you’re going to have to stop saying yes to clients that are not in your niche or clients that cannot afford you or clients that make you hate your work. If you don’t start saying no to these clients you will get stuck there. So whatever your situation is, take baby steps to saying no to clients that aren’t ideal. This will help you to slowly make the transition to working with the clients you do want to work with.

I hope this helped! Check out more of Aimee's awesome work here!