It's really, really hard to turn down gigs in this economy, but sometimes it's the only way to keep your sanity and your self-respect intact. In the last year, for instance, I've refused to edit a business letter that was filled with profanity, racial slurs, and thinly veiled threats of violence. I also declined the once-in-a-lifetime chance to work on a homophobic rant that would have made Fred Phelps look tolerant, as well as the chance to ghost write a book for a pedophile about how to groom victims. Finally, I ditched a client who was increasing my blood pressure but not my bank account.
Of course, they weren't all that bad. Sometimes I didn't take a job because I knew less than nothing about the topic, and the pay being offered didn't inspire me to learn. Other times the client was rude and demanding during our first contact, and I figured that if I took him or her own as a client, things would only get worse.
So, once you've decided you're not going to work with a client, how do you communicate the decision to him or to her? Depending on the situation, I use five all-purpose excuses.
1. "I'm booked for the foreseeable future."
This is the one I use on clients whom I find mildly annoying, but whom I might be willing to work with at some point. I usually follow up the "I'm booked" message by adding, I know you'll find another great writer, but if my schedule clears, I can send you an email and see if you're still interested in my services." In other words, I leave the door about half open.
2. "I'm afraid I don't know anything about..."
I usually save this one for projects that just don't interest me, especially the ones that do not pay well. Again, I leave a foot in the door by saying something like, "I'd love to hear from you again if you have work in the areas of..."
3. "I charge $X.00 for the service you're requiring."
This is a gentle reminder to those whose pay scale is a little low. If it's a company I'd really like to work with, I'll sometimes ad, "For the amount of money you're offering, I could do less of A, or do B instead of A, or [fill in your favorite win-win scenario]."
4. "The material you're asking me to work with violates our contract."
As part of my both my writing and my editing contracts, I have a statement that I do not work on material that promotes or incites violence, homophobia, racism, child abuse, or any other unlawful act. The racist business letter, the homophobic rant, and the ghost writing request all got reason #4.
5. "No, I'm afraid I can't help with that, but thank you for thinking of me."
I always try to let prospective clients know why I won't be working with them, but sometime the only reason is a really bad vibe or a sense that I'll be sorry if I take their businesses. In those cases, I fall back on the old saying that "No" is a complete sentence.
Luckily, situations like the ones I've described in this article are few and far between. Most of the individuals and companies I work for are great clients and I'm happy to have them on my caseload.
Being able to brush off would-be clients that are jerks without putting too much emotional energy into the event frees me up to work with the vast majority of writing clients who aren't jerks and with whom I can have a long and mutually positive relationship.